Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Cultural Christianity vs. Convictional Christianity

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Dr. Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, says there is a significant difference between "cultural Christianity" and "convictional Christianity."

In referring to the recent Pew Research Center's report titled, "America's Changing Religious Landscape," which reported to America and the world that Christianity is in decline in America, Dr. Land points out that there is more behind the numbers than meets the general public eye.

The effect of cultural Christianity is obvious.

Communist China's Academy of Social Sciences has said Christian values and principles are the reason the West has been so powerful.

Conversely, its recent decline in cultural influence is also obvious. And not properly understood by many.

He says, what is seen as "decline" may in fact result in the growth and even flourishing of more traditional, biblical "convictional" Christianity in America.

Dr. Land says, "Cultural Christianity can exert, and most of the time has, a positive input on culture. Ironically, even avowed atheists have acknowledged the positive influence Christianity has had on Western culture. Communist China's Academy of Social Sciences testified recently about this phenomenon."

They said:

"We were asked to look into what accounted for the preeminence of the West all over the world. At first we thought it was because you had more powerful guns then we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. But in the past 20 years we have realized the heart of your culture is your religion, Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to Democratic politics. We don't have any doubt about this."

We have taken the benefits of cultural Christianity for granted, because it was so deeply infused to our founding as a nation. Purposefully so by our Founding Fathers.

It was John Quincy Adams, our 6th President and son of Founder and 2nd President John Adams, who correctly said, "The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity."

Christian church membership in America was common---even expected until recently. The Christian church community provided positive, reinforcing social networks within the community, which then provided necessary and appreciated benefits to the community.

Christians founded the first 126 colleges and universities in America, including Harvard (Pastor John Harvard), Princeton, Yale---you know the list.

Christians also build hospitals to provide medical help and healing to those in need. The names of hospitals across America tell the story of Christian compassion.

Christian charities, not the government, were leaders in serving the poor and outcast.

The Bible was the foundation for our legal system, and a moral influence that in turn provided America with a moral compass and the leading moral authority among nations on this earth.

The contribution of Christianity to the American culture is undeniable and immeasurable. It continues to this day.

Christians and their churches and organizations, not atheists are most often first to arrive with assistance wherever tragedy strikes in the world.

Until recent years, Christian church membership conferred respect and appreciation in our culture.

While visiting America in the 1800s---50 years after the Revolution, French Historian Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, "The Americans combine the notions of religion and liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive of one without the other."

Now, in an increasingly intolerant, secularizing America, if you or your church supports traditional, natural, biblical marriage and does not affirm same-sex relations, you may well be shunned socially and fined, punished, demoted, or fired at work and be labeled as homophobic and a bigot. You and your business can be bankrupted.

For the first time in American history being a biblical Christian now generates social negatives and sacrifices rather than positives, rewards and respect.

What has changed?

Biblical teaching has not changed. The fundamental biblical doctrines of the Christian church have not changed, including those taught by Old Testament prophets and New Testament writers regarding homosexual behavior and abortion.

God's Word has not changed.

In a breathless, desperate attempt to regain the respect once given to the Christian church and its leaders, some leaders are abandoning the eternal Truth in an attempt to regain favor in our changing culture. This is resulting in a shift within the Christian community that is often misunderstood or misrepresented by secularists.

The more the church compromises, the more it is marginalized---becoming irrelevant.

Dr. Land rightly points out that, "The only two Christian groups to show growth in the Pew Study from 2007 to 2014 were evangelicals and "Historically Black" churches, two of the most traditionally conservative Christian groups."

The Pew Survey also found that "switching" church affiliation is highest in history, reflecting the shift.

Land says, "As cultural Christianity wanes, the more faithful, traditional Christianity practiced by Evangelicals will stand out in ever more vivid contrast with mere civic or 'country club' Christianity in America."

He says, "One of the causes of the decline in cultural Christianity in America is the hypocrisy of Christians who talk the talk, but do not walk the walk."

Land has told the ministerial students, and in doing so is telling all of us, "The shameful gap between the 'orthodoxy' (sound doctrine) and the 'orthopraxy' (sound practice) of too many Christians has been, and is, a disgrace to the Gospel. Far too many professing Christians claim Jesus as Lord, but in reality live as if He were merely their relationship adviser, financial consultant, or lucky charm."

Jesus is not your "life coach."

He says, "The often staggering hypocrisy of too much of the American church often suffocates the witness and stifles evangelism and discipleship. We claim Jesus is Lord of all, yet we have the same divorce statistics as the general society."

"There is an old African proverb," Dr. Land recalls, "that says, 'Tell me, and I will listen; show me, and I will believe'."

Martin Luther once said, "There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right..."

I agree with Dr. Land. Current conditions may well be setting the stage for a great outpouring of God's grace and restoration that will impact both individuals and our culture, as Christians are called to search their hearts and decide what they actually believe.

And whom they actually serve.

Cultural Christianity or Convictional Christianity?

Joshua understood the times in which he lived, and told the people, "Choose you this day whom you will serve."

Today is such a time.

Be Strong. Be Faithful. Be Vigilant.