When I was a kid on the playground of St. Aloysius elementary school, if someone became too pushy or demanding about the rules of a game we were all playing, another kid would inevitably call them out, saying, “Who died and made you boss?”
Ever since our collective mindset of what is right and wrong got supplanted because some brainiacs decided that there was no God, people have decided that they are their own bosses, and therefore whoever shouts the loudest or shoves the hardest is in control.
Before this, the tenets and traditions of the Judeo-Christian religions set the bar by which we all were willing to subject ourselves.
I grew up in a suburb just north of Pittsburgh called Reserve Township where my father was one of four full-time police officers. Reserve Township had a few houses of worship and was populated with all kinds of people at various stages of belief in a Supreme Being, some ardently questioning that being’s existence, some denying its presence in the universe altogether.
But one thing that everyone agreed upon were the ground rules of the “moral law.” Remember “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”? No one disagreed with the Golden Rule. People respected one another’s opinions, could even ardently debate them, and everyone stayed inside the framework of fair play.
But now it seems like every week someone within the anonymous woke crowd comes up with yet another new phrase or idea that we’re all supposed to incorporate into our daily lives. Who are these people? And why are we listening to them? I mean, who died and made them boss?
What happened to the influence of the traditional church? Could it be that inch by inch the church gave away its authority in order to accommodate a few more pew sitters? Is that how it began?
After straying from its moorings in the teachings found in the Bible on “small matters” such as marriage and divorce, is it no wonder that the church would go lukewarm on such hot-button issues like abortion and homosexuality? The church’s stance on such serious life and lifestyle concerns appeared to the culture as counter-intuitive. Don’t we have freedom to do whatever we want with our own bodies? And doesn’t God—the God of that famous slogan, “God is Love,” doesn’t he want us to be happy with who we are and what will fulfill us as human beings?
So, pastors who wanted to keep their pews warmed started giving in to the new morality by watering down Scriptural things until all that was left was . . . water. And not the holy kind, either.
About 25 years ago I was having lunch with a friend who was on the verge of hitting it big as an author. Meanwhile, I had been thinking about writing a book focused on the current state of the Christian church in America. Out of my frustration with the church that he and I were attending back then, my book would explore the well-meaning nature of many pastors trying to relate with hard-core unbelievers in large metropolitan cities with diverse and high-minded populations, such as New York. My book idea, The Church Façade, would address those tuned-in-to-the-culture pastors who felt they had the key to reaching spiritually hard-nosed urbanites, and ultimately make Christianity popular and accepted in their spheres of influence.
The pastor at our church, for example, certainly espoused the Gospel and his preaching dovetailed nicely with the Scripture reading every Sunday. But mixed into the 45-minute sermons were opinions on the latest articles, surveys, and op-ed pieces from the pages of the New York Times. Then there were the usual straw-man arguments that began with phrases like, “Conservatives will say this,” and, “Liberals believe that,” followed by, “But the Bible tells us this . . .”
But the way the pastor represented my take on issues (and that of my conservative friends) was always distorted. The pastor framed things so that they would fit neatly into his examples, but it simply wasn’t a true representation of any of our thinking or, at best, his examples would be a cherry-picking of ideas taken entirely out of context. And I couldn’t help but wonder if liberals were thinking the same thing about his representation of their ideas.
What I most lamented during the pastor’s sermons each week, however, was the fact that he didn’t spend his pulpit time delving deeply into the Word of God found in that morning’s Scripture reading.
I could read the New York Times any day of the week, or discuss conservative and liberal ideas anywhere, but the message I was looking for in the church was that deeper understanding from a preacher who knows Scriptures inside and out (presumably), who knows the Hebrew and Greek origins of words and passages and idioms and context (again, presumably), and is ready to “let you have it,” spiritually speaking. Smart people of all stripes, whether exploring the faith for the first time or those with long-time doubts about its claims, would receive an unadulterated earful that just might give them something substantive to noodle.
Over the decades, this particular New York City church has exploded in popularity, and has expanded its reach with sister churches nationally and internationally. Terrific. Maybe.
Unfortunately, along the way it also adapted itself to the culture’s demands, putting an upbeat Christian twist on social justice, critical race theory, state-mandated vaccinations—even Marxism itself. It was like the church put a “Jesus spin” on these inherently destructive worldviews. The woke culture said, “Jump!” and the church said, “We’ll show you jumping—we Christians can jump as high as heaven!”
The true high ground has been ceded. In effect this particular church, and so many like it across America, are saying, “God and what he says in the Bible aren’t the Ultimate Authority; it’s the whims of current culture that reign supreme.”
But, there really is Good News.
There are pastors out there who see what’s happening and are not afraid to face the pressure head-on—those who stand in their pulpits preaching bold, pull-no-punches sermons, and who unabashedly speak truth to power. They’ve observed that only a fresh, new Great Awakening—a revival of Biblical proportion, you might say—will awaken the churches and, by extension, the nation as a whole.
We can only hope (and those of us who believe, pray) that it’s not too late.
I was reminded just the other day of a funny plaque I saw many decades ago in a gift shop in my college town of Clarion, Pennsylvania. The inscription was perfect for a student’s dorm room wall: “GOD IS BACK . . . and boy is He mad!”
Let’s pray for the first part of that . . . in time to avoid the second.