Americanized Christianity: What is Love?

Immanuel CrossesTherefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation (Romans 5:1-11).

I don’t want to address each point of contention I have with this article, 10 Ways To Determine If Your Christianity Has Been “Americanized,” as to do so would call for something much longer and more tedious than I have the time or inclination to undertake currently. Instead, I have chosen several sections from the article which, I believe, sum up the main ideas and where it is off-track. You can find the original piece here. Read it, it’s not that long, and is interesting, even if written in a disdainful tone. While the author claims to provide a beginning point for people to dissect their Americanized Christianity, so that they might “return home to the life and message of Jesus,” reading the list of ten signs he presents might lead one to suspect that Benjamin Corey has a political agenda, rather than a religious one. He starts right off with the whole “the early Christians were Communistic pacifists” argument:

If your primary identity is legitimately that of a Christian, you’ll be open to learning about Christianity as it was taught and lived by the earliest Christians. However, from an American mindset, original Christianity and the first Christians appear nuts: they were universally nonviolent (against capital punishment, abortion, military service and killing in self-defense), rejected individual ownership of property in order to redistribute their wealth (Acts 2:44-45, Acts 4:35), and rejected any involvement with the government. When reading about them they seem rather un-American, and this will cause frustration or disbelief among those in Americanized Christianity (Corey 2015).

While Christianity is certainly non-violent, it is not “against” such things as capital punishment, military service, and killing in self-defense. The Fifth Commandment says, “You shall not murder.” Luther’s explanation of the Fifth Commandment sums up the meaning of this commandment, in light of Christ’s words, particularly in the Sermon on the Mount:

We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every bodily need (Concordia Publishing House 1991).

This, however, does not mean that no one has authority to take another person’s life. Romans 13 commands us to submit to the governing authorities:

…for he [government] is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer (Romans 13:4).

Paul acknowledges here that governments, some of which carry out capital punishment, are authorities instituted by God. As such, we are to submit to them, at least until they command and act contrary to God’s Word. This would hardly constitute Paul – an early Christian – being “against” capital punishment. Furthermore, Paul continues to write contrary to Corey’s statement that the early Christians rejected any involvement with the government.

Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed (Romans 13:5-7).

The early Christians certainly may not have been in positions of authority within the government of the Roman Empire, but that does not mean they viewed governmental authority and submission to such authority and law as evil. To the contrary, we are commanded to serve the authorities instituted by God by gladly providing what they need or require (Concordia Publishing House 1991). Regarding their possessions, Acts 4:32 tells us that they (the believers) “had everything in common.” Rather than being an endorsement of communism, this scene gives us a glimpse of a restored creation.

God gives us property and resources for our neighbor’s benefit. The early Christians fully shared with one another, but not in the same way as the failed communist experiments of the twentieth century. Here there is no compulsion or involvement of the State – only believers are affected, and only goods are shared, not their production (Engelbrecht 2009).

This illustrates what is meant by a phrase popular among Confessional Lutherans, “God doesn’t need your good works. Your neighbor does.” I would also note that the believers are helping each other, not selling their property and goods to do charity work in the pagan slums.
Corey, in his second point, begins talking about love, and it is with this subject that we get to the real heart of the issue:

The chief calling of a Christ-follower is to love others. Whether a neighbor across the street, or an enemy across the world, Christ’s command is abundantly clear: we are to love one another. If your initial posture toward Muslims is that of viewing them as a threat instead of viewing them as people Jesus has commanded we radically and self-sacrificially love, then your Christianity might be Americanized (Corey 2015).

Is the chief calling of a “Christ-follower” really just to love others without condition? The chief calling of a Christian is to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that Jesus has commanded (Matthew 28:19). Love comes as a by-product of making Christians. Christians are commanded by Jesus to imitate the self-sacrificial love Christ showed by going to the cross, so that the world would recognize them as his disciples.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34.35).

Paul presents this teaching again in Ephesians:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:1-2).

What, to borrow a question from Haddaway, is love? Reading Corey’s piece one would get the impression that real love consists of serving real people around you, unconditional tolerance and acceptance of illegal aliens, homosexuality, and support for the welfare state.

Jesus calls us to get busy serving the least of these– to get our hands dirty, to embrace the position of “servant of everyone,” and to pour ourselves out as we endeavor to change the world right where we are. America on the other hand, invites us to view political power and force of government as the solution to the world’s problems, and that’s a tempting offer for both liberals and conservatives. If you’re more focused on what they could do than what you can do, your Christianity might be Americanized…If you advocate cutting government programs for the poor but don’t actually tithe yourself…If you say “we’re a nation of laws” in reference to immigrants faster than you quote what the Bible says about immigrants…If you think Paul’s prohibition on female teachers is straightforward, but Jesus’ teaching on enemy love is somehow open to a thousand degrees of nuance…Somewhere along the line, the Americanized version of Christianity taught us that defeating gay marriage was perhaps the most pressing issue of our time. Sadly, as Americans we’re taught to be self-centered and this is an incredibly self-centered view that completely ignores the global issues of our time. It is the mistaken identity that our issues are the issues. The most pressing issues of our time? Let’s start with the fact that 750 million people around the world don’t even have access to clean water or that 805 million people are chronically malnourished (Corey 2015).

Corey raises some interesting issues. This isn’t love, though. This is an enumeration of a political platform. Our primary concern shouldn’t be about “what I can do” to “change the world.” Both Christians and non-Christians can, and do, hold positions on all of these issues. And while love does manifest itself in good works for our neighbor, focusing on these works first is to put the emphasis in the wrong place. We should hate what is evil, Paul says, and cling to what is good. As Christians, speaking in terms of our relationship with the secular world, we should live at peace with everyone, insofar as it depends on us, and serve our neighbor in our vocation.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality (Romans 12:9-13).

Well-meaning Christians who look around and see all sorts of social problems chastise their fellow believers for not loving their neighbor. You must love your neighbor! You must be loving and tolerant of homosexuals. You must care for the needy! You must show compassion to immigrants, both legal and illegal! And, if you don’t do these things precisely the way I deem acceptable, I will – lovingly, tolerantly, acceptingly – call you all kinds of names like Pharisee, insult you, and say you aren’t a good Christian.

The thing which people who think like this don’t get, however, is from where the love to which they exhort us comes. They think it comes from us. You’re a Christian? Great! Get busy loving your neighbor. The more love you exhibit (Corey calls this “getting your hands dirty…”read do good works) the more evidence that you’re really a proper Christian. Except, the love Jesus describes doesn’t come from us, it comes from him. He commands us to be perfect, as our Heavenly Father is perfect. That’s something we cannot do.

They also forget that Paul told us to abhor what is evil.

Rather than being intentional acts which we perform to be better Christians, our good works flow from us organically; they are products of our New Man, the new creation God has made us into. Moreover, the good works which we do don’t originate with us, even though we perform them. God has prepared them for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

It’s irritating to me to hear someone admonish The Church for not being loving enough, or Christ-like enough, or “whatever” enough. I already know I’m not a good Christian. But you aren’t either. The Christian church is made up of sinners. We all need to repent, and believe the Gospel, and be forgiven.

Being tolerant and accepting of homosexual behavior, or people who disregard the laws of the nation, is not loving, it’s easy. It certainly isn’t Biblical. When Christians unconditionally accept unrepentant homosexuals into their fellowships, and advocate politically for illegal aliens without condition, it may seem loving to the secular world, and it may feel good to those who are doing it, but it’s not love. It is simply a way of avoiding a negative reaction from the secular and politically correct society in which we live. In fact, if we treat sinners – any sinner – this way and simply tell them that we love and accept them without delivering to them Law and Gospel, we do them the worst disservice. Paul continues expounding Jesus’ command to love in Ephesians chapter five, with an important, “but…”

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (Ephesians 5:3-5).

And, Paul doesn’t speak only of homosexuality (sexual immorality) as though it is some special, more grievous sin which is unforgivable. He includes all sin when he talks about what should not be named among us, and abhorred, and will disqualify us from our inheritance:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).

Homosexuals, illegal aliens, adulterers, murders, liars, thieves, the self-righteous, gluttons – all people – need to hear that, though they are by nature sinful and unclean, and have sinned against God by their thoughts, word, and deeds, we have forgiveness through the holy, innocent, bitter suffering and death of God’s beloved son Jesus Christ. The most loving thing in the world is for The Church to call sinners to repentance, and to believe the gospel. This is the Church’s job, rather than being simply a social welfare agency, or leftist political activist group. We must be faithful to this mission and also compassionate in meeting needs. The good thing is though, when the first one happens, the second will follow.

What good is it for The Church to meet the physical needs of a suffering immigrant, if they will spend eternity in Hell because they are an unrepentant sinner? What have we done for the homosexual, if we have simply, oh so tolerantly, invited them to practice their behavior openly, but not called them to repentance? We have not done what Christ has commanded us to, that is certain. I’m not saying that we should forsake the physical needs of people who are suffering, far from it! I am saying that penitent sinners who have faith in Christ will perform good works – They can’t help it. If they have a faith that is alive, good works will follow (James 2:22-23). I am also saying that a Christ-less Christianity, devoid of repentance and the forgiveness of sins as described in Corey’s article, which is really nothing more than a social welfare agency or leftist political activist group is no Christianity at all.

Works Cited

Concordia Publishing House. Luther’s Small Catechism. Translated by Concordia Publishing House. Saint Louis, Missouri: Concordia Publishing House, 1991.

Corey, Benjamin L. 10 Ways to Determine If Your Christianity Has Been Americanized. Web Article. July 21, 2015.

Engelbrecht, Rev. Edward A., ed. The Lutheran Study Bible. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2009.

About Joseph Klotz

I believe in God, the Father Almighty; and in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord; and in the Holy Spirit. One God, trinity in unity, and unity in trinity. I acknowledge and accept all the canonical books of the Old Testament and the New Testament as the revealed Word of God, verbally inspired and acknowledge and accept all the Confessional Writings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, contained in the Book of Concord of the year 1580, to be the true and genuine exposition of the doctrines of the Bible. Also, I'm a cop.

Comments

Americanized Christianity: What is Love? — 15 Comments

  1. Having debated some of these issues with some very learned theologians on line, it seems the progressive doctrines taught by leaders and pastors associated with liberal Lutheran synods are really quite intractable and unshakeable in their views. They are tolerant of gay marriage, do not believe in even reasonable and common sense laws limiting illegal immigration, and readily accuse conservative fellow believers of bigotry and discrimination. They make little objection to abortion, rarely support Israel, and deny the real threat of radical Islam. They claim to follow the Bible, but only with a wink and a nod, because their political and social objectives are essential to who they are.

  2. Corey: “If your initial posture toward Muslims is that of viewing them as a threat instead of viewing them as people Jesus has commanded we radically and self-sacrificially love, then your Christianity might be Americanized.”

    Or, you completely failed Logic 101, which taught you how to avoid false dichotomies like the plague (cliches are certainly permissible).

    Or, you follow the false, guilt-ridden, works righteousness utilitarianism of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, an LCMS ministry partner, which, taken to its logical conclusion, not only denies the Two Kingdoms, but also expects you to submit your neck to the Muslim’s sword, but only after you pay him for the service.

  3. @Robert #2

    Corey’s statement about regarding Muslim’s as people God commands us to love is hard to accept when the radical ones are lopping off heads in the name of Allah, but it is true Jesus commanded us to do so. I am hearing that despite persecution, millions of Muslims are converting and coming to Christianity, and the church is vastly growing in China. I cannot understand about being passive in the face of murderous terrorists. I suppose my faith is too weak.

  4. Mr. Klotz’s exposing the leftist agenda of Benjamin Corey’s “10 Ways To Determine If Your Christianity Has Been Americanized” is a good start to a list of “10 Ways To Determine If Your Christianity Has Been Demonicratized.”

    Mr. Baker’s comment suggests one of the ten ways: “If you support LIaRS.”

  5. @John J Flanagan #3

    No one is suggesting, John, that Jesus didn’t command us to love our neighbor as ourselves.

    My point is that loving our neighbor and being vigilant about our own safety and the safety of our families and communities isn’t mutually exclusive.

    We can be grateful for the Spirit’s work wherever He works. We can also be grateful that the same Spirit caused Paul to write Romans 13, which explicitly describes the chief purpose of government.

    False-teaching organizations like Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, an LCMS ministry partner, conclude that the chief purpose of government is social welfare, including establishing contexts in which Romans 13 would be violated.

    Government ought to protect its citizens. A country’s borders are God-ordained. This what the Bible says; this is also what LIRS apparently rejects.

  6. @John J Flanagan #1

    What does “supporting Israel” have to do with being a Christian?

    Are you aware that Israel is a secular state, and has not always acted charitably toward Palestinian Christians?

    Or that they still reject Jesus as the Messiah?

  7. @Robert #5: “A country’s borders are God-ordained. This what the Bible says; this is also what LIRS apparently rejects.”

    Acts 17:26: From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.

  8. @J. Dean #6: “Are you aware that Israel is a secular state, and has not always acted charitably toward Palestinian Christians?”

    Are you referring to the million or so Palestinian Christians living in Israel, or are you referring to Palestinian Christians living in Gaza or other areas surrounding Israel?

    And specifically what less-than-charitable acts are you referring to, other than, particularly in the latter case, reasonable security measures or defensive military responses against Hamas and other islamoterrorists, who impersonate Palistinian Christians, use them as human shields, or use their homes and properties to attack Israeli citizens, including Palistinian Christians?

  9. @Carl Vehse #8

    I have been told by missionaries to the middle east that Israel does not allow for public proselytizing to Christianity. Considering this hindrance to the spread of the Christian faith, it seems odd that many Professing Christians (particularly those of the erroneous dispensationalist persuasion, such as John Hagee) have called for the Church as a whole to march lock step with Israel as a nation, while denouncing anyone who has reservations about such unqualified support as being antisemitic.

  10. @J. Dean #10

    Some Americans believe that a Jewish State is necessary for the End Times, even for Armageddon, and that they are hastening the day by supporting Israel…ignoring (or not knowing) that this political entity was formed by non believers.

    Israel is willing to take their money!

  11. @J. Dean #10

    You are referring to Penal Law 5737-1977 Criminal Code Sec. 170 – 174 (pp. 61-2). The law makes it illegal in Israel to speak or distribute written material in public that is liable to offend the religious faith or sentiment of others (especially hard-core Jews). This restriction also exists in Islamic countries where it against the law to give or send a person a Bible or Christian literature (or pornography or a BLT sandwich for that matter).

    Even in the supposed “land of the free and home of the brave” it is against U.S. law for a U.S. citizen to mail a Bible or Bible tract (or a BLT sandwich) to someone in an Islamic country. At the beginning of the Gulf War, the Missouri Synod was ordered to (and did) stop mailing Portals of Prayer to Lutheran and other U.S. Christian soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The display of Bibles, Christmas trees, crosses, and other Christian symbols (such as a Lutheran chaplain’s lapel cross) were forbidden even in U.S. military camps, which technically are under U.S. military laws, not those of the host country.

    So, while Israel and the U.S (so far) do not cut off the heads of Christian missionaries, both countries, along with islamoterrorist nations, do have restrictions against Christians speaking or giving to people the Gospel message of Christ.

    While American Lutherans do not believe the Pentacostal malarky about Israel’s place in the End Times, we do recognize that Israel can serve U.S. interests in combatting islamoterrorism. We also recognize there may be (or have been) times when Israeli interests oppose U.S. interests, in which the U.S. would have to act accordingly. This is not to say there would ever be an internment of Jews in the U.S. similar to the WWII internment of Japanese-Americans.

  12. Thank you, Mr. Klotz, for the timely exposé of this article advocating a lawless social justice that obscures the real Gospel with a Christ-less Christianity and defining love as affirming the sinner in their sin while meeting their felt material but not spiritual need. Corey would obligate the “real” Christian to give to “the least of these” without obligation to repent, without the conviction of the Holy Spirit. It is once again works righteousness on display and the marginalization of the law and sin in the grand scheme of things.

  13. @Carl Vehse #12

    I need to run more by you before I post, Carl :D.

    Thank you for the specifics of the law. I did not know them and stand corrected.

    As far as political dealings with Israel, I agree: like any other country, insofar as that they uphold good policy, we ought to stand with them. But the problem is that in modern evangelicalism this turns into a “everything-Jewish-is-right” mindset. You now have movements in Christianity that are so pro-Jewish that they fail to distinguish between the two (dual covenant theology). You have the Hebrew Roots movement which basically calls Christians to return to slavery under the Law again. You have people running after charlatains like Mark Biltz and Jonathan Kahn who are propagating things more akin to Jewish mysticism than the true Word of God. And if you dare to question it, you are a Nazi-loving antisemite (and that’s not an exaggeration, as such comments have been made by John Hagee and others like him).

  14. Until Judgment Day there will always be heretical cults like Hebrew Roots or charlatans like Mark Biltz, Jonathan Kahn, or John Hagee. Their heresies are noisy, but do not seem to have significant influence on creating policies toward Israel that are detrimental to the U.S.

    What is of concern is the rantings of leftist organizations such as LIaRS, who are funded 96% by taxpayer funds and who hawk the Obama regime’s refugee and immigration policies that give aid and comfort to the enemy. Despite the fact that LIaRS’ favorably associates with known Demonicrat politicians, the LIaRS Board of Directors has at least two ordained members of the Missouri Synod, and has been promoted at the highest levels of the Purple Palace.

    More information about LIaRS and other leftist groups endangering the U.S. can be found on Ann Corcoran’s Refugee Resettlement Watch.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.