The View From 1776
Friday, August 01, 2008
The Babylonian Captivity of the Christian Church
Too many Christians have sold their souls to the secular political state.
From the early days of the Roman Catholic Church, when the temporal power of the Western Roman Empire collapsed in the 6th century, there has been continual tension in Christianity between the pull of political power and the essentiality of personal spirituality.
Jesus called us to follow him and reminded us that the two greatest commandments are to love the Lord God alone with all our strength and to love our fellow humans as we love ourselves. Too often the church has been tempted to ally itself with the prevailing political power to enforce secular laws that it sees as necessary for Christian life.
Since the late 19th century the church in the United States has drifted to the political left under the rubric of the Social Gospel, envisioning a Christianity in which the needs of people are strictly material in nature: equality of income, food, clothing, shelter, education, and medical care. Advocates of the Social Gospel openly proclaimed that the true meaning of Christianity was to be found in socialism, an atheistic, secular religion that preaches earthly salvation through the collectivized political state.
The result is that the Social Gospel, pivoting off the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, employs the political state to suppress the spiritual individualism that Christ enjoined us to follow. Particularly since the 1960s in the United States, Progressivism’s Social Gospel has become hostile to the spiritual aspect of Christianity.
We see it on all sides, from our colleges and universities, the ACLU, and Planned Parenthood, to our increasingly socialized Federal and state governments. Legalized abortion and no-fault divorce have been followed by upsurges in marital infidelity and sexual promiscuity, soaring rates of illegitimate births, single-parent families, and surging crime. Liberalizing the socialistic welfare state to make handouts entitlements, without tests of means or merit, has turned people away from the Christian imperative of helping others, one-on-one.
It has become too easy to be personally indifferent to hardship when people have come to believe that only the political state can help the needy and the suffering. In fact, in the name of abortion rights and separation of church and state, governments are forcing churches to shut down hospitals, schools, orphanages, and adoption agencies.
Too many of the mainline Protestant churches have become little more than ethical culture societies that, ignoring the specific teachings of the Bible, take their gospel from the pages of the New York Times and the political agenda of liberal Republicans and Democrat/Socialists.
Far from using the political state to further the aims of Jesus’s teachings, the old, mainline Christianity, submerged in the Social Gospel, has been captured by the socialized political state. Mainline Christianity has been uprooted and transported to the Bible’s figurative realm of sin, “the great whore Babylon,” the triumphal worship of the false gods of materiality.
As the prophets of the Old Testament warned the Israelites, dishonoring God by worshipping false idols would invite retribution. It came in 586 BC, when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonian Empire and a substantial part of its population were exiled to the literal Babylon.
For background on the Christian tension between living in the world, but not being of the world, read Living Between the Now and the Not Yet, by Richard John Neuhaus.