About three days ago, I posted a short video review of Eric Metaxas’ “Letter to the American Church”. In my preparation, it became clear that a 10What-minute video is not going to cut it. There is really a lot to unpack and it appears a blog post would be a better fit for the extra details. Yes, Eric’s book is a warning to the American Church and he is correct in giving such a warning. However, I feel Eric erred in focusing too much on the German Church of 1932.
Here is the video if you would like a brief review of this intriguing book. Though I have some differences, Eric’s book is still worth reading. For the rest of the blog post, I’ll be sharing my own insight on how we got into our current mess and its connection to Eric’s book.
Is Eric Metaxas correct in saying that the German Church of 1932 should serve as a prophetic warning? Yes, we can certainly learn from what has transpired. However, it is not wise to ignore some key differences.
Eric mentions a French philosopher named Alexis Tocqueville. I have heard this man’s name in other places. However, I had no clue to who this 19th Century gentleman is or cared. In prepping for the video, I sensed that it would be good to learn about his French aristocrat and politician.
Why is this important and how is it related to the book? In 1835, Alexis wrote an incredible book on American Democracy. The book was impressive because of what Alexis learned about democracy in the fledgling United States. It is worth noticing that Alexis is an atheist or agnostic. In his book, he praised our country for how well democracy is working. One of the key reasons noted for the success of democracy is Christianity.
That is correct! How was Christianity such a factor when other Christian nations would like to differ? According to Alexis, Christianity was not relegated to something practiced at home and a Sunday morning church service. It was a part of everyday public life. I doubt that Alexis claimed that we were perfect and we are still not there. Yet, Christianity had an impact on the various sectors of life: business, family, church, arts & entertainment, education, media, and government.
Yes, Christianity was a vital part of our culture and Eric Metaxas would be correct to point out the following truth. The German Church could say the same thing. After all, their home is the birthplace of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Yet, there is a key difference between the American Church and the German Church. I am talking about the “wall of seperation“. Here’s what I’m talking about.
The wall of separation is real; however, it’s not the iron wall of the Marxist Left. In Germany, Eric correctly points out that there is an unhealthy blending of the State and Church. In Bonhoeffer’s day, the German Church had become a rubber stamp to whatever the State would decree. It works only if you have just and godly leaders who never do anything wrong. Since we are far from perfect, the Church needs to stand up and speak out.
Because the German Church is under the dominion of the State, it is not easy to do when the weather is fine. I don’t need to tell you about what happened in 1932. Do I? It’s harder to stand up when an evil regime is in power. What about the American Church? It’s not under the thumb of the State?
America’s Founding Fathers placed an important clause in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. It simply says
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
It is this clause that Thomas Jefferson was referring to in his letter to an Archbishop. He’s trying to reassure this church leader that Baptists didn’t have to worry about being targeted by the State. They would be free worship as they see fit. Though Jefferson was not at the convention, he’d have a good idea of what transpired since Madison and Jefferson knew each other. The American Church was free to influence the culture and laws of this land;
However, no one could use the power of the government to impact the freedom of the Church. Of course, this idea did not stop people from doing stupid things. Since the American Church didn’t have the same type of relationship found in other European Christian nation, it helps to know what did exist.
If you don’t know, our Founding Fathers were not too trusting civil government. They understood the potentials of corruption and potentials for tyrany. It’s why they put in a variety of checks and balances in the American Constitution and in the Federalist Papers. I’ll bet there’s one check that you may not have thought of and it’s relevant to the blog post. Yes, the American Church was to provide a check to some of the corruptions happening in government and elsewhere. How?
It was done through the pulpit and school. Even if you were not a Christian, it is likely you were living in a community influenced by local churches and their pastors. For these people, the Word of God was meant to be applied to all areas of life. It wasn’t limited to faith and practices. Of course, it is up to the hearers to decide if they’ll listen. It’s also a place to rally the troop to deal with certain issues happening in our country.
The early American Church lived in an atmosphere foreign to what was found in Germany. Though we had a social contract with government, the American Church was not under the control of the State. They were free to ask for help, but they could not demand it. This fact makes perfect sense when you consider our country’s beginnings. Yet, something happened to change everything.
Here is one area where two different churches can suffer the same fate. According to Eric Metaxas, the German Church erred by living in the past glory of Martin Luther and failed to see that things were changing. As I read this part of “Letter to the American Church”, I could not help but think of Gondor from “Lord of the Ring”. The people of Gondor were too busy living in the glory of the past that they failed to see their current danger. Sounds familiar?
The American Church was slowly lulled to sleep by the seductive voice of pride. On the one hand, we had Christians desperately hanging on to a past that is slowly being distorted. The old guard refused to see the need for change in an increasingly industrialized nation and demographic. At the same time, we had another group screaming change and justice. This group was being seduced by the lies of a secular philosophy opposed to God’s Word.
There is another problem and it ties into what happened into Germany. Because we saw ourselves as a Christian nation, a foolish error was being made. We assumed our elected leaders were all godly men and not subject to human failings or would do harm. Though it was not the only bad law, I’ll use the one mentioned by Eric Metaxas. Prior to July 2, 1954, churches were free to get involved in politics.
Simply put, the Johnson Amendment says churches are refrain from politics; if they want to keep their tax exemption status. In effect, churches became hostage and compelled to be silent on political issues. They could not come out and openly support one candidate or another one. At the time, it seems like a minor issue.
No one saw the abuses that would ensue in later decades. The Johnson Amendment did not happen overnight. It seems the American Church has forgotten that we’re supposed to keep an eye on government and other spheres. We’re also called to speak out on the issues, too. Here’s another one and it’s easily missed in the talk about cultural Marxism. Ever heard of Laissez-faire? It’s a French philosophy that says to government, “Hands off!”
It is an economic system that demands a minimalist role of the government. Yet it flies in the face of Romans 13:3-4:
3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4 for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.
The above Scripture isn’t the only place that warns against the potential for greed and corruption. By not speaking out against dangerous business practice and the fear of Man has also contributed to the silencing of American churches. It seems we have forgotten what Tocqueville has pointed out in his book on American democracy. No wonder we became vulnerable to cultural Marxism!
I’ll say it, again! The American Church needs to wake up and ditch the lie of not getting political. We’re not called to sit in a bunker. We’re called to impact the culture for Christ. We’re called to teach what Jesus commanded us to do. That is what the American Church was imperfectly trying to do in the 19th Century!
Let’s stop chasing after teachings about the End Times. Jesus will certainly return and it will be at the appointed time. It’s not given for us to know that time. However, the current season says the appointed time is much closer; however, we need to be busy in doing what Jesus has called the American Church to do.