Can the Church Survive the American Experience?

“12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” – 1 Cor 15:12-19

It’s been about a year since I’ve written (getting my family moved and settled into a new house turned out to be quite an undertaking). In that time plenty of worthwhile topics have come and gone – and we’ll try to pick them up as time permits. For now, I want to pass on a quick thought on something the preacher said in church a few weeks back.

The comment was simple enough (I’m paraphrasing): “without the resurrection of Christ, there is no Christian church today.” Now, as a religious expression the thought is unassailable. As Paul notes in 1 Cor 15 (above), without the resurrection there is no point to Christianity. The message would be both false and futile. But I think the sentiment has truth beyond the obvious religious context.

Any organization, or movement, or social undertaking relies on people to choose to participate. We are creatures of free will, and any enterprise that cannot get people to choose to participate will not last long. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the choice is made of hope or good  will – plenty of choices are presented to us as the lesser of a multitude of evils. These are choices all the same.

Without naming names we note here that there are plenty of religions that have carried on through the ages by social convention, by parental indoctrination, and even by threat of violence. People chose to maintain those religious foundations – even if the choice was not based on a heartfelt conversion, repentance from sins, or a brazen hope in a loving God.

At its foundation though, Christianity had none of these modes of promulgation available. There was no Christian tradition – these were the first Christians. There was no parental indoctrination – nobody was “raised in a Christian household” at the time. There was no threat of violence (“convert or be killed”). There was no threat of social ostracization – we were the outcasts. There was no means to maintain the religion other than the heartfelt conversion of the new believers, a repentance from sin, a brazen hope in a loving God and a willingness to abandon all for the sake of knowing Him. (And it cost many their lives.)

So, could the church have started without the resurrection? I say no. But this leads us to a more ominous question. Can it continue without the resurrection? Can it continue without the gospel? Here the answer is not so simple.

In America today there are plenty of reasons one might become a Christian that have little to do with loving Jesus. In some parts of our society (read “the Bible Belt”) one may find himself a social outcast by not choosing to participate regularly in church attendance. Furthermore, America has seen the rise of mega-church social clubs, where people join to fit in, join to be part of the excitement of something that is growing. I don’t mean here that mega-churches are expressly evil, simply that one can conceive of how they can grow and exist apart from the gospel.

My point here is simply that I am dubious of a Christian organization that can grow and thrive apart from the gospel. That’s not an accusation of wrongdoing – Christians in America are not to be held to account for the fact that they happen to live in a time and place where the church faces little-to-no opposition. But it is often the “trial by fire” as it were that purifies. Such fire would appear to be scantly seen in America today (… but this could certainly change).

Ultimately the church will survive the American experience. If the “gates of hell” cannot prevail, then obviously ease and comfort will not succeed in destroying the message either.

For now though we must wryly shake our heads at an American Christendom that appears to speak the loudest on such topics as “immigration reform” (doesn’t our Bible tell us to be gracious to the “sojourner”?) and enforcing morality through the ballot box (isn’t such morality farce?). More on the social wars later. For now, I’m off to work. (It’s good to be back.)

“I’m not a coward, I’ve just never been tested. I like to think that if I was I would pass” – The Mighty Mighty Bosstones

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