Why Mainstream Christianity Is Losing Credibility
by Rev. Paul J. Bern
It all started out with a Facebook posting stating that when poor people get together to make a statement it’s called rioting, but when the wealthy get together to make a statement it’s called lobbying. It wasn’t mine, but I gave it a ‘like’ when it landed in my in-box because I was in complete agreement. To me, the meme “conservative Christian” is a contradiction in terms, since from a political vantage point Jesus was a progressive at least, or even a (gasp!) socialist. Another person chimed in that Republicans and conservatives despise the poor while catering to the wealthy, and that this was especially true for Christian evangelicals and “so-called fundamentalists”. That comment got me to thinking about the state of modern Christianity. There are those who call themselves ‘Christians’, fundamentalists or Evangelicals, and there are those who call themselves ‘followers of Jesus Christ’. The two are definitely not the same thing, and I would definitely put myself in the latter category. Moreover, it has come to my attention that those who do so are in the minority as far as 21st century Christianity is concerned. What, if anything, did Jesus have to say about this? Quite a bit, actually.
Jesus said in Matthew chapter 7, verses 21-23, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Further along in this same Gospel, Jesus said to the Pharisees, the ruling religious establishment of Jerusalem at the time, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.” (Matt. 23, verse 15, NIV) Again in verses 23-26 He says, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill, and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean out the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean”.
Let me interpret the above verses to the best of my ability, starting with the first one. Every person who calls on Jesus’ name will not necessarily make it to heaven when they die. Some will be those who prophesy in the name of God. Why those people? Because they were saying things that God never told them to say. They were busy telling people to be more prosperous by giving more to their churches, or to have a more “purpose driven life”. They were busy telling people how to be more fulfilled and enriched personally, financially and professionally, all at the same time. They were busy peddling their NYT best-selling books when they should have been using their vast resources to win more people to Christ, warning people that time was running out, that the Rapture of the church and the rise of the dead in Christ could be only months away, and warning people to warn others as well, no matter whether they were laughed at or made fun of for saying so or not! The next verse says, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’” There’s no mistaking who this remark was directed towards; the phony faith healers and the preachers who live double lives. I have watched a few of these faith healers on Christian TV, and maybe one in five appears to be authentic. I will decline to name names, but the remaining 80% are obviously all theater. Instead of preaching the Gospel, they’re on stage, in a pulpit or a TV studio putting on a performance for the audience instead of for the Lord. These kinds of people will be punished severely unless they repent, and soon. They too are nearly out of time.
But it wasn’t just Jesus Himself who prophesied against organized religion, which is exactly what He was doing in Matthew chapter 23. The apostle James had something to say about that, in James chapter one and verses 22-27, and it reads as follows: “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the Word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does. If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. But religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this; to look after orphans and widows in distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” This brings us full circle back to our original topic, those who claim to be religious but really aren’t. James, in the following chapter of his letter to the early Church, wrote this; “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes or daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed’, but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James chapter 2, verses 14-17, NIV)
People who attend church faithfully every Sunday while being mean and stingy the other six days of the week are not going to make it to heaven when their lives are over. They will be expecting to, of course. They are, after all, the direct descendants of the Pharisees of Jesus’ time and they don’t even realize it. They are without a clue, and they will remain so as they roast in hell, still insisting on their righteousness. “But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does.” James’ words, “the perfect law that gives freedom” is undoubtedly a reference to Jesus’ ministry when He said, “He who is free in me is free indeed”. Moreover, if one considers him/herself as being a religious person, but are unwilling to share much of anything except maybe with family members if that, they’re not Christian, they only live to accumulate possessions and portfolios for themselves. Life is all about their narcissistic selves. They are at the center of their own universes, and just because they did so well in life, they think they are a shoe-in for heaven because they are such a “good person”. To that I would ask, good person by whose standards, yours or God’s? In the next passage, James is equally blunt. Pure religiosity is looking after the needs of widows and orphans, “…and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Defend the defenseless! Help the homeless with money or food if you can! Mentor the prisoner, and teach him or her a trade to minimize their chances of ever coming back to prison again! Have some empathy and some compassion, and become more merciful towards others less fortunate than yourselves! Despise materialism and those who blindly pursue wealth for its own sake! If you ever wanted a secular definition of what it means to follow Christ, then these last few sentences are it. Plus, as James put it, “…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” Those whose words are different than their deeds are only putting on a show, of that you can be sure.
There are a couple more verses on this topic I wish to point out, and they are contained in the book of Revelation chapter three, verses 15-16, which reads as follows: “I know your deeds, that your are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth”. Once again, God is laying down the challenge. Do we want to be Christian – or follower of Christ as I prefer – or just pretenders? Is there anybody out there who seriously believes that God doesn’t see and know all? I hope not for your sake! So it basically comes down to this as far as those who attend church regularly – are you just flirting with Jesus, or are you ready to get serious with Him? Are we just showing up on Sunday mornings, saying to God, “Hello again, it’s me Lord, I’m so happy to make it to church one more time”? Are we putting our faith into action the other six days of the week, or are we simply acting religious? And what about those who consider themselves devout believers and followers of Christ, who aren’t flirting with Jesus? In that case, let’s ask ourselves the same question a little differently: Are we going steady with Jesus, or are we ready to fall in love with Him and marry Him (applies equally to both genders since there is neither male nor female in heaven)? Are we a part of the Bride of Christ or aren’t we?
It’s time to make a decision everybody! Where do you stand? Let’s not be lukewarm Christians. We already know how God feels about those people, He will “spit you out of (his) mouth”. Or to put it a little more bluntly, lukewarm Christians – and the phony ones – literally make God nauseous, if such a thing is possible for Him in His Spiritual state. The time is short! The rapture of the true church could be only months away, maybe another year or two at the most, so we are running out of time! It’s time for us all to get on fire for Jesus, lest any of us gets condemned to eternal fire instead. Let’s not go there, brothers and sisters. It’s time to fall in love with Jesus and to become a part of His Bride. It’s time for us all to fulfill our true destinies as the sons and daughters of God, and of the inheritance of Zion. Anything less just won’t do as far as I’m concerned, because I’m on board with Jesus forever. How about you? It’s time to make an affirmative decision for Jesus Christ. Ask Him to come and live within your heart, repent – or turn away from – your sins, and start living for Jesus today. Because in the end, He’s all there is.