The epidemic of people claiming to be Christians yet reflecting their culture more than the New Testament's way, truth and Life, is nothing new, and is an issue that has always been and will always be a part of the church of Jesus Christ. The wheat grows with the tares and goats will not be separated from the sheep until the Day of judgment, except through some exposure through necessary church discipline.
Soren Kierkegaard struggled with these same issues greatly in his day, and wrote attacking the church for it's strong display of hypocrisy and lack of following the true Jesus of the Bible. He writes in his "Attack on Christendom" on p. 168
“People had not so much as the courage and honesty and truth to say to God bluntly, "That I cannot agree to," they resorted to hypocrisy and thought they were perfectly secure."
This was much the attitude of Israel all throughout the New Testament, and the attitude of the pharisees in the New Testament. However, it has not stopped there. It has continued to be the attitude of many professing believers today as well.
So my question coming off the heals of reading Kierkegaard's attack on Christendom, Are there unsaved Christians? Kierkegaard delineated between Christendom and True Christianity. I believe that such a clear distinction needs to be drawn like a line in the sand through every cycle in history. So, my question in this post is concerned with this question: "is there such a thing as an unsaved Christian?"
In the "Christian American" culture, and perhaps some parts of the world, there is an unwritten code of thinking that if you live a good life, go to church, and don’t do anything too bad (big sins), you’re considered a Christian; this, however, is not True Biblical Christianity, it is "Cultural Christianity". It’s what the culture says is so. So culture is the one who has redefined Christianity to be something it really is not, therefore, it is a lie, is most undoubtedly deceitful and is dragging millions to hell. So, I want to write, expose this epidemic and call it out for what it is. This was Kierkegaard's big problem in the Danish Lutheran world in which he was ordained for a time and served. This is what we are facing today. This can be very confusing when talking to people. The same Christianese language can be used, without any true knowledge of Jesus Christ and the gospel he has so graciously given us.
Because this is the case, I would contend that because Cultural Christianity is so pervasive, one of the most passed over mission fields in America is sitting in church pews on Sunday morning. Therefore, it’s important to know what Cultural (counterfeit) Christianity looks like, how to confront it, and how to avoid it.
At Twin Lakes Bible Church, where I have the privilege of pastoring and teaching, we are going through the Apostle's Creed on Sunday mornings. This Sunday we looked at the Lordship of Jesus Christ from Matthew 7:21–23: “Not everyone whosays to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
The sad reality is that there are many who profess the name of Christ without actually knowing him (being possessed by Him). The word "Lord" has the understanding of absolute, complete and total ownership. Our only allegiance is to Christ and Christ alone. We are bought with a price and as the first part of the Heidelberg reminds us, "I am not my own, but belong in body and in soul, both in life and death to my only Savior, Jesus Christ my Lord." But how different this is from modern understanding of "Christianity" today.
The words of Jesus, if spoken directly to the modern culture, might read something like this: “Didn’t we pray before we ate? Didn’t we vote our old American values? Didn’t we believe that prayer should be allowed in school? Didn’t we go to church every Sunday? Didn’t we believe in a God? Weren't we moved whenever we heard ‘God Bless America’ at a baseball game? Didn’t we give money to the church? Didn’t we treat women with respect? Didn’t we own Bibles? Didn’t we get the baby sprinkled? Didn’t we want America to return to its Christian roots? Didn’t we stay married and faithful?” These aren't bad things... However, this thinking, of course, is a false gospel with eternal consequences, and true Christians need to be able to exercise discernment and make careful application of Matthew 7 with our current situation.
One thing I have noticed in speaking with those who have the "Christianese", is that a cultural Christian does not recoil when they’re asked about their faith, but they respond with generic answers that deal with how great they are, like going to church and the importance of being good people. Rarely do they talk about the greatness and glory of Jesus, the love of God or the power of the Spirit.
The hardest part about reaching a cultural Christian is that they don’t think they need Jesus completely. They are Christians who admire Jesus, but don't think He is Lord. Thus, the American pastor can be faced with the difficult task to bring Jesus to a place where He is admired but not worshiped as Lord of all, Sovereign King over every person and aspect of life.
Does the Cultural Christian believe in some of the right things? Yes. The cultural Christian believes in God, heaven, the Bible, but also places a strong emphasis on values, heritage, and stepping stones of faith. Stepping stones of faith are areas they feel automatically induct them into Christianity.
Stepping stones for those who come from the mainline protestant movement might be things like catechism class, baptism, communion, saying the Lord’s Prayer, and going to church on important holidays like Christmas and Easter.
For Fundamentalists and many Southern Baptists this includes things like summer camp, Vacation Bible School, being the head honcho of the youth group, getting the Christian Character award at the Christian School you attend, walking an aisle to make a decision, getting saved (saying the salvation prayer for the 1000th time), also go to a Christian college to get a ministry degree, and go through life never drinking, smoking, getting a tattoo and women cannot wear pants. If you do those right external things, then you're a good Christian. For others, it includes reading from the right version of the Bible like the KJV 1611.
I have been in both mainline churches, and the Independent fundamental baptists, have rubbed shoulders with plenty of southern baptists and see that this Christianese takes its own ugly form on in each camp, but at the end of the day, you can spot it once you've stepped back, immersed yourself into who Christ is and question the circus sideshow freakiness of it all. It is really quite silly and sad at the same time.
To understand this, sometimes it helps to tell a story to help crystalize the point in your mind. The Smith family are decent moral people with old fashion values. They are well liked by just about everyone. They’re a typical young family with a really busy schedule, running their kids to their endless array of activities. When they have time to eat together as a family, they’re always sure to hold hands, and they give their children opportunities to pray. They often hear cute little prayers from the younger children, but everyone thinks it’s just so special. A recent family picture in front of the the church on Easter received several hundred likes and dozens of comments on Facebook, which was super important to the self focused, immature third wave feminist mommy. The Smiths are in their mid-thirties and go to church about once every three months, mainly because they stay so busy. If you ask them about where they have been, you can find that they have an ample supply of excuses for why they have not been there as the explanations (excuses) delves into an endless list of good deeds that they have done. Stand back and watch their heads swell, you can literally see it happen.
The dad's father has a lake house, and they try to go there on the weekends to catch up on rest and family time or go camping to get some down-time since daddy works so hard and daddy needs a break... (from God). I mean, after all it’s just a huge hassle to force everyone out the door to make it on time for church, and you can forget about Sunday School. When they are in town, they definitely try to make it to church because it means a lot to gramma and gramps, mom's parents. Gramps has attended that church for over 25 years, and serves as a deacon, while gramma taught Sunday school for 25 years. She just loves showing off her grandchildren. Going tochurch is good for the kids, because it’s important for them to learn good moralistic lessons. They want their children to be good kids and efficient citizens. They don't go to big church, after all, it's way above them and they need to have fun during the service. Someday when they are older they can go once every 3 months like mommy and daddy to boring church. When on rare occasion the family finally does get around to attending church, they feel pretty good about themselves—and it is good for the kids to wear their cute little church clothes. The service isn’t too bad, but they think it could be better.
The preacher speaks for twenty minutes about loving their neighbors and if he goes too long, someone is sure to scold him. Theirs always the watch guy in the back to signal the cue with the scowl and the look above the rim of his glasses as he pats his Rolex watch. It's usually a power family in the church (usually wealthier) that keeps track of these things so it is run like a well oiled machine.
The Pastor tries desperately to make sure everyone just loves and adores him. If someone is not happy it just ruins his day. He is very effeminate and soft. The women love this, because they can manipulate him to get anything they want. He also tries so hard to be soft, relevant and easy to understand, so that people can follow along. He is just the nicest person you would ever meet. He doesn't want to challenge them to dig too deep into understanding the Bible. His goal is to be liked by everyone. He really makes sure that He keeps their attention, uses graphs, videos, and makes sure the music is super duper exciting. It's really quite the show each week. And the message is inspiring and makes them feel really good about themselves.
After the church service, they all head to gramma's house to eat lunch. They feel good that they checked off Sunday from the "Stuff I did for Jesus List."
What I just described is the typical life of a cultural Christian and represents far too much of what is passed off as Christian in this country and other countries as well. It is a consumer driven false teaching that promises a life of comfort and ease, rather than a cross and a narrow road.
The sad reality is that the Smiths are comfortable yet lost in their state of living. They have a strong emphasis on morals, family values, attend church every so often (when it is convenient), have plenty of exposure to Christian lingo, and consider themselves to be people of strong faith. Like many American families, the Smith family is culturally defined as Christian but they would not know Jesus Christ if He walked right up to them. For most of these Cultural Christians, if Jesus walked in and started preaching, they would either repent and believe for the first time, or get angry and try to nail Him back on that bloody tree. Most in the States, I contend, would do the latter. But I hope I am wrong.
God does not call us to sit back and take it easy, this is not what God produces. He does not produce bounty soft, passive, comfort loving people. He produces saints whose lives are radically transformed by the power of the Gospel of God. A Life that is reformed by repenting and believing is a faith which is a true faith, and it is the only kind of faith that produces fruit, and results in knowing Christ and making Him known.