Allow me to illustrate our current Evangelical moment though the metaphor of Elmer Fudd. Either side of the conservative or progressive debate is much like the titular character in his Viking garb from What’s Opera Dock. Furiously hunting the rabbit yet completely failing to recognize him every time he is directly in front of them while stabbing about furiously with a spear. So if you are conservative your target is the libs, and if you can just kill da wabbit then everything will be grand. They are trying to destroy Christianity and therefore they must go. If you are progressive the enemy is those backwards conservatives, and if you can just kill da wabbit, then the future will dawn bright and glorious. Those conservatives make your brand of Christianity look bad and they need to shape up or ship out. What both sides fail to see is that while they are furiously stabbing into a rabbit hole the real target is standing to the side looking on quite pleased with themselves.
Or to shift the angle, Secular society is just as happy to have Evangelicals for Biden vie for their approval, as Donald Trump was to send Mike Pence to headline a Southern Baptist Convention. And in each case, when the dust settles, evangelicals of all stripes find themselves standing around, with a shocked expression, pointing behind them saying, “Dat was da wabbit!” Conservatives did it after the January sixth loony toon, and Evangelicals for Biden should be feeling it after he has put more kids in cages then Trump could have ever dreamed of (and those dreams were “Uge”)
The Indoctrination of these Interwebs
It should come as no surprise to anyone that I am bringing this back to the concept of we become like what we worship. I also want to direct the attention to the maxim that, “Sin makes you stupid.” If you worship a stupid thing…
Another turn of the prism will reveal that the idol most western professors of Christ has is the internet. Which is the most sophisticated idol thus far. It is indeed god like in its ability to be nearly omnipresent, aware of (and feeding) our desires, its control over and reaffirmation our beliefs, and its ability to effectively stir our affections. Algorithms dominate our lives. And increasingly do so with greater efficiency. In the days of the reformation in England Puritan Pastors spent their weeks going house to house to catechize their parishioners. Today the internet ingrains a different catechism person to person minute by minute.
Pastors Failing to Preach
Perhaps the most Fudd like of Evangelicalism are the pastors themselves. And it is not my intention to throw them under the bus, but there is something to be said for the fact that all men are sinners and can be deceived. And pastors are men. Perhaps it was that same desire that seemed to ripple through the Christianity Today bullpen whenever one of them was acknowledged by the Washington Post or New York Times. That feeling of, “See we are just as legitimate as non christians!” Or because the early two thousands saw a lot of young, diverse church plants and replants who have now aged, pastors started to worry about budgets shrinking because of children who tithe and are more than willing to take their bat, ball and go home when their inner child gets spanked. Or some other issue. Regardless they failed to preach a hot gospel. Yes the gospel does indeed cover race, but it also covers when race is used as a justification for jealousy, slander, and un charity. They have been cool shamed into punch pulling, cowardice, or what John Stott would call, “Our Guilty Silence.”
Our cities, nation, or world do not need churches that are partizan. An all American church decked out in American flags belting out the battle hymn of the republic and the national anthem on the Forth of July should be as much of an oxymoron as a a liberal church with a lady pastor fund raising for Planned Parenthood or the local LGBTQ youth. While both are technically churches, they are not The Church of Jesus Christ, they worship a completely different god. Pastors are to guide their flocks neither left or right, but directly to the cross as revealed in the Word.
“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” – 1 Peter 2-10-11
or as Treebeard would say:
“I am not altogether on anybody’s side, because nobody is altogether on my side, if you understand me… And there are some things, of course, whose side I’m altogether not on; I am against them altogether.” – J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers
Pastors are to preach and demonstrate the example of what this looks like, avoiding the extremes of bumper sticker patriotism and lawn sign virtue signaling. Christians are a peculiar people, and we have not been well taught to be that.
Laziness in the Pew
The immediately above section was not meant to throw all pastors under the bus, though there is a sense in which like Harry Trueman’s desk sign “The Buck Stops Here” they hold the greatest share of responsibility. That said it should be kept in mind that guilt does not run 20% 80% pew to pulpit. Rather it is 100% and 100%. A pastor can be 100% guilty of liberalism or conservative partisanship and a congregant can be 100% guilty of laziness. This can play out in many ways.
Laziness in doctrine: Where the congregant simply refuses to actually know what Christians believe and why we believe it. They are the type that is like a child, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. As brought about by either CNN, Fox News, Buzzfeed, Daily Wire, Facebook, Twitter, Tick Tock, Instagram (or whatever hideous technical monstrosity is coming to dominate our lives in the near future.) And it comes in tsunami waves. Some of these people keep up a steady diet of devotional reads as well but even Max Lucado, the best of the bad bunch*, can not compete. One page of a devotional a day that contains one verse then four paragraphs of treacle like musings on the divine will never hold a person over and against the increasingly wily ever present algorithm that plays dopamine receptors like a piano. This laziness must be declared war on. If Christ can die the most creative and painful death humans ever came up with, I think common christians can work their way through Mortification of Sin, Holiness (Ryle), Knowing God, He is there and He is not Silent, or even Berkhoff’s Systematic Theology (It is one volume and stunningly easy to read.).
Laziness in discipleship: It has been popular to throw around the idea of discipleship in evangelicalism. In fact in my city you can’t swing a dead cat in a coffee shop at six in the morning without hitting some kind of discipleship group. You would think then that Memphis would be over run with vibrant christians. But no, because much of what passes for discipleship is really just motivational chats, or old school evangelism training in disguise. Packing in knowledge is easy, training a person to apply that knowledge rightly is hard. And this is why discipleship doesn’t really happen. As John Stewart once lamented, “That sounds like a lot of work.” A six month program where you pack some greek into a persons head at five a.m. three mornings a week** is simply not discipleship (nor is it teaching greek). Neither is thirty minutes over coffee catching up, followed by the reading of a chapter or Romans then awkwardly staring at each other hoping in vain the other person has something interesting to say about it.
Laziness in Discipline: Aimer is the owner of my favorite restaurant in town, Casablanca. When you walk in there is a waiting area that really exists for one purpose, for Aimer to sit in the downtimes and read his Koran. It is always there, right next to his seat. Every time I walk in he is not on his phone, he is reading his Koran. He is shaped by it in every way, in even casual conversations it is clear where his mind is. He is almost like a Puritan in a sense. The point is this, when compared to the average professing christian it becomes increasingly apparent the importance of personal discipline. More Christians are shaped by their phones than their Bibles. What is the first thing they look at in the morning? The last thing at night. What apps are most used on their devices? If the Whisky Tribe can do dry week four times a year, why can’t average Protestants fast and pray?
Laziness in Worship: Obviously I take issue with much of modern worship music. So I will set that aside and take on the issue of worship as a whole. First, Worship is not limited to an hour and a half on Sundays, when we can be bothered to show up.*** There is no sacred/secular divide. Man is made to worship and will worship something. For a Christian the Holy Spirit dwells in us and we serve and worship God with all that we do.
“The worship of God….should be free at table, in private rooms, downstairs, upstairs, at home, abroad, in all places, by all peoples, at all times” – Luther
Then when we come to the appointed day, we gather together, with all of God’s people across the globe, and all of what we do is worship, it is all about God. We sing, receive the word, take the elements, rejoice in baptism. No part of our gathering is about a mere man, because our purpose is bigger than that. When we loose sight of this, we fall into the trap of popular music, positive and encouraging sermons, quick communions, and spontaneous baptisms. Laziness in worship leads to small, performative, religiosity.
Granted, intramural fights are a lot more fun and easy to get into. And Christians are encouraged by the world to do just that. Pick a side and wail on the other for all you are worth. And hey if you can find a Bible verse to tack onto it, more power to you. The church is supposed to be assaulting the citadels of unbelief, the gates of Hell will not withstand us. And instead of keeping that in mind we have allowed the world to divide us up into a million Elmer Fudds jabbing at rabbit holes singing “Yo Ho Toe Ho! Yo Ho Toe Ho!”
*Let’s be honest even Max has been consigned to the Sunday School room, and the leading contenders are Sarah Young, Beth More, Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes, and our boy in Texas Osteen. Not to go back and hit pastors again but it just seems like common sense to loudly condemn these and writers like them loudly and consistently from the pulpit. As the old saying goes, “Don’t give the Devil a stick to hit you upside the head with!”
**Seriously there is a program here in town that does this.
***Still trying to pinpoint exactly when the fourth commandment became the forth suggestion.