Sjolander Road Fellowship

Declaring the God of Unconditional Love

public versus private christianity


Jesus was never impressed by public displays of piety. In our day such displays are supposedly the real substance of Christianity. Bible quoting; public prayer; vociferous criticism and denunciation of those viewed as evil; unquestioning defense of traditional doctrinal positions, habitual attendance at church services- these are the activities that most associate with so-called Christians. In every case the emphasis is on the outward manifestation, the public persona. Put on the trappings of Christianity and you will be recognized as a follower of Christ. Of course, the quintessential experts at public display are our professional Christians- the clergy.

What ever happened to Christ's emphasis on the heart, the inner man? What ever became of the simplicity of the Golden Rule?

Like many others I have to ask myself why the teachings of Christ have been transformed into religion as a profession, rabid politics, mean spirited opposition to any and all forms of progressiveness, hypocritical legalism, cynicism about the future of our world, and a repugnant smugness which borders on self-righteousness. There is little wonder that those outside our churches would find little appealing in the message propagating from our pulpits. The real mystery is why those inside would care to stay and consume a steady diet of such negativism.

Of course, many inside are not content to stay. They leave in droves, especially the young who are not so easily indoctrinated and cowed as previous generations have been. Those preachers and groups who respond to the need for a more positive message are generally pilloried by the orthodox traditionalists for being "liberal" or purveyors of "Christianity Lite". The essential point that is missed even by many of these more progressive congregations is the fact that the Bible does not teach a future judgment with one's eternal destiny hanging in the balance. The ones ignoring the Bible are not the progressives but rather the traditionalists.

The historical precedent which defines orthodoxy has a ready explanation. The spread of so-called Christianity is intimately tied to its support by civil government. This connection goes back at least as far in history as the time of the Roman emperor Constantine. The alliance between the "church" and the Roman government was much more about the desire of the emperor to advance his military causes and to bolster his authority than about spiritual enlightenment. Thus was established a longstanding and highly symbiotic relationship between church and state which continues into our day unabated.

One outgrowth of this close tie between the church and state was the designation of Rome as the doctrinal center of Christianity. Thus the Roman Catholic Church gained early preeminence. The doctrines developed and propagated from this source have influenced most creeds and denominational positions, even those that claim to have distanced themselves from Rome.

Owing its prominence and power to the support of the Roman government, the Roman Church felt an allegiance to that government. This precedent led to similar "arrangements" with subsequent rulers all over "Christendom". Doctrines that stressed the role of government as the instrument of God, taught fearful respect for existing authority, and encouraged contributing time and money to advance the sponsored cause were all welcomed by ancient monarchs and despots of every stripe. What served the church also benefited the king and vice versa. Alternative doctrinal positions emphasizing freedom, grace, and equality were actively and viciously suppressed because they tended to undermine the favored position of both church and state. To assume that so-called orthodox doctrinal positions are the result of unbiased evaluation of the scriptures during these early years after Christ is totally unfounded. We have inherited doctrines formulated for the primary purpose of subjugating and exploiting the masses.

Of all doctrines that served the purpose of maintaining the power of both the church and the state, none was more significant than that concerning a future cataclysmic judgment and eternal punishment. This threatened outcome for the disobedient, coupled with the notion that civil governments and the church operated with God's mandate, created precisely the message needed to control the ordinary citizen. Instilling fear became a primary goal of the church's message. Under the guise of helping men avoid God's eternal wrath, the church propagated its fear mongering and made it sound like an act of benevolence. Meanwhile, the civil authorities lent ample support, relishing a citizenry molded for compliance with all higher authority.

The malignant misapplication of Bible prophesy is the root cause of all the church's problems, both now and historically. Reliance on the doctrine of a future judgment and eternal punishment as the real power behind the church's message has alienated those in every age who chose to question and evaluate rather than blindly accept the doctrines of the past. Thus the most open-minded and rational have always been excluded from the circle of orthodoxy. The biblical emphasis on faith has been totally distorted to mean unquestioning adherence to the doctrinal position of the established church. This fact and not the evidence of scripture is the sole reason why such fallacious doctrine has survived for thousands of years to haunt our spiritual lives today. As long as the churches fail to recognize and repudiate their past errors, the world will continue rightfully to reject their message and all its unattractive manifestations.