The most troubling oddity of Americanized Christianity is how easily expendable Jesus has become. And, sadly, his absence often goes unnoticed and unnoted.
Gospel writer Luke’s report on a youthful event in Jesus’ life can be said about much of Americanized Christianity today: “Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day” (Luke 2:43-44, NIV).
Jesus has not forsaken Americanized Christians. He’s been ignored, left behind, and often replaced with lesser, even conflicting priorities.
Tragically, many professed believers — “thinking he is in their company” — have come up with a way to avoid Jesus while still calling themselves Christians.
Often they even claim a higher faith than others. Yet, they switched the tags and shifted to a different target.
Jesus’ call to “follow me” has been replaced by fidelity to a political ideology of self-interest and self-preservation that is cheaply wrapped in bad theology and poorly labeled as “biblical.”
“Believing the Bible” in this way — even as it conflicts with the life and teachings of what’s-his-name — has become the substitute test of faith for much of Americanized Christianity today.
According to the Gospels, however, Jesus gives various responses to what it means to inherit the Kingdom of God. Not one of those responses involves affirming a doctrinal or political checklist. Nor does he ever say, “Believe the Bible.”
Instead, Jesus stated that all the laws and prophets are wrapped up in just two great commandments: Love of God and others.
He speaks of the heaven-bound faithful as those who care selflessly for powerless persons in need — noting that in doing so they are actually treating Jesus in that way.
There’s nothing in the Gospels about reciting a properly worded “profession of faith” and then moving on with one’s self-interest — or signing one’s name to a list of some organization’s selective “right beliefs.”
Too many professing believers treat Jesus as simply an escape mechanism from hell — while throwing to hell everything he called his followers to be and do. Americanized Christians don’t deny themselves; they have rights, you know.
With their politicized and so-called “biblical worldviews,” much of Christian America is running away from Jesus en masse — some moving so quickly out of fear or uncritical allegiance that they haven’t noticed his absence. Their WWJD bracelets were long tucked away in the junk drawer.
Atlanta pastor Andy Stanley addressed this misdirection and needed redirection in a recent sermon: “Take your application cues from Jesus’ new covenant command.”
There is a tragedy at least equal to outright rejecting Jesus: claiming his name and then not noticing that he has been left behind — traded for a fear-based religious/political allegiance similar to what drove the efforts to eliminate Jesus long ago.
Apparently, the widespread claim to be Christian while ignoring Jesus — or just not noticing his absence — fools some people. But this is not going to end well for the very institutions of faith that foster this false allegiance — with many church leaders, ignoring the teachings of Jesus is an effort to avoid institutional losses.
But many from both outside and inside the church see what is happening. They notice the glaring absence of Jesus within Americanized Christianity and are seeking authentic faith elsewhere.
A hard and pressing question for church leaders must be faced: Is a Jesus-absent form of “Christianity” worth preserving?
Jesus is really hard to ignore — and even harder to follow as long as “my rights” and “my power” and “my self-interest” trump the larger, encompassing call to love God with all one’s being and one’s widely-defined neighbor as oneself.
The path of faithful followship requires taking notice of when our steps depart from those of Jesus.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.