A friend asked me this question. It is true that the Christian “church” has often been culpable in shameful chapters such as slavery, colonialism, apartheid, Hitler’s rise, and keeping Europe in the “dark” of the “Dark Ages”. And more recently in America, a good portion of the church has been…well enough said!
What is the cause of this? Could it be that only a small proportion of church members are focused on the “one thing” that is really important, the core of what Christ taught? What is that “one thing”? Is it not to have a real daily experience with Christ in a manner that the false self ego or “sinful nature” in the Bible is transformed and Christ’s love is transferred into my own heart? This would seem to be the essence of the Christ’s Great Commandment – I experience His love, it changes me, and I love others.
A spiritual journey like this produces the following ingredients that are a positive force in society:
- a soft heart to sacrifice, surrender and love rather than to fight my corner,
- a clear take on reality – not a tribal view or a view through my personal fears and prejudices, rather a view through “the mind of Christ” to see as God sees (and to see through conspiracies),
- courage to call out evil in my tribe and to acknowledge good in the other tribe, because I love Christ and his truth more than any tribes.
I’m suggesting that personal transformation flowing from living daily experiences with Christ is “true Christianity”. What is not is merely following Christian culture, participating in countless church programs and knowing verses while remaining untransformed.
So what percentage of the church historically has pursued this “true Christianity? Is it a tithe? Is it a “remnant”?
The remainder, as history shows, appears to have had a regressive impact on society.
Paul Johnson in his historical review of the past 2,000 years states that the church in Europe for hundreds of years, “lay like a log across the river of progress.” In America, a vast swathe of the evangelical church historically supported, theologically defended, and subsequently subtly nurtured racism and a fear of “Negro rule” in a goodly chunk of the Bible Belt. Now this has morphed into a fear of the communist/socialist Democrats and their black/immigrant constituents supported by similar conspiratorial logic. In South Africa the church supported apartheid by creating a theological outlet to assuage the consciences of the political perpetrators and their voters. In 1920s-1930s Germany, the church was silent as the outrages of Hitler grew and tacitly supported his rise to the distress of a tiny handful like Bonhoeffer who were the true “Church”.
Talking about Boenhoeffer: in his seminal book “Discipleship”, he begins with a very challenging thought. He suggests that if Christ were alive today, many who claim to be following Him would not, and many that don’t follow the church would in fact follow Christ.
I don’t think that the true Church could ever have had a harmful impact on society because its heartbeat is that of the Father of Love and its breath is that of the Creative Christ. Its members include the great transformers and reformers – Mother Theresa, Harriet Tubman, Dorothy Day, MLK, Bonhoeffer, Wilberforce and countless others known and unknown.
The “Church” has always been a gift of grace to the world, but the “church” very often hasn’t.
Let me add a few very important qualifiers:
- Firstly I’m not self-righteously claiming to flawlessly following Christ myself. God help me! I’m a frail, broken, stumbling human being. The best I can say about myself is that I have an eye on the target I’ve described above and on my better days I pursue Christ’s presence, love and inner transformation.
- Secondly, I’m not suggesting a harsh exclusionary definition of “Church” because our Lord is the most welcoming Person in the Universe – His outstretched arms on the cross simultaneously reached out to all of past, present and future humanity in a welcoming embrace. We are all welcome. The question is how do we all respond?
- Thirdly, it appears in history that there were periods of “revival” when a large majority of Christians were vibrantly alive with real experience of Christ, and sweeping changes occurred to culture and society in a good way. Of course there were then the naysayers but certainly it seems the 10% number I cited above was significantly exceeded during these times. I suppose that this supports the point I’m making – true revival causes men and women to move past passive theology, culture, church organizations and programs. It causes an awakening to God, an experience of Reality, a transforming sweep of the Holy Spirit that raises an “army of dead bones” and a Refining Fire that purges sin and its roots of ego and selfishness.
The invitation to each of us is to experience personal revival, to daily encounter Christ in a living way beyond the culture, programs, theology and structure of “church”. And to be transformed and to be a positive force on the planet.
This is “Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” Christian nationalism and “dominion” are not.