Is the U.S. a Christian nation or not?

by Jim Eaton, lead pastor of Mosaic Church
American Christianity

The call of following Christ in America has never been more daunting. We find ourselves caught in crazy currents that give us spiritual vertigo. It’s a mess out there. Political mess. Cultural and racial mess. Moral mess. And while we must address each of these in their respective fields, I stand convinced that we will miss the true solution unless we go deeper.

It’s spiritual. Our root problem is spiritual. And God is calling his church to face this spiritual challenge. Where do we start?

One of the advantages of growing older is it gives you perspective. Jim Cymbala, pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York, is nearly 70 years old. Listen to his view of America:

The truth is that the number of real believers in Jesus is in a massive decline, and that decline is happening much more rapidly than we have thought. While many boast of America being a ‘Christian nation,’ researchers say it’s fewer than one out of ten. And it gets worse. He predicts that within thirty years, the number of evangelical Christians will drop to one in every twenty-five Americans.” (Storm)

‘Threads of Christianity’

This is hard for us to process, and here’s why. Our history is woven with the threads of Christianity. The Puritans. The Gideons. Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans. Isn’t this a Christian nation? Hey, we’re so Christian we send missionaries to countries around the world. English philosopher and playwright G. K. Chesterton once said of America it is “a nation with the soul of a church.” Doesn’t that prove it?

No. It proves merely that we are unusually spiritual in our inclinations. America is an experiment of ideals, an ever-increasing overlay of culture upon culture, a people of one and yet many faiths. When our family lived in Europe and Africa, many times people would say, “Help me understand America, it’s such a complicated country!”

While it’s true that pieces of Christian furniture, as Tim Keller likes to say, sit in the room of our national consciousness, what we’ve really had for a long time is a civil religion, not the pure Christian faith of the Bible.

We have a form of godliness but lack its power. We have erected our own golden calf: part-flag, part-dollar, part-cross, and we congratulate ourselves to our shame.

We worship the Republican party if we're Anglo, the Democratic party if we're African-American. We worship at the altar of upward-mobility. We worship the NFL. We worship sex. We worship in the church of Facebook and Snapchat.

We are a post-Christian nation.

Churchianity, not Christianity

Here’s the thing: if you scratch just beneath the surface, beneath the veneer of what I call churchianity, you will see the truth of Christianity is scarce in America. The test of true Christianity isn’t church buildings or Christian radio or moral organizations. The test is the gospel.

It’s the gospel. Period. We need to recover the gospel. Just as the prodigal son had to humble himself and return to his father with no claim but the desire to become a servant, we must kneel before Jesus’ cross and ask him to enlighten the eyes of our heart with the truth of the gospel.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NIV).

The gospel is the breathtaking power of God, the global, transcultural, trans-political, trans-ideological story of God initiating love toward humankind in the midst our evil. Of God creating righteousness in us through the death of his Son, Jesus Christ. Of God creating new birth, a new day, a fresh beginning, unbelievable hope through our small, weak, desperate cry of faith in his name. The gospel is everything and changes everything.

Our problem is we pay lip service to the gospel but fail to believe it. We think two illusions: first, that the gospel is our ticket into heaven but nothing more. No, the gospel is our oxygen, our fuel for all of life. Second, we think the gospel is elementary, and once we “get it,” we move on to more advanced things. No, the gospel is both simple and complex, as St. Gregory said, “... like a river, if I may say so, which is wide and deep, in which a lamb may walk and an elephant swim.”

All we need do to see our loss of the gospel is ask ourselves, Where do we turn when the crisis hits? Do we turn to Jesus and the gospel? Do we call out to Jesus in prayer? Do we fast? Or do we turn to politics? To finance? To Dr. Phil?

When the gospel changed a nation

England in the 19th century faced enormous social change as it transitioned from an agrarian to an industrial society. This brought great wealth to the factory owners, but also great misery and poverty to the masses. Think Charles Dickens. Decade after decade the tensions mounted. Many predicted England would go the way of France and descend into a bloody revolution. It didn’t. Instead, a series of reform acts in 1832, 1867 and 1884 left the working class fully enfranchised and the nation in peace.

How did this happen? Elie Halevy, a distinguished French historian, discovered it was due to the preaching of the gospel across the country by George Whitefield and John Wesley. As these two pastors proclaimed the gospel, God supernaturally moved in human hearts. “We shall explain by this movement the extraordinary stability which English society was destined to enjoy throughout the period of revolution and crisis” (England in 1815: A History of the English People in the Nineteenth Century).

The preaching of the gospel changed a nation!

If we’re to face this extraordinary American challenge as Christ-followers, we need to humble ourselves and come back to the gospel. It’s faith in Jesus Christ pure and simple. Not our flag. Not our political candidate. Not our dollar. Not our military. Not our denomination. Not our race or ethnicity.

It’s Jesus Christ and his gospel. Period.

Then, and only then, will the Spirit of God unleash himself across our hearts, our marriages, our families, our communities, our nation. And we will experience a genuine revival of the soul.

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17, NIV).

    Point - September 2018

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