In Mark Twain’s 1889 novel “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” a modern Western engineer turns up in the land of Camelot and King Arthur. The plot plays on superior “modern” technology and knowledge to amaze the ancient followers with powers and capabilities from the future.
Today’s American Christians are like the character in the story – moderns trying to bring their own brand of Americana to the antiquated ways of the followers and Church of the Nazarene carpenter. Surely, we reason, if we just get the power of, say, politics, or causes, or technology or social power into Christianity we can prevail. How’s the story turning out? Not well!
Why? James Earnest, Editor-in-Chief at Christian Publisher Eerdman’s says this: “What we’re seeing is massive discipleship failure caused by massive catechesis failure…” “The evangelical Church in the U.S. over the last five decades has failed to form its adherents into disciples. So there is a great hollowness. All that was needed to cause the implosion that we have seen was a sufficiently provocative stimulus. And that stimulus came.”
Earnest is saying that Western Christianity is more reliant on social power and influence than the directive Jesus gave us to go out “like sheep among wolves”. (Matthew 10.16)
Of course we are to be citizens, and speak our minds and advocate for the widow, the oppressed, the stranger and the orphan. But we must not be the angry, tribal, cancellation warriors – zombies for the shouting heads screeching on the newsfeeds and podcasts.
“Culture catechizes” says Alan Jacobs, distinguished professor of humanities at Baylor University. Disciples are to be changing culture, but we are not to do it by the anger and vitriol of the fearful and raging from the right OR from the left.
If your faith has never challenged your political beliefs, consider this comment from Peter Wehner at the Ethics and Public Policy Center: “Scott Dudley, the senior pastor at Bellevue Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, Washington, refers to “our idolatry of politics.” He’s heard of many congregants leaving their church because it didn’t match their politics, he told me, but has never once heard of someone changing their politics because it didn’t match their church’s teaching. He often tells his congregation that if the Bible doesn’t challenge your politics at least occasionally, you’re not really paying attention to the Hebrew scriptures or the New Testament. The reality, however, is that a lot of people, especially in this era, will leave a church if their political views are ever challenged, even around the edges. They feel that everything they value is under assault, and that they need to fight to protect it. “I understand that,” Dudley said. “I feel under assault sometimes too. However, I also know that the early Christians transformed the Roman empire not by demanding but by loving, not by angrily shouting about their rights in the public square but by serving even the people who persecuted them, which is why Christianity grew so quickly and took over the empire. I also know that once Christians gained political power under Constantine, that beautiful loving, sacrificing, giving, transforming Church became the angry, persecuting, killing Church. We have forgotten the cross.”
The result for Western believers is that politics has been tried and repeatedly comes up wanting as the disciple’s main tool. Technology, like the news outlets and brain-drains of the internet have likewise failed, yielding ever-louder dissonance and evermore exhausted onlookers. Causes, as the main thing, likewise collapse, either excluding these kinds of people or cancelling those kinds of people. In the end, our Yankee modernity simply cannot save the day. (It failed in the novel too btw…)
Leaders – are you helping your people grapple with this modernity phenomenon? The phenomenon of an increasingly more angry, more-desperate Christianity trying to upgrade discipleship using politics, tech and causes? Are we trying a fragile and small discipleship, where people think all is lost unless we weigh in with our tribe, and our fame, fortune, technology and politics as the means to right a broken world?
Glamor and power are not Jesus’s way. How does you church culture orient your people to develop their spiritual lives in all this? Ask yourself – are there political positions and social agendas that simply may not be discussed in your church without rage and vengeance queueing up?
Let’s get back on the real mission of the Church – teaming up disciples to go out and develop themselves, and others, as disciples. Believers exist to be salt and light in their jobs, in their communities and in their families. And that is a profound calling. Most of us are never going to be on MSNBC or Fox News. This is an important perspective for people seeking to distribute The Good News, because disciples, as individuals, influence the people and societies we are placed among. In other words, MSNBC and Fox can make you angry and restless, but they must not be allowed to disciple you, nor to teach you that others around you are not made in the image of God.
Discipling is a one-on-one calling to interact with people. Disciples are to be people who can interact using “gentleness and respect with anyone who asks you for the reason about the hope within you”. (1st Peter 3.15) You just may be talking to the next Margaret Thatcher, MLK, Beth Moore or Billy Graham. Maybe even a King Arthur. That’s the way Jesus rigged the system – ordinary people influencing the disciples of tomorrow. Power – Politics – Causes don’t work. We are all called to lay down our lives, our politics, our causes and power, to graciously attract questions about the King who rose from the dead, for you and for me – and for them.
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