Should This Be a Thing?
Test all things; hold fast what is good. – 1 Thessalonians 5:21 (NKJV)
If you have an ear for changes in this thing called English, you may have caught a new thing. You may have heard someone ask, “Is that a thing?” Or declare, “That should not be a thing.” The thing may be any cultural trend, preference or practice. I read it as being self-contained, with some kind of parameters. After all, if you add to or change or subtract from the thing too much, it becomes another thing, doesn’t it? Hold that thought.
There’s one old thing called American Evangelicalism. Having attended its churches for 25 years, I see some very sound parameters in it:
• The lordship of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, fully God and fully man, who came to offer Himself as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of anyone who chooses to receive this gift.
• The authority of the Bible, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to tell the story of God’s relationship with humanity, lay out His commandments and, most important, instruct us in receiving and working out our salvation.
• A zeal for missions that surely places America among history’s great exporters of the faith.
• The often breathtaking generosity of believers with their time and resources toward people in need.
But that all has another name. It’s called, simply, Christianity. So what distinguishes American Evangelicalism? I’ll suggest a few things that are not so flattering:
• A strictly literal reading of the Bible without regard for literary form, historical context or other knowledge that may shed light on the meaning of the text.
• Fear and hatred toward people who violate real or perceived principles of “right” living.
• Lockstep political conservatism, without regard to whether the ideology on a given issue matches up with the Bible, or is even addressed there.
Now, I’m already oversimplifying. Not every American Evangelical ticks all of those boxes. And you can subdivide this thing, depending on denomination, culture or local norms. There are rigidly held dogma on correct versions of the Bible, forms of church music, attitudes toward alcohol, acceptable entertainment or any number of other issues.
Since I started this blog, one of my main activities has been deconstructing the thing I had been buying into, piece by piece, since I received my salvation more than 30 years ago. As I’ve turned them over, some of the building blocks have proved to be sound; others have not. So what does this have to do with you, the reader?
I’m not going to tell you what to keep or discard, except to say that those first four bullet points above seem to be a firm foundation, encompassing the Gospel message, where we find it and what we do about it. Beyond that, I can personally endorse examining every brick you’ve laid on that foundation. Pray over it; test it against God’s Word. Is God telling you to hold to this thing like life itself? Or is it an unnecessary barrier between you and other believers – or perhaps worse, between you and unbelievers?
Wouldn’t it be nice to have no more “things” in Christianity, not American Evangelicalism or any other variant, just people united by the Holy Spirit in worshiping and proclaiming the one true God in and through His one and only Son? Of course you can’t unthink your thoughts. You can have beliefs about all those peripheral things and order your own life accordingly. The trouble comes when they drive wedges between you and those who disagree.
How do we go down these rabbit holes, anyway? Here’s a thought: When a group is safe from external threats, there’s fertile ground for internal squabbles to grow and spread. Christianity in America has been very safe since the first European settlers colonized the continent. I hope it won’t take persecution to cleanse us of pointless differences. That would be a bad thing.