Our Pharisaical Fungus Infection
Way back in 1980, the then President, Jimmy Carter, observed that the United States was undergoing a “crisis of confidence” caused by the selfish, worship of consumerism. He observed that “piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives that have no purpose or meaning.” Although many believed that Carter wasn’t a particularly successful President, his observations regarding the malaise besetting our culture were both very Christian and very astute. Consumerism in its many forms has discouraged community and encouraged radical individualism. It has also promoted harmful changes to our sex and marriage mores. Radical consumerism, manifested in our media, has also been a factor in the gruesome rise of violence that is brutalizing our society.
The response of Evangelical Christians to this crisis of meaning and purpose has been puzzling. The history and traditions of the Evangelical church has been one of simplicity and frugality. Historically, there was a rejection of the opulence of the Roman Catholic Church and a movement toward simplicity in worship and general Christian demeanor. This was supported by Scripture (e.g., 2 Cor. 14:33). This orientation carried into the 1960’s; “worldliness” was something that many Christians were taught to avoid. For example, we have Free Methodist female friends who vividly recall that they were taught to not own or wear jewelry because it was “worldly” and thus offensive to God. My wife and her friends still recall youth-group lectures regarding the necessity of modest clothing and the dangers inherent in enticing males by wearing “worldly and immodest” clothing. Such concern, even among Christians, seems ludicrous today. This all began to change in the 1970’s.
Instead of acknowledging that the increase of consumerism was damaging the Body of Christ and alienating believers from each other and calling for a return to the Christian traditions of simplicity, self-denial and concern about sharing God’s love, the modern Evangelical church embraced consumerism in a whole-hearted manner. Denominations and Pastors became obsessed with “Church growth,” employing behavioral science and consumerist marketing models to become “successful.” The work of the Holy Spirit has become eclipsed by materialistic schemes to “grow the faith,” largely by forming large and affluent “worship centers.” Most worship centers are in fact large theaters that employ the latest in electronic technology. Sunday services have become theatrical productions that have little to do with individual worship and piety.
Predictably, consumerist success led some Evangelical groups into a quest for power. Soon, Evangelical groups began to form alliances with political organizations. This brought increased power, recognition and prominence to these churches and denominations. It did not however, reduce the angst brought by our consumerist culture. In order to assuage the alienation felt by Christians and non-Christians alike in our consumerist society, Evangelical leaders began to focus attention upon sin. Evidently, this has become a means of distracting the Body of Christ from the real cause of its alienation. Note that this focus is not about sin in general, but on selected and very specific sins. So, for instance, little has been said about the misuse of power or the oppression of the poor, which are major themes in Scripture and major problems in our society. Rather, Evangelicals have been fixated upon the sexual sins of homosexuality and abortion. To be sure, in terms of Scripture, these behaviors are sinful, but interestingly, they do not warrant the Biblical attention that other, more prevalent, sins do. Why then are Evangelicals fixated on these specific sins?
Part of the reason is that
culture has had a very strong
orientation towards individualism. It is
not surprising that Evangelical churches favor an individualist worldview. In
doing so, it is easy to ignore that there are two types of sin in Scripture:
i.e., corporate sin and individual sin. Certainly, “the sins of the nation”
occupy a lot of God’s wrath in the Old Testament. This did not go away in the New
Testament: God still holds nations accountable for their collective sin.
Addressing sins such as oppression of the poor and powerless would force us to
focus on collective sin. In the current consumerist church – political
alignment atmosphere, this is inconvenient and evidently is not to be even a
matter of consideration. U.S.
Individual sin has less political - economic implications, so it is safer to condemn. Interestingly, adultery, a major, individualistic sin in Scripture does not receive the magnitude of condemnation that the chosen “politically correct” sins do because it has become so commonplace. In our recent presidential campaign a least one prospective candidate had adultery issues which were dismissed out of hand by Evangelical “leaders.” Homosexuality and abortion are also sins which are products of modernity, which is also seen as more strongly embraced by a particular political party. Accordingly, the opposing political party, in their alliance with the Evangelical churches has capitalized on utilizing legitimate Christian concern for political gain. King Herod – the Roman puppet king of
to cull out so called “lawbreakers” and “sinful people.” He would be very familiar with this tactic
and championed it as a means of keeping the troubled
citizens of Israel
Our faith, which we are expected to contend for, that was entrusted to the saints (Jude 1:3), is now being converted into political statements and a series of “don’ts” and judgments. This judgment of the Pharisees is gradually spreading like a malevolent fungus that is taking over the Evangelical church. Instead of preaching the joy of God’s love and the wonders of His grace, we rail against very limited and specific sins. Small wonder younger people are no longer associating with Christianity. Condemnation is replacing love and as a consequence His church is becoming irrelevant clanging gongs and cymbals (cf., 1 Cor.13). All we can say is” even so come quickly Lord Jesus” (Rev.22:20). This article was written by Brendan Furnish