The month of January is known for many things, it is the first month of the year, Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday is celebrated, College Football Championships (by the way Ohio State got thrashed by the Florida Gators) take place, but not forgotten, January is the month when American Presidents give the State of the Union Address to Congress and the nation. Most Americans look forward to hearing the President’s assessment of the nation’s standing, and about the nation's fiscal health. Not only do Americans hear from the President about the nation’s fiscal condition of the nation, Americans also hear about the President’s vision for the nation, particularly where he (or soon she), plans to take the nation.
When I recalled, earlier this month that it was time for the President’s annual State of the Union speech, what crossed my mind was why doesn’t someone give an annual state of the church speech? So I will provide my own assessment of the state of the church in America based upon my observations.
I. The Unhealthy State of the Church in America
If John the Revelator of Revelations the 2nd Chapter was to have included the church of America, in his state of the church letters that he composed for the seven churches of Asia, what would he have to say?. From what I have observed the state of the church in America is very poor and it is worsening by the day. And there are reasons for the church’s unhealthy state, it is as if the church was on a gurney, in America, and is about to be wheeled out by hospital attendants. One of the reasons for its condition appears to be that the church has gone full circle, and returned to what the early colonists sought to escape from when they left England, the church of the secular mix is what I call it.
There are some other problems that are worth mentioning. There is what I refer to as American Capitalist Church Syndrome, American Mega-Church syndrome, the Church is a Business Syndrome (a phrase coined by none other than Bishop T.D. Jakes of the Potter’s House, the Political Church that has been organized for political activism, and last but not least the intersection of and the mixing of church dogma with that of the state. All of the above have resulted in what appears to be a confused if not Apostate church in America that has been co-opted away from its mission and turned into an organized body that is there to be exploited, twisted and used by political interests and avarice-seeking ministers.
The part of the church in America that is being influenced by luminaries like Pat Robertson of the 700 Club, Jerry Falwell of the Old Time Hour and the Thomas Road Baptist Church of Lynchburg Virginia, has seemingly turned aside from the mission of saving souls, building souls and caring for the poor. Instead these ministers who appear to be nothing more than political activists, who are closely aligned with the current Republican Administration, and have organized the whole country it would seem and many of its parishes to be used for political purposes; at times they are joined by Rod Parsley, Reed and others. It makes you wonder where these folks were during the heigth of Civil Rights movement in this country, and why they are not as vocal about the inequities and injustices that persist in this country today?
Bless his heart, even Billy Graham declined an offer to join Dr. King at the Civil Rights March in Washington in 1963. He has since repented just as George Wallace did given his failure, however, at the time the national evangelist who preached liberty in Christ, believed that the non-violent marchers who desired freedom in America were the trouble-makers. Can you imagine the pain that could have been mitigated over the past 40 years if Graham had stood on that podium and preached to America, telling America that racism is wrong! It makes you wonder!
Seemingly they have forgotten the scriptural injunction that ‘our ways are not God’s ways, and our thoughts are not God’s thoughts. The neophyte and later to become Chief Apostle Peter comes to mind, when he thought that the way to further God’s Kingdom was to take out his sword and to dismember a Roman soldier who sought to take Jesus by force in the Garden of Gethsemane. The question that comes to my mind is, why haven’t leaders like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Dr. Dobson and others organized the church and the church's religious organizations to in addition to saving souls (which is questionable whether they do that or not), eliminate poverty and illiteracy in this country, or to work for a just and equitable country, andworld?
These multi-million dollar organizations have been in existence for a long time. The same preach their form of the American gospel over American airwaves on a daily basis. It is hard for me to imagine that the head of the church, Jesus Christ, would have organized the church, or directed the authentic captains of his body, to lead the church into worldly political activism or to support internecine and unjust wars, in deference to helping to meet the needs of all of the people. I am reminded of the New Testament remnant that came together in Acts the 4th chapter, having all things in common and meeting both the spiritual and financial needs of everyone. Please see my previous article entitled, ‘Ghettos In The Church’. These fellas are clearly more interested in American expanionism, militarism and conquering other nations and heads of state. The scriptures on the other hand teach us that, those who war do not entangle themselves in the affairs of this life!
II. The Wanderlust Church of America in search of an Identity
It would appear that the church in America today is in search of an identity. If you were to visit many of America’s churches today during a Sunday morning service, you would be immediately struck by the restructured style of worship. Many churches in America today have abandoned their old Psalters and hymn books in favor of a more upbeat charismatic style of worship. Many of today’s multi-cultural congregations read and sing praise style lyrics from an overhead screen.
There is loud music, singing and wild exuberance. There are high-fives, ‘touching and uttering phrases to your neighbor’, accompanied by rousing applause and responses to the preachers comments. The Catholic Churches are introducing new contemporary masses, like the Jazz Mass. The goal is to compete with the charismatic’s, (catholic numbers are down) entice younger crowds by permitting a more upbeat styled service. Then there are the charismatic Catholics who enjoy praise and Pentecostal style worship, including glossalalia (speaking in tongues).
A young pastor and his wife left the Bridgeway Church of Columbia MD, to start a ‘hip-hop church in New Jersey. The liturgy will include the use of hip-hop in worship, rap lyrics and rap beats followed by a rapping preacher. Churches today have Christian Rock-bands, night-clubs for the kids with dancing and worldly gyrating, game rooms and gymnasiums. I was invited to attend a service at the St. James Park of downtown San Jose California. The group who sponsored the activity was reaching out to youth, invited in a guest rock band.
While the band played, the crowd that gathered, not knowing that they were at a Christian program, began to dance and guzzle cheap wine. Some stood next to the stage and danced along with the band. When I began to witness to one man who at the time was not only drinking wine but pouring wine over his body, he asked, why are you trying to talk to me about Jesus at a rock concert. He seemed surprised to find out that he was at a church outreach program. The fact is, I was a bit shocked myself. A scripture comes to mind, can Satan cast out Satan? To the church I ask, can we win the world to Christ by using worldly means and incentives? Some believe they can, and to that group I would ask, have you won them to Christ, or won them to your following.
I worshipped several weeks ago, Christmas Sunday, at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. The National Cathedral is considered to be the national church and the house of prayer for all people, especially Americans. It is just a stones throw from the Capitol and the White House, most of the state’s business, that requires a house of worship, is also held at the National Cathedral. About a week ago, the state funeral for former President Gerald Ford was held at the Cathedral.
I rather enjoyed the service, with all of its high pomp and ceremony. The singing and music, Christmas carols, were excellent. Before the televised Christmas service began, the Music Director came out to warm up the audience, he even rehearsed a few songs with the audience that were to be sung during the Christmas program. We were encouraged to be jovial and to participate given that the service was being broadcasted to the nation, particularly to the sick and shut-in.
Is the National Cathedral in Washington DC, in the minds of most American Christians, the Head of the Christian Church in America? Not only would most churches and their leaders deny it, the Dean and the College of Episcopalian Priests at the Cathedral would also deny it. Yet, they are clearly there to serve, whosoever will come (and don’t knock them, they were open on Christmas Day, most churches in America were not).
Even Rick Warren of Saddleback and the ‘Purpose Driven Life’ fame has, unknowingly hurt us! There are many ministers who have substituted a growth plan, in place of what Rick even intended. It was not Rick’s intentions to teach other ministers how to grow a bloated church. Yet there are many pastors who are buying books and intending seminars and hiring consultants, with the hopes of growing the numbers in their congregations. God is not in the numbers only business. I will come back to this later.
III. How Do Non-Christians In the World View The America Church?
A couple of decades ago I had the pleasure of speaking with a Muslim gentleman who previously relocated to America with his family. Both he and his wife wanted the best for their children, so they decided to place their child (who was of age) in a Catholic School. He explained that the reason they did that was because they understood that the parochial Catholic School system was superior to the public school system. He added one caveat. He and his wife explained to their son who was then in grammar school that he had been placed there in order to pursue a good education, but at the same time he was to ignore all of the religious dogma that he would receive at the religious institution, for they were of the Islamic faith, and they belied in Allah, God, and Muhammad his prophet. As we drilled down deeper, he also added that the other problem that he and his wife had with Christianity was that Christianity was polytheistic.
Most Christians would have at this point entered into a polemical debate, having taken umbrage with his position, but I did not. Instead, I asked him to continue and explain why he felt that Christianity was polytheist? He immediately attacked ‘the trinity’, and its belief in 3 Gods. In the Muslim faith, Muslims are unified around the principle of one-God, and their belief that Allah is God, and that there is none other beside him. I not only found his position on Christianity to be intriguing, but his lumping of all American denominations in America into one basket to be equally intriguing. I knew that most American Christians, particularly those from non-trinitarian denominations, would have rejected his conclusions.
For those of you who hope to discern a bit more about me, and would hope to do so based upon what my response was to him, you will likely be very disappointed with me given that I am cut more from the ‘teacher does not strive’ school'. I am more apt to teach, and from that we entered into a broader discussion, more exploratory in nature. I was simply intrigued, hearing how people of other faiths perceived the Christian faith, which gave me a window into why they were as adamantly skeptical and opposed to Christianity, as Christians were as adamantly opposed to and intolerant of other faiths.
Who cares what they believe would be the attitude of most Christians, ignoring the fact that there are over 1B Muslims, mostly of the Islamic faith. The dye-hard Christian intolerant would argue, so what, they have been misled. However, the curious among us, who believed that we are called to go into the entire world and win souls for Christ “those that he has called”, are a bit more curious. I for one wondered, what is the intrigue, what is it that would attract nearly 1B people to a faith, a faith that is larger by far than one of the 3 major faiths, the Jewish/Hebrew faith, on the planet.
I thought, these people are highly educated, the ones that I have met. Many are multi-lingual and college educated. And despite the bias that we have in the west towards them, even in Koran, there are as many if not more referernces to many stories and characters that are so important in the Christian faith, characters like Abraham, Jesus, Mary the mother of Jesus and others. In fact, in their holy documents there seems to be a fairer treatment of Christianity, than there is in Christianity of Islam or Muhammad.
I might come back to this subject someday, but lest I drift away from my theme, let me return to my subject. I have demonstrated how in the eyes of one Muslim, Christianity in America, is viewed as one huge polytheistic organization, and a false religion that has departed from the word of God and therefore is to be shunned.
I also emphasized how this particular Muslim, who like many Muslims, believes that in spite of those churches in America who consider themselves to be separate from other mainstream Christian denominations (believing that they are more attentive to the word of God) that people from around the world lump all American denominations together, and they view the Christian church in America as one church.
To be continued... The Rev