If you’ve ever thoroughly read the New Testament (which many Christians unfortunately haven’t), chances are you’ve seen a bit of a discrepancy between what the Bible says about how believers should live and how believers in the West actually live. It seems that many people prefer empty religion to the revolutionary reality of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit. I have a lot of problems with how the Western Church goes about things, but I’m going to focus on my main issues with Western Christianity (in no particular order). Obviously this is a massive generalization, and I know that not every church in the Western hemisphere looks like this. I’m just going by what I believe to be the majority.
1. It may as well be cessationist.
There doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground anymore when it comes to the supernatural. People are often either considered crazy charismatics or cessationists. I get it. We’re trying not to lose our minds like some Pentecostals, because you don’t want people rolling around on the floor and losing control. But if we stick to the things that the Bible mentions, then we have nothing to be scared of or freaked out by. The early Christians didn’t do anything freaky or bizarre like many of the things charismatics do today, but everything the Holy Spirit did through them had a logical purpose.
Isn’t it kind of saddening that the average Western Christian has never seen a miracle and has never witnessed (or even heard of) someone being healed or having a demon cast out? Isn’t it disappointing that many churches don’t believe that the gifts of the Spirit (such as prophesying, tongues, etc.) are still in operation today, or don’t ever experience any of these gifts? As Christians, aren’t these things we should be experiencing on a regular basis? Why are so many Christians terrified of surrendering to the Holy Spirit? No one can read the New Testament objectively and think cessationism is biblical. Of course we should never elevate gifts above the Giver, but how can we really believe that God doesn’t want us to change people’s lives by demonstrating the Spirit’s power in ways that are undeniable?
2. It ignores the spiritual.
This goes along with the cessationist issue. We’re just ignoring the spiritual, including both the supernatural and the demonic. Many Christians don’t even believe that demonic possession and oppression still occur today, and they don’t acknowledge Satan’s role in the evil in the world. This results in people thinking that atrocious situations are in fact God’s will or His punishment. No wonder unbelievers don’t find Jesus appealing if this is how He’s presented.
In the Gospel of Luke, many of the sicknesses that Jesus cured people of were accredited to demons. Why do we think that the spiritual has somehow changed over the years and now say that illness or other suffering is “God’s will” or His way of punishing us? If the Bible is so quick to acknowledge the spiritual causes behind things, then why aren’t we? We have to acknowledge the demonic forces present in the world, and we have to believe in the Holy Spirit’s power here in the world to overcome those forces.
3. It’s judgmental and selective about sins.
If you struggle with same-sex attraction then you’re going to be shamed. If you’ve had a few too many sexual partners then you’re going to be shamed. But if you’re greedy, stingy and inconsiderate then that’s fine because those things aren’t on the nonexistent list of the “big, bad sins.” Can we please stop shaming people for things that Jesus isn’t shocked by (because newsflash, He isn’t shocked by sins like humans are) and get off of our spiritual high horses? How are we going to change lives and lead people to Christ if we emanate arrogance and self-righteousness and rely on being “good people”? Nothing scares nonbelievers away quite like Christians who are prudish and easily shocked by everything. And how can we be indifferent about the very things that Jesus was angriest about, like pride, religiosity, and failure to care for the poor and oppressed?
The western church is a strange mixture in that it’s often either overly judgmental or ridiculously complacent about sin. People often seem to either condemn people for their sins or make excuses for certain sins in an attempt to adapt to the changing culture. Sin is sin, and we can’t excuse things that the Bible clearly prohibits. We need to be firm about sin, but we need to have an attitude of humility and compassion in the process.
4. It’s political.
I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that this last election really has revealed the worst in people, especially the “church.” American Christians have been so conditioned to think that America is the new Israel and that we have some great spiritual responsibility to make the American government Christian. This is one of the most damaging lies to the American church.
The real Church always has been and always will be separate from the political sphere, because Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world. And when we think we can achieve real change within the broken system of the government, we’re fooling ourselves. It’s the Church that is called to change the world, and also to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. Institutionalizing Christianity kills the faith quicker than anything. This doesn’t mean that we can never become involved in any politics of any sort, but politics should never be our focus.
5. It’s racially segregated.
Earlier this year, I was watching this supposed “prophet” refer to the “black church” and “white church” as if they were completely separate. The fact that people still view the church in this way shows that they really don’t understand the biblical concept of being one in Christ. If churches are full of people who all look just like each other and are all the same ethnicity then something is wrong. In my experience, I haven’t been to many churches that have a diverse group of people, and I think that’s a shame.
The Church should be the most diverse place around because we should have broken down the barriers that non-Christians are still struggling to overcome. What’s really scary is that a lot of Christians don’t seem to be bothered about this huge disparity. They think that it’s “just the way it is” and that it’s all fine and dandy to only be able to relate to people who share your skin color. But if we really believe we are all one in Christ, then this mindset should go out the window.
6. It’s religious and full of denominations.
Unlike many Christians, when I hear the word “religion,” I immediately think of negative connotations. Anyone can be religious, but not every religious person is a genuine Christian, even if they call themselves one. We’re so stuck in the religious, nominal Christian mindset that we don’t even know that in many ways we haven’t really broken free from the Catholic church. A big part of this is that we focus on certain man-made doctrines and denominations that are literally never spoken of in the Bible. I used to think that denominations were somewhat necessary, but then I actually read the New Testament and realized that biblically speaking, there’s no place for them.
Denominations are inherently problematic, because what often happens is each denomination focuses on one particular area of doctrine more than the others, which is illogical and misses the big picture. By choosing a denomination, you are essentially saying that you value one part of the Bible over the other parts. It shouldn’t be this way. And if this isn’t the case for some churches that claim certain denominations, then why don’t they just say they’re nondenominational? You wouldn’t hear a Christian in the Middle East who’s in danger of persecution say that they belong to some weirdly specific denomination. They would merely say that they’re a follower of Jesus. Simple as that. Why are we over-complicating things?
7. It’s materialistic.
It’s quite saddening how successful the prosperity gospel is in America. I read the Bible and wonder how on earth these people back up such ridiculous doctrine. Yet many misinformed Christians truly believe material wealth is the mark of God’s favor and that we as believers should expect to be wealthy and have nice houses and cars. We’re wasteful and spoiled and greedy, focusing on the things that God doesn’t care about.
At the end of the day, material things count for nothing. We need to let go of the American dream and what this world calls success, and look to the Bible for lifestyle advice. By reading the New Testament independently without listening to what any Christian leaders have to say about it, one can never come to the conclusion that we as believers are called to be rich. Unless you want to make a bunch of money and give the majority of it away, which would be pretty awesome.
8. It puts too much of an emphasis on leaders.
This is such a massive issue in America. We have a habit of idolizing certain Christian leaders and fooling ourselves into thinking that they’re somehow perfect and closer to God than the rest of us. This is how people get so easily deceived by false teachers and end up joining cults. It gets to the point where people don’t question anything leaders do and even feel that it’s blasphemous to go against anything they say. Corrupt people use this to their own advantage in order to gain money, fame, and control. Look at the kind of wacko televangelists that have gained so many followers despite their borderline heretical doctrine and bizarre behavior.
The problem with this weird focus on leaders is that many Christians are still in the Catholic mindset and believe they have to find some sort of a mediator and can’t go directly to God. Instead of praying about certain questions and doubts, they go to their favorite leaders for answers. But the problem is that people can never be trusted completely and will never get everything right. Of course we should have leaders we respect and look up to, but we should never look to them as our final authority. We should go directly to God and His word when we have questions and doubts.
9. It doesn’t care about the least of these.
Most Western Christians really miss the mark when it comes to charity and generosity. We’re certainly nowhere near where the believers were in the book of Acts, selling their possessions to give money to the poor. We’d rather hold on tight to our money and buy a load of things we don’t need than help those who have nothing. We don’t value charity and missions enough, and we don’t care enough. The church isn’t encouraging generosity to nearly the extent that it should be. And we’re practically ignoring the suffering in the world.
Have we forgotten the people who Jesus cares about most? If we’re truly holding to Jesus’ teachings, then we can’t be indifferent about refugees, orphans, the poor, and any other marginalized groups. You could argue that Jesus put more emphasis on charity and compassion than most other subjects. If we become desensitized to human suffering and don’t care about the poor and needy, then how are we any different from the rest of the world? It’s pretty darn sad when non-Christians show more generosity and compassion than believers.
10. It has an insufficient knowledge of and respect for the Bible, or reads it subjectively.
It seems that most Christians in the West either don’t read the Bible themselves or read it through an extremely subjective and selective lens. People would rather be told how to interpret certain verses by their preacher than ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the meanings of Scripture to them. And we’d rather focus on certain verses to back up our very subjective and far-from-biblical views than read the whole book objectively and with an open heart. Too many people focus on the biblical principles that they seem to like but ignore other things if they don’t fit their personal preferences and narrow-minded doctrine. If we’re really surrendered to the Holy Spirit, then we need to surrender our subjective preferences and views to Him along with everything else.
11. It doesn’t reflect Jesus.
If Christians really imitated Jesus, the Church would look quite different. But we’d rather formulate our own weirdly subjective religious views than die to ourselves and live out the simple Gospel. Most Christians you come across look nothing like Christ. We say we love Jesus, yet half the time we don’t even really listen to and live out His teaching.
Too often we formulate a very individual view of Christ and use His words out of context in order to back up our personal beliefs, but then we ignore His more sobering statements. Don’t a lot of Christian leaders quote Paul more than Jesus? I read the Gospels and I see quite a different picture of Jesus than how so many Christians present Him. And many Christians would rather imitate their favorite Christian leaders than imitate Christ Himself. But the Bible doesn’t tell us to be like our favorite preacher or theologian or even apostle. It tells us to be like Jesus.
12. It seems to be void of the Holy Spirit.
How many Christians do you know who are filled with peace and joy (and all the other fruit of the Spirit) and are changing the lives of people they come in contact with? How many people are in constant communion with the Spirit and completely surrender control to Him every day? We’re so desperate to maintain control that we miss out on a radical relationship and the Spirit really moving in our lives. We think that we’d like to see God’s supernatural power in our lives, but when it comes to it, many of us prefer empty religion because it gives us some semblance of control and allows us to stay in our comfort zone, safe in our sheltered little churches. Many people focus on Jesus and the Father and ignore the Holy Spirit because we find the idea of God dwelling within us to be invasive or want to remain in control of our lives and decisions. But we can’t have the Trinity if we’re missing one Person. So can we please understand the crucial role the Holy Spirit plays in our lives and stop ignoring Him?
Don’t think that I don’t believe I’m guilty of any of the things I’ve just criticized Christians for. I don’t come anywhere near the radical lifestyle that believers are called to live out, but I certainly have a vision for what God wants for my life (and every other believer’s life) and am striving for that sort of surrender and submission. Let’s not get complacent in our religiosity and miss out on the real thing.
Lukewarm living is not acceptable to God, and none of us should be comfortable in passive religion. We should be continually inspired by God’s word to seek Him more than we currently are and to desire to see His power in our lives, and to show His love to the lost. And we have to surrender our preconceptions of what it really means to be a follower of Christ. Only then will we be empowered to lead others to Christ and change the world for Him.