American Christianity?

Recently I have been conversing with Europeans about “American Christianity”. They tell me that European Christianity is very different and far superior to American Christianity. However, it is not my purpose to compare the two “types” of Christianity here. My purpose is to compare Christianity with christianity.

Let me explain what I mean. I use a capital “C” in Christianity when I am referring to biblical Christianity. Biblically, one is a Christian when one recognizes one’s condition (i.e. that he/she is a sinner under the wrath of a Holy God), repents and turns to the finished work of Jesus Christ for his/her redemption. By “finished work of Jesus Christ” I mean His life (without sin), His death (bearing our rightful punishment for our sin), and His resurrection (overcoming death that we might have eternal life). One who believes this and gives his life over to the Lord, this one is a Christian. It matters not where he/she was born or what the faith of her/his parents were. It is a personal, one on one, relationship with Jesus Christ.

The lower case “c” as used in the term “christianity” herein refers to those who call themselves christian for reasons other than a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I firmly believe the bulk of those in America who consider themselves Christian, are, in fact, christian.

The term “Christianity” has, at least in America, come to mean a sort of nationalism. Most “christians” here proclaim themselves such because they were born, raised, and live in a “christian nation.” It seems to me, from my discussions with European Christians, that folks outside of America consider America to be a “Christian Nation” as well. I have heard it said that England is a “secular society” and America is a “christian society.” That is correct when “christian” is spelled with a lower case “c”. However a lower case “c” puts it directly in the realm of a “secular society.”

The term “Christianity” has, for most people, changed in definition. It means something to the effect that one was born in a “Christian Nation”, or goes (at least occasionally) to a “Christian Church.” It has become a term to describe a type of society and, in reality, has little or nothing to do with Christianity at all. Thus, some of the worst of us, some of the most uncaring and egotistical, are considered by themselves, and by others, to be Christians, when, in fact, they are simply christian.

Can you see how the term “Christian” has actually lost spiritual meaning in our country (and I believe abroad as well)? It has become a political designation rather than a spiritual one. This is one reason it has been so very difficult for me to communicate on this topic with my European friends. In my experience they have not been able to separate Christianity and christianity, at least in terms of America. More often than not my American friends suffer the same malady.

Because of this shift in definition of the term “Christian”, it has been easy to set the blame for most of the major ill’s of society on “Christians.” It is an easy cop out. Society is messed up because the Christians are uncaring about others and only care about their status and the thickness of their wallets.

Many believe that Wall Street is run by Christians. It is not. Many believe the American government is run by Christians. It is not. Both are run by individuals, people. Christianity has nothing to do with either institution. Christian values have nothing to do with either institution. My European friends don’t seem to understand that.

America is not a Christian nation. There is no such thing as a Christian nation. America was founded on biblical principles, but that did not make it Christian. Nations are not Christian because nations cannot make a decision for Christ. Nations cannot collectively repent and turn to Christ. Individuals can do that. Living for Christ, accepting His Lordship in ones life, cannot be legislated. It doesn’t work. It has been tried, and it has failed. Christ died for individuals (for you and for me), not for nations.

So, where does that leave us? How are the social problems we face going to be solved. Sadly, they are not going to be solved for two reasons:

1. Those who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ either don’t care or believe that man can legislate morality (which it cannot).

2. Those who call themselves christian but have no relationship with Jesus Christ either don’t care or believe that man can legislate morality (which it cannot).

These social problems we all face daily will only be solved at the return of Jesus. They will only be solved when He separates the sheep from the goats. Why? Because the solutions do not rest in the hands and minds of man, but in the Grace of God. That is why those who have helped peoples suffering from the social problems they face have been helped by Christians (capital “C”). It will be so until Christ returns.

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ανάθεμα (Anathema)!

ανάθεμα (Anathema)!

The Greek word translated “accursed” in the NASB is ανάθεμα (anathema). In some bible translations the transliteration, “anathema”, is used. The word refers to “a thing devoted to God without hope of being redeemed, and if an animal, to be slain; therefore a person or thing doomed to destruction.”

A thing that was anathema was devoted to destruction with no means of redemption. It is a very strong and damning word. It refers to a thing without hope.

The Apostle Paul uses this word in Galatians 1:8 & 9. Not only does he use it in verse 8, but he repeats it in the same context in verse 9 to further its emphasis.

But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preach to you, he is to be accursed (anathema)! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you have received, he is to be accursed (anathema)! – Gal.1:8-9

What was going on that so upset the apostle that he would pronounce such a curse?

Paul had preached the gospel given to him by the risen Lord throughout the region of Galatia, and many had responded to that message. Scores of gentiles became believers and many churches sprang up in believers homes. When Paul left these new believers he left them with the true gospel which was able to save all who believed.

Children are vulnerable because of their youth and immaturity. They need guidance and instruction when they are young and immature so that they may mature and not be led astray. Thus, we care for our children teaching them what is good for them and warning them about the things they may encounter in life that is destructive and will harm them. When they stray from our good direction we scold and punish them in order to get them back on the correct path and avoid harm. We do this because we love them.

When someone responds to the gospel as preached by Paul he is born again. Just like our physical birth, we are born again as babies. We were born physical babies, and we are born again spiritual babies. As such we need guidance and instruction just as we did when we were physical babies. Without that guidance we are in danger of being led astray by a great number of outside influences.

Such was the case of the new believers in the region of Galatia. Paul had taught them, but now he was gone and others came into the region of Galatia claiming to be sent by the apostles in Jerusalem, and added to the teaching of Paul. In order to get the young believers to accept their teaching they disparaged both the ministry and the character of Paul. They purposed that Paul’s apostleship was not real for he had not seen the Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh, neither had he been appointed as such by the Lord’s appointed apostles who were in Jerusalem. Having caused doubt concerning Paul’s discipleship they were able to bring in their own teaching which the young Galatian believers were then only too eager to accept.

What, then, was the gospel which Paul preached, and what was the “contrary” gospel preached by the teachers who came in after Paul

Paul states the gospel which he preached rather succinctly in 1 Corinthians 15,

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…1 Cor. 15:3-4This is, briefly, the gospel Paul preached. It is the gospel of grace. It is the gospel of the finished work of Jesus Christ.

“The finished work of Jesus Christ.” What does that mean? It means that while you were dead in his sin (Eph. 2:1), and, therefore, under God’s judgement and wrath (Rom. 2:5), Jesus Christ took the wrath of God upon Himself and died in your place. Thus, the penalty for your sin has been paid by the One who knew no sin! The case is closed! Your case is closed. Your debt to God has been paid in full (Col. 22:13-14) and there is nothing left to do to secure your salvation. It is finished. Salvation then, according to Paul (and the entire teaching of the Bible and of Jesus Himself), is a gospel of grace. A gospel of salvation achieved entirely by God for mankind, requiring no human merit whatsoever.

When those folks (called judaizers) came to the region of Galatia to teach the Galatian believers they brought a different “gospel” with them. They taught the young believers there that believing in Jesus for salvation was necessary, but not complete. In order to truly be saved, they contended, one must be a Jew. One must, according to the judaizers, be circumcised and obey Levitical law. Thus, the grace of God was insufficient, in itself, to save. Man must perform a great degree of works on top of the grace of God if he hoped to end up in heaven.

One may ask, “What is so bad about this teaching? Certainly believers are expected to do good works?” That is a legitimate question, so let’s take a moment to answer it.

What is so bad about that teaching is that it nullifies the finished work of Jesus Christ. It negates the truth of the death, burial, and resurrection as the power unto salvation that God said it was (John 3:16, Acts 4:12). It is to call God the Holy Spirit a liar, for it is the Holy Spirit who has revealed to us the Gospel of Grace in the first place! So serious is this offense that Paul called the preachers of this lie anathema!

Are Christians expected to do good works? Grace came in response to our sin, so why not continue in sin so that we get even more grace? Paul deals with this question in his letter to the Romans. What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Rom. 7:1-2).

Paul is telling us that when we respond to the gift of salvation given us by Jesus we become spiritually alive and we die to sin. Sin is the nature of the flesh but righteousness is the nature of the spirit. When we received salvation we are born of the spirit (born again) and begin to do good works simply because that is our new nature! We don’t do good works to obtain salvation, but, rather, because our salvation has already been attained by the finished work of Jesus Christ, and we, when we believe, are changed forevermore. Works are a result of salvation, not a means of attaining it:

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8-9)

That is salvation. Both the grace and the faith necessary for salvation are the gift of God and not as a result of works. Works come directly after salvation just as verse 10 comes directly after verses 8 and 9:

10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Indeed, we can only walk in them after we are saved, for the works which God prepared beforehand require His power and wisdom to accomplish.

Who are the “judaizers” today? In the strictest sense of the term I suppose the group in Abilene Texas called “The House of Yahweh” is a good example of this kind of group. This group, headed by a man claiming to be one of the two prophets in the book of Revelation and calling himself Yisrayl Hawkins (his real name being Bill Hawkins), teaches that they are the true church and it members must, among other things, keep all of the Old Testament feasts to be right with God. There are other groups which add works to grace for salvation, though the works are not Levitical law.

One such group, especially prominent here in Boise, Idaho, is The Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints (The Mormons). This group emphasizes the supposed insufficiency of Christ’s work apart from mans work for his salvation.

Another group, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, also maintain that man is not saved by God’s grace alone. Man’s effort is, in their teaching, also required if one is to be saved.

These three groups are examples of what I call modern day judaizers. They tarnish the finished work of Jesus Christ with there own foolish attempts to merit God’s forgiveness, and they work unceasingly to bring others under the same bondage as themselves. This is precisely what the Judaizers in the first century AD did, and it is the reason Paul pronounced such a curse upon them. Anathema – devoted to destruction! !

Here’s the bottom line: All men (and women) are sinners deserving of the wrath of God’s righteous judgement. There are no exceptions. However, God so loves mankind that his only begotten Son, Jesus, took that punishment (your’s and mine) upon Himself, paying, in full, our debt to God for our sin. It is our free gift given us by a holy, righteous, and loving God. There are no human works involved in obtain salvation, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

If you have not responded to God and received this gift of salvation, I encourage you to stop right now and do so! You will be born again – born of the spirit – saved from your sin and changed forevermore. Jesus said that He went back to heaven to prepare a place for us. A place where there is no more sorrow, suffering, or death. It is His gift to you. Will you receive it?

Paul used that awful word, anathema, again at the end of 1 Corinthians where he wrote:
If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed (anathema). (1 Cor. 16:22)

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Welcome to Oil and Wine Ministries. Articles found herein are meant to instruct, inform, and inspire. Some articles are apologetic in nature while others are instructive. We hope you are ministered to by each of them and we invite your comments and questions.

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