Now that I am retired I have found that my body can only handle so much golf. Today was one of those days where my back just got tired. After playing golf five days in a row I have learned a lesson. I need to take a day off in the middle of the week because it will help me play better. Another activity, on the positive side, I have found rewarding is reading. I think I read a fair amount before I retired, but now I seem to be reading a bit more. One of the more negative activities that have been a part of my new routine is Twitter and Facebook. Of course, I only allow myself a certain amount of screen time, which does help with my sanity.
The other day I saw a post mentioning how May 2 was the anniversary of the death of Athanasius of Alexandria. Unless you study Church history, you probably wouldn’t know who he was. He was a theologian, a Coptic Christian, and the protagonist in the drama surrounding Arius. The Arian heresy is similar to what the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach today.
According to the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology Arius was a North African priest who developed some heretical views concerning the nature of Christ. Arius felt, “since God was immutable and unknowable, Christ had to be a created being, made out of nothing by God.” Arius was a competent communicator and had convinced many that his views were correct. However, Athanasius stood his ground and disputed the heretical views of Arius. There is an apocryphal story of how someone stated to Athanasius, “the whole world is against you Athanasius,” he responded, “no, it is Athanasius against the world.”
As I thought about what I knew about Athanasius I pondered the heresies of today and where the champions of the church are? I also contemplated what Paul told the Galatians in chapter one of the epistle of the same name. “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. As we said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1: 6-8).
In this age of tolerance, and how people are saying, “oh I have learned so much from this religion about love and peace,” or how Islam is a religion of peace, and we need to have interfaith activities. I wonder how Paul would have handled this?
The Galatians passage tells me there are different gospels, the Greek means another of a different kind, and if someone is preaching those gospels, Paul says let them be accursed. Barnes notes makes an interesting statement about the meaning of this word. “The object of Paul is to express the greatest possible abhorrence of any other doctrine than that which he had himself preached. So great was his detestation of it, that says Luther, he casteth out very flames of fire, and his zeal is so fervent that he beginneth almost to curse the angels.” Pretty strong words.
I am not too sure we in the Church today understand the seriousness of the gospel and the judgment of God. If Paul is using strong words to express this reality, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, then we should pay attention. There is the ability to preach another gospel, in fact, there are many other gospels, and we need to be aware. When I was a very new Christian someone told me that the devil will give you 90% truth and 10% error. I think that is true, and I think there are many in the Church that have embraced this 90% truth and 10%! There are two popular beliefs in the Church today that I want to focus on, and identify them as another gospel. The first is Liberation Theology, and the second is Christian Nationalism.
Liberation Theology is a mix of Marxist ideology and Christianity. Liberation Theology, according to Mark Galli, is “a political theology that interprets the teachings of Jesus Christ in terms of liberation from unjust economic, political, and social conditions.” I know several people who adhere to this particular gospel, and I have always been a little concerned about the Marxist element associated with the theology. As the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology states, “Liberation Theologians contend their continent (Latin America) has been victimized by colonialism, imperialism, and multinational corporations. Economic developmentalism has placed so-called underdeveloped third-world nations in a situation of dependence, resulting in the local economies of Latin America being controlled by decisions made in New York, Houston, or London.”
To the Liberation Theologian “theology is not a system of timeless truths, engaging the theologian in the repetitious process of systematization and apologetic argumentation. Theology is a dynamic, ongoing exercise involving contemporary insights into knowledge (epistemology), man (anthropology), and history (social analysis).” Truth is evolutionary and “comes out of a given historical situation through personal participation in the Latin American class struggle for a new socialist society.” Although these quotes discuss Latin America, there are many in the United States that embrace Liberation Theology.
I think there are several key components that will help us identify this ideology as heresy. Leonardo Boff states, “Jesus secularizes the means of salvation, making the sacrament of the other a determining element for entry into the kingdom of God.” Enrique Dussel said, “The poor are the epiphany of the Kingdom or of the infinite exteriority of God.” And according to the Evangelical Dictionary, “We are forced to understand God from within history mediated through the lives of oppressed human beings. God is not recognized analogically in creations beauty and power, but dialectally in the creatures suffering and despair.”
I am not a big Ron Sider proponent, but he does help us to see the heresy and strength of Liberation Theology. “God is on the side of the poor and oppressed” (Sider). One would be a fool to dismiss this as heretical, because scripture is clear that God cares for the poor. Sider does do a good job of warning us about the concerns of this statement. Sider states that God does not intend for people to give up material wealth and seek poverty. Also, he states that the poor are just as much a sinner as the rich. Just because one is poor does not give them a place in the kingdom of God. Another problematic element is that God cares more about the salvation of the poor than the rich. Sider notes that the poor do not have a special claim on salvation. The last, and probably most critical, is “that knowing God is nothing more than seeking justice for the poor and oppressed.”
Liberation Theology’s emphasis on the poor and oppressed is commendable. However, it becomes another gospel, another of a different kind of gospel, when it deemphasizes the primacy of Jesus Christ replacing it with care for the poor. Many churches today are rightfully focused on the poor and oppressed, attempting to bring relief to people who are in tragic situations. Those actions however, as altruistic as they are, do not relieve the most important aspect of history, who is Jesus Christ and what did He do on the cross. If we do these wonderful things for the poor, thinking that it saves us and them, but not tell them about sin and the need for salvation found in Jesus Christ, then we have not created disciples. I had a colleague tell me one time that our place of employment was not a church. At the time I said ok, I can accept that. But now I can’t, because each of us who are Christians are the Church. And as a result, we have a responsibility to tell people about Jesus. Ok, I’ve hit the left, now I want to go after the right.
Christian Nationalism is another gospel. It is insidious ideology based on an incorrect assumption of American exceptionalism in God’s economy. Contrary to what some people believe God did not replace Israel with America, we are just another kingdom that God has raised up, and if we are not careful will be taken down. To mix salvation with being an American is heretical. As Mark Galli states in this month’s Christianity Today, “To believe that America is a divinely chosen nation, to be privileged at the expense of other nations – that is idolatry.”
Christian Nationalism has been around for a long time, and expressed is many countries, not just the US. The phrase white supremacy was used in the past by Nazi Aryanism and in this country, the KKK. It has been used by adherents of identity politics as representing systemic racism in our culture. Galli defines the phrase identity politics as, “a tendency of people sharing a particular racial, religious, ethnic, social, or cultural identity to form exclusive political alliances, instead of engaging in traditional broad-based party politics, or promote their particular interests without regard for interests of a larger political group.” With the rise of identity politics there is an emergence of tribalism that is impacting the Church in a negative way. Christian Nationalism is an ideology that, in my estimation, has emerged because people in our country are afraid of the changes occurring around the nation.
I agree with Galli when he states that “Christian Nationalism comes in many forms.” I also agree with his statement that “it usually includes a fierce protection of national borders, a deep distrust of those who are not Christian or citizens, a belief in special divine favor for one’s homeland, an excessive dependence on military power, and an attraction to brutal authoritarian leaders.” The “another gospel” aspect of this is the use of the tools of the kingdom of man to propagate the kingdom of God. It has not, and does not work, it is another gospel.
I am of the conservative mindset, but I am also a Christian. I worry about combining my faith with any political ideology. The left part of the Church has connected itself with Liberation Theology and as such has lost its ability to lead people to Christ. Jesus becomes immaterial to the poor and oppressed. All the left has left is a universal salvation that allows for a watered-down sense of sin. The right has done just as poorly by aligning itself with Nimrod and a literal tower of Babel. I am not able to say it better than Galli, so I will close with a lengthy quote from his article. Describing the sin of Christian Nationalism Galli states, “their unrepentant hearts blind them to the desperate who knock on our nations doors to escape persecution, poverty, and drug wars at home! Their blindness prevents them from seeing that, except for angry terrorists, the vast majority of Muslim men and women seek to know the true God, and thus Christian Nationalists fail to see the opportunity to share with them the merciful love of Jesus.”
It is time for the Church to repent. In the past we were sitting in a tent, and when the camel of Marxism and Nationalism stuck its nose into the tent we did nothing to stop it. Eventually, the camel was in the tent up to its neck. Ultimately, the camel took other the tent and we are in the cold. The Church in the United States is in danger of losing its ability to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ because we have allowed other ideologies to overwhelm the true gospel. Paul warned Church leaders in Acts 20, starting in verse 28, “Therefore, take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.”
I have been pondering this for quite a while. What do I think about current events in this country. How do I feel about Trumpism? The current expression of the Democratic party? Racism? Abortion? I am developing my own social theory and will share it as we go along. My biggest concern right now is the alignment of the Church with political ideologies. I think it is destructive and minimizes the ability of the Church to do its work.
And that is my thought for the day!