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The fraud of labels: formal Christianity

We use God’s name in vain when we preach an empty, passive, passion-free Christianity devoid of biblical content.

THEOLOGY AUTOR 218/Jose_Hutter TRADUCTOR Noemí Sánchez Read 22 DE OCTUBRE DE 2020 10:00 h
Photo: [link]Chris Barbalis[/link], Unsplash CC0.

“You shall not misuse the Name of the Lord your God”

In essence, Europe has ceased to be Christian. This truth applies to those countries that embraced the Reformation as much as those with a catholic or orthodox majority. With few exceptions - such as Ireland, Poland and Malta - the Christian faith has no role whatsoever in public life.

Protestantism has been eroded by the negative consequences of a rationalist theology which has completely adapted to the patterns of modern ideologies. At the same time, a pious Christianism has abandoned the world to wait for the rapture and has become so weak that it shows no evidence of being able to make a difference in society.

The sin against the third commandment is the definitive sin of those who are labelled Christians but who do not take its biblical teachings seriously.

God’s name was misused to endorse and bless fascists and totalitarian political regimes in the Europe of the early 20th century. Nowadays it is much more fashionable to advocate socialist ideas in the name of Christianity or for evangelicals to succumb to the temptation of a commercial gospel.

It is uncommon for those who preach to advocate trusting in the power of God’s Word. There is, by and large, very little in the message preached that matches the true Word of God. Public events organised by evangelical churches often take a marketing approach.

It seems that filling in a card or raising a hand at the end of a sermon is enough to be able to say that x number of people have “accepted Jesus as their Saviour and Lord”. Ultimately, this is just another way of using God’s name in vain.

[destacate]Protestantism has been eroded by the negative consequences of a rationalist theology which has completely adapted to the modern ideologies. [/destacate]

The same applies to the huge lack of interest and apathy that characterizes a great part of protestant Christianity in Europe. Many churches are not teaching the basic doctrines of the Christian faith and, consequently, Christians are not learning them. A few exceptions confirm the rule.

Many evangelicals do not want to hear about theology or doctrine and these seem to be destined to disappear from our churches. The common narrative is that sermons should entertain, not teach.

The art of expository preaching is greatly endangered and very few nowadays dare to preach doctrinal themes. The sentiment “we believe in a person, not a doctrine” has become very popular.

Many churches that lack biblical understanding are opening themselves to fashionable influences that have little to do with the essence of the faith. The Christian doctrine loses its value as centuries of theological foundation are discarded.

“You shall not misuse the Name of the Lord your God” is possibly the commandment that is most often broken by the church in the 21st century. We use God’s name in vain when we preach an empty, passive, passion-free Christianity with no biblical content.

A dispassionate observer of the state of European churches would likely conclude that we live in a Post-Christian society. This expression has become very fashionable in certain theological and missiological circles.

However, the Christian faith in Europe has faced crises before. Any historical account of the Reformation during the 15th Century should not fail to observe that the majority of Europe was dominated by a highly corrupted Catholic church.

The popes in the Renaissance, the Borgia and other clans, made a lie of the papacy and converted the “holy” city of Rome into a brothel. Biblical knowledge in Europe was non-existent; people were ignorant of both biblical doctrine and the true gospel message.

But, against all odds, God used an unknown monk from Rome to reform the dead church which parodied the third commandment. Space precludes a fuller account but, in short, the monk, awaken by the reading of the Scriptures, stood up against an Empire and won.

Arguably, the Reformation was not so much started by the emblematic release of the 95 theses but by the translation, by Martin Luther, of the New and Old Testaments into German. The consequence of this act was that a considerable part of Europe was conquered for the gospel in just a few years.

We could also look to the United Kingdom during the life of John Wesley. The country was characterized by a church that was moribund and largely closed to the vibrant faith of the Wesley brothers and their colleague in the ministry, George Whitefield.

God used these men’s ministry to change attitudes to the gospel in the United Kingdom, which, in contrast to France, did not experience an atheistic revolution.

Revivals within the Lutheran church in Germany and in Wales also attest to the consequence of gospel proclamation. Every believer should ask God fervently for his grace to, once again, change Europe.

The challenges are such that, in my opinion, there are only two possible outcomes in the next 50 years: either the Christian faith in Europe will grow spectacularly as it did in the past, or Christianity in Europe is doomed.

History tells us this is not unthinkable; North Africa was one of the most vibrant places of the Christian faith in the first few centuries after the resurrection of Jesus. It produced some of the most important theologians such as the Berber Augustinian and Tertullian.

[destacate]Christianity will either exist in a more glorious way, or God himself will remove an empty, fashion led parody.[/destacate]

However, the Christian faith subsequently deviated so far as to weaken the foundation that had kept it alive. The vandals, and then Islam, arrived, leading to the virtual absence of the Christian faith in the north of Africa to this day.

The same could be said of the fall of one of the most important cultures that embraced Christianity, the Byzantine empire. For around a thousand years, Byzantium was the centre of a great kingdom where the Christian faith not only influenced public discourse but also conquered Eastern Europe through mission.

However, lack of vision and increasing formalism led the state that had protected it into a crisis. This gave Islam the opportunity to destroy the empire and its capital, Constantinople, now known as Istanbul. The transformation of the most impressive monument of that era - the Church of the Divine Wisdom - into the Hagia Sophia mosque eloquently tells the story.

If things continue as they are, it is likely that Islam will again represent the wrath of God that will disinherit a disobedient and weak Christianity. For now, all signs indicate that the religion of the future in the old continent, dominating even secular society, will be Islam - unless the Church experiences one of its greatest revivals in history.

Christianity will either exist in a more glorious way, or God himself will remove an empty, fashion led parody. It won’t be the end of Christianity, but it will be the end of the prevailing influence in Europe as it has existed for the past 1500 years.

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. Because our God is a jealous God.




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