Monday, August 03, 2009

The President, church choice and being religious

Each Monday brings us a new article in USA Today's On Religion column and they are without exception entertaining to read and dead wrong in almost every possible way. Sometimes though they are right unintentionally, and the column this morning is a prime example of that. Written by Henry Brinton, pastor of Fairfax Presbyterian Church, Mr. Brinton ponders the political, social, religious, indeed cosmic impact of President Obama's choice of a church to attend in his post Why Obama's church choice matters. If there is anything that matters less than where President Obama attends church, I can't imagine what it is unless you stray into the territory of Jessica Simpson and Hannah Montana. Nevertheless, a careful reader will glean some choice tidbits.

The post is full of unintentional truths like this (emphasis added) :

Could an atheist be elected president? According to the Constitution, of course. But he (or she) would have to win over that 72% by demonstrating personal values such as faithfulness in marriage, honesty in business and service to the community. This would be a long, tough sales job because religion serves a handy shorthand substitute for personal values.

Yikes! Truer words have never been spoken, but I don't think he meant it in the way that I do. Church attendance in America which carries with it little personal cost or sacrifice is not any more accurate a gauge of a regenerate heart than attendance at a sporting event is a gauge of athletic prowess. But societally we see it as a measure of being a "moral" person if you exhibit external piety in the form of religious observation, i.e. "going to church". What confuses the issue is that genuinely regenerate Christians also attend, so we end up with a mixed bag of people in "church" and culturally there is little distinction between Christians and church-goers. This gets back to the misinterpretation of "the church" being equated to the institution of the "local church". So we have a whole society of people that seem to think that if you "go to church", you are a moral person unless you exhibit otherwise.

I did like this paragraph, not because there is an ounce of truth in it, but because it captures both the common misunderstanding of how Christian faith is expressed and a naive view of church life in America:

The best way for Obama to show that he is a bona fide Christian is to become actively involved in the life of a congregation — although realistically, the participation of an acting president would probably be limited to attending worship and an occasional church event.

Um, how is that different from most churchgoers who see attendance at the scheduled meeting on Sunday morning and occasionally showing up at "events" as active participation? In fact, that would qualify someone to be an active member in good standing in most churches, showing up on Sunday and occasionally at other events. I would also question whether that is indeed the "best way" for one to show that they are a "bona fide" Christian. I believe that Jesus said that people will know we are His disciples by our love for one another, not by our membership or attendance at a local church.

Anyway, enough of that. Interesting stuff especially if you are trying to get a real grasp of the blurred relationship between civil religion and Christianity.

Bookmark and Share


Steve Martin said...

The surest sign of faith in Christ is a sincere desire to worship.

Arthur Sido said...


"The surest sign of faith in Christ is a sincere desire to worship."

I am not sure that is true. How would you back that up from Scripture? How do you differentiate between sincere and insincere worship?

Steve Martin said...

When the Lord gets a hold of you, you repent and believe.

When you believe you want to keep His Commndements (even you fail to do so, regularly).

So we keep the Sabbath day holy and do not neglect to meet with one another (Hebrews 10:25)

We want to do this, to hear His Word, to receive His Sacraments and to encourage others. That is a sincere desire (I believe - as sincere as sinners can be)

If we go because we want to look good to others, or out of some desire to "be religious", that is insincere.