Our churches have problems. At least seven big ones, if you hadn’t already guessed. But before we get to those, we can’t forget that the early church had its problems, too. The epistles were written for often unfortunate reasons. The early church had to combat Gnosticism, apostasy, strange doctrines, sexual immorality, and more. Our own modern church has some of these problems as well, but since we have come after the Christian revolution that conquered the world, we also have some completely new ones, too.
If you are a regular reader, you know that I don’t like to criticize something without offering at least one possible way to fix it. Not because I know everything, but because criticism is common and easy, but not very valuable on its own.
Doug Wilson’s No Quarter November is off to a great start, and this article in particular gets at exactly what I mean here:
The cardinal deadly sin in the unique evangelical lexicon had become meanness, and their cardinal virtue had become niceness or, using their preferred word, winsomeness. And once that position was adopted, the only thing that was necessary for the progressives to get everybody to start waffling on any issue was to successfully cast it in terms of meanness. Denying marriage to homosexuals meant that a homosexual could not come into a hospital to visit his partner who had just a few hours left to live, and the whole thing was just so mean. If you did not attend the wedding reception for your unbelieving nephew’s sodomite ceremony, you were clearly being mean. If you preached the gospel straight, with no chaser, you were manifestly being mean.
We have confused the fruit of the spirit with niceness, which is little more than politeness at all costs. It’s a bit like Disney’s “nice-ification” of all manner of sexual depravity. Drag queens sexually exploiting kids is wicked and disgusting, so just illustrate it in colorful, friendly, inoffensive cartoons where nothing bad happens.
The fact of the matter is no one is nice to everyone. Those who are nicest to our wicked culture are cruel and partial against the church itself. Russel Moore, David French, and others like them are far less trustworthy than outspoken critics of Christianity like Christopher Hitchens was.
In the church, niceness has led to compromise, cowardice, and failure in our mission to win the world for Christ. It reduces the Gospel to “sharing our stories”.
It’s important to distinguish “niceness” and “kindness”. The latter is the practical effect of loving someone. When we love someone and act consistently with that love, we are kind. For example, it is kind for a father to praise the hard work of his son, and it is equally kind for a father to discipline his son when he disobeys. The former is mere agreeableness; it would certainly be compatible with praise, but it would wince at discipline. Niceness then is not correlated at all with love.
Niceness is one of the easier sins to overcome. We can do it by being direct and plain in our speech.
Related to niceness and feminism is effeminacy. If you see the term on social media you’ll often find it trailed by confused commenters who think “effeminacy” is another way of saying “misogyny”. Blame the miserable schools, but effeminacy actually has nothing to do with women at all, at least not directly. It’s a vile sin in Scripture, condemned in the Old and New Testament, and listed along with some pretty abominable sins by Paul when he describes those things which condemn us to hell. In short, effeminacy is when men try and act like women.
Effeminacy has many cultural causes, affluence and our worship of safety among them. The most important, however, may be that the state has a vested interest in keeping men weak and girly. The state, acting as if it were a god, cannot have itself challenged by men who might reform it. Men are a threat to any regime (just ask Pharaoh and Herod), and so from birth, boys are treated as defective girls in our media, in our schools, and even in our churches. They are bent toward feminine dispositions, eschewing conflict and confrontation, even when necessary.
There are physical reasons as well. Testosterone levels in men are considerably lower than they were even a few decades ago, and dropping every year. Being overweight, eating poorly, not getting exercise, doing little difficult with our bodies; all of these things contribute.
It’s a complex problem, but it means we don’t have the men we need to lead the church and Christian organizations. We don’t have the courage or strength to fight a wicked culture. In fact, we don’t want to fight at all. We hate fighting.
This great piece on spiritualizing cowardice deals with some of the consequences that follow from having men act like women. We are the sort of church that would be far more upset with David than with Goliath, and that’s to our shame.
Getting kids out of government indoctrination and into either homeschool or a well-vetted private school can help the next generation, but men need to work on themselves, too. Lift weights, eat better, take care of your body as the vessel of the Holy Spirit, and actively look for ways to grow in masculine virtues like strength, workmanship, moderation, and discipline.
If effeminacy is men acting like women, then feminism covers the flip side. Feminism is more than that though. It’s also the backbone of the egalitarian movement.
The modern church, like the modern culture more generally, is very uncomfortable with hierarchy of any kind. We can see that in our form of government, which at its founding was a hierarchical republic where there was no direct voting for our national legislature but which now has devolved into mere “democracy”, where a man or woman who spends months pouring over the candidates has as much influence in an election as a guy who has been in a coma until the moment he enters the polling booth.
The “conservative” response to hierarchy is a weak sort of meritocracy, where you can earn positions in a hierarchy by your hard work but just as easily lose them. Still, even “conservatives” hesitate to say that there are any hierarchies that exist by nature, with the unique exception of children under their parents.
The egalitarian impulse is a sort of time delayed poison. It isn’t as bad at the start, promising “equality” and “more representation”, but egalitarianism has no limiting principle, and so it is the first stage of levelling everything to one homogenous ooze where all people are identical in every way and every deviation from this ideal is increasingly unacceptable. It defies nature, which is why it will never work.
Egalitarianism in churches is usually limited to the sexes, but even this is unbiblical. If the sexes are fully equal in every meaningful way, you obliterate the sexes and what you get is functionally equivalent to androgyny. It’s why you rarely, if ever, hear church leaders speaking in terms of masculine or feminine virtues and vices.
Even so-called “complementarian” churches, as I’ve discussed previously on this blog, are just egalitarian churches that haven’t become self-aware yet. Michael and Bnonn over at It’s Good to Be a Man have a great article on what all of this ultimately leads to, which is the opposite of Christianity.
Our response to egalitarianism will be complex, because it requires winning people over to ideas that are still taboo in Christian circles in the West (though universally held by Christians everywhere else at all times). It requires a real love for the distinctions between the sexes that God created. This is a long-term project, but men and women can contribute to this by refusing to budge and always referring back to the clear teaching of Scripture. It takes a lot of mutilating the text to make it say egalitarian things. Men also need to embrace what it means to be fathers and husbands, including building productive household and raising a bunch of kids.
It also requires that we abolish our Gnostic tendencies. Speaking of Gnosticism…
Gnosticism is one of the most ancient heresies in the church, and certainly one of the longest-lasting. Gnosticism at its core is the belief that the physical world is bad and the spiritual world is good. The Christian view, on the other hand, believes both are good. The chief reasons we can say this are that God Himself called His creation “good”, that we will receive resurrected physical bodies for all eternity, and because Jesus – God Himself – became flesh and will have a physical body forever.
Given those reasons and the consistent damnation of this heresy for 2000 years, you’d think it would be hard to find, but Gnostic thinking likes to find creative ways to manifest.
Take the earlier “deadly sins” I mentioned of egalitarianism and effeminacy. Both of those require at least some Gnostic thinking, because you need to devalue the physical realities of the sexes. You need to spiritualize things that should be rooted in the physical world. For example, the masculine virtue of strength and the feminine virtue of beauty are both rooted in physical things, and even their inner equivalents (e.g. “inner-strength”, “inner-beauty”) are analogues to the physical and can only be understood in those terms.
We devalue the physical world when we don’t take care of our own bodies, when we think the mundane realm of politics and culture is beneath us, and if we think the proper Christian response to the evil in the world is to consign it all to hell and focus on “spiritual things”.
The problem is that the Scriptures clearly show that our spiritual fruit is manifest in our physical actions. Our “good works” are not mystical things in an unseen realm; they are real physical things we do with our real, physical bodies. “Good works”, as I’ve heard it said, includes “good work”.
It’s possible to jump to the opposite extreme of Gnosticism and devalue the spiritual. We have a word for it: materialism. And while we might be “materialistic” in the economic sense, the temptation to believe the spiritual world is unimportant or non-existent is exceedingly rare in the church today, hence it makes no appearance in this list. Even the pagan “Christians” of former mainline protestant denominations are “spiritual but not religious”. They’ve fallen for all the old superstitions, but even they can’t bring themselves to embrace materialism.
This, like egalitarianism, requires a long-term plan, probably starting at our own personal care for the physical world around us and the rebuke of anyone who thinks that our time is wasted when it spent stewarding physical things. Since Gnosticism leads to a devaluing of culture and politics, it also means rebuking another deadly sin: Pietism.
Pietism, in short, is the idea that the Gospel can be reduced to private morality and personal relationships. Those things are good, and are areas that the Gospel is supposed to change things, but it’s wrong to limit the Gospel to those areas. The Gospel also effects culture and politics. It affects all areas of life, including public life. We see that in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. One mistake Christians make is in presuming that because the early church had no say in politics and little influence in culture, we ought to pretend those same limitations apply to a post-Christendom constitutional republic. This is a total non sequitur. It also makes the mistake of ignoring all of church history.
Pietism focuses exclusively on private spiritual things (hence the relationship to Gnosticism). Many think that’s exactly what piety itself means, but that’s a mistake. The “good Roman emperor” of the second century, Antoninus Pious, has in his name a clue as to what the term “piety” really means, because he had another name: Antoninus the Dutiful. Piety is duty. It means that you understand your obligations and fulfill them out of love for those to whom you are obligated. In a way, piety is to pietism what kindness is to niceness. We often use pietistic thinking to absolve ourselves of our responsibilities. We “spiritualize” away our obligations to our children by claiming we don’t need to give them a physical inheritance because we’ll leave them a “spiritual” one (as if a physical one wouldn’t be the greatest obvious manifestation of a spiritual one). We “spiritualize” our poor workmanship by saying we don’t really need to make our customers happy. We spiritualize cowardice, as we saw earlier.
A simple cure to Pietism is to obtain a “fully-orbed” Christian worldview. To see Christianity applied to all areas of life, and especially to understand the history of the church. Francis Schaeffer is a great start here. So too is Church History in Plain Language.
Modern forms of pietism are, in some sense, the “Christianized” response to a broader cultural mistake, which is the falsehood of Secularism.
Is the state supposed to be religiously neutral? Is there a way to have no religious influence in law? Is it possible to legislate things other than morality?
The answer to all those questions is “no”, but if you are an American, that may surprise you. America was founded at a particular time and place by a particular people, and those people understood the horrors of religious persecution between Christian denominations and sought to create a form of government that did not continue that tradition from post-reformation Europe into the New World. We can never forget it was the religious leaders and the state who ultimately crucified Christ, and so there needs to be special care taken to ensure such a thing doesn’t happen. The answer was simple: religious liberty or freedom of conscience.
However, when you take religious liberty, deprive it of its historical context, and try to universalize it to every area of life (like… a religion), you get secularism. Secularism is the belief that there really is such a thing as a neutral public square, neutral culture, and neutral government. Christian acceptance of secularism has led to the weak, effeminate, graceful losers of the “conservative” movement in America – a movement which includes people who don’t embrace secularism but until very recently had no real alternative.
There’s a danger in a church routinely endorsing candidates or making church members vote a certain way, but the real fear Christian ministers have is rooted in secularism; they don’t want to get involved because the church is supposed to “stay in its lane” and away from politics and culture, except when it directly converts people.
There’s an election happening today, and churches around the country should be clear supporters of some proposals and candidates and clear opponents of others. For example, some radical child-murder laws are up for debate around the country, and churches should clearly oppose them. There’s no question here. In some areas, there might be room for debate, but even when there is debate, churches should be able to provide clarity. Often, though, churches avoid topics that aren’t directly related to basic doctrine, with one big exception (coming up next). Economics, science, psychology, etc, are all ignored.
One way to avoid the secular impulse is to simply understand that there really is no such thing as neutral and that all laws are moral in nature. It’s to ask by whose authority. “Who says?” What gives the state it’s authority to do anything? Another solution is to develop a fully-orbed Christian worldview, and as I said before, church history and authors like Francis Schaeffer are great here. So too is Nancy Pearcy and her book Total Truth. Just today, I also discovered this article (written yesterday) which is a great, short read to help discard any lingering notion that secularism might be a possibility.
A common response to opposition to the state is a reductive reading of Romans 13, something I’ve responded to in the past.
The area that churches unfortunately delve into politics is one of the larger looming threats, one of the most directly hostile to the Gospel, and one of the wickedest of all.
Wokism (Liberalism 2.0)
I won’t spend much time on this one, but much of the church is Woke. “Woke” is an embrace of our real national religion, the synthesis of climate alarmism, child sacrifice, convenience, niceness, therapeutic moral deism, critical theory, and ultimately liberalism itself.
Churches that said nothing about the evil closure of churches and forced masking and vex policies of our state wring their hands over myths like “systemic racism”. Churches that tolerate sins which God calls abominable, from cross-dressing to same-sex acts, will condemn in the harshest terms anyone who dares simply have a Biblical response to those sins. Every cultural crusade gets called a “Gospel issue” by Christian academics and denominational leaders, and with all the effeminacy, you are drawn into passive aggressive cat fights whenever you try to deal with the problem.
A great resource on responding to the Woke infiltration of the church, primarily in seminaries and through leadership, is Jon Harris and his Conversations that Matter podcast. I’ll admit this is probably the hardest of the seven to deal with, because it is coming from people in positions of authority. The real solution here will be men in positions of authority who are truly men in character rising up and speaking in plain, unapologetic language that what they see is an abomination. What’s needed is prophetic language. The sort that wouldn’t be tolerated in churches today except as words on the page of a book we selectively read from.
Bonus Sin: Anti-intellectualism
“Eight deadly sins” just didn’t have the same ring to it, but if I’m honest I only thought of this one as I was writing the others and it requires too many caveats to make the list. There are plenty of overly-intellectualized Christians in seminaries and ministry. People who spend their entire lives in deep esoteric thought about doctrine that has absolutely no effect on their relatively poorly lived lives.
Still, throughout the church in America going back to the Second Great Awakening, there’s been an undue hostility toward intellectual things and loving God with all our minds. This hostility has led to many churches having nothing to offer anyone who has real questions about whether Christianity is true or not. My own experience of struggling with whether God even existed has been replicated by millions of other Christians.
While our intelligentsia focuses on doctrine and synthesizing Christianity with wicked ideologies like Marxism, Critical Theory, and Egalitarianism, regular Christians struggle to find reasons to believe in Christ at all. I suspect many Christian intellectuals focus on syncretizing Christianity with false religions at the loss of robust defense of the faith is because they themselves don’t believe in Christ. It’s a bold claim, but “you shall know them by their fruit”. Even men like Tim Keller, who seemed to care a lot about defending the faith (at least years ago), quickly tried to get away from defense and toward accepting false beliefs as equally valid.
The cure for anti-intellectualism, I think, is studying apologetics. William Lane Craig’s Defenders series is brilliant, and my friend Wintery Knight writes about all kinds of great apologetics topics. In thinking through a defense of the faith, one develops skills that help not only answer skeptical questions and reinforce one’s own faith, but also defeat the syncretistic impulse of our mis-educated intellectual elites.
Pardon the dramatic title. I settled on seven distinct but related things and couldn’t pass up the opportunity.