The Once and Future American Church
The American Church was birthed on dualisms which allowed it to morph into a noxious hybrid. This strange creature drained the gospel out of the church’s message and whittled its ministry down to production of good Americans. That gig is over now. The church has been fired as chaplain and Jesus has been demoted to background cheerleader.
These dualisms trade on some version of the division between the “spiritual” and the physical, material, or worldly. The church has valorized the former and downplayed or even denigrate the latter. Western culture opted to prioritize the physical, material, and worldly, often in reaction to an effete and powerless church tied to the “spiritual” stuff. We are familiar with them: sacred or secular, church or world, evangelism or justice, Jesus - human or divine, heaven or earth.
This dualism ironically made possible the conditions for the church in this country to become that hybrid, the Christendom church, the chaplain of the Good Ship America, noted above. The church was all about the “spiritual” things. That is, the personal, private, and inward, while the government took care of the public, political, economic, and social aspects of life with the support of the church. The latter was tasked to shape “Christians” who would replicate this noxious dualism in their approach to their lives.
The biblical gospel, however, uses “and” to connect these realms of existence instead of “or.” It pulls these different aspects of God’s good creation together in mutually reciprocal and inextricable ways. It honors God as the Lord of creation and nations. No aspect of life escapes his notice or will. It extols Christ as Lord of the church and ruler of the world and promises that one day the church and world will coinhere in God’s new creation.
Some are finding and embracing this genuine gospel. But many still do not. Those that have discover that a new kind of, form of, church is necessary. The noxious hybrid Christendom church cannot and will not be able to absorb this recovery of a genuine gospel. It is neither structured nor nurtured to do so. Those that try will always finally resist the transformation this true gospel requires. To embrace it, like most home improvement projects, will takes longer, be harder, cost more, and make a bigger mess than we ever imagined. Churches trying to retain some vestiges of the Christendom model, or church as we have known it, will give up before such a transformation is done. A do-over on the basis of a genuine gospel must be undertaken for the church to be the people God wants its it to be in this time and place.