How American was Jesus?

This is a follow up post to yesterday’s book review of Steeple Envy by Vic Cuccia.

Vic and I come from different branches of American Christianity.  By this I mean that I have spent my lifetime within the mainline denomination that is The United Methodist Church.

Steeple Envy, like Chasing Francis (a book I have previously reviewed her) challenges us denominational folks in a different way.  I’ll try to be as succinct as possible.  On behalf of mainline folk:

We understand there are issues with institutional Christianity.  We agree that there are many ways that the church in America has left her first love and followed after success defined in terms of numbers (of decisions, dollars, membership, etc.)

But when we hear your stories of how your disillusionment leads you to leave one free-standing, unaccountable, independent (what “non-denominational” really means) and simply start another, we believe you are remaining disconnected from a very important part of the Christian tradition.

Your pattern of recognizing faults or weaknesses in a church, your willingness to name them, and your subsequent separation from said churches we admire. Honestly, sometimes some of us wish it were so simple within our denominations. What we don’t grasp, though, is how that works within the bigger picture of the Church.

Here is where I think your pattern is more American than Christian.  The US was founded (primarily) upon the Enlightenment principle of the autonomous individual.   This recognized within each person all that would be needed to be a whole, complete, successful person.

The ‘autonomous individual,’ however, is not a biblical notion, nor even an historically Christian one.  Humans need relationships – both with God and with other humans.  In healthy relationships, accountability functions both directions and thus traditions are created.

Many of us seek the same kinds of change of focus and direction in our churches as you do, but feel that biblical models of relationship and accountability limit our freedom to move down the street and hang our own shingle and thereby start a new church.

Thank you for what you bring to the table. I hope and pray that we will step up and offer what needs to be offered to redirect more of the Church in America back towards the Kingdom.

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