Take a close look at how so many Americanized Christians define their faith today. What are the priorities, even essentials, they embrace and seek to enforce on others?
It begins with “accepting Jesus” and moves pretty quickly to a few doctrinal points and defining social issues.
Namely, the required political positions — to be considered truly Christian today — top out with seeking to criminalize abortion, denying equal rights to LGBTQ persons, and promoting a perversion of “religious liberty” that favors those who share their religion.
Try countering these defining elements and see how quickly you get dismissed from their ecclesiastical clubhouse.
Orthodoxy, as they define it, is of great importance to those who not only redefine Christianity in such narrow political and theological terms, but also aggressively seek to enforce those same beliefs on anyone else who affirms the faith.
So-called “biblical inerrancy” is a codeword created for controlling who gets or stays in the door. It supposedly means the Bible is to be affirmed as totally true.
Technically, they say, it is just the Bible’s “original manuscripts” that no one has seen that are error free. So, practically, it means that how these persons interpret the Bible to suit their needs should not be questioned.
Inerrancy, as such, came on the scene in the late-19th century. It was solidified with the publication of The Fundamentals in the early 20th century, in response to evolution and higher criticism approaches to biblical interpretation.
Then there’s all the fear-based, dramatic rapture stuff — predicting the end times as popularized by Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye. This manufactured scheme, as we know it today, has a short history too.
It is traced to John Nelson Darby, an Anglo-Irish Bible teacher, who exported his end-times ideas into American revivalism in the 1800s. Considered heretical at the time, it became mainstream evangelical doctrine.
Defining 1950s-style marriage as the biblical model is yet another more modern invention. Actual biblical models tend to be uncomfortable and less applicable than desired.
And modern expressions of mutuality in marriage — based on biblical understandings — are too damaging to male egos. So, they just pick a sufficiently male-dominated approach and call it biblical.
Also, the whole effort of white evangelicals to control every aspect of the government — from the U.S. Supreme Court to local school boards — is out of sync with historic Christianity. And it is uniquely American among global evangelicals.
That is not the kind of power of which Jesus spoke and called his followers to embrace and advance. Jesus made this most clear in his wilderness temptation — deeming such controlling kingdom building to be evil.
Using government force to “make persons Christian” has been tried before — and never without a failure in faithfulness to Jesus’ life and teachings, and often bringing great carnage.
Rather than accepting these come-lately redefinitions of Christianity — even when presented as essential — it is worth asking some questions.
From where did this concept come? And what purpose (or whose purpose) was it designed to serve?
If something was not defining — and certainly not a priority — for Christians over the centuries (if not millennia), then how can it be considered essential now?
Is there really a need to create a better version of Christianity than what Jesus offered?
How do these later redefinitions of Christianity distract from the straightforward but challenging call from Jesus himself to follow in his footsteps?
Maybe it is helpful to frame the question in this way: Were Jesus’ first disciples really Christians?
According to the highly public expressions of white Americanized Christianity today, the answer would be a resounding “no.”
The disciples heard Jesus reinterpret religious law by saying, “but I tell you …” However, there is no evidence they were asked to affirm biblical inerrancy.
Besides, the canonized scriptures were unavailable and unnecessary for doing what Jesus said.
The earliest followers of Jesus thought he was coming back soon after his ascension. That’s why the Gospels were not written for decades.
And maybe the apocalyptic literature (that has filled books, charts, movies and sermons in more recent times) was more about enduring in faith, even when facing persecution, than a roadmap for a few comfy Christians, thousands and thousands of years later, to figure out the secret codes of end times.
Also, Jesus steadfastly refused the pressure and temptation to assume secular power. He spoke again and again about bringing in a different kind of world that is marked by love, humility, mercy, justice, sacrifice and service.
Coercion and exclusion were not used in his calling of those who threw down their fishing nets and tax ledger to follow him. Why would that be what he wants from us?
So, the big question just may be: Are we embracing the more recent redefinitions of Christianity — or are we, like the first disciples, dropping what makes us feel secure and following Jesus?
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.