John Nugent’s Endangered Gospel: Introduction

endangered gospelJohn Nugent is professor of Old Testament at Great Lakes Christian College. I would consider him a neo-Anabaptist following in the footsteps of John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas.

His new book, Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church argues for a view of the Kingdom similar to that taken by Scot McKnight in Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church and James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World

It’s a an easy read and very persuasive. Nugent makes some arguments I made in the Mission of the Church series, but also adds some new ones — which I mostly agree with.  I think in a few places he over-argues his case, but his overall premise is sound. And it happens to be a question I’ve been wrestling with and looking for some additional guidance on, and I find Nugent very helpful, especially in his presentation of the purposes of the “powers” (which we’ll get to, Lord willing).

I’m not going to follow Nugent’s book very closely. But I do want to pass along his thinking, but I’m going to try to translate into Church of Christ terms.

Nugent calls for a very dramatic paradigm shift — one so radical in how we perceive church that is, the local congregation, that it’s really hard to know how to start. So I’m going to try to summarize the idea without proving the case, and then I’ll consider some of the arguments from scripture.

Here’s the idea: The Kingdom is a gift from God to his chosen people — Christians — and it’s not our job to change the world to become like the Kingdom. It’s our job to be the Kingdom, to live as Kingdom people, and to draw the world into the Kingdom. Let’s call this view the “Kingdom Church.”

By way of contrast, most evangelical churches today are Heaven Churches. That is, their focus is on making sure they go to heaven when they die and converting others so that also go to heaven when they die. The church is the Kingdom even today, but heaven is the goal, not the Kingdom.

Heaven Churches aren’t real big on social justice, benevolence, digging wells, or that sort of thing. Rather, if they do these things, it’s image advertising to be attractive to the lost in hopes that they find Jesus and so can go to heaven when they die.

This describes many progressive Churches of Christ. More conservative Churches of Christ are built on the same foundation, but they see salvation as being not only in Jesus but also in adherence to the Five Acts of Worship and other matters of worship and organization (technically: ecclesiology). That is, they see the path to salvation in pattern keeping as well as faith in Jesus, and so social justice is a low priority.

Progressive Churches of Christ put much less emphasis on ecclesiology — and most would not consider ecclesiology a salvation issue — and so they are more in the evangelical mainstream, meaning they see acts of good works seeking to make the world a better place as part of their mission, not as central as the gospel itself, but much more than a box to be checked to have the right pattern. Many have become very passionate in this kind of work.

Another approach to church is the World Church. These are evangelicals who disdain the local church — the attractional church — and see “missional” as getting out of the churches and into the community to serve broken people in a broken society.

Unlike the Heaven Churches, the World Churches often see acts of charity as Kingdom work. Anything that heals the brokenness of the world is Kingdom work, even if Jesus is not preached and no one is converted.

This is, of course, exactly what happened 100 years to the social justice movement within the American church. Many in the mainline congregations ultimately decided that their job as Christians is to improve the world, and evangelism began to take a very distant back seat. In fact, today, the former Christian social justice movement has become largely secular — so that the mainline denominations find evangelism somewhat distasteful, making their work nearly indistinguishable from progressive American politics.

But even among evangelical churches, we’re now seeing many young ministers sneer at the local church and attractional models of evangelism — preferring to get involved in community good works — sometimes in the name of Jesus and sometimes not.

These are, of course, not black and white, binary classifications. Churches might be at either extreme or at some point in between. But there’s a definite trend away from Heaven to the World, from evangelism to benevolence, from inviting friends to church to joining with secular organizations to do Kingdom work without any need to mention Jesus.

Nugent proposes that we should be neither of the above. We should be a Kingdom Church. We should not seek to change the world at all. Rather we should seek to be the Kingdom that God has called us to be. The goal is not heaven but the Kingdom, which is the New Heavens and New Earth (NHNE) today — not fully realized but already among us. The goal isn’t to earn salvation but to live today under the reign of King Jesus as Kingdom people.

We should, of course, be engaged in evangelistic efforts, church plantings, and missions, but the goal is to establish churches and build the Kingdom — not the make the world like the Kingdom.

The kingdom-centered approach is quite different. If the church’s primary vocation is to be the better place God has made through Christ, then most of this work can only take place in the common life of the church. We proclaim the good news beyond the assembly of believers, but we can’t forget the substance of that proclamation: the kingdom isn’t work believers do but a work that God has done on our behalf. It is a gift that God has given us to embrace and display in our love-filled life together.

Nugent, John C.. Endangered Gospel: How Fixing the World is Killing the Church (Kindle Locations 3077-3081). . Kindle Edition.

Now, it would be easy to satirize Nugent’s position by claiming he is against evangelism or serving those in need outside the church, and that is not at all his point. Rather, he wants to put evangelism and benevolence in their proper places — as the natural result of churches being what they were called to be.

Notice that in the Heaven Church conception, the assembly is all about drawing the lost to Jesus — not celebrating what God has done for the saved. The point of evangelism is to get people to heaven, not into the local church. The only real measure of success is the number of conversions, shortly followed by church attendance. No one counts lives changed.

In the World Church conception, the real measure of success is good works done, wells dug, houses painted, and such. Lives are to be changed, but the lives we want to change are the lives lived by those outside the church who are benefited by the church’s charity.

In the Kingdom Church conception, the goal is to be faithful by living according to Kingdom principles. That is, the goal is changed lives that are formed into a local church. That is, it’s individual and corporate spiritual formation. Now people truly formed into the image of Jesus will share the gospel with the lost and help non-Christians in need, because love compels them to do so. But the measure of success is changed lives and a changed shared life of the church.

That is, the Jesus is found, not in heaven and not among the unsaved masses but in his churches, his body on earth.

And, personally, I find this a very appealing approach because I think we’re doing a dreadful job of spiritual formation. In fact, I recently asked a classroom filled with elders from a dozen states who the most self-centered, most entitled , most selfish members of their churches are. And to a man, they said it was their long-term members!

So the longer we have people in our churches, the less like Jesus they become. Think about that one. We’re doing something terribly wrong.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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27 Responses to John Nugent’s Endangered Gospel: Introduction

  1. Bob Brandon says:

    One more book to add your list: Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together” from 1938.

  2. Mark says:

    In re the last paragraph. Part of it may be because they have gone more years/decades without hearing any gospel. Decades of hearing sermons on Paul and his letters to the churches have not helped matters. This only further emphasized “get the church right.” I have looked at many cofC’s orders of worship on their websites and I see no reading(s) from the Bible listed or a measly 2 verses from one of the NT letters. However, there may be a 10-minute song medley and 6 more songs after that. The time is available if one uses it wisely.

    I really think that the people who grew up in the cofC and other evangelical churches and are now in liturgical churches moved because they never got to hear any gospel. These are likely the same people who were in the Methodist or Episcopal church on Christmas Eve because the cofC wouldn’t/didn’t have a service. I realized after hearing one or two sermons from Anglican priests that there was a lot of gospel that I had never heard.

  3. jon atkins says:

    Thanks for posting—I’ll add Nugent’s and McKnight’s books to my list for future reading. From your synopsis, it sounds like they’ve hit on an important point. The very conservative churches I grew up in were very much “Heaven Churches”—the whole point was to teach others (mainly Baptists) the five points of worship to make converts (which we seldom did) and otherwise shun anyone else who claimed to be a Christian. I’ve been bothered, though, by some of the more recent Progressives who at heart end up taking a very similar approach—the whole purpose of the church seems to be to convert people so they can go to Heaven, only now we’ll focus on the “unchurched” and convert them through good works rather than Bible studies. It strikes me as a new form of legalism, based on acts of service rather than “correctly” interpreting Scripture. I kind of think Thom Rainer’s work feeds into this view, notwithstanding the good contributions Rainer has made. In either case, I think both the “Heaven Church” and “World Church” approaches discourage building up and developing believers into mature disciples—after all, since we already “know” what we have to do to go to Heaven, all we have to do is tell others what to do, so why bother learning & studying anymore? Whether conservative or progressive, the Heaven Church approach turns the church into nothing more than a grand pyramid scheme—the whole point of making converts is to get them to make more converts—while the World Church model leads churches down the road of dying Mainstream Protestantism–if churches are about good works rather than theology, why not just do the good works and discard church and theology?

    I agree with Mark’s comment, especially the admonition that we need more Bible reading in our services. I’m hesitant, though, to accept the statement that “Decades of hearing sermons on Paul and his letters to the churches have not helped matters.” What we’ve heard far too often are sermons that address “issues” and cherry-pick Paul’s letters for verses that out of context seem to support the preacher’s point. Once we get past looking for proof-texts & listen to what Paul is actually saying, he’s telling our churches what they need to hear. I may be wrong, but in my reading I’ve never found a passage where Paul says a church’s purpose is to go out and make converts. Instead, his prayer is for members to gain “spiritual wisdom and insight and grown in your knowledge of God” (Eph. 1: 17). If we kept Paul’s prayer (for a “Kingdom Church”?) at the center of our churches, I think we’d be in a lot better shape. In case, thanks to Jay for posting, and to Mark for the thoughtful comment.

  4. Neal says:

    This resonates powerfully with truth. Kingdom Church is what Isaiah, Ezekiel, and the Prophets speak to. Then the Baptizer and Jesus show up with the same message only Jesus doubles down saying we need righteousness more than that of the Pharisees. And He provides it for us. It is God that has prepared all of this for His purposes and glory.

    We are called to be part of The Story and given the abilities and resources to do just that. We cannot be afraid to “hear” God anymore. The false forms of man’s theological path have been just that. “Man’s”, oft times at our worst distracting souls from God’s love and saving power. We are way up further in the branches of God’s creation, not the center of the universe. Provide shade and let people find rest for their souls in Jesus. We don’t need another brick in the wall.

  5. Neal says:

    “We are way up further in the branches of God’s creation, not the center of the universe.” referring to the formal Church of Christ here. We have a tendency to think we are the only ones getting it Heaven at all. And yes, Pink Floyd was in my ear.

  6. Dwight says:

    In my studies on the church I believe that Nugent is exactly correct in his assessment of “We should be a Kingdom Church. We should not seek to change the world at all. Rather we should seek to be the Kingdom that God has called us to be. The goal is not heaven but the Kingdom, which is the New Heavens and New Earth (NHNE) today — not fully realized but already among us. The goal isn’t to earn salvation but to live today under the reign of King Jesus as Kingdom people.”
    We in our wisdom often bounce between the church as a people and the church as a thing (the local church and its associations). The church is made up of people, in the same way the body of Christ is and in the exact same way the Kingdom is. The addition to is done by God and the name of the members are in heaven. We cannot see the borders of the Kingdom and they are in flux as people are added in and we cannot see the name list either. We should be more concerned with who we exclude, than with who we include, unless the sin is obvious.
    So we need to think beyond our local congregation when we speak of “church”, because the assembly down the road may be a part of us and the person next door might be apart of us, we just don’t see it and often times don’t want to, because we fail to see the Kingdom.
    The assemblies according to Hebrews 10 is for the saints to assemble and is not designed for the lost. The people we see that are lost need to be apart of the Kingdom, whether they are apart of our congregation or not. We are not to be in competition, but in cooperation in expanding the borders of Christ and not ourselves.

    Jon A. I believe you are correct in your assessment of the purpose of the churches. Now in the reading of Paul, this isn’t bad, but even Paul was a follower of Christ and there are four gospels of Christ. I think should tell us something. We often read Paul to get to the law, instead of Christ that shows a lot of love and application, because we are better at pushing law, then loving and applying. Paul however did push love as well, big time, as well as John did, but Jesus was love in action from beginning to end.

  7. John says:

    This is good. I’ve enjoyed reading this post. My question would be, “Did the failure of the conservative evangelical revolution that started in the late seventies and early eighties have anything to do with this renewed focus on the KINGDOM CHURCH?” After all, its purpose was to change the world through politics and social pressure. Even many leaders and preachers of the Church of Christ became big fans of Francis Schaefer, who had become its intellectual hero. I read all his books myself. But over time I moved past the mission to “make the world like us”. There is a line in the serenity prayer that reads”…taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it…”, which many conservative Christians in times past did not particularly like. But once embraced, it allows us to walk out into the world and embrace others without loosening a single “brick” of the kingdom.

  8. Dwight says:

    John, I think this ”…taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it…”, would express Paul’s sentiment, except he would have changed it to “taking, as Jesus did, my sinful self as it is, not as I would have it.”
    There seems to be some reticence on God’s part to separate the saints/churches from Himself even after they had sinned.
    In I Cor. 5:4 “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” which sound like even in this great, unimaginable sin, the person is still not totally lost, as they could come back. As with Israel, we might break the covenant with God, but God is still keeping the covenant on His end, until he decides not to. The person might be delivered to Satan, but Satan doesn’t necessarily have ownership as God still does in a matter of speaking.
    We are too quick to judge and divide from others on matters of what is right or wrong, even despite the fact that we are constantly wrong and going to be wrong again and if we decide we are right, it is us declaring our self-righteousness.

  9. I remember one of my teachers (maybe Jack Cotttell or Richard Rodgers?) years ago saying, “We cannot expect the world to act like the church.” In my own observation, sometimes people in the world are more CHRIST like than people in the church, to our shame. Seems that I remember Jesus saying people would recognize his disciples by their love for one another – without a single word about marks of the church being 5 acts of worship or how the church is organized.

  10. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    The Heaven Church construct seems to define a significant percentage of American evangelicalism. N.T. Wright touches on this very point in several of his books: Simply Jesus; How God Became King; and The Challenge of Jesus.

    I think there is another trend in America: the Political Church. Not political in the sense of congregational politics, but political in the sense that many, consciously or unconsciously, link the success of the church / Kingdom with success at the State and Federal level. I’ve read several recent Blogs and articles that make voting for one candidate or the other a moral imperative for the church. I’ve heard church leaders speak about gay marriage, transgender restrooms, or even 2nd Amendment rights as if the outcomes of these political decisions will somehow define the church in terms of success or failure…”The church can’t let this happen!” Or, “We (the church) are losing America.” The church never had America, and America never had the church. Not really. Lots of Americans were (and are) Christians, and there are clearly Judaeo-Christian principles that influenced our foundational documents. But we should never conflate the Kingdom with the country. Regardless of what happens in November, the church will remain and there will still be lots of Kingdom-work to do. (BTW, I am not suggesting these three examples are unimportant. They are important. They are just important politically rather than Kingdom-ly.)

    Interestingly, I read a quote over on Jesus Creed recently by Pete Enns Something that I wish I had said:

    Every Christian who wants to become a political leader should be forced to study the book of Revelation for a year and then pass a test of one simple question: “True or False: The Christian hope will be realized through political means.” Whoever says “true” should be forced to watch N. T. Wright videos about the kingdom nonstop for a year (starting with this one) and then take the test again every year until they get it right.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2016/07/26/revelation-on-which-pete-enns-nails-it/

    The Christian hope will not be realized through political means. Amen.

  11. Monty says:

    Christianity’s goal, is to influence and permeate society. We are to be salt and light. That of course can mean many things but it should at least mean that Christians bring to bear their good(Godly) influence into every avenue of life. Politics is but one of those avenues unless we are to withdraw from it and let the seculars take it on. If that had been the case 240 years ago then the U.S. never becomes a nation. Our founding fathers were mostly God fearing men and it shows in our framing documents and other things. They risked so much and they believed politically they were doing God’s will.

    My faith is in God and not in man or in any political system or party to bring about HIs will on earth. But God has forever used political systems and people in power to accomplish HIs divine will. I appreciate Kevin’s statement about “no matter who wins in November the church will remain.” I just preached a sermon on that 2 weeks ago and it probably wasn’t what the folks wanted to hear. But it was truth.

  12. Dwight says:

    One could argue that during Jesus time you never see a Christian in the government, but then again you could argue that you do see Jews in the OT starting at Saul in the government and even then the nation sometimes was good and many times bad. The crux is that Christianity was never purposed to change the political or moral landscape of the nation, but it was purposed to change the heart of the person. During the time of Jesus and especially afterwards you had some of the worst in the government and strangely Christianity grew faster and stronger the worse the government got. Ironically the one thing that might unit more denominations is the time when they are all having to depend upon one another.

  13. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    John asked,

    Did the failure of the conservative evangelical revolution that started in the late seventies and early eighties have anything to do with this renewed focus on the KINGDOM CHURCH?

    Intriguing question.

    The Moral Majority and other evangelical political efforts cost evangelicals about 8% of their members and, more importantly, caused the thought leaders to consider whether this is something the church really ought to do. And from Bible reading and the Spirit’s influence (I believe), most concluded that it had been a mistake. Even the Baptists are moving away from secular politics on the whole (not all congregations by any means).

    My own studies were largely triggered by efforts being pushed at my own church to politicize the congregation during the Bush II campaign. I was initially supportive, since I know a little bit about politics. I mean, I literally used to be a registered influence peddler in Washington DC. So I was sorely tempted to donate my knowledge and experience to help the church become politically active — to change the culture.

    Fortunately, I also read my Bible, and my studies pointed me in a very different direction. I repented. And I think lots of people have done the same. After all, the greatest scholars writing today largely reject involving the church in power politics.

    The current election clearly demonstrates how very fallen the powers are today — and how little can be gained by the church joining with principalities and powers to gain worldly power. The evangelical leaders who endorsed either candidate in the name of Jesus have embarrassed him and his church. Salvation is not found in the voting booth — and I’m pretty sure that Jesus would not be campaigning for either were he walking the earth today.

    At present, the questions that I find interesting are between the NT/Christopher Wright view of mission — World Church — and the neo-Anabaptist position or Kingdom Church. I think the Anabaptists are winning the day but are being forced to better articulate and refine their arguments. Good stuff.

  14. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Bob B,

    I posted a series on that book a few years ago. Very, very powerful and deeply insightful. Far ahead of anything else I’ve ever read on the subject. Thanks for the reminder.

    http://oneinjesus.info/category/index/christian-disciplines/bonhoeffers-life-together/

  15. Monty says:

    Jay,

    This is an interesting topic and one I have been wrestling with for awhile now. I’ think it would be interesting to have discussion of the topic as it relates to the formation of our own nation. Clearly if the Mennonite/Amish understanding of the Christian’s responsibility(or lack thereof) in government as it relates to tyranny had been the prevalent mindset during the 1700’s we would still be under British rule. Found this interesting article at Wall Builders that examines both sides of the argument and the mood of the late 1700’s among Christian colonist. http://www.wallbuilders.com/libissuesarticles.asp?id=24548

  16. Johnny says:

    While I agree with a lot of the sentiments on Wall Builders, I would urge caution using David Barton as a solitary source for anything historical.

  17. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Monty,

    It’s pretty hypothetical and hard to put ourselves in even the 18th Century posture that actually happened, much less what the Anabaptist POV might have been in those days.

    I would caution you that the mood in the US was heavily weighted toward French Deism, which few of us understand. The French Revolution that shortly followed the American Revolution banned Christianity and made atheism the official religion of France. Thomas Payne was a big part of both revolutions. American Christianity was far weaker in the 18th Century than many of us imagine — especially among the intellectual elite. So I’m not sure I would associate the American Revolution with a particular view of Christianity.

    The First American Great Awakening helped unite the colonies and brought more people into church. The sense of unity the FAGW created helped unite the colonies. But active church participation remained very low. Most Americans did not attend a church at the time of the Revolution.

    http://oneinjesus.info/2010/09/lies-about-christians-is-american-christianity-on-the-brink-of-extinction/

  18. Monty says:

    If anyone is interested I have listed the link to “Benjamin Franklin’s letter to Thomas Payne” after having read a rough draft(I believe) of the Age of Reason and the response of many of the Founding Fathers having read it. http://www.wallbuilders.com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=58

    I seem to remember David Barton lecturing on some of the “big name” preachers who preached exhorting their male members in the righteous war against England and who were greatly responsible for shifting the tide that their cause was not sinful but just. I’m not advocating any particular stance but I am interested in the dynamics where the religious (Christian, Jew, Catholic-Protestant-Deist) felt compelled to enter the fray. Not all of course, but many. It was something they (I’m sure) put a lot of thought and debate into.

  19. jon atkins says:

    Rather than waste everyone’s time with my opinion of David Barton’s work, I’ll encourage anyone interested to check out Robert Tracy McKenzie’s comments on his blog “Faith and American History” (for the specific post on Barton, see https://faithandamericanhistory.wordpress.com/2014/02/27/whats-really-at-stake-in-the-christian-america-debate/) and/or John Fea’s book _Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?_. McKenzie and Fea are both professors of History at Christian colleges (Wheaton College & Messiah College respectively), both are sincere Christians, and both are very skeptical of the “Christian America” view.

  20. Monty says:

    While America was not technically “founded ” as a Christian nation however Judeo-Christian values and beliefs were the norm among the general populace,(whether they attended a church of not) the founding fathers and framers of the Constitution. This was a profound contrast between the American Revolution and the French Revolution. The problem lies when you say we weren’t “founded” as a Christian nation many folks today jump to the false conclusion that the Founders were a bunch of non-religious secularist and nothing could be further from the truth. And it gives further ammo to their view that the Founders truly invented a government where religious expression was frowned on in any governmental setting such as having a public prayer at school. It’s my opinion that when the average person on the street today says that we were “founded” as a Christian nation they simply mean that America was founded in an atmosphere where the Founders leaned heavily on Christian principles and had a general belief in the God of the Scriptures whether they would be considered to have orthodox views or not. They certainly were not leaning on any other religion or gods. They really did believe in the providence of God and that he was the One leading and blessing them.

  21. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Monty,

    You are making a secular, legal argument regarding how one should interpret the US Constitution. And you make some good points, but they have nothing to do with the Bible’s teaching on church and state. I used to teach a fabulous class on this material and then woke up one morning realizing that Bible class can’t be about the Constitution and still be Bible class. So despite my law degree and nearly 40 years of law practice, I don’t teach law in Bible class.

    The American political establishment has trained evangelical Christians to think “Constitution” when the issue is church and state, but we should think “principalities and powers” and Rom 13 and Col 1 etc. But we don’t know the NT’s teachings on the powers nearly as well as we know the Constitution, and so we discuss law rather than scripture.

    I would point out that nearly every book on the “Christian nation” argument misses the big point. (And this is a legal issue, but just for fun.) When the Constitution was enacted, the First Amendment only applied to the federal government. The states were free to have an established church, and many did for decades or longer. That is, if Virginia wanted to send a check to the Episcopalian Church to support foreign missions, it was a state-law question only. Hence, what the original Bill of Rights was intended to accomplish — whatever that was — was strictly federal. The idea was to ban a NATIONAL established church, to ban NATIONAL tests of religion for state office (main text of Constitution), and to ban NATIONAL abridgement of religious freedom. The states were unaffected.

    After the Civil War, the 14th Amendment was interpreted as applying the Bill of Rights to the states, and hence the Bill of Rights was applied to the states indirectly — but not even all the Bill of Rights. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incorporation_of_the_Bill_of_Rights gives a good summary. The textual basis for this incorporation is disputed, and how they decide what to incorporate and what not is a bit subjective. It’s not the most elegant piece of reasoning.

    So you wind up with two historical questions: what did the drafters of the 14th Amendment intend to incorporate into state law? what did the First Amendment mean when written? In theory, the 14th Amendment incorporation could be narrower than the original 1st Amendment, but the courts have treated the incorporation of the 1st Amendment into state law as entire — but entire as understood in 1867 or when first enacted? Again, the question is rarely asked.

    Now, I said all that just to get you to think like a lawyer and not a voter. Think like a lawyer and ask: Do I want prayer in school to be legal? You’ve been trained by the church to favor prayer in schools, and as a slogan, it sure sounds attractive. But there was just a city council that had a prayer led by a minister of the church of Satan because they could not establish a religion and favor one religion over another.

    So for prayer in school to be a positive thing, you have to agree that the government gets to pick the religion the prayer is for — meaning Christian and not Islam or church of Satan or Universalist-Unitarian or Bahai etc. “Prayer in school” is code for “Christian prayer in school.” And the argument for Christian prayer is that we were a Christian nation when the First Amendment was adopted — although he says nothing about Christianity.

    We were much more Christian after the Civil War — and about to experience the Third Great Awakening — which led to great revivals and Prohibition and Sunday school.

    So what kind of Christian? Do we allow Sabbatarian prayers? Mormons? Jehovah’s Witnesses? Christian Scientists? Does it depend on the churches in town? Does the legislature get to vote on the words of the prayer? What about kids who are atheists, Deists, Islamists, Buddhists? Do they have bow their heads and may they be required to memorize and recite the Lord’s Prayer?

    What if a community is majority non-Christian (as is true of many towns up north)? May they teach anti-Christian lessons? May they ban Christians from having Christian organizations on campus? Do we get treated as we wish to treat Muslims?

    It’s actually a very difficult question once you get past the slogans. Any rule you make that favors Christians may well be turned against Christians when they lose political power. In the long run, Christians may be better off arguing for governmental neutrality rather than government endorsement.

    So — tactically — I see pushing for government intervention as ultimately to the church’s disadvantage. There will be cities and states where the secularists are in the majority and vote to ban Christians. Government neutrality is far safer for the church in the long run. We are losing political ground every day — and the gay rights thing is accelerating that impact.

    So that’s the legal thought. Here’ the biblical thought:

    1. The government/powers/principalities/authorities are not charged by God with being salt and light. The church is. Disciples are. Your children’s parents are. You are. Why aren’t the parents and the church enough? Why isn’t the kingdom enough? Why try to bring the powers and principalities into Kingdom work?

    2. It is the nature of government to acquire more and more power over time. Give them a role in the Kingdom, and soon they’ll want to run the Kingdom. It happened in Nazi Germany — and happens in countless other nations. The Western nations are beginning to insist that Christian groups that meet on government campuses adopt secular positions on gay rights, for example. Well, if you want the secular powers to smile on you, you have to bow to the secular powers. It’s dangerous, dangerous, dangerous to become dependent on government goodwill.

    3. As a matter of history, the church grew without government support — until the time of Constantine. Persecution is not to be sought out. The church likely did best when the government was indifferent to it. Second best when it was persecuted (some would reverse those two), and third best when supported by the government. The church grows and thrives when it joins the Whore of Babylon on the throne — but it loses its soul. The reason the Nazis so easily corrupted the German church is the German church relied on the government for financial support. The free churches were much harder for the Nazis to take over. “Free” churches are called “free” rather than “independent” for good reasons. Government-endorsed churches live in gilded cages.

    4. Just look at evangelical leaders such as Dobson who endorsed Trump as a “baby Christian”. http://drjamesdobson.org/news/dr-james-dobson-on-trumps-christian-faith The contemporary evangelical church is far too beholden to the powers and principalities because we fear what the Supreme Court might do to us. We are terrified of a Supreme Court that might … what? Take away our tax exemptions? The ability to deduct donations? Our housing allowances? Our property tax exemptions?

    (I find the thought of Hillary-appointed Sup Court Justices terrifying for many reasons, but none so terrifying that I’d surrender my integrity. Why not admit that Trump is just as secular as Hillary but more likely to appoint conservative judges — if that’s the basis for endorsement?)

    I mean, at what price are we willing to sell our credibility and integrity? (Lipscomb is making more sense by the day. The government is not Christian, is not going to be Christian, and our job isn’t to Christianize it. We need to focus on our actual calling — to cause God’s will to be done on earth — in the Kingdom on earth — as it is in heaven — and to cause the Kingdom to fill the earth as the waters cover the sea. That’s a much better plan.)

    Vote for whomever you wish, but don’t imagine that arguing America was Christian in the 18th Century will cause the powers to Christianize. We can’t even nominate a Christian Republican candidate. That battle has been lost. The people rejected every single evangelical candidate. The people nominated anger-against-the-status-quo — do you know whom they consider part of the status quo? Christian evangelicals. We lost because we were perceived as too tied to the old guard, the old way of doing business, the old lack of integrity and the same old games and lies. It’s not a pretty thing when Trump is considered a better candidate that the national evangelical candidates.

    The focus of the national discussion has been who to vote for. I think the better discussion is why good people saw the evangelical candidates and roundly rejected them — as too tied to old, failed, corrupt, ineffective policies. It should be a wake up call. But a wake up to do what instead?

  22. Larry Cheek says:

    Great comment Jay! Jesus did not attempt to change or get involved in government in his life on earth. He did invite individuals who were in government to become a follower of his.

  23. Mark says:

    Jay, Your excellent reply should have been a separate post.

  24. Dwight says:

    Jay, you asked, “Do I want prayer in school to be legal? Well yes, but not enforced or denied to the student or even led by the teacher. I believe that a student should be able to pray in school and especially if they are a Christian, because as a Christian even though they may be in a secular environment, they are not secular people.
    And this is not to deny if others wish to pray to their god.
    I am reminded of Daniel who prayed to God in the middle of a nation that prayed to their gods.

    But great post non-the-less. We cannot make the country a Christian nation by voting or any other political method.
    Historically what often turns nations to or back to God hasn’t been the government, but rather national poverty or disaster. When people are doing great, they look to themselves, but when bad things happen beyond their control, they often turn to the one who they then perceive is in total control. This can be seen of Israel, when they were doing great by God’s hands, they perceived it to be by theirs and turned from God, but when they were in dire need they recognized that they needed God. We live in a society where we can get what we want when we want it and this means that many people will not recognize God as the giver of all good things. We understandably will have a hard time convincing people that there are even better things beyond the here and now for those who bow to Christ in our culture.

  25. Monty says:

    Jay,

    I appreciate your response. Great comments. I happen to agree with everything you’re saying. I wasn’t “arguing” anything about the present so much as I was about the past which I believe to be true and that is our laws and Constitution(state and federal) were written by-in-large by men who believed In and gave credit to(enabled by) the God of the Bible for our governments’ establishment and our new nations existence. The secularist of today (I believe) would argue against that. Am I missing something here? Do you disagree?

    I think it is wrong when people argue for separation of church and state when they mean by that you can’t have a teacher led prayer for the football team or that a valedictorian can’t give thanks to Jesus in their commencement speech. Those are the things that people are fired up about when they talk about what was once permitted by the Constitution but now is anathema by the present courts. Tearing down public displays of the 10 Commandments and Crosses and such that were at one time perfectly legal and even acceptable. That’s what people mean when they say “become a Christian nation again” or a nation where you could honor the God of the Bible(in the ways I just mentioned) and not be chastised or arrested for it.

    I agree we were never a “Christian Nation” in any legal sense of the word. I get that. I never argued that in the legal sense(state run) and I know of know one who wants a state run religion but those above mentioned expressions of faith were once allowed and protected for a reason.. I agree with you I certainly don’t want the Government “managing” religion on any level for all the reasons you mentioned. I like government neutrality if by that you mean the govt. doesn’t go poking it’s noise in things Christians should have the right to do.

    Government today is becoming more and more anti-Christian when Gay Rights take precedent over a Christian’s personal beliefs such as in the bakery case. That case would have been thrown out just 25 years ago. But the winds have shifted. The people that I know just desire the winds to shift back to where they were not so long ago, when the world at least seemed like a better place.

    The average folks I know just sense the winds of change blowing and that the Nation is headed in the wrong direction. Perhaps there’ a lot of “Chicken Little” in them, but you would be hard pressed to stand before any group of believers in any kind of church and say otherwise and have them give you any respect. I preached a lesson a couple of weeks ago that the sky isn’t falling and the Lord is still on his throne no matter who wins the election. I am not a Trump or Hilary fan. God doesn’t need either one to do whatever it is he desires to do.

  26. Monty says:

    Jay,

    I agree with everything you said, well written and to the point. The only thing I was “arguing” for is that our Nation was truly founded upon Christian virtues and that the God of the Bible was the God whom the founding fathers believed had guided them by his providence(whatever that meant to them) and not Buddha or Confucius, or Allah. I agree we were not founded to be where Christianity was a state run thing as was the Church of England. No one I know of wants anything approaching that. I do know a lot of folks who want it legal(again) for a teacher to lead the class in Christian prayer(like they used to ) or for a valedictorian to be able to give thanks to Jesus in their commencement speech without being threatened or censured. For Christians to not have to provide wedding cakes for homosexual couples and the like. When they say, “go back to being a Christian Nation’ they mean go back to where we were before it was so wrong to do the things it’s now so wrong to do. I don’t know of anyone who wants the Govt. running religion. But that’s exactly what they are doing now. Govt is micro-managing everything religious, especially the Christian religion. No perceived violation of the so called separation of church and state is too small to not get involved in. It is this perceived hostile abuse of power that has so many rankled.

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