Do We Look More American than Christian? Part 1

Part 1: How we’ve become more like Jonah than Jesus.

Christian, say these words with me, directed to yourself:

Repent, and believe the Gospel.

These are a part of the historic words of the Ash Wednesday liturgy. And yet most people don’t hear them anymore (since most of our churches have jettisoned the traditions for a shinier, modern version of Christianity where they pretend they have no liturgy when, in fact, they do – they just have bad liturgy they’ve never thought through – see Simon Chan’s book Spiritual Theology).

And even if a churchgoer does hear those words once a year, they typically do not take them to heart. I truly believe God desires to do things in our generation that He has not done in generations in America. However, it will require us to humbly respond to this invitation:

Repent, and believe the Gospel.

Jesus or Jonah

If we were to assess our lives as Christians today, and the modern American church; and then contrast our lives and our churches to the life of Jonah and the ministry of Jesus, I think we would find ourselves looking far more like Jonah than Jesus. [If you don’t know the story of Jonah, it’s a quick read – go read it. And then, Click Here to go watch this Bible Project video.]

We have perpetuated a version of the Christian life and of church that essentially says to someone: “If you don’t fit into our version of church, then you don’t deserve the Gospel.”

I can hear the push back now… “Whoa, whoa, we are not exclusive. In fact, we are highly inclusive. Everyone is welcome at our church.” And those words reveal the very disease that has made us more like Jonah than Jesus – the expectation that those “nonbelievers” out there should come to us “believers” in here.

While we have traded cathedrals and stained glass windows for metal buildings and technology (still wasting money on earthy things we think will “please God” or “draw people”), we have continued the idea that somehow God is “in here” with us and not “out there” with you. And thus have communicated to the world around us the same thing Jonah was at least brave enough to own up to: “I don’t think you deserve the grace of God enough to bring the message of the Gospel to you – you’re going to have to ‘get your life together’ and make the decision to come to me if you want it.”

It’s not you, It’s me

And lest you are quick to point the finger at the “other person” who you determine is more guilty of this than you: When’s the last time you shared the good news of the Gospel with anyone?

I mean anyone.

Literally anyone.

Even yourself.

Christian: Repent, and believe the Gospel.

Here’s the harsh truth: we have not truly believed the full Gospel ourselves or we would not find ourselves in this situation. Myself included. Because if we really believed the full Gospel for ourselves, then it would passionately propel us to those around us displaying it with our actions and speaking it with our words.

Our family members, our coworkers, our classmates, our friends, our neighbors, and even the strangers we meet would see walking stories of the Gospel and we would be ever ready to share the hope that we now have.

We wouldn’t be the stuck-up, judgmental Christians bemoaning how “sinful” everyone else is and how our world’s going to “hell in a hand-basket.” We wouldn’t be the showy, cool Christians who try to “attract” people to Jesus with all of our trendiness. We wouldn’t be the “worried to offend someone” Christians who basically communicate that as long as you love Jesus all the sin you’re willfully embracing and not being transformed out of can be overlooked. And we wouldn’t be some combination of all of those things (which many American Christians today are).

Church: Repent, and believe the Gospel.

Re-Lent

As we start this season of Lent, it is meant as a time of dying to self that leads to (hopefully) spiritual resurrection at the end. How are you more like Jonah than Jesus? How is the church you are a part of or lead displaying a Jonah attitude more than a Jesus one? Are you willing to die to an American version of Christianity that assumes the world should come to us to hear the Gospel and instead be raised up into the original version of Christianity that involved you taking the Gospel to the world?

American Christian. American Church. Why do we look more American than Christian? And why are we more like Jonah than Jesus? May we hear afresh the words of the Ash Wednesday liturgy this year, and then act upon them appropriately:

Repent, and believe the Gospel.

*This is Part 1 of a 7-part series of posts on the American Church. Be looking for a new post each week as we participate in Lent and reflect on the things we need to let go of, or need to take hold of, as Christians in America.

Read the Rest of Series

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

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Child of God. Husband. Father. Son. Brother. Pastor. Writer.

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