In a faith tradition familiar to many, the most important thing in the world — this one and the next — is being saved. The second most important thing is getting others saved.
The first priority is often cast as a simple, step-by step process of admitting one’s sinful state and seeking forgiveness, culminating in what is often called “accepting Jesus as my personal savior.”
The second priority — often called “witnessing” — requires getting others to do likewise. Various strategies have been developed to achieve evangelistic goals, some ethical and some not.
In a recent social media post, Pentecostal theologian Cheryl Bridges Johns shared this quote from author and podcaster Christine Caine, who had just spoken to an Association of Related Churches (ARC) church-planting conference:
“We’ve raised up a generation that knows how to market but doesn’t know how to be marked by God.”
My response was that it’s more than one generation. There are many generations of Americanized Christians “unmarked” by what Jesus called his followers to be and do.
This is due to a failure to take seriously the life and teachings of Jesus. And this consistent deflection or omission has been and remains intentional for one not-so-good reason: Jesus calls his followers to be and do things we don’t want to be and do.
Jesus’ example and teachings are at odds with how many Americanized Christians prefer to think and act. And this reality comes into view more so at particular times — such as now, when so many who profess faith are openly embracing authoritarianism, deception and heartlessness.
Yet, exactly when in our history do we find many marks of following Jesus within our faith tradition?
When in our national history have white Christians largely chosen the sacrificial, loving and merciful way of Jesus over self-interest that requires mistreatment of those with less power?
The sad reality is that generation after generation has checked the boxes of institutional support for the business of Christianity — and declared themselves “saved” while seeking the salvation of others.
Yet, all the while, ignoring just about everything Jesus said truly marks (identifies) his followers.
The salvation experience has often been reduced to a highly transactional act in which the right words, when rightly spoken with a right heart, puts one in a right state with God.
This limited understanding of salvation — rather than the biblical concept of wholeness — brings assurance of going to heaven while avoiding an eternity in hell.
How one is to live between accepting Jesus and reaching eternity (other than evangelism) has been generally tied to institutional support, as well as to culturally shaped behavioral expectations.
In my growing-up years, one’s faithfulness could be marked each Sunday on a six-point offering envelope — indicating one’s primary allegiances to personal piety (by reading the Bible and studying the weekly Sunday school lesson) and to the church (through giving, attending and recruiting).
Today, one’s defense of white Americanized Christianity is more often marked at the voter precinct ballot box or rallies calling for entrenched power at the expense of the powerless and democracy itself.
Ethical expectations within conservative Christianity have long been more personal than corporate, and mostly a listing of “don’ts” related to sex and alcohol.
Biblical justice — while permeating the holy scriptures — receives little to no attention since it would lead to undesired societal changes of equality, and the resulting shared resources and power.
In no way am I downplaying the significance of divine forgiveness, the value of personal spiritual practices or the need for engagement in and support of faith communities.
I’m simply saying those things are often done with disregard for — and even in opposition to — the demanding and life-giving call to follow Jesus.
Marks of taking most seriously what Jesus said were the greatest commandments — to love both God with all one’s being and one’s widely-defined and embraced neighbors — are widely absent from at least the public face of Americanized Christianity today.
On daily display, in their stead, is a slew of baptized bigots and bullies who demean children of God unlike them and demand the power to enforce their harsh, loveless misconceptions of God on society at large.
When given a choice between giving up something for the common good or engaging in politics of cultural self-preservation, many unmarked Americanized Christians rush to join the latter.
Their primary goal is to protect the institutions and identity of white evangelicalism, and the cultural power that comes with it. Therefore, between quick-fix salvation and the hope of eternity exists little evidence of following Jesus.
Oh, he’s still considered sweet, kind and generous. Just too much so for the way many white Americanized Christians want to live.
Power, privilege and victimhood are their preferred markings — and any loud, vulgar voices that promise to protect such status are the ones so many choose to follow over Jesus.
Wherever they lead, they’ll go. Unmarked.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.