Stop Calling America a “Christian Nation”

How many times have you heard it? “We are a country founded on Christian values!” People fight over the constitution and how “Christian” our founders really were.

I’m not here to argue Thomas Jefferson’s theological ideology.

But I did just spend ten days with Missionaries from all over Europe. Europe is the birthplace of the protestant reformation, and the home of the Catholic church. There are churches every ten feet, and monuments to Christian faith throughout. Many of these countries, if they don’t have an “official” state religion, they do have concessions for Christian religions in their constitutions and governmental accommodations for church operations. In Italy, it’s Catholicism, as in Spain. In Germany, it’s Lutheranism. In all cases, atheism is reigning supreme.

Nations in Europe have been moving away from “official state religion” status, but that has not separated the church from the state. And the result is that a mockery has been made of the church. There are religion classes taught in schools in Italy. But they are not taught by Christians. And they are ecumenical in teaching other religions alongside Christianity. Most people identify as “Catholic,” but have been to mass only a handful of times in their life. They openly admit they don’t believe it. But they’re still “Catholic.”

In Spain the Protestant Reformation never “took.” That means that neither did all it’s teachings of “Sola Scriptura,” or “Sola Fidei” (“Scripture alone” as our only rule for faith, and “Faith alone” as the way we are saved, in response to Catholicism’s teachings that one must obey certain “rites” to obtain the grace of salvation). So until 35 years ago, it was illegal to own a Bible. That means in the late 1970s, in an officially Christian (Catholic) state, owning the Bible was a crime. Thanks, state religion.

In Germany, the official church is Lutheran, and Priests are state employees. The priesthood is seen as a “civil servant” job, like a meter maid, or a social worker. Lutheran priests in Germany do not have any requirements on them to agree to any set of doctrine or beliefs. In many cases, they are openly atheistic, but found a job doing this church gig. One woman—a new Christian—told me of her struggle with not wanting to be seen as an “extremist” for being a part of a biblical church. And in order to join she had to go to the town hall to “de-register” with the Lutheran Church. How do you say “Big Brother” in German? To make matters worse, those churches are funded by the government, so no attendees need to give an offering (contrasted by non-Lutheran “free” churches, which operate on member giving). That sounds great until you consider Jesus’ teaching that our heart follows our wallet (Matthew 6:21), or Paul’s teaching about the “joy of giving” that was a commendable trait in many of the churches he founded (2 Cor 8:1 ff). These churches are being robbed of the joy of giving by being told there is no reason to give.

Many churches in Germany have over 3,000 on their register, yet average about 12 in attendance.

12.

That is not hyperbole (It’s not scientifically accurate, either. It is simply an observation). That is the stark reality of faith in Europe. A “Christian” continent.

This is the background for my skepticism about calling America “a Christian Nation.” First of all, it’s not. Not in the way that “Christian” nations have always been defined. There is a separation of church and state that was intended more to protect churches’ interests than anything else. We don’t have state-run churches that have no regard for what is taught, or who determine doctrine based on political benefits (we still have those denominations, they just aren’t run by the state). We don’t have churches that are under-funded because the message has been sent that the church will cover the bills. We don’t have to register as Christian at the Religious DMV.

But second—and perhaps more importantly—I have to question whether we should even desire for this to be a “Christian Nation.” I must imagine that this is a case where we should be careful what we wish for. State religion brings religious classes back in the schools, but those classes don’t need to be taught by Christians. And I would much rather my son or daughter learn to pray from myself, my wife, or our pastors, elders and friends, than some teacher who is covering it as a part of a public school curriculum. Sure, there are cultural Christians in America, who claim the name, Christian, but nothing else. But it is far less wide-spread than in Europe. Our government does not interfere with what churches can and cannot teach (not yet, anyway, regardless of what FoxNews says on the issue). State religion would mean that churches would be predominately one denomination and that statements of faith would largely be compulsively homogenous.

What we have is better than having a “Christian Nation.” I keep putting that in quotes because I think it is a misnomer. A nation cannot be Christian. There is nothing biblical (at least in the New Testament) about being a God’s People simply by citizenship in a nation. There is no such thing as a “Christian” nation, but rather there can be nations with high number of Christians. And that is the opportunity we have in America.

As a nation of Christians, we have the right to teach our own children biblical truths.

As a nation of Christians, we have the right to pray openly, even if we don’t get to compel others to pray with us.

As a nation of Christians, we have the opportunity to support churches and ministries without a large portion of that going to cover administrative costs for the “Department of Church” somewhere in our capitals.

As a nation of Christians, we have the right to raise our kids the way Deuteronomy 6 describes, rather than outsourcing spiritual growth to bureaucrats.

I am skeptical of America ever being labeled a “Christian” nation, but I am not against Christians taking a more fervent stand for what they believe in within its borders. Consider that the places where the church is growing the most are the nations most hostile to Christianity. Maybe that persecution acts as a refining fire that identifies who truly believes, when there is no worldly benefit for such a confession. Perhaps it is time that we spend less energy trying to establish a “Christian America,” and more energy being Christians in America.

Thanks for listening.

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Fatty Culture

My wife tells me I’m fat on the inside.

I’m a thin guy. In fact, I have always struggled to put on weight (I know, cue the world’s smallest violin for the skinny guy that has it so rough). The truth of the matter is that I am relatively healthy and haven’t had any health problems. Yet. But I have sustained some pretty unhealthy eating habits until recently, and I exercise very little.

So the medical condition I suffer from is “fat on the inside.” I think that’s the clinical term.

The real issue is that I consume, and consume and consume food (some of which is terrible for me but so delicious) and don’t balance it with enough physical activity to use the energy the food supplies. I am just a consumer. In fact, that is the problem with all obesity in general (chemical/hormonal issues aside). At the risk of being simplistic, the issue with obesity is taking in more and more energy, but letting your physical activity level atrophy to death. Boil it down and it all comes down to calories in, calories out.

But this isn’t primarily about food.

I may be fat on the inside, but it’s not my only area of fatness. In fact, I’m a pretty fat guy all around.

I consume and consume on the internet and don’t spend nearly enough energy exercising the energy or knowledge that it gives me. I read news, I check my favorite blogs, and I read blog articles about effective blogging. But I don’t invest the energy I need to into contributing, writing and exercising. I check facebook repeatedly to “keep up with things.” I mindlessly hold my phone to my face as I surf around my favorite sites. In other words, I’m also a tech-fatty.

The result? Lethargy, and a tendency to copy whatever method out there seemed to “help” others get past their tech-fattiness. My connectedness causes a gap between what I want to get done and “researching” how to do it.

Why all this talk about being a fatty? Because I’m worried that I’m not alone, and that society is moving more and more toward being obese — not just physically — but being tech fatties and mental fatties and entertainment fatties.

There is a weird paradox around the information age. The more information we have at our fingertips, the less productive we seem to be with it. We talk about an article that discussed a study, rather than picking up some books and doing studies of our own. Mental fattiness in action.

We consume and consume and consume and never expel any of the fuel we receive. We store calories. We don’t exercise. We get fat in all kinds of different areas. We have become a fatty culture.

The bible has a word for this pattern. It’s called, “gluttony.”

Gluttony goes beyond food. It is a total lack of discipline in how you consume. It is “greedy or excessive indulgence,” according to Webster’s. And more and more it is a symptom of our culture’s ethos, a condemnation of the posh wealth that even this nation’s lower classes enjoy (in perspective of global poverty), much less those of us who don’t need to “struggle” to eat each day.

We have become a culture of gluttons. The fatty, salty and sweet flavors that were formerly mere morsels  now flood our food. So much so that much of our culture cannot stomach vegetables unless they are drenched in butter, or “southern-style” (soaked in sugar), or dipped in ranch dressing, or drizzled in velveeta. We have indulged in these flavor “treats” so much that they are now the new norm.

Cable packages have a bajillion channels, and TV viewing rises at alarming rates. Average home sizes have exploded in the last 50 years. Enough is never enough and I hereby confess that I am an all-around fatty in much of my life.

If this is so pervasive, what is it affecting that we don’t realize? Where else are we guilty of gluttony? Where else we might have a blind spot to our constant consumption and lack of exercise? Could it be that we have also become spiritual fatties? Could it be that we have been too worried about “what we are getting out of” church? Could it be that we have spent too long simply going to church to get?

The Gospel is inherently action-based, and yet church has become consumer-focused. Churches are in a race to have the hippest worship bands, the best coffee for service or the best atmosphere. Sounds more like a coffee shop than worshipping the all-powerful God of the Universe.

We go to worship where the pastor is the funniest or most captivating, or choose a church based on “what they have to offer.”

It’s time we stop consuming and start exercising some of what we have learned, putting action behind the spiritual calories that we come to church and take in. It is time for Christians to step up and see church as not a place to be served but a place to serve – a place to proclaim the gospel rather than to receive it.

What’s worst is that those regular attenders that are always in church are commended as being spiritually fit.

In reality they may be spiritually fat (at least on the inside).

It’s time to balance our spiritual diet and exercise.

How will you get some Spiritual Exercise this week?

Photo Credit: chotda via Compfight cc

Not What Our Forefathers Had In Mind [Video]

There is nothing wrong with being wealthy.

There is nothing wrong with making a really great living.

But it feels like there is something wrong with a system that has allowed this:

Here are just a few thoughts that struck me as I watched this video.

Christians should find this unsettling

I would HOPE that this would make even the most conservative, capitalist, free-market Christian uncomfortable. I’m not a socialist by any means, and I think competition in an open market brings out better products. But to anyone claiming allegiance to Jesus, the disparity illustrated here should be unsettling. Our primary citizenship should be as members of the Kingdom of God, not Americans. We do hold citizenship in both realms, but check out what Luke 14 says:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who doesn’t carry his cross and follow my cannot be my disciple.

By comparison, Jesus’ disciples must put their love and allegiance in Him above all else. Jesus followers have a higher calling to view people with an extremely high regard. Seeing such a disparity should tug at our heartstrings, especially because the God we worship cares so much for the “least of these.”

The “next step up” never feels extravagant

Think about it. The level of the “top 1%” seems extravagant to those trying to “scrape by.” But they didn’t get there overnight. They just reached for the next income level, and then the next one. It only seem extravagant because it’s way out of your reach, but when you are knocking on the door of the next income level above you, does it seem extravagant?

To the person in a squalid hut in Africa, an apartment with running water is extravagant.

But to the person renting that apartment, owning a home (probably looking for more space) doesn’t seem extravagant at all.

It just seems like the next step.

No one thinks they are rich. The American Dream, that anyone in America can get as rich as possible any way possible is a sham. Greed drives this “next step up” mentality and causes us to be discontented with what we have. Studies have shown that we are living so far outside of our means that nearly everyone in America describes the perfect salary as about 40% more than what they currently make.

“If only I could afford _____________, then I would be able to relax.”

This is the dangling carrot that you’ll never catch.

To someone else, you are the one with “more”

There is always someone with more, but that means there is always someone with less. It is easy to sit on your high horse and say, “shame on all those rich people.” But here’s the real deal:

You are [almost certainly] not the lowest person on this chart.

There is someone with less than you. All of us can point to where the problem is and it never seems to be with us. Because we don’t think we have enough. We strive for that “comfortable” level, but it never comes. The way this cycle breaks is that we all need to work to break the strangle-hold possessions and money have on our hearts.

Give generously!

And when it starts to hurt, when we start to feel the pinch of giving, we need to give just a little more.

It’s time to debunk the lie that we are poor, and that we don’t have any flexibility in our income. It’s time to start looking out for those that have less than ourselves.

It’s time to let Christ make us generous people and let that be one of the things that sets us apart from the rest of the world.

What stood out in this video to you?