A religious pride tends to creep into believing people. This is not unique to Christianity, yet is abundantly apparent in American Christians on a regular basis. It’s hardly unique to the modern era either. Jesus came to reform faith 2000 years ago. His methods?
One: upraise the humble, defend “bad” people, give out second chances like candy from his pocket and refuse to judge those who clearly deserve judgment.
Two: criticize only Bible-believing religious people for their pride, expressed in rampant hypocrisy and a prevailing blindness to God’s real concerns. (By “Bible-believing” we mean “Old Testament thumpers,” as the New Testament was still being lived out, not written down. Often Pharisees fit this description.)
He would do the same today. Churches in Western Christianity don’t look a whole lot like Jesus and don’t follow closely to God’s heart as revealed in Scripture. Christians were once considered the countercultural leaders in prison reform; building hospitals and applying medical research; scientific advancement; education; providing for the poor, widows, orphans, foreigners. The list goes on. Christians have radically changed the world for the positive, at times – sometimes by teaming up with culture, sometimes with siding against it.
Today, Christians are the leaders in bigotry. Racism. Sexism. The church is very reputable. For being backwards, uneducated, hypocritical and proud of it. Loud but with nothing meaningful or kind to say. Showy but with no compassion or mercy behind it. Today, Christians tend to be the pro-war, pro-pollution, pro-capitalism, pro-hate factions. Westboro Baptist are our people, after all – whether you like them or hate them, they are ours. And the rhetoric of many mainline Protestant churches doesn’t sound terribly different. As if our war IS against flesh and blood. How did we fall so far? I read Revelation 2:5 with fear and trembling and all I can think is, “He was talking about us.”
How does American Christianity frequently find itself on the wrong side of the major issues of today? Christians don’t care about the environment (the garden God gave us to take care of?!). Christians don’t advocate for peace instead of armed conflict. Christians don’t advocate for women or equality. They don’t care about refugees, they are suspicious of foreigners, they perpetuate race tensions. For every church you can show me that raised a million dollars solely to aid others, I can show you a hundred that raised a million dollars for themselves – buildings, technology, property, salaries, vehicles, stages and instruments and sound boards and the list goes on. Our heart is nowhere near where God’s seems to be when you read Scripture.
The source of these issues is going to surprise you.
But before I tell you, I’ll warn you it is rooted in a growing religious pride. Pride which is wholly condemned repeatedly in Scripture – explicitly in anti-pride passages and implicitly in pro-humility ones. And this pride is rooted in a common yet enormously problematic misconception:
Christians aren’t called to be countercultural.
Let that sit right there to sink in.
Christians are not called to be countercultural.
Christians are called to be Christlike. Godly. Holy. They are not called to be counter-cultural. There’s an obvious reason God called us like this. God is always right – so it’s best to be like God. Culture is sometimes right – so it’s never healthy to be exactly like culture but it’s also never healthy to strive to be countercultural all the time either.
This is a gaping blind spot in most Christians’ theology. They assume Christians should always be countercultural, and that’s simply not true. That’s simply dangerous. God said that people would know us by our… love. Not because we take the opposite position from what society takes on every issue. But because we take God’s position, rooted in love, on every issue – even when that ends up being against the flow of society and even when that ends up being with the flow of society.
When a society is more compassionate, Christians with their counter-culture agenda start acting out in hate and a cynicism lacking in all mercy and grace.
When a society is more tolerant, Christians with their counter-culture agenda start to become more judgemental – unlike Christ, who not only prevented hypocritical sinners from throwing stones, but who himself wouldn’t throw a stone even though he had never sinned.
When a society begins caring about the environment, conservation and sustainability (an expression of “wisdom”), Christians with their counter-culture agenda start denying science, refusing to research, refusing to cooperate for local or global solutions.
When a society begins triumphing women’s rights, Christians with their counter-culture agenda double down on the few passages that restrict women instead of the hundreds that show women applauded, empowered and freed by Scripture, from Old Testament to New.
When a society cares about immigrants, foreigners and refugees, Christians with their counter-culture agenda dismiss the bulk of hospitality and alien passages in Scripture commanding us to care about the same. Instead, they resist compassion and serve to protect themselves first against fears, both real and imagined.
Christians, in doing so, feel proud because they are obviously going upstream. By being counter-culture they feel they are persecuted, a minority, surely on the narrow and safe in God’s will because he promised we would experience persecution. But often we never looked to see if counter-culture is also counter-Christ – and because of this, we find ourselves holding ridiculous positions that are far from Scripture and the early Church’s practice. Is it any wonder the church has lost relevance in the minds of Millennials?
Our pride from times we are rightly countercultural contributes to a desire to always be counter-cultural – even when we stand against God and culture in times when they are moving in the same direction. The biggest danger the church ever faces is not from without, but within. It’s the danger of feeling justified and proud in not caring about issues and people that God cares about – because we’re proud to stand against culture, even when doing so is wrong.
Christians are not called to be countercultural – against the world in its every endeavor. They are called to be Christ to the world – siding with the world when it is righteous, standing against the world when it is wrong.