The Crucial Distinction and Our Choice


American Christianity lives now in a time of upheaval and crisis. The gospel of Jesus Christ is being perverted by a “prosperity gospel” and by so-called Christian Nationalism which is, more accurately, angry and resentful cultural whiteness growing increasingly belligerent. The traditional Protestant churches (Lutheran, Reformed, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc.) are fading. Fewer and fewer Americans identify themselves as Christian, and I find that being identified to newly met people as a Christian minister more and more frequently draws negative reactions ranging from suspicion and unease to visible disgust and even open hostility. I understand such reactions, unpleasant as they are to experience. When I read some of the horrid judgments pronounced by ministers upon large numbers of our fellow human beings, I can hardly blame strangers who find out I am, in their minds, one of that type.

I want to make a distinction but not one simply between tolerant and intolerant, respectful and rude, kindly and cruel, or magnanimous and judgmental. The needed distinction goes far deeper than differences in personality and temperament. The distinction is between Bible and Bible, gospel and gospel, Christianity and Christianity, and even between Christ and Christ.

Today on the church’s ecumenical calendar is the Fifth Sunday of Lent. Eleven years ago I preached my final sermon as pastor of a church for the Sunday so designated. Today I reread it, and my own sermon nudged me to re-present it. The crisis in American Christianity was smoldering already those eleven years ago, but by now the anger and resentment have been stoked and fanned into open flames. If we are to be the church of Jesus Christ and represent him faithfully to people, we have choices to make, and those choices strike to the very heart of the matter.

Here is the sermon. I invite you to click the link on the word “sermon” and see what you make of “First Things First.”

11 Comments on “The Crucial Distinction and Our Choice

  1. Bob podstawski

    Brilliant take on the meanings of the Bible Dick. 11 arduous years have passed and the vindictive bible seems to be the front runner in today’s America. Being spiritual but not religious, I don’t understand all the evil that is perpetrated by the hand of god or the will of Jesus according to those who justify their thoughts and behavior as such. One can only hope that love, compassion and common sense somehow prevail.
    Tnx for the thoughts Rev.

    1. Dick Sindall Post author

      Thanks, Bob. Authoritarian, triumphant Christianity has had the upper hand throughout most of church history. Humble, compassionate, servant Christianity has always survived but has always been in the minority and has been, as Martin Luther put it, “not much loved.” Of course, authoritarian Christianity has always been more useful to people seeking or maintaining power.

  2. Vicki P Burkins

    This should be required of everyone to read. However, I am sad when I realize how many will not understand. I just read the beginning of the chapter on citizenship in “The 1619 Project.” After 50 years, the black people still do not know if they will be considered citizens for many reasons, but love is not being considered. How I feel about your serman and this book are overlapping in my mind. Thank you for your wonderful thoughts.

    1. Dick Sindall Post author

      Thanks, Vicki. I can easily see how the sermon and book could overlap. I’m actually encouraged by how many people do understand. Some of the comments in LPN are horrible, but also many are insightful and encouraging.

  3. Joyce Smith

    Well put. I can’t help but be fearful of those who use the Bible, or any writings from other religious beliefs, to justify the vindictive and hateful views they spew daily. I believe love will conquer all but it may come slowly and with a price.

    1. Dick Sindall Post author

      I suspect you mean this: “When judgment is their truth,
      people turn cruel. They view compassion as weakness. They calcify knowledge of God into
      standards by which to evaluate and judge. They worship norms and learn to feel nothing but
      disgust for people who do not measure up to those norms.” Yes, I recall hearing on TV a woman at our southern border screaming that she did not want to feel compassion for those people (hoping to enter the U.S.). We are indeed living in such a time, but not entirely. There is a serious conflict among and even within people, including many who identify themselves as Christians.

  4. Yvonne Custis

    I remember that sermon. So many people have been led to believe the harsh, judgmental way is the right way. Glad for a chance to hear it again.
    God bless.

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