A Plea for New Christian Leadership

Fundamentalism and evangelicalism have become synonymous terms. Popular usage demonstrates that the words mean the same thing. Liberty University is considered evangelical while a generation ago its founder Jerry Falwell described himself as “fundamentalist.” We no longer need academic hair-splitting to define the terms. They each share the most important characteristics. They are intellectually and morally bankrupt.

Jesus accused the Jewish leaders of his day with “straining out gnats but swallowing camels” (Matthew 23:24b). And so in March 2003 fundamentalists joyously celebrated George W. Bush squander of lives and money in an illegal war in Iraq. Many of the same people were outraged in 1998 when Bill Clinton was not removed from office for lying about sexual contact with a staff member of the White House.

Evangelicals have combined a worship of  violence, consumerism, and power to be the New God while re-branding Jesus of the gospels as an American founding father. One can always judge how corrupt a system of thought and morality is by asking what bad actions are unforgivable. Christian fundamentalism claims abortion (or even supporting the right to obtain one) and homosexuality (or even blessing homosexual persons) are unforgivable. This point has been so well demonstrated we will not debate it. We see that what is acceptable to christian fundamentalism often depends on attitudes derived from the worship of power.

Paradoxically, the worship of power has given rise to an “anti-institutional institutionalism.” Evangelicals are suspicious of the mainline protestant denominations. They are especially suspicious of the leadership structures of the churches. This suspicious is borne of the perception that evangelicals are the “true Christians” have no influence within these structures. Such an understanding probably has more to do with the region in which one lives than anything else. Many fundamentalists are attracted to the apparent success and political influence of televangelists. These preachers fulfill no real pastoral role to their audiences. They are too busy refining their brand. They demonstrate glitz and glitter and other trappings of wealth. And they do have the ears of politicians or at least appear to do so. Billy Graham held a crusade in Knoxville and brought Richard Nixon with him.

The preachers who are also brands become cult leaders of a sort. They appear as gods with whom no one should disagree to their followers. Brands have become the new religious institutions.

There is a way to have a virtuous faith and Christian communion. The four evangelists of the New Testament, preserved and set as a rule of faith for the Church, gives us the means for deepening faith and building Christian community.

We need not attempt to reinvent the church from scratch. Neither is this a mere back-to-the-Bible approach. The Church is renewed as it adapts and evolves. History demonstrates that the church diversifies as it grows. We will not do everything just alike. We don’t now.

Christianity as a religion is a practice of reconnecting to what is real. It is strange to think that diversity and simplicity can co-exist, Yet, these attributes do and will do so. The attempts to put on the show and to keep or acquire the trappings of worldly success and influence has blocked the work of Spirit of God. We are not to follow the law of the world. We are growing into the Beatitudes. We are to follow the Way of the Word, the Tao, and the Life of the Spirit.

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