I’ve said it before, quietly, to my close friends… “I think the South is the hardest place to reach people for Christ.” It is a place where “cultural Christianity” is rampant and there are so many who call themselves “Christian” who are not truly invested in following after Christ. It’s been two years since I moved back here and I have struggled to express what the challenges are in ministry. Justin Deeter has finally put it into words. Those of you who live and work in the South, read on.
—- Re-blogged from http://www.justindeeter.com/archives/1710 —-
I’ve spent my whole life growing up in the Bible Belt. I grew up in the home of a pastor and listened to sermons from countless teachers and Christians. The Bible Belt gets its name because there tends to be a lot of conservative Christian people and you can find churches on every street corner. Although the Bible Belt seems to be disappearing slowly, there are remnants of a culture that assumes everyone is a Christian and that expects everyone should be going to church.
Although I am thankful for a culture in which I had such ready access to the true Gospel, over the years I have been exposed to a number of pseudo Gospels trying to pretend to be the real deal. These false gospels are often unknowingly proclaimed by pastors and churches in the bible belt. Some of the most dangerous lies we believe are not elaborate teachings of heresy but a subtle twisting of the truth. The false gospels run deep in the Bible Belt and make pastoring in this area of our country quite difficult.
1. “My Baptism Saves Me”
Many people are confused about their salvation. There are many who think of salvation as some sort of ritualistic tradition where you walk down an aisle, sign a card, and get baptized. Many in the Bible Belt have done this often at a very young age, before they really understood what they were doing. As a result there are many people who call themselves Christians who could care less about Jesus. They find assurance in their baptism or their church membership. They feel security in their salvation because they are on the rolls of a church they haven’t attended in decades.
Many of these people cling to “Once Saved, Always Saved”, which is a twisted distortion of the perseverance of the saints. The perseverance of the saints is not “Once Saved, Always Saved”, but “Once Saved, Always Persevering”. If you became a Christian at 8 years old and then spend your entire life disconnected from God and the church and think you have salvation, chances are you are fooling yourself. Those who are truly in Christ will persevere in following Christ until he calls us home. All of this is by God’s grace and an indicator of a truly converted heart.
2. “I go to church and I’m a good person”
Moralism is the rampant poison in Bible Belt culture. If you listen carefully you can hear it taught from many pulpits across the south. It is the great distorting of the Gospel in which all God wants from you is to be a good boy or girl. God then becomes the great Santa Clause in the sky where heaven becomes beautifully wrapped presents and hell becomes a stocking of coal. So many have twisted the Gospel into a moral check list to complete. You hear the lie of moralism at funerals, bible studies, and even in sermons. Moralism teaches “Be Good and Work Harder”. The Gospel says “You’re not Good and you need the atoning work of Christ”.
The true Gospel is not one in which we work to earn God’s favor, but a Gospel in which we receive God’s favor through Jesus Christ. Salvation is all by grace. Yes, God wants us to live lives of holiness, but our morality does not save us. We are saved only through the blood of Christ.
3. “God wants me to be happy, healthy, and wealthy”
The prosperity Gospel runs wild and free in the Bible Belt, and unfortunately remains unchallenged. The lie of the prosperity gospel can be found in our Christian Book stores, Facebook statuses, and again from pulpits throughout the Bible Belt. More often it is a Christianized package of American Consumerism. Rather than loving the giver of all gifts we idolize the gifts God gives us. We expect God to give us our best life now filled with a great salary, great car, and perfect health.
Yes, God does give us great gifts, but the problem with the prosperity Gospel is that it imposes that God MUST give us those things. The path of true discipleship is often not one of roses and ease. It is often difficult to follow Jesus and it may mean we suffer in this life as our savior did. Jesus tells us to pick up our cross and follow him. God does not exist to gives us all creature comforts, but he calls us to lay down our lives for his glory.
4. “God is my Therapist”
Pop Psychology has crept into the church. We often think that God just wants me to feel good about myself. He is there to affirm my feelings and my life style. Those who believe this false gospel often highly value emotional experiences that make them feel better about themselves. Often times there is an over emphasis on God’s love and a de-emphasis on his justice and wrath towards our sin. The idea of the sinfulness of humanity is largely avoided in the Bible belt and instead we hear about a God of acceptance and affirmation.
Yes, God is our healer. Yes, he is our refuge and strength and help in trouble. Yes he is our great Counselor. Yet, God is also serious about our sin. This is why he sent Jesus to die, to pay the penalty for our sin. Jesus’ death was a death of substitution. He died in our place. God is not interested in increasing our self-esteem but transforming us into new creations. God is making us new and conforming us into the image of Jesus Christ. We are sinners in need of new hearts. We must be born again. We must change, and the power of change does not come through self-actualization but through spiritual regeneration. This means that we must turn from our sin and live lives transformed by God’s radical grace empowered and initiated by the Spirit of God.
5. “God Doesn’t Care About My Heart”
The Bible Belt is often cloaked in a veil of legalism. Many think that God simply cares about their external actions. Many think to be a Christian is to be but a moral, good person. If I put on the church mask and make everyone believe I’ve got it all together, that is all God cares about. So many put on their nice suits and their fake Christian smile and act out this role of a faithful Christian. Yes God does care that we do the right thing, but he also cares about our motives. This is what Jesus was getting at in the Sermon on the Mount. God does not want us to commit adultery, but Jesus says that even the lust of the heart is just as sinful. God also cares about our motivations behind our actions. Yet, many in the bible belt are religious shells, externally doing the right thing without their hearts transformed and renewed by grace.
6. “God Doesn’t Expect Me to Serve Him”
Many think that God has called them to a simple, cozy, easy life. Many do not believe that God has called them to serve or sacrifice at any cost to themselves or their life style. Giving of our money or giving up our time or moving to an uncomfortable location for the Gospel all seems ridiculous to so many. We often think that God is here to serve us, not us to serve him. So we come into our churches as Christian consumers ready to take from others but never to serve our church, our community, or our world. Every Christian has been given the mandate of the Great Commission. Every Christian has been given the calling of taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth. God has not called us to a leisurely self-serving Christianity, but a costly self-denying faith that risks anything and everything for the greater joy of knowing and savoring Jesus.
A Recovery of the True Gospel
Have you identified any of these six false gospels that get thrown around the Bible Belt and across much of evangelical Christianity? More than anything in the Bible Belt and across the world we need a revival and a renewal of the true Gospel:
A Gospel that proclaims a great holy God.
A Gospel that proclaims the wretchedness of our estate in our sin.
A Gospel that proclaims the great love of God in sending a savior.
A Gospel that accentuates the cross as the ultimate display of God’s love and wrath as Jesus dies in our place.
A Gospel that calls all people to turn from sin and have faith in jesus.
A Gospel that expects followers of Christ to actually follow him.