Regardless of what your political affiliations are and what your response to the events this past week (or month . . . or year . . .) has been, you can’t honestly deny that the relationship between America at large and the Christian presence within it is going to be changing. While we might not see concentration camps or physical persecution in the days ahead (“decades” and “centuries” could be a different story) the opportunities for economic exclusion, public humiliation, media censorship, and so on are going to steadily increase. We already don’t have to look very far to see this happening in fits and starts.
And while I don’t look forward to potentially seeing my children or, Lord willing, grandchildren suffer in this way, the reality is that it’s likely they will know a different cultural and economic landscape than the one I grew up with, especially having grown up in the south.
You see, Americans and many other citizens of Western civilization do not, broadly speaking, understand what it is to be truly persecuted. Many people have a deeply false understanding of what it means to be a Christian and to claim faith in God. This has produced a candy-coated veneer of false religiosity and false public acceptance, and that veneer lies over much of our nation; though, again, it’s particularly thick in the Bible Belt. False and genuine Christianity have both been tolerated for the most part in American law and opinion. This isn’t something to lament, necessarily. Truly persecuted believers in other parts of the world would likely implore us to be grateful even for the circumstances we find ourselves in during the current and near future spiritual-political climate.
But consider what our comforts have produced: A nation full of “Christians” who
- don’t believe they are sinful and deserving of God’s punishment.
- know nothing about their Bible except the story of Noah’s ark and John 3:16.
- bend to the whim of culture and esteem personal experience as equal to the authority of Scripture.
- believe themselves unworthy of personal suffering, loss, and sacrifice.
- define the Gospel as ‘God giving you victory in achieving your dreams and goals.’
Essentially, our comforts have tended to produce a nation full of “Christians” who never have to face the real implications of the doctrines and beliefs they hold.
Of course, the main problem with these theological/doctrinal failings is not merely a pragmatic one. The problem is that they either steal glory from God or fail to give it in the first place. When we believe false things about God, we fail in something that is incredibly important and central. Our good intentions and great faith are useless if placed in a version of god who isn’t the one true God of Scripture.
That fact will become increasingly, life-alteringly important as we find ourselves having more opportunities to reject God in public for the sake of our comfort, our worldly prosperity, our relationships, and perhaps even our safety. Why? Because when your theology is rooted in yourself . . . your dreams, your feelings, your preferences, your understanding . . . you are rooting your spiritual stability in shifting sand. And when the waves inevitably come, everything will fall out from under you – and the tide will take you out to sea.
When the rubber meets the road and you are faced with the decision to renounce Christ or lose what you love in the world, what you believe about God and how you define the Gospel will really matter. It has always mattered, of course, but in that moment the distinctions will matter very clearly and tangibly. When your faith doesn’t revolve around much else except yourself, you will feel the full weight of the spiritual insecurity that you may have tried to suppress in times past. You will recall all the people who aren’t Christians who achieve success, relational happiness, and personal fulfillment, and wonder if you really need to believe in God after all.
And then you will realize that your “gospel” doesn’t look much different than the world’s gospel . . . which has always, since the fall of man in the garden of Eden, been centered around man’s glory rather than God’s.