Every year, I get my flu shot and afterwards, I feel blah. Not really sick, but definitely a “man sick” (which means I whine to my wife). My body responds to the vaccine exactly as it was supposed to do. I received a broken down, weak, ineffective version of the virus that made me a little sick, so in turn I could be immune to the real thing.
As happy as I am for inoculations against influenza, measles, and smallpox, I am concerned about an ongoing trend that I’ve seen in America, what I like to refer to as “being immunized against the gospel.” In other words, many people get enough of the false form of the gospel that they grow resistant to the real thing. They think they have seen it and maybe even had a bout with it, but it just did not take or was not life changing.
When asked, 8 in 10 Americans will identify themselves as Christians. I think it’s pretty obvious, however, that by taking a brief look around our nation, 80 percent of people are not living like followers of Christ. It’s like “the god of the Grammys” who pops up every year during award season. Some singer or actor whose daily ungodliness is chronicled in every tabloid and entertainment website wins the statue and immediately, upon taking the microphone, begins to “thank God for this.” God gets a hat tip at the Grammys but not a holy life day by day.
There is little similarity between the Americanized version of Christianity and what most of us know the real deal is supposed to look like.
I think that many people have received this “Christianity vaccine,” casually or regularly attending churches each week that are presenting a weakened, broken down faith. It’s the kind of religion that Mark Twain explained when he said, “Church is where good people stand in front of good people and tell them how to be good people.”
The danger is obvious. When you are exposed to the weakened and false thing, you can build up immunity to the real thing. The vibrancy of the resurrection life of Christ is kept safely away in lieu of the comfort of the religious self.
In the upcoming years, our country will probably continue its path in philosophy, religion, and life. It will be like today—just more of it. What is common in media will become commonplace in neighborhoods—media influences culture.
If trends continue, we will be an increasingly diverse religious society with a stronger bent toward pluralism. And, in the midst of all of this, there will be robust, evangelical churches reaching lost people and doing powerful work for the Kingdom.
I am not despairing; I’ve read the end of the Book and know how it works out. I see an increasing need, however, to be working even harder to eradicate the weak, ineffective strains of Christianity that have plagued our churches and denominations. These can be seen, for example, when we mistakenly begin confusing moralism with the Gospel. It is the mindset that one “does” certain things to please God and “does not do” other things that displease Him. The “does” and “does not do’s” may change, depending on to whom you are talking, but the legalistic, moralistic spirit remains the same. It is, essentially, the religion from which Jesus died to save us.
We need to get past these shallow, comfortable interpretations of the biblical text and get to a place where we’re preaching a Gospel-centered, Spirit-empowered, cross-focused approach to life and ministry. Even if this makes our churches and denominations numerically smaller for a while, I believe they’ll be better. They’ll be less proud and more focused, and that will be a good thing.
The Christianity that I see today in most churches is not the Christianity that I want my children to inherit, and, quite frankly, you should not want it for yours either. In order to see the change happen, however, it will involve how we live and what we proclaim.
We need to preach to people who may love Jesus, but don’t really know how to live for Him because they think the Gospel is something that they get over, not something they live in. We need to preach to people who think they’re saved, but are simply immunized against the real Gospel. People are sick but they don’t need to be immunized against Christianity. Jesus is the cure and we must live, preach, and minister in such a contagious way that it spreads and maximizes His message in this world. By Ed Stetzer