Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Is American Culture Compatible with Christianity?

Back on the July 4th weekend, I raised a red flag, so to speak, about the linking of Christianity and patriotism. The impetus behind the post was the American flag's presence in church sanctuaries and on church grounds. You can read The Star Spangled Idol if you want the background. But now I'd like to expand that whole idea because it seems that so much of what we celebrate in the United States seems to run contrary to what I read about in Scripture.

Again, I'm not bad-mouthing the good ol' U. S. A. I'm not some sort of commie or anarchist. Hardly. I'm just pointing out that the culture that we live in as Americans (and possibly as Canadians, English or others) promotes ideas which run counter to scriptural teaching. If we blindly accept all things American as "Christian" then we run the risk of losing our faith in the name of patriotism. Think of it as "testing the spirits" or being a Berean.

Let's get at the cornerstone of our republic -- freedom. As a country, we celebrate our freedom. Well actually we celebrate our many freedoms, and those freedoms seem to multiply like rabbits in heat every time we turn around. We must be free to do whatever we want in the spirit of American freedom. Throw off the fetters of bondage. Be free to be you and me. Of course in our human depravity, this quickly turns to freedom from responsibility.

We have the freedom of religion -- we can worship any god in any manner. We have the freedom of speech -- we can say whatever we want and we don't want to be punished for what we say. We have the freedom to peaceably assemble -- we want to hang out with whomever we want. We desire freedom from want, freedom to do as we wish, freedom from authority.

Isn't it interesting that the only real talk about freedom in the Bible is the freedom which we enjoy in Jesus Christ? I guess that's to be expected when a few of the books were written by a guy who was chained to a Roman guard while he wrote! It is, literally, the Truth who sets us free. But it is a freedom with a kind of bondage built right in. We are to be slaves -- slaves to Christ, that is. It is not earthly freedom which really concerns God, it is our spiritual freedom. This distinction is important to understand. That is where the idea of American freedom needs to bow to God's definition of freedom.

I heard a radio talk show host once say that America was built on rugged individualism. He claimed that what made this country great was the idea of the settler being set free to make a better life. After all, it was only because of his hard work and ingenuity that the country became what it is today. The hard-working American drives this country was his assertion. I've heard much of this line of thinking. But this glorification of the individual is also something which is spoken against by none other than Jesus Himself. We are to believe in God and His strength, not our own. I can do all things THROUGH CHRIST, who gives me strength, right? Yet we are quick to grab the credit for ourselves -- not just to impress others, but also to impress ourselves. When we begin thinking that we are all-important, we seat ourselves on God's Throne. America is built on the strength of the individual. Christianity is based on the strength provided through Christ. And while these two don't have to be contradictory, too often the individual is celebrated and the Christ is ignored and forgotten.

Finally, much of the thought in this country upholds a materialistic worldview. America was once described as the Land of Opportunity; where everyone could come and stake his claim. More. Biggest. Best. Newest. Most powerful. Fastest. These are the idols that our society makes sacrifices to on a daily basis. While having the newest or the fastest may not be sinful, the attitude which says that we should strive for these things to succeed is sinful.

I've mentioned a couple of times lately, the influence of materialism in the Church today. Steve's post at whatever noted the differences between an upscale church and an economically lower-class church. Dan from Cerulean Sanctum and I discussed whether this Todd Agnew song glorified poverty or called for the rejection of a materialistic attitude in the Church. Part of the issue is that much of America won't look at a church unless it reflects what the average American is looking for -- a comfortable place which won't force a person to change. Perhaps I'm a little cynical when I say that, but I fear I'm accurate.

Here the church faces a big problem: Do we try to look more like the world to get attention or do we stand out from the crowd and attract people by our love? Do we sell the idea of being a part of a happy society or do we disclose that what Christ calls us to do is to take up our cross daily? Or can we be both? We can be a happy congregation and preach Christian responsibility. Certainly we can have nice things and be Christian. Yes, our sanctuaries can be beautiful, seats cushy, sound clear and lighting perfect, but the problem lies in putting comfort or excellence ahead of our commitment to Christ. America says, "Be comfy. Get the best. Look out for number one." Christ says, "Make the best use of what I give you, but don't get so wrapped up in mammon that you lose Me." Like any sinners, we sometimes forget that part, and American culture reassures us when we do.

We must be Christians first, citizens of our earthly country second. Equating all things American with Christianity is a fatal mistake that the Church cannot afford to make.

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