I've said it before, many others have as well, but it needs to be contemplated and understood. We agree too quickly, and in doing so fail to understand what this means and how deeply it affects us.
There are so many issues and potential angles in evaluating the problems of the contemporary Church. But this one is foundational.
Self-denial is the heart of the Christian life. Denying the self is the polar opposite of pride. Sanctification is the process of renewal and regeneration. Our worldly desires for respectability and elevation, for security and in many cases dominance are set aside. We die to these things. The deeds of the flesh are put to death.
We realize that we are sinners, guilty and corrupted. There is no sin on this earth that we are incapable of committing. Apart from Christ we are abhorrent and abominable in the sight of God. Despite this curse of death, God shows amazing love in sending His Son. When we come to Christ, we bring nothing. We have nothing to offer. There is nothing about us that is pleasing to God.
Our self-will is slowly done away with and we submit ourselves to the Kingdom of Heaven. Our will and our desires are separated from every fleshly impulse. Our sinful nature is subjugated and looking at the world through new eyes and with new hearts, we view this life and its meaning in a wholly new way.
Obviously what is passing as Christian teaching is in most cases the polar opposite of what the Scriptures actually teach. And this isn't just in the world of Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer fans. This is a deep cancer that in different ways and forms afflicts many Bible believing congregations and teachers.
The more we grow, the more we sense that this world is not our home. This doesn't mean we go out and live in a cave on some mountain side. But it does mean that we increasingly see this world as both a race of rats and aVanity Fair. We see everything the world is chasing after as foolishness. Not only foolish in the sense of wasteful frivolity but foolish in the sense of being morally decadent, harmful to ourselves and others. Foolish in that it ignores the self-evident existence of God and suppresses the innate knowledge of accountability and coming Judgment.
As renewed persons, we examine and consider our lives, our stuff and our desire for it. We consider how our culture enslaves us to thinking about standards of living, money and many other things. Unwilling to be out of the loop, uncool, weird, or somehow not respectable, we convince ourselves that we're reasonable in our desires. We 'need' these things we say to ourselves as we return from another shopping trip or buy a yet bigger house.
We convince ourselves that we're being antithetical to culture by abstaining from certain foods and drinks, dressing a certain way, and only watching the right kind of television shows or movies.
It is always good to apply wisdom, but a more careful study of the Scriptures will demonstrate food and drink do not commend us or condemn us in the sight of God. Dress while important is not the heart of the Christian life, and most thinking in this area is not Bible-based but culture based. And it's good to hide the wickedness from our eyes, but if we think that is the only way the culture is affecting us, then we're just kidding ourselves.
Our culture teaches us not to self-deny, but to self-indulge. It teaches us to covet, to be discontent, and to worship ourselves. It is the antithesis of Christian morality. The morality of American (even Western) culture directly contradicts the Christian moral imperative.
We (the Church) are not going to change this. If we did, the economy would collapse and the United States would quickly break apart. Consumer spending comprises over 70% of our economy. Globalized Capitalism eliminated the industrial sector. Anyone who lives in the Rust Belt can attest to that. It's just gone. The contemporary economy is absolutely dependent on Consumerism.
This explains the schizophrenia of late 2001. Be afraid, support the police state and the new endless war...but make sure that no matter what, you go buy stuff.
No Consumerism, No America. It really is that simple.
We're not going to change it, but we (the Church) cannot go along with this. We must be counter-cultural. If so, we're going to be weird, an anomaly, even outcasts.
We're going to put Church and family first and if we do this we will not succeed in the marketplace that says you must put money and materialism first. If we follow their rules about have and have-not, buying and selling and the meaning of life and time... then we've lost something.
Look at the pride and manipulation taking place in this commercial:
Besides being false in its narrative(and thus immoral) it promotes values that are just plain evil...but necessary for the system.
Are we willing to follow through, to re-think how we approach our jobs, money, and our standard of living?
Most of the Church will say 'no'. The popular Christian Financial Advisors affirm the values in this commercial. Their wisdom is worldly wisdom and thus of the devil. It is couched and masked by twisted conceptions of stewardship, responsibility and the unsaid values of security and respectability... the heart of the middle class dream.
See them for what they are.
What? The American Dream, the values of the Middle Class are not compatible with Christian virtue?
It's no wonder the American Church struggles with all the Biblical passages concerning the poor. Rather than obey the Biblical mandates, we've created an endless array of tools and arguments to explain away both the commands and the posture of the heart that they assume.
We've enshrined certain economic ideas and worldviews, the ethics they necessarily entail, and convince ourselves that they reflect Biblical teaching and use them to contort and twist what the Bible actually says.
The Scriptures are clear. We're not to have class distinctions within the Church. But when the Church has signed on with the cultural norm, the ethics and moral outlook change. To be a good Christian is to be a respectable Middle Class American... then those who are not, are probably of dubious moral standing.
Look at those who are picked for leadership in the Church. The early Church had slaves for elders. Can you imagine a congregation today picking minimum wage workers to lead while white collar executives submitted to their leadership?
What are the criteria? Are we following the Bible or what the culture deems to be important? Will those respectable business leaders submit to the wisdom and teaching of someone who belongs to a different economic class? Will their pride allow it?
We've brought class into the Church. Now due to history and the shadow of Marxism, we're not allowed to talk about Class. It's forbidden on a social level, but how much more within the Church? Why is Sunday morning the most segregated time in our culture? Congregations are segregated by both race and class. Why? Because the church is following the world. All parties are guilty here but those who are socially ascendant, those who hold the wealth and the power bear the most responsibility.
The New Testament is pretty clear about how the Church is supposed to work. See 2 Corinthians 8.13 for a start.
But ever since the Constantinian era, the Church has constantly sought ways to explain it away and erect theologies that support hierarchy and power...a political order. In many cases this shift is recognized and celebrated.
Sacralism is a theology of power, or civilizational control. It is a system that depends on self-indulgence and promotes a piety that celebrates and rewards what the Bible calls the pride and lust of worldliness.
We compare ourselves to the blatantly false Prosperity Gospel, but few realize they've embraced a more subtle version of the same error. (see 2 Cor. 10.12)
Isaiah 3 proclaims that it was Judgment on Israel when God inverted the natural order of things. That was written in a covenantal context but we see the same thing in the Church with the 'hip' self-indulgence of the youth culture often dominating. I've been struck walking into congregations and seeing the older folks beaten down into submission. They accept all the rock concert/entertainment nonsense because they feel they have to in order to keep the young people. I always make sure to ask and always get the same answer.
For generations their teachers have failed them in helping them to understand what the Church is and why it gathers, let alone who is the Holy God that we serve. And now Judgment is brought down on the Church through a leadership that turns Scripture on its head.
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