all material is written by Rev. Ed Schneider and under copyright (c) 2017
Bishop Wayne Miller of the EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN Church-Metro-Chicago Synod.
I think you have very precisely and powerfully analyzed the problem facing the mainline (and perhaps other) Christian churches in today’s world; namely, the ineffectiveness of a low-expectation Christianity. I think you point us in the direction of a vibrant lay-driven church that awakens from the slumber of dependency on a professional clergy. You have grounded your thought process very nicely in the scriptural witness. And through these things you have provided a provocative and hopeful tool for deeply committed Christians.
Mildred A. Seon, New York Conference Trustee, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.
“Can Honest Christianity Still Exist” provides a powerful and new revelation to the Church and Christians of today. The book is an easy read and one can relate every chapter to themselves, their circumstance and the church. You have the ability to make your points in a manner which makes the reader think, not only to their lives but is backed by Scripture. The introduction was really creative and made me want to see what was included in the contents that followed. It also forced me to take a look in the mirror at my “faith” and to ponder about my church. I particularly enjoyed the segment, Thank the Lord, I’m Not God” and if the truth be told, it’s a good thing I’m not. I believe that this book should be read by every person in the ministry beginning with pastors and lay persons as well.
CAN HONEST CHRISTIANITY STILL EXIST?
AN INTRODUCTION TO “WHY”
This book was prompted by a sleepless night I thought would never end. At least that’s what it felt like on that quiet and restless evening. On this particular night I laid in bed and couldn’t turn my brain off. As I attempted over and over again to relax enough to fall asleep I couldn’t seem to find a comfortable position. I can’t be the only one in the world that has felt like that from time to time. However, in the darkness of my bedroom, it sure was beginning to feel like I was all alone in my restlessness.
Finally, I gave up trying to go to sleep and got myself out of my bed. I walked around my house for an hour and still could not stop thinking about what was worrying me. My mind was set on what I came to understand as an overwhelming and growing clarity of a negative reality concerning the current display of the Christian church in America. The vast majority of local Christian congregations have fallen victim to what I am labeling as a dishonest reflection of what the Bible clearly delineates as “Christianity.” Let me be clear here, I am not talking about all of the many flavors or cultural perspectives of how humanity has grown into expressing Christianity. I am distinctly referring to what I believe is a profoundly faulty version of a historically healthy, growing, and sustainable version of what Christianity is called to be.
Far too many churches, their pastoral leadership, and the larger institutional affiliations they are connected to, now find themselves deeply involved with what I firmly believe is an obvious disaster of a faulty Christian character and mission. As I walked the floors of my home waves of frustration, anger, pity and determination arose within me to address my ever growing sadness concerning where we Christians find ourselves and how we may begin to exit the challenge we face. It was a sad awakening I could not shake in those early morning hours.
For most of my adult life, as a pastor, theologian, and teacher, I have found that if I write down my observations and their emotional reactions it allows me to move through my personal discerning process with clarity, and by doing so, have a better opportunity to hear what I understand to be the “voice of God “ as it directs my path. This book is my attempt at sharing that divinely initiated discovery and what may be a few enlightened and foundational remedies to those things that have frustrated, worried, and in some cases, profoundly angered me.
With very few editing alterations, the following letter was what I wrote to myself that night and what has prompted the development of this book. I pray this work of faithful obedience touches those who are not only wondering the same things that I am. I pray this book of transparent realities, hopeful determination, and practical responses can provide the spiritual rebirth needed to get out of the mess I believe the greater Christian church finds itself.
Enjoy the journey.
Rev. Dr. Lynn R Mims, pastor, professor and church planter.
Honest Christianity has both challenged and offered a new vision for a vigorous reassessment of how to do church in the twenty-first century. He is both passionate and insightful in his claim that Christianity can regain its relevancy in a millennialist generation. What is new in his project from previous writers is that he has three new ideas gleaned from his experiences as a pastor, consultant and church planter. These three gems stand out in his book and make it worth paying attention to: the laity as transformative leaders, the local congregation as the focus for renewal of Christianity and his addressing millennialism as the missional and evangelistic challenge for the post-modern church. This book will be transformative for pastors, laity, church officials and anyone interested in addressing the crucial need for the church to move forward in its ability to be relevant during changing times.
A LATE NIGHT LETTER TO GOD
I hope I’m not bothering you but I thought I would take just a few minutes to talk with you about some things that have been weighing on my mind recently. I am truly concerned whether a persuasive and practical display of healthy Christianity can still exist in the vast majority of local congregational settings. God, I am seriously worried we Christians, those who claim an eternal connection to the life and mission of Jesus Christ, have lost our way.
Each day I observe, through a wide variety of broadcasts or printed media, reporting on current wars and rumors of potential wars all over the earth. This is not only sad and disturbing, it is also frightening. Oh God, if the reports of so many wars being fought wasn’t enough, I also see a long list of other terrible and outrageous displays of disgusting behavior permeating every section of every culture.
It seems as though indiscriminate violence against women, rampant greed, intentional starvation of your created people, cruelty, malice, a plethora of sexual deviants using every method imaginable to victimize children, and an overt lack of personal responsibility and kindness toward each other is all around me.
My God and My Heavenly Father! Why does it seem that personal integrity, common courtesy, and respect for differing kinds of people and cultures are on such a downward slide? I know I shouldn’t feel this way but it seems almost incomprehensible whether the before mentioned personality traits will ever return to social prominence.
Again Lord, I know you are really busy doing all that “God stuff” you do every day but these and other worrisome circumstances are starting to overwhelm me. I am beginning to wonder whether you have been on a self-imposed vacation or “the church” and its “leadership” have been on a dark journey of combining the effects of lazy irresponsibility, sophomoric self-centeredness, or even horrible apostasy.
Since it is inconceivable to me that you’re on some Divine sabbatical I have drawn the conclusion that the conditions described above, although endemically part of the overall human makeup, are greatly enhanced through a wayward and ineffective church population.
The question comes to mind, “Why has the general church population in no small way devalued its own missional charge to the point that it no longer is willing to do what it says it believes in?”
The church you called into being, this supposedly faithful body of believers in whom you claim to be present within, are called to boldly and intentionally share a message of love and transformational empowerment. Yet far too many are doing anything but that. They were to be made up of a profound gathering of likeminded souls for the purpose of proclaiming how real and attainable you are. Unfortunately, God, for the most part, they seem more interested in themselves than others.
Dear God, your church…every part of it…. every corner of every room in every city, village, town, or living room needs your help. It needs you to boldly show up and reignite that which has fallen silent when it should be shouting from the roof tops. Your church and all its professed followers have gotten lazy and ineffective as it relates to standing in the gap between good and evil. They will on occasion say the right things but seldom stand up and do the right things. Since I’m fully aware of how great you are and how awesome your ability is to transcend “the now” into a bright and powerful future, I just thought I’d ask you to do whatever it is you do and get your people back on the path they are supposed to be traveling.
In my life I have seen you perform miracle after miracle. I have personally witnessed you interact in untenable situations and turn them into bright and shining examples of success. Lord, I know without question when you decide to move, when you decide enough is enough, that life as we know it changes. It Transitions from what was into what “will be.” What seems like an impossible situation transforms in a way that can be best explained by your personal intervention in the course of human events. I know that’s exactly what is needed right now because humanity continue to mess things up over and over again. There seems no other way out of these types of traumatic cultural negatives except you must intentionally move into action.
Some may read this letter and conclude I’ve lost my faith. I say, “No!” What I have lost is an assumptive hope of humanity accomplishing anything of real and sustainable goodness lasting beyond their own lifetime…. especially at the local congregational level of Christian expression.
Because of this sense of ultimate human inadequacies, and because of a life filled with strong evidence of authenticity of who and what you are, I am absolutely sure you can make a difference.
Lord, I have seen you can change the hearts and minds of those who have fallen away. I have witnessed how you can alter violence into peace. Because I know you can transform minds, situations, and cultural conditions so that right and wrong can be clearly seen, I have no doubts you can change anything from bad into good. You can change families in conflict. You can change health concerns. You can change hopelessness into blessed assurance. You can even take a cold non-effective church and revive it. Revive your church so it can be what you intended it to be; a shining city on a hill, not some place to hide and cower inside.
Dear God, I have hope in you and in whom you say you are. I have hope that with even a spark of Divine encouragement others can be reinvigorated and re-energized to reinvest themselves into the honorable, loving, ethical, bold, powerful, and transforming church you called it to be. Thanks God for listening.
Your Friend in Christ Jesus, Ed
Wes Granberg-Michaelson, Former General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America
In Can Honest Christianity Still Exist, Ed Schneider issues a powerful call to revitalization of congregational life through recovering the power of transformational faith. With an incisive critique of superficial “feel good” theology and worship, of practices far more “religious” than radically Christian, and the presence of afflictions like gossip, lying, and judgment that diminish the prospect of missional faith and witness, Schneider describes the depth of change necessary for congregational vitality and witness in today’s culture. He calls for courageous leadership for vital Christianity that is unapologetically honest, deeply experienced, and profoundly shared.
THE ULTIMATE NONSENSE: The Post-Christian Era
Recently I was at a gathering of “CHRISTIAN” ministers and non-clergy local church leaders. They were brought together to discuss the current realities of the Christian Church in America. During the course of a little more than two hours I heard the term “Post-CHRISTIAN Era” 14 times when speakers were referring to the times in which we live.
I am fully aware of the challenges many of us face within the communities we are called to serve. I understand certain key points of congregational health, such as a dramatic loss of young adults being present in the weekly life of the local church or the lack of men under the age of 40 who participate in the leadership of any ministry are trending downward in tens of thousands of churches all across the American landscape. However, I also know there are tremendous signs of growth in some sectors of Christianity. There are examples of outstanding Christian expression existing in almost every corner of world, including America. Despite what some may argue, there still exists an abundance of lives being;
- positively affected,
- negative circumstances being transformed, and
- miracles of profound proportion being tangibly experienced.
Yet, I kept hearing the term “Post-CHRISTIAN Era.”
I was appalled by the quickness and ease a “secular” term was being used by those who have little knowledge of the faith “they claim” and then seemingly accepted by other highly educated people who are in positions of leadership within the Christian church.
After hearing the “leaders” of a variety of CHRISTIAN settings all but surrender to an outside worldview, I was compelled to stand up…. then, as I do now….and say boldly, NONSENSE! This “nonsense” of growing irrelevancy being perpetrated on the Christian church by those who are not part of it only reflects both their ignorance of who we are AND our ineptitude at sharing, living, and replicating our faith with others.
Open your mind to any given Sunday morning. I rise from my seat and step into the pulpit, readying myself to offer a better understanding of God’s Word. So, I want you to pretend it’s time to experience a proactive sermon message.
Please read the following Scripture from Acts 4:1-10
1 Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, 2 being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 However, many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand. 5 And it came to pass, on the next day, that their rulers, elders, and scribes, 6 as well as Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the family of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem.
7 And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, “By what power or by what name have you done this?”
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: 9 If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, 10 let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole.
Every time I read through this scriptural sequence I keep thinking about what it must have been like to stand in the presence of certain judgment that could have easily sentenced them to imprisonment or even death. Just imagine for a moment what it might have been like for Peter and John to stand in front of the Sanhedrin Court…. the same people who just a short while before planned and implemented their beloved Jesus’ capture and subsequent death.
Now that I have painted a picture in your mind of the anxious tension that Peter and John were certainly feeling, you might be wondering what started all this turmoil?
- Peter and John, two original followers of Jesus, refused to let a crippled beggar stay in his brokenness.
- Peter and John had the nerve to demonstrate their faith in a transformative savior who promised He would be with them always…even unto the end of the age.
- They powerfully, directly, and faithfully reached out to another soul who the rest of the world had thrown away as a sinful failure and told the man to get up IN THE NAME OF JESUS.
Peter and John, these two followers of a failed Jewish preacher, these two uneducated laborers, these once “cultural nobodies” because of their faith…because of their experiences…because of their wanting to transform a curse into a blessing…. changed the foundational circumstances of someone’s life. They turned another “cultural nobody” into a dynamic “somebody.” They demonstrated through their selfless act of healing that they were now living… the most practical way… THE PROMISE OF THEIR FAITH to become “powerful somebodies” in Christ.
Each person comes into Christ’s church with a need to be validated as a sacred vessel that is carrying the actual vestige of God’s image.
Christian souls deserve to be sincerely appreciated not only for their current value but also for their future worth in the kingdom of God. Validating any and every person…the inner person…. or, if you will, the essence of who they are in their innate connection to God is absolutely essential if an honest view of Christianity is to be vibrantly experienced.
In contrast, without a real and profound sense of personal validation there can only be a cheap and inadequate version of Christianity being shared. It would be similar to someone who has tasted the best, most succulent, divinely tender steak prepared especially for them by the finest chef in all the world…. and a warmed over hamburger with a single pickle on a stale bun cooked at Murray’s Magical House of Beef. Even though both the hamburger and the steak are beef, they hardly resemble each other.
Just because you have somehow managed to visit or join a local congregation has little relationship to whether you are receiving an honest view of “biblical” Christianity. When biblical Christianity is truly experienced it changes things. It changes your view of yourself. It changes how you view and interact with others. And it changes the foundational understanding of life itself!
Every Christian deserves to experience their “journey with Christ” in the fullness of God’s love…in the fullness of God’s mercy…and God’s power…and God’s joy…and God’s abundance. Anything less is an adulterated, ugly, cheap, and deceptively destructive version of the real thing.
Beloved, let me say this yet again; calling something “Christianity” and actually experiencing it are two totally different things. If we accept the Bible’s version of the Deity’s intention of investing The Creator’s spiritual presence in those who have been set-aside for His glory, we need to be clear what that investment entails. We must remember one very important aspect of the creating process… at least according to the Holy Scriptures… God has invested His Spirit in each of us. He has taken something of real and discernible worth and placed it into a vehicle…a carrier…a vessel of human design…that is expected to yield measurable gains above and beyond the initial amount deposited.
Brothers and Sisters, only a fool would waste the gift that God has offered to them. If God has chosen you…. If God has divinely determined you are the one to receive the greatest gift ever given…then why are so many Christians, their churches, their support organizations, their families, their businesses, and their efforts of every kind failing from the weight of mediocrity?
One of the answers to this difficult question lays under the foundation of human fear. Humanity’s fear of failure and the fear of the unknown is legendary and should be no surprise to anyone. Just because the Lord God Almighty has placed His hand upon your life, you can’t possibly believe that equates to a Divine edict toward the Devil to “keep his hands off.” I’m sorry if I’m the first to tell you, but the Bible is replete with witnesses proclaiming just the opposite. Once you have been set aside for the use of God’s directive to transform yourself and enlighten the world around you concerning the Gospel of Love…. you then become a prime target for the work of the Spirit of Disunity, the Spirit of Oppression, the Spirit of Vanity, the Spirit of Discord, the Spirit of Selfishness, or every other Spirit that is contrary to God.
If God has actually invested His Spirit in you two things are absolutely sure.
- First, God, Almighty…. not the Baptist Church…not the Lutheran Church…. not the Methodist Church….not even the Reformed Church….But The Creator of all that is known and unknown EXPECTS A RETURN ON HIS INVESTMENT.
- And secondly… and I want you to trust me when I say this … you can stop worrying about how that is going to happen.
Why? Because God has chosen you from all the world to share His love…to share His joy…to share His grace…and to share the message of our resurrected Savior. I am quite comfortable the God who created all that is known and unknown will supply all you need to get the desired results.
- When the world tells you you’re too old…. remind them of Caleb, Abraham, and Anna.
- When the world tells you your past isn’t good enough…remind them of David, Moses, and Paul.
- When the world says you haven’t gone to the right schools…remind them not one prophet in the Old Testament and not one gospel preacher in the New Testament went to the right school either.
- Beloved, when the world tells you you’re not ever going to be bold enough to please God…remind them about the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians where he says because of his great hope IN CHRIST he will speak with great boldness, or even our earlier example of Peter and John as they spoke with boldness BECAUSE of their connection to God, through Christ.
Let me remind you again, as Peter and John stood before the court, those seated in judgment over them couldn’t help but notice;
- In spite of their uneducated history…
- In spite of their former countryside addresses….
- In spite of their association with a seemingly dishonored and dead leader they were still profoundly, overwhelmingly, and assuredly bold beyond any logical explanation.
Just like Peter and John standing before the Sanhedrin Court, God did not allow their worldly circumstances to dictate Divine outcomes. Beloved, we also should not be discouraged by earthly circumstances. WHY? Because God frequently says NO to earthly logic! Even though the world tells us we cannot…should not…and in some cases, will not succeed…God says NO!
God says to each believer, I have given my life for you, so that, IN SPITE OF what the world may be telling you…I say Yes You Can! In spite of your history, God says Yes You Can! In spite of your earthly limitations, God says Yes you can! He says YES YOU CAN primarily because He loves you with a love that is empowering and transforming.
Let me say this clearly…. as long as there exists:
- People who are lost and left out we are not in the Post-CHRISTIAN Era.
- Human faultiness and frailty we are not in a Post-CHRISTIAN Era.
- Prideful self-serving arrogance in need of positive surrender we are not in the Post-CHRISTIAN Era.
- Hatred, bigotry, subversion, war, or the rumors of war we are not in the Post-CHRISTIAN Era.
- People who can and will testify about how their lives have been completely transformed from what used to be their “normal” limits of life into a profoundly tangible transformation into “Divine possibilities” of abundant life…. we are not in a Post-CHRISTIAN Era.
I could go on presenting another hundred examples why we are not…and will never be…in a “Post-Christian Era.” However, what is so frustrating to me is far too many Christian leaders appear to have the lack of willingness to trust God enough to openly FIGHT FOR THE GOSPEL.
I encourage all of you who live and love the Lord with all of your heart, mind, and soul. I hope to compel you to enthusiastically fight, preach, serve, pray, study, and proclaim in any way necessary to prove the God of all that is known and unknown is still able to do marvelous and miraculous things.
- Don’t ever stop believing lives can and will be changed from something old into something brand new.
- Don’t ever stop fighting against the tendencies of the outside world…. even those inside the ranks of Christianity….to marginalize the innate and Divine greatness of who and what Jesus Christ is and what He represents.
- Don’t ever stop working for the Gospel; for within the Gospel there is truth and strength and security in a God that is as real as “real” gets.
God reminds all of us that every single NOBODY in the Bible turned out to be a great SOMEBODY simply because God chose and empowered them to accomplish marvelous things. Every one of these “marvelous things” points to how awesome God truly is.
How could the early followers of Christ, and even us living today in the shadow of that same Cross, do the things God calls us to do?
Read carefully John 14:10-12 (NKJV)
10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. 11 Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves.
12 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.
Beloved, sooner or later ALL followers of the Way-of-Christ will come to the inevitable and divinely driven conclusion they are not tied to their past but working toward a future glorifying God Almighty. They are no longer limited to what the world says but rather they are empowered by God to be SOMEBODIES for Him and Him alone.
The greatest fear of the Enemy of God is for the Christian to wake up to the Divine reality that they are now SOMEBODY SPECIAL IN CHRIST. They are somebody because what is living inside of them is far greater than anything else imposed on them from outside. With all that is Holy they can say with boldness they are Divinely empowered to be…. somebody special IN CHRIST! Not unlike those earlier followers of Christ, we also can say the limitations of the world no longer apply to those God has divinely chosen to represent His Gospel of Christ. All of us who have been touched by God can appropriately testify …I AM SOMEBODY SPECIAL IN CHRIST.
I am somebody through the presence of the Holy Spirit. True believers of an empowering God will proclaim openly and boldly, “I am nothing compared with the Power that is living inside of me. I speak with and under the authority of Jesus Christ. I don’t have to be afraid any longer. I don’t have to be approved by anyone else to be able to stand up for my Jesus.”
If your congregation wants to genuinely revitalize and revive what seems to be in decline, there must be a clear and present declaration from the vast majority of existing and future members that;
- “I am somebody because Christ is everything in me…on me…through me…behind me… on the right side of me… on the left side of me…. walking in front of me…and most importantly He is somebody that this somebody can stand on.
- He is my rock. He is my fortress and there is nothing you can do or say that will ever take that away from me. I AM SOMEBODY REMARKABLE BECAUSE I AM SOMEBODY IN CHRIST.
- I am a force to be reckoned with. I am somebody that cannot be silenced because the Word of God is being spoken. I will continue to lift up the name of Jesus Christ whether the world likes it or not; because He is everything to me, because He walks with me, talks with me, and lifts me up.”
There is no doubt the world stands ready for the battle that is raging against the message of Christ and the loving God at the foundation of His life and mission. However, Beloved, I tell you the truth today…there is nothing beyond the scope of the God that I know. There isn’t one situation that cannot be:
- Transformed by the power and presence of the God I know.
- Changed by the power and presence of the God I know.
- Resurrected by the power and presence of the God I know.
I am a living witness that there is nothing separating the love and empowerment of God from those He has chosen.
Beloved, let’s start acting like it. AMEN.
Darlene Counts, Young Adults in Christian Ministries -AME Zion Church Connection
“If you have ever questioned the authenticity of Christianity by the example of today’s believer of Christ or thought what the image of God will look like in the future by way of Christian behavior, then you will discover “Can Honest Christianity Still Exist?” dives into fruitful conversation that enlightens and impacts all those who are challenged by this phenomenon. This is a must read and it will bless the lives of every reader.”
CAN HONEST CHRISTIANITY STILL EXIST? Chapter Titles
SECTION ONE: The Motivation for this Book
An Introduction to Why
A Late-night letter to God
SECTION TWO: Where We Are
The Ultimate Nonsense: The Post-Christian Era
What’s wrong with the Body-of-Christ?
Where to find yourself on a map
The innate problem with feel-good Christianity
An unparalleled era of angry and self-serving religion
The disaster of an environment that promotes repugnant behavior
Negative lying tears at the foundations of healthy Christianity
Thank the Lord, I’m not God!
No more excuses about the lack of growth
SECTION THREE: Where We Should Go
When the need to transform meets a Three-Day God
Christianity will rise or fall on a resurrected and transformed life
Embracing those who are different
62 Women in a 4-foot kitchen
Notes don’t make music, people do
Honest Christianity needs more B.O.B.’s
What my friend. Andrew Ryan, can teach us about worship
What Darnell Hamilton taught me about the Holy Spirit
I Know a God!
SECTION FOUR: Next Steps
Throw that snake into the fire and get back to work
How to supply a clear path to honest Christianity
Final thoughts and acknowledgments