“Write what you know” is common advice to aspiring writers.
Part of what I know is Evangelicalism as a religious culture, at least up until a few decades ago. And Evangelicalism’s sickness has been on display this past week.
“‘Cheer me or die’ says Cruz to swarthy pseudo-Christians.” That would have been a nice headline for the Washington Free Beacon, don’t you think?
When Sen. Ted Cruz goes to a conference of persecuted Middle East Christians (“The In Defense of Christians Summit” – that context is important) and says “if you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you,” he has said in effect “if you won’t cheer the assertions I just made to provoke you, the Islamists can behead you for all I care.”
Doubt me? Here’s the transcript:
Our purpose here tonight is to highlight a terrible injustice. A humanitarian crisis. Christians, are being systematically exterminated. In 1948, Jews throughout the Middle East faced murder and extermination and fled to the nation of Israel. And today, Christians have no greater ally than the Jewish state. [mixed applause, boos, “come on”] Let me say this, those who hate Israel, hates America. And those who hate Jews, hate Christians. And if this room will not recognize that, then my heart weeps, that the men and women here will not stand in solidarity with Jews and Christians alike who are persecuted by radicals [applause] who seek to — [applause]. If you hate the Jewish people you are not reflecting the teachings of Christ [applause]. And the very same people who persecute and murder Christians right now, who crucify Christians and behead Children are the very same people who target and murder Jews for their faith for the very same reason. [applause, murmering, objections]. I will say this. I am saddened [shouting].
[IDC President Toufic Baaklini comes out to urge respect]
I will say this, I am saddened, to see that some here, not all but some here, are so consumed with hate [no, boos], that they cannot enjoy [unintelligible, boos]. I will say this, if you will not stand with Israel and the Jews, then I will not stand with you. Thank you, and God bless. [boos]
What could possess a supposed Christian to consign his religious kin to the infidel’s sword?
Dispensationalism (the novel heresy behind Cruz’s remarks) was very prominent in my rejection of departure from mainstream Evangelicalism 35+ years ago. That’s not meant to praise my perceptiveness. It just happened to be the error that caught my eye at the time Even then, it was incorrigibly embedded in Evangelicalism as I knew it, so rather than beat my head against a wall, I moved on when I found a Christian alternative (because ceasing to be Christian was and remains unthinkable to me).
Dispensationalist heresy still is incorrigibly embedded in Evangelicalism. It’s behind the “Left Behind” books and movie as well as behind Ted Cruz (to the extent that sheer venal and cynical ambition fails as a full explanation of Cruz – but even then, Dispensationalism is behind him in that sense that it’s the heresy of the base he’s appealing to).
That incorrigibility has come powerfully and perversely to the attention of Fr. Josiah Trenham in Southern California, recently (this sermon was delivered before the Cruz kerfuffle):
I would like very much this morning to preach on the epistle lesson from St. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. I’m not going to, but I really would like to because of an affirmation that he makes in that epistle lesson, where he says that circumcision and uncircumcision is nothing, but a new creation. Those who walk by this rule, peace be upon them, even the Israel of God. I would like to preach on that because I have had continually great grief in witnessing the heresy and error that animates so much western Christianity about exactly what “the Israel of God” is.
Right now, I’m collaborating with a number of Protestant pastors trying to raise awareness of the conflict that Christians are facing in the Middle East. And I can’t tell you how much of a grief it is to me to constantly be fighting this never-dying Zionism, where Christian men who are clergymen think that “the Israel of God” are unbelieving Jews!
That is absolute, complete nonsense! … Yet there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of pastors in this nation [N.B.: make that tens of thousands, and possibly hundreds of thousands, Fr. Josiah] who are trying to convince us that the Jews are the Israel of God …
The Israel of God is the Church. And that is not a new doctrine. I’ve been fighting with my friends trying to convince them to be Christians. Not even their own forefathers believed this nonsense. No Protestant Reformers taught that nonsense. None! Let alone Catholics. Let alone Orthodoxy. I’ve been trying to convince them, and push them, to accept the witness of Christians on this point. I just can’t succeed.
Every promise given to Abraham and given to the people of the Jews in the Old Testament is fulfilled in the Church. Every one. And the Church has inherited all the promises of the old Covenant. That is not, as my friends are trying to tell me, a new teaching called “super-successionism” (sic). That is the teaching of the Bible and of the Church for all ages.
(Bold and hyperlinks added; italics in original sermon inflection.)
I perhaps need to connect the dots here for readers unfamiliar with Dispensationalism. There is an almost universal tendency in it not only to hold that God has a different sort of salvific plan for the Jews than for Gentiles, but to identify the modern nation state of Israel as a key part of that plan and to interpret some scriptures as meaning, in effect, that if we are not servile to the will of that nation state’s government, God will curse us and fiercely punish us. “I will bless them that bless you and curse them that curse you” is the locus classicus.
Yeah, that’s pretty lame, but nothing about Dispensationalism isn’t pretty lame. It takes a strong delusion to believe it. Let me put it in the terms I spoke to myself 35+ years ago (after reading the original edition of this wonderful book): “What a relief! I’ve known in my gut that this “Rapture” and literal 1,000 year earthly millennium stuff stretches the Bible beyond the breaking point and distracts from more important things, but I didn’t know there was a more historic alternative. I’m out of here for saner pastures!”
Many other oddities of The Evangelical Tribe I did not recognize fully.
I did recognize that Evangelical worship was shallow and man-centered, but that recognition was on the back burner (and I thought I could deal with it case-by-case in whatever church I found myself) when dispensationalism broke the Evangelical deal.
But I don’t think I had at all noticed that the worship was not just man-centered, but eroticized. The sort of spectacle described at the linked article is repeated thousands of times every Sunday, in Churches mega and modest. It is not worship any more than dropping acid or amphetamines on Sunday morning is “a worship experience.”
Real worship differs from that not in degree but in kind. Real worship isn’t about us.
More than 17 years ago now, I left the counterfeit behind (there was an 18 year waystation between Evangelicalism and Orthodoxy), 100%. Yes, 100%. It’s not that the Orthodox Church has less of that. It has absolutely none of that. Zero. Zip. Zilch.
Don’t believe me? Come for a year and see.
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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)