“We can throw our T.V’s in the STREET and our neighbors will just think we are nuts. It does not tell them ANYTHING about our faith in the gospel. The thing that Jesus said we would known by in the world is our LOVE.”
Looks of bewilderment stared back at me as the words left my mouth. I had just spoken against a well respected woman in our small group time at bible study. You could have heard a pin drop. Honestly, I was surprised at how quickly the words left my mouth- but there was a burning in the pit of my soul that could no longer sit and listen to the ridiculous lists of things we needed to do to in order to continue to pass off our “We are better than you” status as “good news” to the dying world around us. Gospel realities have a way of making a woman who was once afraid to open her mouth, without permission, stand boldly in the face of great opposition and not give one rip about the consequences. Frankly, I haven’t been able to stay silent since. The more damage that I see this kind of gospel confusion causes, the more compelled I am to call a thing what it is, out loud.
Pietism, moralism, and fundamentalism are pawned off as Christianity to the point where most people do not know the difference between the two. We’ve been trained to think that some Christians are just “better than others” on the spectrum. In some circles- you’re either a serious, committed Christian (this is determined by a list of externals) or you’re not a believer at all. The unending lists of things that the elite need to be doing and “keeping in check” are as long as they are ridiculous. Sure, I look at these things now and I laugh- but when I engage in the community around me, I am all too reminded of the things that I used to hold to- the ideals that oppressed me for so long- that had nothing to do with Jesus or the gospel. How often I would look inward for some sort of assurance, only to find none according to the lists and laws. What’s worse, is that any smidgen of “goodness” in me that I did find was just delusional self-righteousness that I had been taught to trust in. I didn’t understand that the whole point of God’s good and perfect law wasn’t a challenge to “give it my best shot, come hell or high water, and prove myself to God”, but a death sentence exposing my complete inability to be good and therefore throwing me upon the gospel.
In too many Christian circles, we’ve confused “conservative” with “converted”- or at least that’s our litmus test proof to validate this conversion. For instance, a tattoo or failing to dress like a soccer mom could call you into question immediately. Drink a beer when iced tea is readily available will earn you a “side-eye” and a “side-note” to not be taken seriously. When you’re constantly told to look at your outer appearance to be sure to not appear “worldly” (read: not conservative) the natural tendency is to begin looking at other people and making judgments about whether they are“worldly” or “christian”. It’s sad really, that we can be so well trained in this skill of judging others by looking at the “outside of the cup” and furthermore, to be proud of it. Elitists, pietists, moralists, and fundies alike will all tell you to limit your time with the unbelieving world. They will discourage true friendships with people who don’t look like you do. “Don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t chew…don’t hang with those who do” – some will even go so far as to say that an unbalanced amount of time with these “scoundrels of the earth” is a good indicator that we aren’t even truly believers ourselves. Isn’t it interesting that “Pharisee” actually means “separated one”? Is that not the very thing these modern day elitists are after? Making sure they are separated from the dirty rotten sinner and then patting themselves on the back for managing to not look like them?
Not looking like the world certainly cannot mean being squeaky clean moralists- otherwise the Pharisees wouldn’t have gotten their asses handed to them by Jesus for being white washed tombs. Jesus consistently called out the “good people” and embraced the sinner- which is the first thing that caught my attention when reading through the gospel accounts for myself.
“Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven…” – Jesus, to the Pharisee judging him for allowing a sinner to touch him. (Luke 7)
We need to know that outward appearances are no indicator of anything spiritual. You can go out and find the most well spoken, clean cut, do-gooder alive- whom you believe to be deserving of a “Christian of the year” award- only to find out he’s Mormon. The truth is, we are doing people are HUGE disservice by preaching pietism and moralism and pawning it off as the gospel. Frankly, we are handing people death sentences with this kind of confusion of what the gospel actually is. We are asking them to come up with a righteousness that is their own- and therefore asking them to reject God’s free gift in Christ. This is exactly what Paul was confronting in the book of Galatians. He calls salvation by works “another gospel” by which, anyone who preaches it, should be accursed and if it’s all the same to you, go right ahead and finish the job by emasculating yourself. Based upon his language, it’s safe to say that the preaching of salvation by law keeping made Paul livid.
Lately, I’ve been feeling that we aren’t livid enough that this is still an ongoing issue within the church. For the most part we ignore it or try to “be gracious” with people who preach it because “they just don’t get it yet and we should be patient”. There comes a time when speaking out about the dangers of pietism, moralism, and fundamentalism is in fact showing grace. It’s grace to the person who is teaching another gospel to be confronted with the truth and it’s certainly speaking grace to those bystanders who are confused. Here’s the honest truth: You can’t soften the blow of the gospel- and we need to stop pretending that we can. Paul and Jesus never once gave an underhanded soft pitch when it came to the self-righteous moralist bringing confusion to the message of the gospel. It was a fastball to the heart, every single time. Like Paul, we need to put forth a serious, blunt call to get back to the gospel message which has always been salvation through Jesus. Faith in Christ’s work for us alone. Pietism is not the gospel- and we must not try and sugar coat that message because hearts are at stake.
Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. Galatians 2:4-5