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OPINION: Are today's churches standing up for truth?

by Robert Box | November 24, 2021 at 5:25 a.m.

As I mentioned last week, there appears to be a huge disconnect between what some Christians believe about their churches and what is actually happening. This week, I want to highlight what some evangelical leaders are saying. Whether you agree or not, they still need to be heard before we form conclusions.

Historian George Marsden suggests that the cultivation that certain political positions are deeply religious is a large part of the problem. He says, "When Trump was able to add open hatred and resentment to the political-religious stance of 'true believers,' it crossed a line. The dominance of political religion over professed religion is seen in how, for many, the loyalty to Trump became a blind allegiance. The result is that many Christian followers of Trump have come to see the gospel of hatreds, resentments, vilifications, put-downs, and insults as expressions of their Christianity, for which they too should be willing to fight."

James Ernest, the vice-president and editor in chief at Eerdmans, a publisher of religious books, says, "What we're seeing is a massive discipleship failure caused by massive catechesis (dealing with questions and answers regarding the Christian faith and teaching discipleship) failure. The evangelical church in the U.S. over the last five decades has failed to form its adherents into disciples. So there is a great hollowness. All that was needed to cause the implosion that we have seen was a sufficiently provocative stimulus."

Alan Jacobs, a distinguished professor of humanities at Baylor University, points out that culture catechizes. He says, "Our current political culture has multiple technologies and platforms for catechizing -- television, radio, Facebook, Twitter and podcasts among them. People who want to be connected to their political tribe -- the people they think are like them, the people they think are on their side -- subject themselves to its catechesis all day long, every single day, hour after hour after hour."

Jacobs further points out that many churches aren't interested in catechesis at all. They focus instead upon entertainment, because entertainment is what keeps people in their seats and coins in the offering plate. Even pastors who believe in catechesis normally get little more than an hour a week to teach their church members. Sermons are short. Some members attend adult education courses, but even fewer attend Bible study and small groups. Cable news though is always on. When people are shaped by the media they consume, rather than their religious leaders and communities, there are serious consequences.

For many Christians, their politics have become more of an identity marker than their faith. Many Christians today insist that they are interpreting their politics through the prism of scripture with the former subordinate to the latter, but in fact scripture and biblical ethics are often distorted to fit their politics. As Scott Dudley, senior pastor at Bellevue Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, Wash., claims, "I have never once heard of someone changing their politics because it didn't match their church's teaching." On the other hand, politics too often creep into a church's teaching and cause people to leave the church because it is not teaching what they want to hear. Too many people are more committed to their politics than to what the Bible actually says. Our churches have failed to teach the whole of scripture and to help people think biblically.

There is a lot of disagreement in our country today, but a better goal than to argue and fight is to learn how to listen and to understand one another. As Dudley points out, early Christians transformed the Roman Empire not by demanding but by loving, not by angrily shouting about their rights in the public square but by serving even the people who persecuted them, which is why Christianity grew so quickly and took over the Empire. Unfortunately, when Christians gained political power under Constantine in A.D. 325, that beautiful loving, sacrificing, giving, transforming Church became the angry, persecuting, killing Church. When people look at the church today, what do they see? Do they see a particular theological position, the centrality of Jesus, and a strong message to stand up for truth and service; or do they see that the church supports what they already believe? Think about it.

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Robert Box has been a law enforcement chaplain for 29 years. He is a master-level chaplain with the International Conference of Police Chaplains and is an endorsed chaplain with the American Baptist Churches USA. He also currently serves as a deputy sheriff chaplain for the Benton County Sheriff's Office. Opinions expressed in the article are the opinions of the author and not the agencies he serves.

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