I am definitely thankful to live in America. We have freedom, democracy and access to Scripture. Nonetheless, we are on the whole, somewhat materialistic and over indulgent, and, I would argue, we have somewhat limited access to the full and complete gospel, unadulterated by our humanistic interpretations and the sometimes misguided interpretations of those who teach the gospel.
I say this because I have heard fellow Christians complain many times about the sad state of Christianity in America in that it is often reduced to a prosperity gospel, a legalistic gospel or a theistic, pluralist gospel. I’ve heard fellow Christians say many times that most American Christians do not know the true gospel.
I guess you could still say Americans are blessed to have access to the gospel without threat of persecution and we are blessed to be able to go to church, but in terms of the actual state of our souls, are we really better off than countries with limited access to the gospel? I mean, saying most American Christians aren’t actually saved may be going too far and is pretty presumptuous but it’s still worth pondering the implications of this “watered-down” Christianity because if you’re going to complain about something shouldn’t you do something about it instead of focusing all your attention on third world missions?
Don’t get me wrong, international missions are important but there should be an equal focus on reaching out to people here in the U.S., even to avid church-goers, because if our observations are correct and most American Christians are believing a watered-down gospel then shouldn’t we reach out to these people as much as we reach out to complete unbelievers?
I think God has grace for misunderstandings that do not completely misconstrue the Gospel message (to what extent, I’m not sure), but reevaluating and challenging the predominant Gospel message in America may still be much needed if only for the sake of bringing Americans closer to God.
Another reason I think it may be worthwhile to compare the predominant gospel message in America with what the Bible actually says is because the predominant gospel message is the gospel that many unbelievers hear. The unattractiveness of this watered-down gospel may be part of the reason that unbelievers reject Christianity. It doesn’t seem real or intriguing to them because the Christians they know are just regular people who go to church every once in a while to feel good but overall, these Christians’ lives look pretty indistinguishable from the average person who doesn’t go to church but “goes to the mountains every Saturday to feel good by connecting with nature.”
If the predominant gospel message in America makes Christianity simply look like an opiate, then that gospel message may not be completely scripture-based. The same goes for legalistic Christianity that unbelievers see (and rightfully so) as a strict, rule-based philosophy. I know we really have no control over unbelievers’ perceptions of Christianity but we can certainly do our best to ensure that the gospel message that is fueling the lives of Christians is Biblically-sound because a Biblically-sound gospel message is much more likely to instill Christians with a love of Jesus that makes them stand out from the crowd – some sort of unique light and flavor that draws people in instead of repels them. From there, we can let unbelievers determine their view of Christianity and eventually their view of Christ.
The reason I am so passionate about this is because not too long ago, I was an unbeliever with a very limited understanding of the Gospel. The gospel I knew was one of rules and “feel-good” promises. It wasn’t until I began studying the Bible with someone I met on my college campus that I saw a glimpse of the actual love of Christ and the true freedom that could come from knowing Him. Prior to learning more about Jesus, I was among the thousands of unbelievers (and even believers) who have not heard the gospel presented in a way that accurately paints a picture of God.
It’s important to ask ourselves whether unbelievers are rejecting the actual gospel or if they are rejecting some preconceived notion about Christianity that is based on the unimpressive and unattractive lives of the Christians around them. Sometimes unbelievers are in fact rejecting the actual Gospel but sometimes they are simply rejecting that which Christians reject themselves – legalism and “feel-good” fantasies. Until unbelievers hear the actual Gospel, rejection of Christianity is not a clear indication of their ultimate response to God.
In addition to sharing the Gospel, one of the most important things we can do is to consistently realign our beliefs with Scripture to ensure that we are believing the most complete Gospel message possible which fills our lives with a love that attracts even the most resistant unbeliever. The less complete of a gospel message that we believe, the less our lives will make Christianity look intriguing and attractive.
Not only should we reach out to unbelievers but we should reach out to other Christians and church-goers. I say we should reach out to Christians (any of them – and I count myself among those who need to be reached as I have more than once fallen into rule-based tendencies), not to induce anxiety and worry about their salvation (it’s not my place to judge) but to encourage them to consistently grow closer to God so they will become even brighter lights for Christ. Another reason we should reach out to Christians is because some of these Christians may in fact simply be church-goers who do not really know God and reaching out to them will encourage them to see God in a new light.
If you are going to make a bold statement, such as, “most Christians in America do not actually know Christ,” then you should make reaching out to them a priority or at least encourage others to reach out to them. I am not making any accusations. Many Christians probably are doing just that, but I hope this article encourages you to reach out even more if that is what God is calling you to do.
As further encouragement, if it hadn’t been for the positive influence of a number of wonderful Christians in my life during the past few months who challenged my preconceived notions of God and my slightly legalistic view of the Gospel, then I would be a lot farther from God than I am now. Now, I truly believe that God loves me no matter what (the Gospel is not works-based) and I can love Him no matter what (the Gospel is not emotion-based).