Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Letter I Wrote, at the Editor's Request, to the Dearborn Free Press

Introductory comment:  I think a lot of the current immigration debate, and fear of the rising number of Muslims in our midst, is the product of jingoistic fear.  The church has much self-examination to do before it begins blaming Mexicans and Muslims for our problems.

Christless Christianity – As Dangerous As Islamic Law

While a student at Hillsdale College, I had several Arab-American friends, and know first-hand that not all Islam is of the radical sort.  Just as in Christianity, there are nominal Muslims and there are Muslims who take their faith seriously.

“It’s easier to identify some external enemy, and overlook the enemy within.  Civilizations fall not by external pressures  - but by internal rot.”

Some people fear the  rise of radical Islam and the threat of Sharia (Quranic laws).  In the deep south (Alabama, Florida,  Mississippi…) we hear rumors of honor killings, female genital mutilation and women wearing burqas. We hear stories (some real and some exaggerated) about the death of liberty and the imposition of Sharia in the West.
What dangers lead to the death of liberty? Is creeping Sharia law the greatest danger?  It’s easy to identify some external enemy and overlook the enemy within.  Civilizations fall not by external pressures but by internal rot.
The Christian church bears a large part of the blame. For about the last sixty years, the church has been giving  advice  to help people make their lives better. This message has been put forth from all sorts of pulpits in all kinds of churches  -  whether mainline and liberal or evangelical and conservative.
The evangelical church may tack on a “get saved” message now and again, but, by and large, middle class suburbanites were only hearing “solutions" to the problems that kept them awake at night:  marital, finances, career and children.

The Problem of Christless Christianity

Yes, we need help. The type of help we need, however, is not making our old lives better. The help we need is a brand new life. We need to be rescued, not improved.  We are the reason things go wrong in our lives.  We need the resurrection power of Jesus Christ to transform our lives.
Tragedy happens in some families but it is not tragedy that makes most people miserable. What causes the angst and agony of our daily existence?.  How do we get on the rat-race for bigger houses farther out, with better jobs, with prettier wives, and more-accessorized kids?  Some people have found peace and joy in the midst of  sickness, tragedy, and poverty because they understand something we in the church often forget. That “something” is Jesus.
Is Jesus making you happy? My church tells me Jesus can make me happy. The disciples of Jesus were happy even as they were being killed. Yet many “modern Christians” are not happy — because  they don’t really want Jesus Christ in their life.  They want Christianity without Christ.  They want a happy and fulfilled life on their own terms.  Sadly, they get neither Christ nor their happiness in the end, just as the man who marries for money gets neither love nor joy.
The church, however, persists in the face of this misery trying to offer people a better life – a self improvement program.  The church baptizes affluent American values and offers a life of comfort with little self-sacrifice or inconvenience.
Bonhoeffer was battling the evils of Nazi Germany, while preaching the good news of Christ. Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  What was he talking about?
We are to called to be loving, sacrificial, humble, selfless, honest, chaste, industrious, thrifty and kind. Yet, we find  ourselves unable to do those things. “The Law” is powerless to bring about the result it intends. “The Law of God” tells us to be good, but it has no power to make us good.

“The Islamic world looks at the United States as decadent, slothful and morally rotten – a civilization teetering on the brink, and ripe for the picking. We must agree with them in this.”

This is where Christ comes in. In Colossians, it says that Christ is our life. Christ is our robe of righteousness. Until we see that we ourselves are the problem, we will never see that Christ is the solution. Our old life must die, and the resurrection power of Jesus will give us a new life!
This brings us back to the idea of freedom and tyranny. Whether Sharia law or tyrannical socialism – the nature of tyranny is the same – it is the forced practice of virtue, however skewed its notion of virtue is. How can something be virtuous if I am forced to do it?  Externally enforced virtue is no virtue at all.  It is not my virtue that makes me pay taxes to support the poor, it is the threat of punishment.
The Islamic world looks at the “Christian” west as self-indulgent, decadent and ripe for the picking. They are right, and their answer is Sharia law – holiness enforced from without.
The American experiment flourished for a long time and some historians have been searching for the “missing ingredient”.  What was the “secret sauce” in the American recipe for freedom and prosperity? What was the motivation for the “Puritan work ethic”?  The secret sauce was (and still is) love.
Love for Christ motivated a significant portion of the populace to thrift, industry, charity, moderation, self-sacrifice and worship. Jesus said that those who believe in him will have rivers of living water flowing from within themselves, bringing refreshment and blessing to all around. We have been living off that accumulated capital now for several generations, and its effect is waning. Public morality has collapsed. Legislation and regulation increase in response in an attempt to put the government’s finger in the collapsing dike.
The Islamic world looks at the United States as decadent, slothful and morally rotten – a civilization teetering on the brink, and ripe for the picking. We must agree with them in this. The answer to an encroaching Islam at home and abroad is not Terry Jones protesting in front of a mosque, the death of Al Qaeda leaders, or bombs lobbed into Libya. The answer is a life filled with the love of Jesus;  sharing the good news of Jesus resurrection with our neighbors.
Ken Pierce –  Jackson, Mississippi