Christian Piety is rooted in the fear of God from the heart, and a commitment to the expansion of God’s Kingdom on earth though evangelism and discipleship. The Kingdom of God is the arena wherever God rules, whether it is in the church, in the family, in the board room, or in the town hall. On the other hand, Christian Pietism restricts God’s rule to the heart.
Since the conversion of Constantine and the later events surrounding the Reformation, the West has been identified as Christian. This includes continental Europe, the British Isles, and America. The influence of Christianity was strong in all spheres of life including the arts, science, economics, family life, and civil government. Although the West was far from perfect, the Bible had a consequential impact on all of life.
Islam was a false religion. Muslims lived in the Middle East and Christians lived in the West. It was an assumption that Islam and Christianity could not coexist within the same national borders, but there was no prohibition against promoting economic exchanges that might serve the interests of both parties. Muslims were welcome to enjoy the fruits of Christianity, but they could not erect houses of worship in a Christian land. To allow this was viewed as a betrayal of the Christian Faith. It was considered as a precursor to religious civil wars.
Now, in the 21st Century Islam is moving westward and Christianity is dying in the West. The West has been secularized and a new Tower of Babel is arising. Contrary to the first Tower, language is only a minimal barrier and thus the educational elite through our politicians are trying to build a new pluralistic, multi-cultural (multi-religious) kingdom that will replace the old kingdom built on the principles of the Bible.
Regardless of the reported “no-go” zones in France, and the Muslim ghettos in England where Sharia Law is practiced, we are told by our own secular high-priests that peace and unity are just within our grasp (until there is a radical terrorist attack). Only the Islamic militants (and perhaps evangelical Christians) are a threat to building another tower of Babel.
How did this all happen so quickly? Consider two words—Christian Pietism! Christian Pietism is not the same as Christian Piety. Christian Piety is rooted in the fear of God from the heart, and a commitment to the expansion of God’s Kingdom on earth though evangelism and discipleship. The Kingdom of God is the arena wherever God rules, whether it is in the church, in the family, in the board room, or in the town hall. On the other hand, Christian Pietism restricts God’s rule to the heart. It identifies the kingdom with the church. It is motivated by a martyr-motif, and believes that rulers outside the church are only obligated to rule by some ethereal definition of “natural law.” It is salt without its savor.
A few characteristics of Christian Pietism can be identified by the following misconceptions:
- Christianity is a heart-religion. Indeed, all issues flow from the heart, but the heart is not the ultimate locale of the fullness of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God begins in the heart but it permeates every area of life.
- Worship is our primary responsibility. Worship is indeed very important, but the first commandment given to man by God was to multiply and subdue the earth (the earth he had just created). We are to work six days and to worship one.
- Soul-wining defines the purpose of the church. Soul-wining is a means to an end but not the end itself. In the Great Commission, following baptism, we are commanded to disciple the nations and teach them to obey the laws of God.
- We must not resist the civil magistrate. In Romans 13, we are told to be in submission to rulers since they are ordained by God. However, God’s decretive will does not negate his revealed will. This text clearly teaches that civil rulers are ministers of God, and therefore we are to hold them responsible to administer God’s law. Our patriot American forefathers understood the moral and legal responsibility of kings to his subjects.
- The martyr-motif is normative for the Christian life. The New Testament church in seed form as it expanded in the culture of pagan Rome was greatly persecuted, and this has been made normative for all generations. We ignore the fact that the civil government of Old Covenant Israel provides a pattern for a Christian nation where the laws of the Christian faith provide for peace, godly justice, and mercy for all men. Our freedom in Christ is not rooted in the First Amendment or in pragmatic and sociological arguments, but in God’s law.
America’s prominence will come and go like all great nations do. It saddens me that part of its demise will be laid at the feet of pietistic Christianity.
Larry E. Ball is a Honorably Retired Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is now a CPA. He lives in Kingsport, Tennessee.