What the American Church needs to hear

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As I sometimes do when I feel despair and confused, I headed to St. Simons Island today.

I go there to commune with God and connect with one of my long-dead spiritual mentors, John Wesley.

St. Simons is, along with Savannah, the only place in America where the Wesley brothers stepped foot.  John convinced his brother Charles to join him on General James Oglethorpe’s expedition to establish a military base on the island at Fort Frederica.

It is the site of one of the worst failures of both John and Charles’ lives.  Charles didn’t even make it a year: he became deathly ill on the voyage to Frederica and never fully recovered while in America, and on top of that was a lousy secretary to Oglethorpe and managed to alienate the colonists at Frederica against him as chaplain.  He returned to England within six months.

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John managed to hang on for more than a year, but not much longer.  He came to America with the hopes of becoming a great missionary to the Native Americans in order to convert the people to Christianity.

He left having gained zero traction with any natives and embroiled in a lawsuit in which he was charged with defamation for refusing to serve Holy Communion to a woman with whom he may have at one point been romantically involved but whom had married another man.

John, too, returned to England in shame with his tale tucked between his legs.  He wouldn’t have his “heart-warming” experience at Aldersgate for many more years, which would mark the beginning of his “effective” ministry in which he revolutionized the Anglican Church of his day and eventually – and scandalously – would be responsible for the beginnings of a new Christian sect, the Methodists.

I grew up Methodist, so Wesley has been a hero of the faith for me for a while.  It made it easier for me to convert to Anglicanism several years ago knowing that it was Wesley’s church.

Yet Wesley was, obviously, far, far from perfect.  He was a heavily flawed saint who made some massive mistakes, perhaps none more so than signing-off near the end of his life on the actions that would lead to Methodism officially becoming a denomination separate from Anglicanism (Charles remained upset with him over this until his death).

And yet, he was instrumental in the overall revival of a then-dead Anglican Church that had neglected so many English people out of a sense of classism.  He brought revival for Anglicanism that greatly impacted English culture as a whole (the evangelical climate he helped inaugurate was massively influential on William Wilberforce, the great Christian Parliamentarian who was in large part responsible for abolishing the English slave trade and implementing massive government social reforms) and would also lead to the Second Great Awakening in American society.

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So I went to St. Simons today because I, like Wesley after his American misadventure, feel lost and alone.  I feel this way in large part due to the ramifications of the American presidential election – I feel it has isolated me from many people with whom I felt I belonged, from family, from fellow Christians, from friends.

I’m incredibly disillusioned that large segments of the American Church are remaining silent amid growing problems that should come as no surprise from the brand new administration – and not only remaining silent, but trying to shut up the few Christians who are willing to call a spade a spade without worrying about partisan perception.

Look, I hate partisan politics.  Absolutely hate it for the same reason the Founding Fathers hated it – it pits people against one another as enemies and has succeeded in creating a world in which people are living in the same country but in separate realities because of the flavor of Kool Aid they want to drink.

So I communed with God on St. Simons today and thought about Wesley’s ambitions for converting the Native Americans and how that failure made him feel alone.  What he ended up doing, instead of reaching a new culture for Christ, was revolutionizing his own Church culture.

There are a lot of Christians today trying to call our attention to the fact that our Church needs a wake-up call, and today I felt moved to affirm that.

The particular church I belong to has been harping on a need for revival for a really long time, and sometimes in a way that has made me feel uncomfortable because I’ve been concerned about demanding revival from God instead of simply asking for it.

Perhaps the reason revival hasn’t come to the American Church for so very long is because our hearts are so very far away from where God wants them.

He who has ears, let them hear: the American Church has become obsessed with protecting itself.

Hear that.

The American Church has become obsessed with protecting itself.

I see so many Christians afraid of losing “our religious rights” – as if we actually have any rights that don’t belong fully and completely to Jesus and are at His disposal.

I could give a rat’s tuchus about defending my rights.  I DON’T HAVE ANY RIGHTS.  Jesus has my rights.  If He wants me to be persecuted for my faith, may it be so.  I count it as blessing.

What I will NOT do is insist on “my rights” at the expense of the rights of those who disagree with me – which is exactly what American Christians are doing.

Since when did the Gospel become about legislating through secular law a Christian morality on people WHO AREN’T CHRISTIAN?  That’s going to draw people to Christ?  Really?

Is it any wonder that we see so few new converts to Christianity within our American churches?  Yet, low and behold, the Church is growing in leaps and bounds in the rest of the world in which the Church isn’t trying to actively control its government.  Coincidence?

The second we thought we were in a culture war is the second we lost our voice with non-Christians: because we effectively made them our enemies.  They had “their culture,” we had “our culture,” and we’d be damned if we would let “their culture” win.

Perhaps, instead, we should repent and get out of the business of attempting to politically dominate people.  You know, that thing the Romans did, which led the first Christians to pattern much of our New Testament as an anti-imperial proclamation that states, instead: JESUS IS LORD (which means CAESAR IS NOT).

“I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord!'”

Repent, American Church.  Let Jesus have your rights.

Peter, put away your sword.  Lay your weapons down.

He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.

Embrace deeper and deeper what it means to let Jesus truly be Lord of ALL your life.

Of ALL your life.

He is in charge.  Of everything.  You are not.  Of anything.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Lay your rights down.  And lay your fear down.

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