Glenn Beck’s recent Restoring Honor rally has unleashed a Jini from the proverbial bottle. It is significant that he has stood in the public square like no one else could at this point in history and called for a national revival of Christian morality. All sane Americans can agree about the need for a renewed sense of morality among both the American leadership and the populace. If only we could quit hurling epithets at one another and actually read the Bible, we just might find the long lost American unity that is needed for a time like this. Fat chance! I’ve always been a dreamer like Rev. King, trying to focus on the content of character rather than the color of the party.
However, Beck has dumped a HUGE problem on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. That problem begins with the fact that Beck does not have the credentials to call Obama on his faith. Beck cannot speak for the Christian church because he is a Mormon. Being a Mormon makes Beck a heretic according to all of the broadly accepted ecumenical creeds of historic Christianity of every stripe. Historic Orthodox Christianity is necessarily Trinitarian according to our inherited documents and traditions. And Mormonism is not, which puts it outside the pale of Christian orthodoxy. Because Beck cannot see this distinction, he cannot possibly see what actually makes people Christian. The fact that he talks the talk but remains a Mormon is hugely problematic.
However, the real issue is not the Christian faith of President Obama, but the Christian faith of American Christianity. The real issue is the orthodoxy of the mainstream churches. Obama’s faith is true to his church, the United Church of Christ, which is the largest branch of historic Congregationalism in America. And Congregationalism was the first truly American denomination. It was founded on American soil. The other branches of Christianity were at that time transplants from Europe.
There it is! That is the elephant in the room that no one dares mention – American Christian theological orthodoxy. The social diversity police have been active over the past fifty years undermining the very idea of orthodoxy, as if any and every attempt to define or understand Truth or righteousness constitutes an act of terrorism against the constitutionally protected right to sin. The very idea of Christian theological orthodoxy chills the spines of everyone regardless of their religious sentiments. Atheists, agnostics, Christians, Pagans and adherents of other religions all tremble at the idea of discussing, much less actually deciding on any standard of Christian theological orthodoxy.
The subject conjures up visions of Christian Inquisitions and Crusades of the past. Never mind that such inquisitions and crusades were ill-conceived political escapades that were never part of any version of faithful biblical Christianity, but were episodes in history where the church(es) themselves had been hijacked by godless people in the churches and out. There have always been people in the churches who have claimed to be Christian, but who were nothing of the sort, and who have tried to represent Christianity, but have only muddied the water. Read Jude. From the very beginning of the church, “certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4). This has always been the case. Always.
This fifth column infiltration into the church by unorthodox leaders is why Christianity has had to develop various creeds that define what constitutes Christian orthodoxy. It is also the source of most of the unbiblical crap that has been done in the name of Christianity. Thankfully, we do not have to reinvent that wheel. But we do need to put our shoulders to it. Every faithful Church has historically accepted the Ecumenical Creeds, an umbrella term that refers to the Nicene Creed, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. The acceptance of these creeds, while not universal, is fully American. The Christian unity that the American Founding Fathers accepted was in harmony with these Ecumenical Creeds.
Thus, it is to these creeds alone to which faithful orthodox American Christians can and must appeal today, if we are to be true to our own histories. And such historical fidelity is an important Christian virtue. If American Christians are to find theological unity today, it can come only from these historic creeds. This, of course, does not mitigate against the Protestant motto or solas: Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone), Solus Christus (Christ Alone), Sola Gratia (Grace Alone), Sola Fide (Faith Alone) and Soli Deo Gloria (God’s Glory Alone). The failure to gather around this version of Christian orthodoxy will likely amount to the failure of Protestant Christianity, which as the root of the American experiment, and will likely bring about the ultimate failure of the American experiment itself. Such failures are not beyond the pale of possibility, and such failure will bring severe consequences to life as we know it. Indeed, this is the target of the enemies of the gospel and the American experiment.
And make no mistake, there are many powerful people and forces (principalities) working to accomplish these failures. The enemies of the gospel have never been better armed or prepared, nor has Christ’s church ever been more unprepared for such a struggle. Nonetheless, it is upon us, ready or not. The need of the hour is a simple but true standard of Christian fidelity. The American Christian standard must be identified, claimed and raised. This discussion must be engaged. Lord, have mercy.
But we must not engage this discussion in terms of the lives or faithfulness of individual Christians themselves, but in terms of the life and faithfulness of Jesus Christ. Christians do not tout themselves as the ideal to which to aspire to. Rather, we tout Jesus Christ as the standard. He is the model and the judge, not we. Faithful Christians freely admit that they are sinners and have failed miserably to be what Christ has called them to be. And anyone who says differently is either misinformed, self-deceived, lying or all of the above. We must rise above and stop the reciprocal name calling and character assassination that dominates the airwaves and pixels of the Internet and come to terms with biblical theology, the “Queen of the Sciences.” Why? Because theology like philosophy is the study of the values and virtues that animate human identity and behavior. The problems that threaten to overwhelm us are all animated by faulty values, worldviews, virtues and isms that issue out of poor theology and bad philosophy.
However, we cannot afford to hand this theological/philosophical task over to the so-called experts. Such an avoidance of personal responsibility for our own beliefs and values is the problem, and giving our theological responsibilities to anyone else cannot help. Christ does not require anything but simple faithfulness in God’s Word and the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice (Ephesians 2:8). Oh, there is much more to know and learn, but apart from simple trust in the Lord everything else is unknowable and unlearnable.
To the best of my knowledge there is not today any serious Christian or church in existence that believes that Christians should return to the errors of the Inquisition or the Crusades. And those who make such accusations are being neither honest nor fair, whether out of ignorance or spite. Such a suggestion is at best a ruse and distraction. History moves forward, not backward. Christ beckons us forward, not backward. We cannot return to some envisioned Golden Era of the past. In all likelihood, the past never was what we think it used to be. And even if it was, the water that flowed in that stream is no longer there.
All parties to this discussion will immediately see the problem that hamstrings the Christian churches from the getgo: there is no broadly accepted contemporary orthodox Christian standard of unity to which to appeal in our day. Christians have been too busy over the past 200 years fighting among themselves to field any serious candidates for a suitable standard of American Christianity. And that fight is not likely to abate any time soon.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon individual American Christians of every stripe to acknowledge that the struggles that have been occurring in their churches are not struggles between fellow Christians who disagree, but are struggles akin those that Jude experienced. Ungodly people have become leaders in the churches and are not faithful to Christ or Scripture. Oh, they may think themselves to be Christian, but are not (Matthew 7:17-27). Consequently, in far too many cases unfaithful leaders have been corrupting the churches from the inside for a long, long time and for a variety of reasons and in a lot of different ways to the point that today most American Christians themselves can’t distinguish between the baby and the bath water. So, focusing on the corruption and the problems it creates will likely be of little help.
In light of this, Beck’s call for a return to Christian morality in American society is at best premature because Christian morality cannot return to American society until it returns to American Christianity. Beck’s call for renewal should not be aimed at the political process, at least not yet. Rather, for now it must be aimed at the churches. “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17). It is time to apply the Gideon principle to the churches. The churches will be stronger if they stop colluding with God’s enemies. Yes, God has enemies. Read your Bible.
The church has always been the rudder of American culture, and it still is. The culture has been following the morality of church for at least 200 years. And it still is – and that’s the problem! So, to turn the ship of American culture, pressure must be applied to the church, to the rudder. To turn a ship, the rudder must first be in functional order and then be pressed hard and fast against the momentum of the ship. The rudder, the church(es) must first be turned in another direction in order to turn the ship.
Christians must reassess their understanding of the Bible, confess their errors and the errors of past saints in order to reground their churches on the Rock of Jesus Christ according to an honest and intelligent reading of the Bible. Pray for God to direct the Captain of the ship to set the best course and give the order. But do not neglect to pray for its accomplishment – and soon. Lord, have mercy.