Saturday, February 29, 2020

Has American Christianity Failed?

This book spoke to me because the author followed a path to Christ similar to mine. The biggest difference is that  he WAS baptized as an infant (and I wasn't, I was baptized as adult to "follow Christ") ... no matter, Baptism is Christ's work, not mans. It is effective because Christ does it (in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit), and we (fortunately) can't screw it up!

The author then went through the "personal decision for Christ", "personal relationship with Jesus", "living" (or attempting to live) " the law based American Christianity. Then eventually finding (Christ finding him) then the sacramental life in Christ.

He sums up the experience of American Christianity (AC) very well as a constant cycle between pride and despair.
American Christianity fails because its yoke is wearisome. Its burden is heavy. Having taken its eyes off of Jesus as the Author and Perfecter of faith, American Christianity replaces the work of the Holy Spirit with the choice of the sinner. It replaces the comfort of the Gospel with the doubt of our resolve. It replaces the certainty of God’s promise with the shakiness of our feelings. It puts burdens and doubts where the Lord would give us freedom and faith.
The focus of AC is on YOUR DECISION vs Christ Crucified and the free gift of salvation through Baptism, Holy Communion and Holy Scripture. The focus of Confessional Christianity is on Christ Crucified FOR YOU, giving the gifts of Baptism, Communion and the preaching of the Gospel. It is GIVEN to you, it isn't "about you", your decision, your obedience, your (unaided by the Holy Spirit) faith.

As I like to say when asked "when were you saved"? My answer is "about 2K years ago when Christ died on the cross for my sins".
God has not promised the feeling of forgiveness. He promises forgiveness itself, if we feel it or not. God has not promised that we will experience His presence.
AC believes in Grace for the unbeliever, Law for the believer. The believer is expected to believe that they really only know they are "saved" because of the evidence of their pietism ...  they "don't drink, don't smoke, don't lust, they go to a lot of church or "church things". If they fail to meet some standard of this, are they "really saved"? They can never honestly have assurance ... they can only have hope.

Therefore ...
Pietism ends either in the sin of pride or the sin of despair.
We have all seen it ... the "holier than thou" AC, or the "fallen" AC -- depending on your AC "brand", your congregations' standards of pietism will vary, but it will always be there.

AC is often about spiritual enthusiasm ... 
Theological enthusiasm is the promotion of the internal testimony of “God” over the external testimony of the Scriptures. The enthusiast sees all the action on the inside [feelings].

In the past "30 years or so",  AC has moved to the praise band, rock and roll "Christian" songs, dry ice "smoke" on the stage, fancy lights, lots of ripped blue jeans, etc. It is meant to be entertaining and "authentic". You are supposed to have a lot of warm and excited feelings that give you "proof" of your salvation. If you don't have those feelings, how can you be sure you are "saved"?  

So, what about Baptism, which the Bible directly says, "saves you"? (1 Peter 3:21) "Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,"

For AC, this is a "hard teaching" like Matthew 16:28 "This IS my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." Much like Bill Clinton, "is" is a hard word for AC. In the words of Wolfmueller relative to his AC EXPERIENCE: 
I said, “Baptism is a physical thing; it is not in my heart, so it can’t save me.” That is enthusiasm in action. It is the theological logic behind the rejection of the saving work of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It is what makes American Christianity so individualistic. Enthusiasm is what drives the terrible swing between pride and despair that marks the life of most American Christians.
 The Bible isn't very hopeful for us keeping the Law ... in fact, Christ died BECAUSE we are not able to keep the law -- never. The most pious are certain to fail the Law in the way that Christ had the most nasty things to say about -- because they are human, when we focus on the law, pride is a certain result, at heart, we are all spiritual toddlers -- "look at me!", "look what **I** did!" -- and often that pride is a sin that we will pridefully refuse to admit because we are most certainly less prideful than most!

God DOES enjoy our attempts at good works very much. Much as a loving parent enjoys the toddlers "help" with a task. Certainly, we attempt to do good works -- and then we repent of the pride we are bound to feel because we are still sinners.
“Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3).
Whenever you have a “Jesus and . . .” theology, it is the “and” that matters. If our theology is “Jesus and our efforts,” then the thing that matters is our efforts. The Gospel is diminished, and the Law is exalted.
Jesus will not let you be your savior. Salvation belongs to Him alone.
This book is so full of scriptural Grace and Truth that it is overflowing. It gets into eschatology, which is the source of a LOT of AC confusion. It does a super SCRIPTURAL, yet easy to follow, defense of the fact that we are IN the "millennium" vs waiting and watching for it, which is the source of a lot of AC error. 

One of my bigger remembrances of growing up Baptist was the extreme focus on the 2nd coming, and the supposed Biblical "fact" that when that happened, the unbelievers would be "left behind". This all has to do with the AC doctrine of "premillennialism dispensationalism".
The idea that those who are not taken to the Lord will go about wondering what happened to their friends is nowhere in the text, as if those who were swept away by the flood were puzzled over the whereabouts of Noah. In the days of Noah, the flood came and took away all the unbelievers. So it will be on the Last Day. Jesus will return, and the unbelievers will be taken away in judgment. To be taken away is the bad thing. To be left behind is what we want, to stand before the Lord in His glory.
A core of Lutheran theology is that it uses the Bible to interpret the Bible ... for example when Jesus says to Peter how many times, he must forgive his brother, Jesus says -- "I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.".

It is pretty easy for us to understand that Jesus is not telling Peter to get out a clicker, and when he gets to 491, he is justified in telling his brother he is out of luck -- he reached "the limit" of forgiveness. 

Much of understanding the eschatology relies on this type of hermeneutics -- the Lutheran method used for interpretation, "using the Bible to interpret the Bible".  When is a "number" a counting number, and when is it a statement of magnitude? There is a reason for understanding Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, etc. -- as well as understanding some things in the context of the times (e.g. donkey vs horse, washing feet, greeting with a kiss, etc.) 

A highly recommended for ALL, but especially for those caught in the pride/despair cycle of AC and being concerned about "how they feel". 

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