Monday, February 25, 2019

The American Dream Infiltrates the Church, Part I

In America today, we measure the success of a church by its size, influence and popularity.  As someone put it, we have Americanized the church.  We have taken the values of the American Dream and applied them to church.  The American Dream is not hostile to Christianity, but it is not Biblical and the Bible alone is our measure for how we go about the Lord's work. 

What is the American Dream?  Its values, as I see it, are: 
  • Work hard for you will be successful
  • Don't stand still, keep moving forward with new ideas, new paradigms
  • Measure success by increased influence, pay and responsibility
  • Life should be better every decade
  • Cars, houses, country clubs, disposable income are accurate indicators of success
  • Hide the bad and display the good--success covers all areas in your life, right?
  • It's ultimately up to you and about you; a few broken relationships or cut corners are just part of moving on up--ends do justify the means
I watched my dad embody these values his whole life.  He served in Korea and when he returned, he climbed the corporate ladder with no looking back.  He gladly obliged society's expectations.  Two broken marriages, an estranged drug addicted son and an alcoholic wife later, he still didn't look back.  No regrets.

When I asked him to tell me his greatest accomplishment in life, he said, "I joined a country club."  My dad grew up during the Depression and remembered having only 83 cents in a drawer to his family's name.  So, he was certainly a poor kid who made good, with his expensive cars and country club membership. The American Dream gave him tangible values that translated into lifelong goals.  

But my dad was not a follower of Christ.  He accepted Christ on his death bed, as he lay dying of melanoma cancer.  He said he was "afraid," and we prayed together.  He passed soon after.   

I saw the bait and switch in his life.  The American Dream and its values were a kind of religion for many of his generation and beyond.  He worked hard, made the grade and then was reduced down to a man dying of cancer.  All the material acquisitions meant nothing; his son would have nothing to do with him; his third wife could not emotionally cope with his decline, and his friends and co-workers were nowhere to be found.

The bait said, "Do this and you will be HAPPY!"  The switch was, "You will have lots of stuff, but your life will be lonely, without true meaning and a sense that you have not quite arrived, 'cause  there's always some guy ahead of you with more!" 

The truth is quite simple:  The American Dream was no substitute for a relationship with Jesus Christ.  A person's purpose is not material success but a heart filled with peace, sins forgiven and a power to affect change wherever God leads.

How does this tie in with false teachers?  Many of them truly are wolves, knowing full well they are fleecing those who follow them.  How they justify it is beyond me.  They will have to answer to Christ.

But many leaders today are using models that while not openly hostile to Christianity, will, once implemented in the church, lead to man-centered definitions of success.        

The American Dream is not a worthy model for the church.  Why?  Because it is not centered in God.  It is a man-centered value system.  Let's break down the values and see how they are contrary to Biblical values, not because they are inherently sinful but because they keep man front and center.

Work hard for you will be successful:  OK.  Not a bad idea, and it plays out most of the time. 

But, you must figure out what "hard" means.  Late nights?  Six days a week?  Hire more staff?  Pay more?  Pay less?  More contemporary music?  More tech?  How many churches today have staff and pastors working longer and longer hours to meet the needs of an ever-growing congregation?  They believe that if they word hard (defined by the organization) they will see more success (again, defined by the organization) for the God's Kingdom.  

But is this the model Jesus offered?

Jesus heals one man at the pool of Siloam.  One man.  He doesn't set up a Pool Healing Ministry. 

He doesn't go around and touch a bunch of people and then ask them to contribute to His ministry. 

He doesn't set up a small gathering area near the pool and share His words of comfort and healing. 

He heals one man. 

To most churches today, He wouldn't be deemed as "successful." 

After being accused by the Pharisees of working on the Sabbath, Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed." (John 5:19-20)

Jesus' ministry was centered solely on His Father and His instructions.  The need was great, but Jesus' obedience to His Father was greater.  

Jesus, in His teaching about Him being the Bread of Life, says, "For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me." (John 6:38)

No more and no less. 

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 7:21)

Churches today tout bigger and better programs!  More tech!  Theater seating!  A sanctuary is now an "auditorium!"  See how many people are hearing about Jesus with highly entertaining and high-tech sermons!  Of course, this is God's will!  How could it not be!  Look at all those people!

But we need to be  humbled by this verse.  

God must be at the center of all we do, large or small.  How many churches, if the staff sat down and really called upon God, really read His Word, and really sought His will humbly and earnestly, would look with some horror or consternation on how their church is operating?  They would see how they have metaphorically taken over the "Pool of Siloam" and gone big!  Tent revivals, bottled water and monogrammed towels (for a fee, of course) would be available to one and all!  Lots of traffic, lots of people getting saved (how deep this really goes or how deep the commitment really is, no one asks) and lots of statistics about growth are everywhere!  Posters of vision statements and mission statements are happily hung near the pool.  We now hear about a new church Pool Ministry plant coming to a city near you!  

Wow!  This is huge!

But is it God's? 

Indulge me while we have a quick interview with our Lord about that day: 

Why just the one man, Jesus?

That's the only one my Father wanted Me to heal today.

But look at all that need!  So many people!

But I did not come to just heal the bodies of people.  I came to seek and save the lost.  The one man's heart was ready because My Father told me it was.  I came to do only His will.  At that moment near the pool, that is what I did.  Later I found him and warned him to stop sinning.  That was the real reason I came.  Sin and death separate My Father from His children.  I came to change that forever.  

Oh, OK.  We would have done more.  No offense, Lord, but we have a go big, or go home mentality.  Somehow, we are at odds with You, but I don't know why.

I do.  Working in My name and truly knowing Me are two different things. 

We will continue to explore these ideas in the days ahead.  

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