by: Rev. Ed Schneider, M.P.Th.
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
There is no denying my frustration any longer. I am done pretending everything is all right in the American expression of Christian thinking, being, and interacting. Everything is not OK!
It serves no good at all to pull any emotional punches regarding what is both being experienced, and most importantly not being experienced, in the vast majority of the American expresion of Protestant Christianity.
In this offering I will not be presenting to you some academic exercise in theological writing. I will, however, offer to the reader what I believe is a modern example of an oracle from God Almighty. If that seems to you I am expressing more than a little high-mindedness, I assure you, it is not. Truthfully, not enough of us “Christian leaders” are willing to follow the unction of God with honesty, urgency and passion.
This same spiritual conviction has provided a clear understanding of how a significant number of people currently claiming connection with a local body of believers are being completely fooled that they are within the realm of authentic Christianity. If that wasn’t saddening enough there are always those who, as they have always been, intentionally attempting to highjack a sleeping and lazy church away from its rightful owner, Jesus Christ, for their own personal gain. Oh yes, beloved, the Christian church is in serious trouble and in need of dramatic and intentional reform.
The challenges facing the Christian church are not difficult to discern with clarity because they are plainly obvious….if anyone wishes to be honest about them.
- Memberships are falling away from traditional mainline denominational settings all across the American landscape in alarming amounts.
- Leadership scandals among both laity and ordained clergy are well publicized and far too frequent.
- Personal commitments to grow in the ways of Christ have fallen away in alarming proportions due to an ever increasing apathy.
- The work and fruit of the Holy Spirit is barely mentioned much less seen in the daily activities of professed members of the Body of Christ.
- In some denominational churches the mere idea of needing to be “born again” or “spiritually reborn” because of a life changing knowledge and commitment to the mission of Christ have fallen into the realm of a secondary priority.
Think about that for a moment. Let it sink in.
There are a remarkable amount of people claiming a “Christian” relationship who do not primarily identify that connection because of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
Most of these challenges have been inflicted upon “the church” through lack of spiritual fervor, organizational ethics, personal accountability, and theological honesty. Now that I have stated these unfortunate facts, it is far more frightening and dangerous to the cause of Christ what has been intentionally inflicted upon it from outside of its own ranks.
Beloved, make no mistake, much of the non-believing world is not-so-subtly at war with our entire way of thinking, being, and public demeanor. The aggressive animosity and hateful antagonism is unparalleled in modern history. This profoundly negative atmosphere is permeating throughout most of the American cultural perspective. People and organizations who, from their personal perspectives and experiences, have been hurt, hindered, or harassed by a representative of the Christian movement are no longer hiding their public disdain against the varied institutional and individual expressions of our faith.
This aggressive antagonism and open animosity is both tangible and gaining credibility within the unbelieving and apathetic public. Under the thumb of this kind of social and spiritual pressure many self-identified Christians will inevitably turn away from this hyper-negative environment toward a more pleasant and affirming experience of personal validation found in any number of other places. The shame of this negative outcome is that it doesn’t have to happen.
For those who are on the frontlines of the spiritual warfare we need to grasp that the battle is, as it has always been, raging against “the truth” associated with a life devote to God. All who have a voice that carries any amount of influence; whether that be a pulpit, a child’s ear, a suffering friend, a sympathetic business owner, a gathering of teenagers, a philanthropic group, or a spouse, we need to understand the challenge standing directly before us.
For those who have influence we need to stop shaking your heads in frustration and get up from your knees and out of our pews because it is time to rise up and not only be heard with clarity but also felt with authenticity.
How will this group of writings help to address this overt challenge? Through each installment I will provide clear meaning to “the basics” of authentic Christian thinking and biblical understanding. In addition, I will dispel some of the nonsense that is parading around in the form of conflict and misinformation concerning what the core of the Christian message is suppose to be and also what the Church founded upon the life and mission of Jesus is called to become.
There are five very important points of emphasis that will be brought out throughout the contents of each writing offered.
- ONE: It should hold no surprise to any thinking person that not every belief, institution, or individual claiming to be a Christian is one. Just because a person or organization boldly professes their “godly” authenticity or authority doesn’t equate to being factual. In the beginning of this book we will take a quick look at the minimum requirements of membership in this eternal fellowship of genuine followers of Christ.
- TWO: We cannot be afraid of trusting God’s input through scripture into the life of both seekers-of-truth and existing believers. Even though modern scholarship has brought many new things to light concerning the Bible’s actual development, authorship, and techniques of interpretation, one should not ignore very specific and foundational criteria laid out within the Divine’s gracious gift of biblical text. Therefore, it is perfectly reasonable to be guided by scripture. By allowing an informed scriptural journey to take place it will help to define the public and private expressions of both authentic and false Christianity.
- THREE: It is within the spirit of Christ and the glory of God’s grace that we are foundationally changed and continually transformed. Through this foundational transformation we begin to experience the newness and redefinition of life, the power of divine purpose, the abundance of gracious living and loving, as well as the actual spiritual presence of the Divine. It is because of our faith in the mission and person of Jesus that all of these spiritual benefits begin to materialize and sustain themselves. If this belief is fundamentally true then by definition it becomes safe to state, if you don’t accept the life, death, and mission of the one, true, and perfect reflection of the living God, namely Jesus Christ, you are not a Christian.
- FOUR: The Body of Believers is presented quite clearly in all of the different versions of The Bible as a reflection of the kingdom of God on earth. For those of us who have been miraculously, supernaturally, and ultimately transformed through God’s awakening of unfathomable hope, foundational faith, and universally shared love, we are called to reflect the heart of God to each other and to the world around us. We are commanded to do this “divine expression” through a heart that has been revived, reanimated and reconnected to God as evidenced by our acceptance, inclusion, passion, self-sacrifice, boldness of proclamation and urgency to call those who are lost and left out. This urgent calling is extended sincerely no matter what part of the world they may live, what they eat, the music they listen to, how they dress, the language they speak, the education they have acquired, their cultural heritage, their arbitrary racial designation, or even their income and social prominence.
- FIVE: Beloved, let me candidly clarify this last point. It is through the individual Christian that God is actualized NOT a building or any organization. We may live and exist in our current age but that does not mean we should be spiritually or demonstratively governed by it. Yes, we should absolutely extend the message of a loving, powerful, inclusive, and life altering God in any way necessary to provide validity and authenticity of our professed faith. However, Christianity is not supposed to be everything to everybody. Instead, we are challenged by God to offer one very special thing to anyone and everyone so they can discern for themselves whether or not they choose to believe and then begin the process of learning how to fully participate in God’s kingdom of love through the mission of Jesus.
In the following pages of this offering I will share what God has given to me through decades of practical discernment regarding these challenges and offer to the reader ways and means to help extricate ourselves from this spiritual malady.