Wednesday, February 6, 2008

What's Needed: 'Total Christianity'

---by Tristan Emmanuel

My last column obviously hit a nerve. Many wrote to concur with me that what is needed is virile leaders in the church. But let's face it; it is always easier to point out the problem than to outline a concrete solution.

So what follows is part one in what I hope will be a short series of columns that will attempt to outline a general strategy for cultural renewal. I've also outlined some of this in my latest book, "Warned." Get it. You won't be sorry.

The first thing we need to do is recognize that our fundamental problem isn't a lack of education or money. And neither does the answer lie in the appointment of a "political savior." I think the Bush presidency has cured everyone of that silly notion.

Clearly the problem goes much deeper; at root it is spiritual. But while that may be true, I don't want to offer up a trite platitude here – like "if we'd only turn back to God everything would change." The fact is that in the past 50 years, North America has literally seen an explosion in church growth. So people have been, at least in some sense, "turning to God."

Even so, the recognition that the problem is "spiritual" needs clarification, because with so much "Christianization" happening in our countries, we might legitimately expect to see some residual impact on the broader culture. Instead, the opposite has happened; there has been a steady decline of Christian influence.

So, the problem isn't spirituality per se, but a truncated spirituality.

Let me explain. The tension between private and public faith that is created by the challenges of secularism has forced too many Christians in the "mega-church" movement to make unnecessary and godless compromises. In too many of the populist churches the message has shifted from a God-in-Christ-centeredness to a focus on people, their "emotions" and their "felt needs." It's as though Oprah Winfrey has become the patron saint of the mega-church establishment.

Feel-good preachers spend a gazillion dollars promoting the myth that Jesus' sole purpose in coming to this earth was to ensure our happiness, our health, our wealth and our good looks, and that a "spiritual how-to guide" can be had in exchange for a simple contribution.

Now, I'm all for feeling happy, and believe me, Christianity should not be a journey down melancholy lane. But there is a serious flaw in the "me-centered" worship of the seeker-schmoozer churches.

There is no doubt a deeply personal component to the Christian faith. One of the cores of the faith is the ability to say, "Jesus Christ died for me." But the problem is that elevating the personal and individual to the exclusion of all other matters has had the detrimental effect of turning church services into a celebration of people as objects of worship, rather than God. Not only that, but it has also taught an entire generation of young Christians that Christianity is not concerned with public expressions of their faith – such as standing for the defense of the unborn, promoting the sanctity of marriage and parental rights in education, or even defending the notion of liberty and "free speech."

Which brings me to the nub of it.

If Christians are going to turn this cultural ship around, there is one clear imperative that must be obeyed by all – pastor and lay-person alike. We must all insist on God-centered worship that spills over into the public square. Total Christianity demands nothing less.

The biblical adage that applies here is very clear. "Therefore whoever confesses me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32-33).

Christ wasn't just talking here about a public witness or an aggressive evangelistic campaign, all laudable and necessary activities. His statement was a clear condemnation of any tendency to truncate Christianity, to relegate it to personal and private realms while we let Satan, as it were, freely roam the streets of the public square.

Total Christianity means that we assume the public responsibility of exhorting those in the home, church and, most importantly, in the broader society to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ. Total Christianity doesn't allow for two different standards of truth and morality, one for the Christian and a different one for the unbeliever.

King David, a public and political figure, wrote: "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free Spirit. Then will I teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will be converted to you."

The salient failure of the mega-church phenomenon, with its emphasis on seeker-friendly liturgy and numeric growth, is that it has refused to teach a total Christianity. People walking into the front doors of these churches who are looking to have their emotions titillated may be getting that, but they're not having their moral consciences confronted, and they probably aren't finding any real answers in the cross of Calvary either; nor are they getting a sense of God's greatness.

That is why if we want to change our culture we firstly need to change the way we do church. We need a total Christianity, not a truncated version of seeker-individualism. It may be good for the bottom line temporarily, but the long-term effects are spiritual bankruptcy, both for the Church and the culture.

"Saint Oprah" notwithstanding, we need a Christianity that acknowledges God for who He is and is cognizant that man meets God on His terms, not the other way around.

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