Brian Zahnd: Postcards From Babylon
So I’m writing my postcards from Babylon calling on Christians tangled up in red, white, and blue to renounce the idolatry of American civil religion. America is not an object of reverence — it’s just the latest in a long line of here-today, gone-tomorrow empires. I can love America like I love hamburgers and rock ‘n’ roll, but I can’t love America like I love Jesus. America as my residence within this world is fine, but America as the savior of the world is heresy. The gospel of the American dream is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are antithetical to one another. It’s either the story of Jesus that gives meaning to life or the story of America that gives meaning to life, but it’s not both. Lincoln, Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and all the rest can claim America is the “last best hope of earth,” but it’s not true. That’s just the sort of thing that empires say; but it’s also the sort of thing Christians must never say.
America is many things. It’s a country, a culture, an empire, and a religion. As a country and culture America can often be respected, admired, and celebrated. But as an empire and religion, America is a rival to Christ. One of the reasons that Christian discipleship is so difficult in America is that we are trying to make disciples of people who are already thoroughly discipled into a rival religion. You can either operate under a governing philosophy of America first or you can seek first the kingdom of God, but you can’t do both. To claim otherwise is to either tacitly or explicitly claim that Christ is a servant of the American cause. But as Karl Barth (who knew a thing or two about the dangers of Christian nationalism) taught us, Christ cannot serve some other cause, Christ can only rule.
As with anything, our nation, its symbols, and our loyalty to it can be idols that draw us away from Christ.
J. A. Medders: 3 Reasons To Regularly Get Others To Preach
Preachers love preaching, but they shouldn’t love it too much. A potential idol for preachers is the act of preaching. You can crave the pulpit too much. And while we preachers can talk to the sheep about not finding their identity in their work but in Christ, this is a word we preachers need to preach to ourselves.
We are not our preaching. We are not our sermons. We are disciples before we are pastors.
A congregation that helps and encourages its members to fill the pulpit is a stronger congregation.
Timothy Archer: #MeToo Must Be #WeToo
Beyond society in general, I think the church needs to increase efforts to make church a safe haven and a refuge for those who have been abused. To do such, I think that we need to:
- Condemn any and all abuse of power in the church.
- Condemn any and all sexual abuse in the church.
- Stop the ridicule of safety measures.
- Reject all questioning of a victim’s complicity in the abuse.
Be sure to visit the link to see these suggestions in greater detail.
All I can think is this: if we’re failing to help victims of sexual aggression and violence feel welcome in the church, what are we even doing?
Focusing on the family doesn’t help the church… nor the family
Far too often, our children grow up with a church focused around them. Children’s church so they don’t get bored. Youth ministry designed to keep them entertained. Campus ministry that isn’t designed for discipling, just a desperate effort to somehow keep our kids going to church once they leave home.
Family focus has led us to value youth sports over church attendance, family meals over pot lucks, school plays over midweek gatherings. If we find time in the midst of all of our family activities, we’ll go to church. If not, well… family is the most important, right?
Our families need to understand that they need the support of a strong church to grow as they should. If we want to build our families, let’s do so through building our churches.
Want strong families? Teach people to be like Jesus. Want good parent-child relationships? Let them bond through serving other people.
It’s a fine line between focusing on any demographic and pandering.
God and the Don
CNN has a fascinating piece about the history of President Trump’s faith.
It was clear that Trump was still preoccupied with his November victory, and pleased with his performance with one constituency in particular.
“I did very, very well with evangelicals in the polls,” Trump interjected in the middle of the conversation — previously unreported comments that were described to me by both pastors.
They gently reminded Trump that neither of them was an evangelical.
“Well, what are you then?” Trump asked.
They explained they were mainline Protestants, the same Christian tradition in which Trump, a self-described Presbyterian, was raised and claims membership. Like many mainline pastors, they told the President-elect, they lead diverse congregations.
Trump nodded along, then posed another question to the two men: “But you’re all Christians?”
“Yes, we’re all Christians.”
I think the most troubling aspect, though, is how obvious it is that our current president uses religion as a marketing tool while not actually understanding it. Christian leaders should be able to see through this, but they are either blinded by the power he offers, or — worse — they simply don’t care.
America Needs to Stop the Fearmongering
“Fear can be useful, important and necessary. It can carry warnings and remind us to use caution. Yet fear should never, ever be used to manipulate. If someone needs fear to sell you their ideas, if their whole message is built on making you fearful, if their only call to action requires scaring you into following, how big is their faith? How big is their god?
“Jesus lived and taught during a stressful political environment. There was plenty for the Jews to fear under Roman rule. Living in an unstable political climate is naturally anxiety inducing—especially for the politically powerless and minority groups. We see Jesus neither dismiss these fears nor dwell in them; He acknowledges people’s realities yet points to a new way forward.
“We need to be wary of fear-based politics, fear-based leaders and—even more dangerous—fearmongering disguised as religion. Fear should never be our main motivation. Fear should never be our inspiration. Fear should never be our sole reason for doing something. If it is, we’re missing the point.”
How many times did God tell His people, “Fear not?”