Christianity in Society and The Churches
I am very blessed to live in a country where I can freely express my religion and the beliefs that I hold. I don’t have to hide my faith in fear that I will be killed or put in jail because of it. However, in many other countries, people don’t have religious freedom. Christians are persecuted, attacked, and put to death in countries where Christianity is not accepted. Muslims suffer from a lot of persecution as well. Even in America, where we have legal religious freedom, many churches, Christian schools, centers, programs, organizations, and so forth, are being challenged and attacked. Just a couple months ago, a preschool was closed off from competing in a state grant program to fix up its playground just because the school is run by a church. Christian pregnancy centers have been ordered to uphold state programs offering low-cost or free abortions. The Little Sisters of the Poor were forced to offer employees insurance that covered services that tampered with their conscience (2). The Supreme Court ruled in these cases that such government-led insults to the free expression of religion or speech cannot stand. However, the attacks continued. Local zoning authorities have kept Orthodox Jews in New Jersey and Hindus in Maryland from purchasing land to build houses of worship. The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., was not allowed to place on metro buses its Christmas advertisements encouraging charity to those in need. The Department of Justice had stepped in to file legal briefs in support of these groups. Yet, the attacks continued. The city of Philadelphia pulled its contract with Catholic Social Services, its longtime partner in placing foster children in loving homes, because of the center’s commitment to placing children in homes with a married father and mother. At a time when the need for foster families is increasing, barring one of the most relied upon and achieved foster placement services because of their beliefs not only violates the conscience rights of those at Catholic Social Services, it also keeps needy children from finding loving homes (2). A religious freedom task force was created. This task force is charged with making sure the Justice Department is maintaining the administration’s guidance “in the cases they bring and defend, the arguments they make in court, the policies and regulations they adopt, and how we conduct our operations.” Oklahoma Senator James Lankford applauded their work, noting: “You are not creating new policy for Americans. You are protecting a very old policy.” Securing and endorsing religious liberty is a crucial American model (2).
There are so many different religions that exist in this world. Even Christianity, a single religion, has many different parts to it! Christianity is separated into denominations, such as Baptist, Nazarene, Lutheran, Brethren, Episcopal, Evangelical, Methodist, etc. Why? Well, even though Christians believe in the same God, and read and believe in the same Bible, they have different opinions and beliefs on certain things in the Bible or about Christ.
In the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, established in 1791, it specifies that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The separation of church and state is favored by many, especially by those who practice a religion. With religion being free from government control, it became its own free enterprise system. This became popular in Christian churches. This religious freedom also led to organizational differentiation, where people from different religions created their own religious groups and organizations. Religious group differentiation developed into what is defined as denominationalism, which has disrupted the unity among Christians. The different denominations in Christianity creates division between fellow Christians. Among the many beliefs that now exist among Christianity, people will choose which beliefs they want to adopt, construct their own religious system, and practice this religion on their own apart from a fellowship of believers. This results in everybody doing their own thing, weakening Christian community (1).
Churches, and other religious organizations, compete against each other for committed church members. This puts the pastors, and other religious leaders, in difficult positions. There are two dimensions of Christ’s gospel that are important to note. The Savior, Messiah, Lord, Jesus Christ brought great joy to all people (Luke 2:10). Everywhere Jesus went, he healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, made the lame walk again, gave rest to the weary, and salvation to the lost. Jesus was a comforter, and many people followed Him. He was able to offer eternal life to anyone who wanted it. Jesus was also a challenger. Following him wasn’t just about having good health, happiness, and eternal life. There are many sacrifices one had to make in order to become His disciple. In Luke 14:26–27, Jesus tells the people, “If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else — your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters — yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.” Today most people prefer Christ as a comforter rather than Christ as a challenger. Because of this, church leaders will more likely preach messages on the gospel of comfort as opposed to preaching a gospel of challenge. This, however, becomes a real problem because both of these messages are essential to the gospel. If a group of believers are continually exposed only to comfort theology, an atmosphere of self-indulgence is bred. They will eventually fall victim to their own lusts, such as wealth, sex, pride, etc. (1).
America has become very secular, and comfort theology contributes to this. When religious leaders try to appeal to the people by confining their comments to a narrow spiritual realm, they are significantly contributing to the secularization process. This practice is unsettling to those who are sure of the relevance of Christianity to every aspect of human existence and of the need to bring Christianity to weigh on every area of life. When discussing the concepts of sects and churches, Benton Johnson explains it like this: “A church is a religious group that accepts the social environment in which it exists. A sect is a religious group that rejects the social environment in which it exists” (1). This analysis is helpful when trying to address the part that comfort theology plays in all of this. While it is good to accept a society and the environment in which they live, it is not good for religious leaders to throw away their foundational beliefs and practices and conform to the practices of a particular society in efforts to win them over.
To fight secularization, civil religion was put into place by some people to bring a religious view to take on the tasks of the state. According to Will Herberg, “Civil religion religionizes national values, national heroes, national history, even national ideals” (1). People hope the practice of civil religion will result in religion having some meaningful direction on the tasks of state. This may not be the case though.
When talking about comfort theology, it makes me think of comfort zone. Everyone has a comfort zone, whether they realize it or not. Everything that a person is comfortable with, and things that they have done before and are used to, are in their comfort zone. When someone is asked or challenged to do something that is outside of their comfort zone, it can be scary. Everyone likes to be comfortable. Not everyone likes change. It can be hard to learn something new or do something that you aren’t “comfortable” with. If you’re a Christian, and you want to follow Jesus, you will always be challenged to step outside of your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience. I’m not good with change, and it can take me awhile to adjust to something new or different. I’ve gone through things where change had to take place, whether by choice or beyond my control, and it was very hard for me at first, but once the change took place, and I adjusted, I was ok. In fact, I actually liked the new schedule I had, or the new job I was doing, or whatever it was. Change is hard; change is scary. We have God though. He is always challenging us and wanting to pull us out of our comfort zones, and we don’t always like it! But, if we trust in Him, and give him all of our fears, worries, and anxieties, it will all work out. God always knows what is best for us, and His timing and will for each of us is perfect.
This is why we can’t neglect challenge theology. Without it, the preaching of the gospel isn’t authentic. Comfort and challenge are two integral components of Christianity and putting emphasis on one and neglecting the other results in a nasty corruption of the Christian religion. Comfort theology teaches Christians that it’s ok to sin, and they can live however they want to, living selfishly. Challenge theology teaches Christians that they are sinners and bad people and they will go to hell if they don’t do, or continue doing, certain things. God is a merciful and gracious God. That part of the gospel needs to be preached. However, the part of the gospel where Jesus is challenged in many ways, and challenges his followers, also needs to be preached.
(1.) Grunlan, Stephen A., and Milton Reimer. Christian Perspectives on Sociology. Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2001.
(2.) Picciotti-Bayer, Andrea. “Department of Justice Steps Up to Protect Religious Liberty.” RealClearReligion, 6 Aug. 2018, www.realclearreligion.org/articles/2018/08/06/sessionss_doj_steps_up_to_protect_religious_liberty_110197.html.