No, this is not about the old-school hip-hop song from the 80's or the more recent song by Beyonce. They are not killing the church in America.
I'm to blame. And so are you. That is, if you are a Christian. We are guilty along with several generations of Christians before us. It was not the liberal universities. It was not the media. It was not the 1960's. It was us, American Christians. We have contributed as much as anyone to the present culture, and we are the ones killing the church in America...
Jesus was being followed by large crowds. Looked like the start of something good. People were publicly acknowledging Jesus' honor and his ministry. In their culture, this increase in honor would raise Jesus' status and give him greater impact and a greater following. He could start a mega-church and write books! He could lobby Jerusalem and Rome for tax reforms and better social conditions. Right?
But Jesus said something that probably thinned the crowd and killed any possibility of their culture's equivalent to a mega-church or book deal.
Jesus told these people that if they wanted to keep following him, they had to hate their family! (Luke 14:25-33) His words were, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple..."
For us, this saying is not very warm and fuzzy. For those in first-century Mediterranean culture, it was beyond offensive! (Notice Jesus' lack of an apology.) Family was a central value in their culture. It defined who you were and your status. Many of Jesus' followers left their families to do ministry in other places and this was not their cultural norm. To hate your family was to deny your very identity, security, and honor. Instead, these followers became part of a new family, God's family.
They were group-centered in their culture. We are individual-centered, and honestly, self-centered. We are offended by Jesus' statement because we think we should never hate anyone, especially our family. But Jesus is not telling us to destroy relationships with our parents and siblings. He's saying for us to surrender and put off our old self defined by American culture, and put on a new self and new way of living defined by God's standards.
We have lived like the surrounding culture for too long. The way many Christians live doesn't appear to match up with what they claim to believe, and that's because it doesn't. We look hypocritical to outsiders because many of us are. We are ineffective outside our church walls to impact culture because we are ineffective at change on the inside of those walls.
The visible church in America is being killed, and Christians are holding the murder weapon. Until we get real about who we are in Christ, we cannot change. We expect that if nonChristians will just start acting according to Christian values, then all will be okay in our culture. But we cannot expect Christian behavior from nonChristians. We absolutely can expect it from ourselves. God certainly does. How can we demand prayer be in schools if there is no prayer in our own homes and churches? How can we demand better morals and modesty in media when we do not practice such things?
If we are His, we need to be who we are. This simply means that sincerity is not belief. What we truly believe will come out in our actions and choices. Jesus died and rose again to free us from the sinful self, the selfishness. If you are His, you are free and can be who you are in Him.
For those who are interested...
We do not understand the culture of first-century Palestine and the Mediterranean. They had a different understanding of "self" than we do. Here are some quick differences:
1 The list above was adopted and modified based on the list Bruce Malina in his book The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology (Westminster John Knox Press, 2001) pg 76-79. Some of the modification is based insights from the scholarly work of David deSilva, John Pilch, and David Watson.