Christianity in America Today
There was an enormous long-range impact on Christianity when the United States broke free from the throne of England and declared itself a sovereign democratic republic, a confederation of states that eventually gave expression to the capitalism we know today. The American constitution made no laws governing the exercise of religion. The state guaranteed freedom of religion, as this land eventually called the United States had already become the home of individuals fleeing religious oppression and bondage.
By the 20th century, Christianity within America had fragmented, breaking into many constituent parts. Not only did churches that remained committed to the core beliefs of historic Christianity multiply, but so too did cults and cultic groups. The United States is the home of the vast majority of modern cultic groups now spread around the world.
What is the state of Christianity in North America in these early years of the 21st century? Several trends are at work, and those same dynamics are influencing Christianity around the world:
1) Distrust of “organized religion” or lack of commitment to denominationalism.
For a number of decades Christians in America have become more and more reluctant to simply fall into line with denominational mandates and are more comfortable choosing worship patterns and places that are nondenominational.
“Brand name” loyalty to one denomination exists primarily within those who are now retired from the work force. The televangelist scandals of several decades ago and the seemingly endless scandal of child abuse within the Catholic church have caused apathy and distrust of religious authorities.
2) Desire for affiliation and validation.
Many who are disenfranchised, the products of dysfunctional homes or alienated from society at large look for meaning and significance in a church, group or even cult. Such individuals often want to be told exactly what to do and when to do it. They want someone to tell them how to make sense out of a world that seems to be spinning out of control.
Many are easy prey for those who selfishly manipulate and control in the name of God (2 Peter 2:3). Sadly, many of these people who are looking for God instead find themselves in horrific spiritual bondage, with virtually every aspect of their lives dictated by a religious authority.
3) Hunger for experience and feeling.
Many North Americans seek religious meaning by continuing a cultural trend first exemplified in the freedom movement of the 1960s. In many celebration (or praise and worship) churches the underlying assumption is that God enjoys receiving what we most enjoy giving, in terms of worship. In such a religious culture the underlying premise seems to be that God embraces our agenda, rather than the other way around. The mega-church religious movement is, in some ways, an outgrowth of the freedom movement in our society at large, of some fifty years ago. Contemporary Christian music hearkens back to 1960’s soft rock. Huge warehouse churches, with comfortable theatre seats are bereft of any ornate liturgical symbols of the mainline churches. This North American spawned religious revolution offers a dressed-down, casual culture. Spiritual menus in many mega-church environments are based on predigested, feel-good, positive thinking, self-empowering messages based on self-esteem. God’s will has become a cliché in some of these environments, with people casually telling friends that “the Lord told me” to do thus and such, with God’s will miraculously conforming to the subjective desire of those who believe they are seeking him.
4) Show time.
Many North Americans not only want religion to make them feel good, they want to have an exciting experience at church. They want a Vegas-style production, they want to be promised health and wealth, they want spectacles and entertainment. They don’t want church to be predictable—they long for sensory passion and stimulation.
Turn on many of the Christian television productions and you will see examples of performers dressed “fit to kill”—with extravagant clothing, expensive jewelry and gaudy cosmetics. All of the gimmicks of promotional advertising have insinuated themselves into such performances, with preachers dancing, posturing, waving Bibles, threatening, cajoling, directing a veritable three-ring religious circus.
Sadly, it is this depiction of Christianity that is known by non-Christians, both in North America and around the world. As a result of this kind of example, many today dismiss all Christianity as superstitious, shallow and silly.
The missing dimension in all of this religion is Jesus Christ, his humility, his servant leadership, his love and his mercy.
God’s grace has been relegated to the spiritual scrap heap as preposterous, an impossible, Pollyanna-like proposition in this age of self-made individuals who would rather attempt to earn their place in God’s kingdom of heaven on the basis of their own merits.
Missing in our headlong dash for feeling, experience, relevance and significance is the very One who embodies the Answer to all of our needs. The risen Lord, the Jesus who rose victorious from the tomb, is alive forevermore. He can be our companion, guide and friend for eternity. He alone can give us the peace of mind and eternal security we all long for.
Jesus is alive, available to you and me. He may be found in many churches, but he is not captive to any. No one church can contain him or own him. No church has the exclusive earthly franchise to represent God. Jesus is our risen Lord, he transcends all human religious boundaries and he is the meaning of life!
Excerpted from Greg Albrecht, Unplugging from Religion