Saturday, August 5, 2023

Restoring the Soul of American Christianity - Pastor Andrew Iske

 We are in a time of great spiritual awakening. I cannot tell you how many conversations I have had with young men, many of whom have little or no background in church, who realize how spiritually sick our world is. As a pastor, usually my first advice would be to “find a good church.” But in our day, such advice is much easier said than done. The great sickness of our world is also reflected in the dearth of good churches.

This is not something that happened overnight. America was founded as a Christian nation with various Protestant traditions. It has always been a majority Protestant nation. But the decline of American Protestantism has been something centuries in the making. The destruction was two-fold. The mainline churches, the Episcopal church, the Methodist church, the Presbyterian church, etc. began to be overtaken by modern theological liberalism in the 19th Century. Unbelief creeped in through the great universities and seminaries that trained the intellectual class of Christian leaders. Over time, the great churches that were the spiritual foundation of this country rotted away. Belief in the virgin birth, the miracles of Christ, even Christ’s divinity was renounced. Faith in the Bible as the inerrant Word of God was rejected, and soon mainline Protestantism was merely a society for secular moralism and not the guardians of the faith once delivered to the saints.

At nearly the same time, Christianity began to be democratized among the growing population of settlers spread out across the new American frontier. Revivalist preachers, like Charles G. Finney, began to hold large tent meetings where he would stir up his listeners into a religious frenzy. The revivalists maintained the aspects of the faith that the mainline had begun to reject, but their methodology was to provide an entertaining and highly emotionalized medium to convey the faith. A dichotomy began to emerge between respectable, high-status, elite, mainline Christianity which rejected the faith, and revivalist Christianity that remained nominally orthodox but packaged it in a highly consumable, emotionally manipulative entertainment. After nearly 200 years, that dichotomy still largely remains operative in American Christianity. This results in your options being churches with lesbian pastors who don’t believe in the Bible at all or a pastor who actually does believe in the Bible but is much more concerned with the fit of his skinny jeans, how the rock band sounds, and if the laser light fog machine is impressive enough.

Unfortunately, most churches in America today are plotted out somewhere on this spectrum. To find a church that actually believes the Bible, is not an inch deep and mile wide, and is not concerned with marketing itself as premium religious entertainment is quite a task. But thankfully there are a growing number of churches doing just this. There are more churches in America today who take as their primary mission to teach the Word of God and worship Him in a faithful, reverent way than there have been in over a century. Admittedly, this is an extremely low bar. But it is a case for great optimism.

But what does that look like? What have Protestant and evangelical churches begun to recover that has been lost after nearly two centuries of Second Great Awakening revivalism and mainline apostasy?

What the church is actually about. Rather than rejecting the faith, they are pursuing what the Bible and Christian tradition has always taught the church is. The church is the people of God. It is literally the ecclesia, the ruling assembly of the new polis (city-state) of Jesus Christ within the cities of this world (Matt. 18:15-20). It’s worship is where the people of God gather in a new Eden, a new temple (Eph. 2:19-22), to go before the very presence of God and worship Him and receive blessings from His hand.

The church is not a social club for nice, friendly people to hang out. It is a people united to the King of the world, the true global Emperor. And it is a people who rule with him (Rom. 8:16-17, Eph. 3:6, Ja. 2:5, Rev. 20:4-6). When Christians gather together to worship the Lord, they are gathering before the Imperator of the world, praising Him, receiving grace from His hand, offering themselves as living sacrifices to Him, and making pleas to Him to rule through their prayers. That is what worship is.

This is the radical transformation that the Bible presents — the Old Creation in the Old Covenant is being taken apart and remade into a New Creation in the New Covenant. That is what the New Testament is about. The Son of Man, the Son of God who has taken on human flesh bears God’s wrath and dies, is vindicated in the Resurrection, and ascends to reign over heaven and earth. In Him, man for the first time goes before the very throne of God in the highest heaven, and the Spirit of God is poured out upon men and they begin to turn the world upside down. The Old Creation was torn apart over the 40 years that the New Testament was written as the New Creation invaded the world. This is what the apocalyptic symbolism of Matthew 24 and the Book of Revelation is about. That world was destroyed. The Old Creation that was ruled by angels gives way to a world ruled by men—by the Son of Man and those united to Him.

That is the world we now live in. So it should come as no shock that if the church rules the world in Christ, and the church is in a totally miserable state, that the world around it would reflect that. Judgment begins at the house of the God (1 Pet. 4:17). Rather than being the leaders of the world, the church has mired herself in following the world, whether by making the Christian faith tepid with cheap entertainment or by outright apostasy. But a church that recognizes her role, which sees the great honor in being heirs of the world with its emperor, that worships Him in dignified reverence and awe, and that is willing to shed her blood in the same way as her Lord, that is a church prepared for maturity in Christ—a church prepared to rule the world.

So many Christians across America have recognized that the hour is late. There is no time for fat lesbians to give us Chicken Soup for the Soul (DEI edition) or for TED talks with a rock concert attached. The time has come for mature Christian faith—historic Christian faith—that is totally unashamed of everything the Bible teaches. Christians in America are on the verge of very great suffering for their faith and indeed many already have. We need churches to reject the spirit of the age, including the spirit of religious consumerism. Many have already begun to. This new reformation must continue and a new Christendom born.

It is difficult to find such churches, but it is not impossible. At the risk of promoting the rootlessness pervasive throughout our culture, I will say you might have to move to find one. If you do, you must go there for the long haul and plant your roots deep. We are in an age where the very most important thing is having a community of people who are willing to protect one another. My advice to young men is still to find a church, but it must be a good one. It must be one that feeds you meat and not milk, especially not the sour milk we are flooded with. It does not take a prophet to see that the days ahead are going to be hard and difficult. You need to find a church that recognizes that it is part of an army of saints poised to conquer the world. And it is a conquest that will come as the church has always conquered: by God’s people building, sacrificing, and overcoming for His glory.

The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Find a people ready and willing to be that seed.