Wednesday, May 16, 2018

What Makes Me Proud Of The American Church

There seems to be an increasing polarization in culture between the church and, well, everyone else. A lot of it has to do with politics (and the controversial evangelical alignment with President Trump); a lot has to do with the ubiquity of social media, a platform which Christians have far too often used to shame, mock, attack and spread fake news rather than commit to representing Christ with truth with grace. 

It discourages me. Even worse, I know I contribute to the problem at times. I really, really want a pedestal to stand on, but it crumbled long ago.

I know the gap between those in the church and those outside it is not only widening but deepening, because I have dear friends outside the church who have made this abundantly clear. Even as Christians have gained power as citizens of the United States, we have lost gospel influence as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. What does it profit the Church to gain D.C. or get movies in theaters or have professional athletes pray if the light from the 'city on a hill' no longer pierces the darkness with honor, truth and grace?

I can beat the drum of "judgment begins in the house of God" all day. 

In the midst of my ecclesiastical gloom and doom, a good friend challenged me last week to rethink my pessimism. Is my ever-present negativity doing justice to the reality of the 'boots on the ground" experience of the Christians I know? Well, not really. And is it doing justice to the Big Picture of the Christian presence in culture?

So I started doing some research.

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The early church thrived in Roman and Greek culture by living out their profession of faith. They took care of the sick, the orphans, the babies set out to die, the slaves, those used up and tossed away sexually by a brutally promiscuous culture (read Sarah Ruden's Paul Among The People for a sobering look at Roman and Greek norms). They were mocked for being a home to the poor and powerless because so many flocked to the safety of the early church.

But acting in this manner is how the church is meant to live out their faith. Granted, there is no church without going into the world and preaching the gospel, baptizing and making disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). A committed faith in Jesus and a lifestyle of worship through obedience is foundational. But if there is no "fruit" - no sign that words, actions, priorities and attitudes are increasingly reflecting the heart and mind of God and God's love for the world - then, to quote James, our religion is in vain (James 1:26).

The good news is that the church in the United States - the messy, hypocritical, imperfect church -  established and has continued a cultural presence that carries on the spirit of the early church by working for the practical good of the city (or nation) as a means of serving God by serving others. The Gospel was never meant to be about just social good, but it can never be separated from it.

Jesus noted that when His followers showed care for "the least of these" - those in need of food, water, clothing and shelter; those who were treated as outcasts; those overlooked or marginalized - it was as if they had shown that care to him. In other words, we better take our task as ambassadors seriously. Loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength includes loving our neighbors as ourselves.

So while the church is in real need of moral and spiritual revival (as it has always been - none of us have arrived), it eases my mind to know that the church has not stopped finding a multitude of ways to serve our culture as a means of revealing God's love and care through our love and care.

Here, in no particular order, are some things that make me proud of the American church.

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  • The Volunteering in America 2009 report, the most comprehensive data ever assembled on volunteer trends and demographics, found that 22.2 million volunteers, or 35.9 percent of the total 61.8 million volunteers in the United States, served with or through a religious organization in 2008.
  • “Among Americans who claim a religious affiliation, the study said, 65 percent give to charity. Among those who do not identify a religious creed, 56 percent make charitable gifts.
  • About 75 percent of people who frequently attend religious services gave to congregations, and 60 percent gave to religious charities or nonreligious ones. By comparison, fewer than half of people who said they didn’t attend faith services regularly supported any charity, even a even secular one.”


  • There are a ton  of Christian universities and colleges today. Don't forget that Harvard, Yale and Princeton were founded as seminaries. 
  •  “America has over 16 million high school students. Of these, about 1.3 million attend 12,000 private high schools, the majority of which are religiously affiliated and explicitly Christian.” Here’s the Top 50.


  • The Christian Legal Society is a non-profit that offers legal services. 
  • The Christian Legal Aid Program encourages and trains Christian volunteers--lawyers and other legal professionals-- to help remove key legal and other impediments to a fuller life for the poor and homeless through legal and spiritual counseling and legal intervention to prevent or mitigate the consequences of the wrongful denial of jobs, of housing, of food, of medical and of other benefits. Significantly, the preservation of families and services benefiting women and children occupy more than one-half of these voluntary efforts.”


11. CHRISTIAN AFTER SCHOOL PROGRAM? They are everywhere. Google it. 



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And then there is the normal routine, the every day reality of the church where I pastor and in which I am immersed.

It is full of sinners saved by God's grace: people whose history has not become their destiny; people who are learning how to live and love well; people with whom I find encouragement, challenge, rest, confrontation, blessing, heartbreak, healing and hope.

My boys are surrounded by good friends and mentored by solid adults.

My wife and I find counsel, encouragement, challenge and love in a community that encourages our transparency and builds our maturity.

I see so many individuals whose lives are slowly but surely redeemed and transformed by the work of Christ and the community of the church.

I see the physically, sexually, emotionally, mentally, and relationally broken find healing through the truth of God's word and the strength and comfort of God's people.


And that gives me great hope indeed. When the church focuses on being the church - sharing the good news of the gospel in words and deeds, and loving God and our neighbor with all we've got - it works for the good of us all. And there is a lot that's working right now.

Now, if we can just keep the main thing the main thing ...

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