Three cancers of American Christianity and surgical spiritual solutions

by Jim on November 7, 2012


Ministry Encouragement Podcast – Episode #019 – 11-7-12

Rev. Jim W. Hollis, Executive Director of Proactive Ministries

Hello and welcome to this Episode number 19 of the Ministry Encouragement Podcast.  It is my prayer that this will be a blessing for each of you and meet you at a point of one or more of your greatest spiritual needs.  I am honored that you allow me to share this time with you as part of your week.

Today has been a different one for me.  Not only are we electing the President of the United States of America, but it sure seems we are all immensely thankful for the end of the bloody and at times negative campaign.  As I went to our local voting place this morning early I arrived at just the time the doors were opening.

Sure, people told me to wait until after the “initial rush” of the opening time, but you know I wanted to be part of that.  Yesterday, last night and this morning even earlier were all very strange as I had planned to go to bed early and then get up in plenty of time – RESTED – to head to our local school.  It was a rainy night in Georgia and a bit cold.  Of course, we have no complaints after our brothers and sisters in the Northeast have been through so much trouble and suffering.

Yet, yesterday our wonderful daughter-in-law called us to say our middle grandchild, Jack who is 5, had cut his ear from a forbidden wrestling match with the family English Bulldog who is very good with the three grands but is a bundle of muscle and loves to wrestle.  He had cut his ear and after taking him to a couple of doc-in-the-box places, it was agreed that he just needed to go right on over to Egelston Hospital at Emory University – no doubt one of the best pediatric trauma units in the nation.

We got there about 8:25 p.m.  About 2:30 a.m. we drove back out of the emergency parking lot.  We had successfully seen Jack’s ear get three very nice stiches which were hard to get done as you just don’t take a shot and deaden the cartilege as it can quickly swell up.  So you give the child “loop de loop medicine” which is similar to laughing gas and makes them feel like they are just happy, happy.  That was fine and hilarious until the docs came in with their needles and thread.

Some of you that are either parents with more than one child or grandparents have made a very similar trip one or more times.  As a minister with 37 years of ministry experience (18 years as Pastor in local churches) I have visited with people in the ER hundreds of times.  This was particularly true when I served as two years as the Chaplain of the Cobb County Fire Department.  But we all know that when it is your child or grandchild – it is radically different – though it sure seems unreasonable intellectually.  Your gut will tell you it is different and while you are glad to be there it WEARS you out.

SO – as I stood in line with about 200 voters this morning in the Georgia rain, I began to think about our nation and just how divided we are.  That made me sad and I started to pray – what I usually do when I get sad and reflective.  I don’t do well with rain and clouds and barely light outside.  But I got inside the school and then progressed along in the lines.  There were people there who had strong opinions and due to pretty serious boredom thought it would be good to let their newest neighbors know their thoughts.

I did not enter such conversations as I have read and heard WAY too many of them over the last few weeks.  They have made me weary and suddenly I began to feel spiritually recharged.  I was sure it was the time of morning that a few hundred of our ministry family were remembering our ministry at Proactive Ministries and me in their morning prayers.  In such moments you can feel the power of prayer.  I was GLAD to be standing in a long line and took out my Iphone and began to write down my thoughts and feelings.  Here is what I wrote:

A most major piece of our witness as Christians is our attitude in expressing words (spoken OR written) when we lose OR win in anything. As true Americans at the least and as Christ-followers at the most we ARE team players. My greatest confidence and peace as I stand in line today to vote IS that Jesus Christ is greater than any person, party, position and heart. At the end of this trip in life I already know WHO wins for eternity. Let’s ask a simple question this day, “Regardless of the outcome this election will others see Jesus in us when it’s over?” Gleeful arrogance OR bitter anger will not represent the ONE who really counts. So let us vote and live out what we say we believe.

It made me reflect even more not only on our nation, but on American Christianity – by this time in history very different from many other part of the world, such as Africa, India or South America.  They are experiencing a bunch of Pentecost today and here in America we are seeing progressive decline. This is particularly true in mainline denominations.  SO, what is this all about?

Our ministry Staff at Proactive Ministries and I are perhaps more blessed (OR cursed) to see this than 95% of the population as we are constantly flying across this nation working to bring lasting spiritual change.  I wanted to put a short summary together in this way:

Three cancers of American Christianity and a few surgical spiritual solutions –  I see them as:

1) An increasing blurring of spiritual and biblical clarity:

  • An epidemic of biblical illiteracy in at least three generations – very low percentages of active members in congregations consistently participate in bible study today,  and even with the ones that do, there’s a minimum linkage to living out what is learned in the studies through effective, laity led ministries
  • A creeping promotion of universalism – the deceptive teaching that everyone is headed to the same eternal bliss
  • The acceleration of theological confusion – adding new layers of other religions before building a solid understanding and spiritual experience of Christianity

Proven surgical and spiritual solutions:

  • Incorporate “living out what you have learned” elements into the Bible Studies of the congregation.  For example, studying Matthew 28:19-20, commonly known as The Great Commission for disciples.  It’s great to study, analyze and reflect on this important text – but not enough.  If all it becomes is head knowledge and is never practically applied to how we live, it is just the acquisition of more biblical knowledge. Combine actual ministry practice and application between study sessions by giving personal or group assignments for class members to live out.
  • The basic antibiotic for “creeping universalism” is to be brutally honest about clear, non-reconcilable differences rather than trying to imply or state “We are all going to same place – just getting there through various systems.”  Muslims believe that allah is the way, and the only way.  At the end of the day, though they may try to focus on some commonalities, you will not see Christian leaders or pastors being asked to come and speak in mosques either here in America or abroad.  Why would they?  If allah is the way, then other systems will not bring salvation.  The same with other belief systems.
  • We can be friends, polite and even work on common mission projects – like being with people of other faiths who help build a Habitat Home – but make no mistake – we need to teach those who are involved in our church the basics of the Gospel of Christ and that it is not congruent with other religions or systems.

2) The substitution of Missions for Evangelism:

  • While we have come a long way in post-modern missions, we still have an enormous amount of issues which need to be addressed honestly and openly
  • Consider the new book that is out by a very involved, experienced, Christian missions activist: Toxic Christianity, by Robert D. Lupton, in which he issues a sobering “wake up call” concerning popular missions.  The write up of the book on reads:

Public service is a way of life for Americans; giving is a part of our national character. But compassionate instincts and generous spirits aren’t enough, says veteran urban activist Robert D. Lupton. In this groundbreaking guide, he reveals the disturbing truth about charity: all too much of it has become toxic, devastating to the very people it’s meant to help.

In his four decades of urban ministry, Lupton has experienced firsthand how our good intentions can have unintended, dire consequences. Our free food and clothing distribution encourages ever-growing handout lines, diminishing the dignity of the poor while increasing their dependency.

We converge on inner-city neighborhoods to plant flowers and pick up trash, battering the pride of residents who have the capacity (and responsibility) to beautify their own environment

  • There are some incredible things happening in foreign missions, particularly what is taking place in the nation of Hungary – especially Budapest.  We went there a few years back on an trip for 2 weeks after learning some amazing news of Christian acceptance in that nation, working closely with Campus Crusade for Christ there.  Most of the Staff of CCC is comprised of native Hungarians or those from nearby countries.
  • At ANY rate, though missions ministry ranks very high in importance of churches choosing ministry priorities, it cannot become a “substitute” for evangelism in post-modern society as we know it here in America.  We have been so repulsed by over aggressive, pushy people who have been pushing a doctrinal agenda and have turned people OFF by not focusing on the initiation and compassionate pursuit of authentic, caring relationships.
  • We truly need a new kind of evangelism.  An evangelism that seeks to intitate and pursue authentic, caring and compassionate relationships with others, both inside and outside the congregations in America, requiring nothing in return as to how someone responds.  In other words, unconditional love.  The establishment of sincere relationships will go a long way in demonstrating the reality of Christ’s love and message.

3) The disguising of legalism in the costume of grace – a wolf in sheep’s clothing 

  • This one is about giving people who may visit a church the impression that the people of this church are grounded in grace, UNTIL the new people cross one of the unwritten boundaries or request that changes be made in the status quo.  Then the wolf can come out of the costume.
  • The fall out from this kind of an experience can be deadly.  Young adults and youth will almost always immediately flee, repulsed by insisting that persons act exactly like the “status quo” leaders feel they should to be “acceptable” in that church.  As a friend of mine, Dave Jackson in Ohio, says, “The people in one of the churches I work in want to follow Jesus but no further than the end of the church driveway.”

The solution spiritually for this cancer is to remove it totally from every church! We are called to know who we are in Christ and how we function as a church.  Don’t give anyone one view of how the church is and then come forth with a totally different view as people begin to express views or actions that don’t fit the status quo.  We need to applaud diversity in the churches and be authentically welcoming of others as we express our willingness to change to minister and relate to them as new members of the Christian community.  This is seem most often in the area of worship.

I want to thank you again for allowing me to visit with you again this week for this Ministry Encouragement Podcast.  I hope you will take a minute this week IF YOU ARE BLESSED by this, to share this with others you love and care for.  It may be someone in your family.  It could be a co-worker. Or it may be someone who frustrates you consistently.

Your thoughts are important and meaningful to me.  We are building Christian Community through the expansion of this Podcast.  Currently we have nearly 750 individuals or families who have downloaded the Ministry Encouragement Podcast.  You can make a real difference as you seek to bring new encouragement to your fellow Christians in your congregation!

Blessings on your week and live it out in the JOY and LOVE of Jesus Christ, through the Divine Power of the Holy Spirit! 

Rev. Jim W. Hollis, Executive Director of Proactive Ministries (In Smyrna, GA)

Ministry Offices: (770) 803-9988


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