Sunday, October 31, 2010

Conservative Christian Worldview

There are a multitude of ways to understand Christianity. Each denomination has a distinctive sense of their focus, and every congregation has a different way of presenting their understanding of the basic truths of Christianity. In the United States, there are two foundational ways to understand the truth of Christianity, which, for convenience’s sake we will call “Conservative” and “Liberal”. The conservative approach to Christianity has been called “evangelical” and also “fundamentalist”. Although “evangelical” Christianity has existed since the early 1500s, the fundamentalist form of American evangelicalism has existed only since the beginning of the 20th century—although its roots do run deeper to the early reformation.

God as Creator
In the conservative Christian worldview, all things come from God, the spiritual entity that rightly rules all creation. There is a spiritual world that is greater than this one, and the principles of which determine our success in this world. God is the maker of all things, which he did in six 24-hour days at the beginning of creation.

Jesus as God
The conservative Christian boldly proclaims Jesus as God, by which he means a human who is equal with God in every way, including his essence. Jesus showed his authority over all things on earth, including the spirit world and nature, which indicated that he was the true maker of all these things. Many doubted Jesus proclamation of his true nature, and they eventually killed him. But the Father—the primary personage of God, along with Jesus and the Holy Spirit—rose Jesus from the dead, thus displaying Jesus’ true identity—God himself. One who wishes to receive God’s salvation—life in heaven—must believe that Jesus is God, attempt to live in the standards of God and be responsible to God’s church.

Jesus’ death as once-for-all sacrifice
Conservative Christians hold Jesus’ death to be the most significant event in all of history. They hold that God held all people under the judgment of death because of their sin, but Jesus provided a blood sacrifice through his death, which allowed God to offer forgiveness for sin instead of death. Anyone who believes in Jesus, then, is forgiven of all of their sins, no matter what they did.

Inerrant Bible
According to conservative Christians, the Old and New Testaments, sixty-six books, are the Bible. Although the Bible was written by human authors, God’s spirit directed every word in the Bible, and thus every single word is true. They understand the Bible to be interpreted literally, which means that everything in it must be understood as it would be understood by those who read it first, with allegorical sections interpreted as allegory and historical sections being taken as plain facts. The Bible expresses not only spiritual, moral and historic truth, but scientific truth as well.

The Moral Order
In the conservative worldview, it is held that God established an authoritative order. God established parents to rule over their families, governments to rule over their citizens, bosses to rule over their employees and God to rule over all. Some conservatives hold that men are also an authority over women. Bosses, parents and government leaders, therefore, are representatives of God to those under them. . This does not mean that human authorities cannot make mistakes, but the proper response to any authority over us is to submit and obey the authority. The authorities, on the other hand, are to offer proper moral guidance, punish those who disobey the proper authorities, and to provide the basic needs for those under their authority.

Family as Building Blocks of Society
Conservative Christians hold strongly to a conservative view of the family. This includes the authority of the husband over the family in the God-established moral order as well as the establishment and independence of the nuclear family. For this reason, they oppose homosexuality, abortion and secular education as things that break down the God-established order of the family.

Independence as maturity
In the conservative morality, the goal of the authority is to have every person under them be independent productive members of society. This requires the authority to provide training and punishment for each individual, until each of them are responsible in their own right. Responsibility, in this context, means that they are proper authorities over their own families, providing for them and needing no assistance from authorities to maintain their appropriate lifestyle; and that they are obedient to the requirements of their authorities without needing to be punished to correct them.

Sin as disobedience
For conservatives, sin has to do with one’s relation to the proper authority. Authorities establish law, which is an absolute standard and enforced by their authority. One sins if they disobey the authority above them, even if what the authority demands is unreasonable. Should one sin, the proper response of the sinner’s authority is to punish them, to train both them and everyone else under that authority that sin is unacceptable and will be punished.

Church as Upholder of Standard
The church, then, is the place where these conservative beliefs and morality are held as the standard and they constantly remind the people of God of these truths. This does not mean that the church in some way isn’t subversive. The conservatives hold that the world is constantly being led further and further into sin and subversive values. The church, in this case, is a beacon of light in the midst of darkness. One of the greatest purposes of the church, then, is to defend the people of God against the many forces attacking them—cults, secular humanism, communism, Islam and other religions.

An Anabaptist Critique of Conservative Christianity
The conservative evangelicals have much in their favor as a worldview. They uphold the Bible as the very highest standard, and Jesus as the very highest authority. They recognize that God’s standard may be different from the world’s in many ways and may not make sense to humans. They recognize that sin is very serious, and needs to be dealt with seriously.

However, for all of their proclamation of the Bible as God’s inerrant word, they typically have neglected what the Bible actually says quite seriously. Although they confess Jesus as their Lord, they will frequently disagree with Jesus and his teachings in the New Testament and maintain their own standards of morality instead. Jesus did not punish sin, although in the most extreme cases he did recommend separation from the church (John 8:1-11; Matthew 18:15-17). Rather Jesus showed mercy to the sinner and called them to repentance (John 12:47; Luke 5:32). Jesus recognized that authority came from God, but he also harshly criticized conservative authorities for not adhering to God’s standard and claimed that they should not be followed (Matthew 23:1-23).

Jesus actually came to earth to subvert the authorities of the world through the cross, and the “proper authorities” of this world are still acting in rebellion to Jesus’ way of the cross (Colossians 2:15; Acts 3:12-19; I Corinthians 2:6-8, 14). Jesus did not present submission as a way to uphold the authorities of this world, but as a way to subvert them and to establish God’s kingdom as the true authority over this world. In many ways, conservative Christianity is still holding to medieval feudal standards, and they see the church as being a part of this world. But the Bible says that God’s people are not of this world, but belong to a different nation, to live by a different standard, as established by Jesus, and to not just support the system as it stands (I Peter 2:4-12; Galatians 5:19-23).

Jesus death, while a sacrifice for our sins, is not limited to that. The cross isn’t something that happened a long time ago, and we can rely just on Jesus’ work. We are to continually be living out Jesus’ cross, and we are to be the people of the cross—the work of the cross is something the church continues to this very day (Colossians 1:14; John 12:24-26; Mark 8:34-38). It is through this work that we do with Jesus as our example that we gain the kingdom of God (Romans 8:16-17; Acts 14:22).

Ultimately, conservative Christianity, just like their theological forefathers, Luther and Calvin, is simply not biblical enough. For all their upholding of Jesus as the great authority, they do not give him enough authority as the One True Teacher, and we are servants of each other (Matthew 23:8-11). If one is truly going to enter God’s kingdom, we must be more righteous than the conservative evangelicals (Matthew 5:20; 23:22-23).
Jesus is not just God, but our Lord and example.

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