Student ID: GC6831
American Christianity Application Paper (Final Exam)
25 April 2011
In studying American Christianity this semester I was surprised to discover how little I actually knew about the subject! As a history major I like to fancy myself somewhat intelligible about historical subjects, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out just how ignorant I actually was regarding the religious history of this country. With that, there are three things in particular I learned this semester which are extremely applicable both to my future life and ministry. Firstly, from the early chapters of the book I learned that ministry can be, and often is, a slow process. Unlike other endeavors, such as landscaping or painting, the results in ministry are not immediate. Truly patience is a virtue for those seeking to be an active participant in ministry. Secondly, the value of tolerance was reinforced in this course. In defining tolerance I do not mean this to be tolerance in regard to sin; in other words, tolerance is not meant to be interchangeable with “compromise”. Rather, it is meant, in this sense, tolerance in regard to other Christians who may have differing views about certain theological issues within Christianity. In reading about colonial America I was struck by stories of Roger Williams, James Madison, and a host of others about what intolerance within differing circles of Christianity does to the Body of Christ as a whole – it very much cripples it. Finally, and I feel most importantly, I learned the value of never forsaking the Bible for other doctrines. The infallible Word of God should, under no circumstances, ever be supplanted with social doctrines or cultural fads. The Bible should dictate society’s direction rather than the other way around. The more I read of our textbook the more evident this became. It seems that as more time passes society tends to steadily and continually stray farther and farther from biblical principles.
Firstly, let us address this issue of ministry as a slow and arduous process. Two examples come to mind: from the Old Testament, Jeremiah, and from the New Testament, Jesus. Jeremiah was one of Israel’s greatest prophets and yet, in his lifetime, he had no converts. Even God Himself, in the form of Jesus Christ, was rejected and crucified by his own “congregation”. I often am ready to charge into things, to convert the masses with my zeal for Jesus! Yet the Lord is settling me down. Let me provide some examples from the textbook. In talking about early European missionary efforts to the Indians, the book says, “Native American cultures and religions proved far more resilient and enduring than most missionaries ever imagined” (pg. 13). If these missionaries, like myself, did not have much patience then the Lord was certainly going to teach them in their efforts here in America. Perhaps put most poignantly by Jean de Brebeuf, his advice to prospective missionaries is to “not come to New France unless your soul burns with such a sacrificial fire to imitate Christ’s sufferings that no other vocation will satisfy you” (pg. 25). From these words, and from biblical examples, the Lord has initiated the process of instilling within me patience – of which I had very little! In preparing for ministry as an Army Chaplain, I am certainly going to need a healthy dose of patience. I will be responsible for ministering to Muslims, Jews, Protestants, Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus, various ethnic groups, and now, homosexuals – and all of this while being in combat! If ever someone needed to have patience it is certainly a military Chaplain.
Secondly, intolerance between Christians is extremely divisive. Not only does it drive people away from the Body of Christ but it also ruptures the Body internally as well. The best examples from the book are Roger Williams and James Madison. Roger Williams once said that “if history teaches us any lessons at all, it teaches us that force applied to religion creates not a purity of faith but a river of blood” (pg. 66). Williams, who was himself a Puritan minister, was excommunicated by the Puritan church because of his differing views. I want to make sure and make it a priority not to “major in the minors” in my life and ministry. Inevitably I will run across Christians who view the timing of the events of the rapture differently than I, who put emphasis on different things than I, who may “rub me the wrong way”, but are we both living for Jesus? Are we both trying to spread His gospel message and is out focus on Him alone? Do they profess the Bible to be infallible? If so, then let us minister together in one cause. I will likely never agree with every point of doctrine with another Christian, but it should not cause me to break fellowship. Using the example of James Madison from the book we see that, to those watching such fighting take place, the results can be disastrous. When Madison was a young man he witnessed some Baptist preachers jailed and mistreated simply because they were Baptists rather than Anglicans. After this, Madison was dedicated to condemning that “diabolical, hell-conceived principle of persecution” (pg. 46). Perhaps the best single quote of the disastrous effects of intolerance, even persecution, within the Body of Christ comes from John Adams. In describing how Adams felt about the issue, our book recalls that “where Christianity had gone astray was in its endless and barren disputing about theological issues, which did not alter the way in which women and men lived” (pg. 133). It is certainly of the upmost importance to treat everyone, especially Christians, as brothers and sisters – loving the person no matter the sin. I hope to always practice this aspect of Christianity in my future life and ministry.
Finally, and most importantly, I observed that as time passes, our American society has fallen farther and farther from Biblical mandates – in particular regarding God’s uncompromising views about sin. Using the example of the Episcopal Church this becomes evident. In colonial days the Episcopal Church absolutely dominated certain parts of the country, particularly Virginia. The book says that “The power of the Church of England [the Episcopal Church]…would be supreme in Virginia right up to the Revolution” (pg. 31). The doctrine of the Episcopal Church, which once dominated America, now is so compromised that the influence of the church has waned considerably. The Episcopal Church, like many others, has embraced homosexuals and some denominations even approve of abortions. The book describes issues like abortion and gay rights as a “religious war” (pg. 367), and with that I would have to agree. I have a hard time understanding how Christians – real, practicing Christians – can embrace things like and abortion and not condemn sin, like homosexuality for example. While our Founding Fathers never addressed these issues specifically, their religious culture and convictions were such that they were never endorsed. Our society, as a whole, seems to want to become not just an amoral society but even an immoral society. Christianity seems to be under attack because of its intolerance against sin and its uncompromising values. Tolerance has become a virtue and intolerance has become impedance to social progress. Yet, from our book I ask, were not uncompromising values one of the things which made our country so great in the first place? People admire those like Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, and why? It was because they had Christian values which they held to so dearly. They held to these values without because persecutory toward others – is this not what Jesus Himself practiced? Jesus loved everyone, but was uncompromising when it came to his Christian standards. He certainly corrected those who needed it, but did he “persecute” others? The answer is a resounding and obvious “no”. So this is the balance which, as I have learned from this course, I seek to achieve. I hope that in my future life, and ministry in particular, that I can be tolerant of other Christians, yet intolerant of all sin, especially my own; loving toward everyone, but not to the point where love and compromise become one blurred line and everything becomes acceptable. In short, I hope that the older I get the more I look and act like Jesus.
These three things – patience in ministry, tolerance in Christianity, and uncompromise in Christian values – I wish to make the cornerstone of my future ministry. These three things seem to be the most pertinent to me because they are things which I struggle with the most, on a personal level. I tend to be impatient, especially with those whom I am ministering to, I tend to be more intolerant than tolerant with other Christians, and it is hard for me to blend Christian love and Christian uncompromise with those outside of the faith. I am glad that I took this course, if for no other reason, because I do not think I would have been as aware of my own shortcomings in these vital areas of ministry. I hope to keep them always at the forefront of my mind so that when I come to the end of my life, my ministry will have been much more fruitful than if I had never been made aware of these issues.
NG, LR, NCU, USAR
My collection of personal papers written over the years