The Wussification of Christianity

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I’m borrowing the headline for today’s entry from comedian Brad Stine who blames much of American Christianity’s lack of attraction for men on the “Wussification of America.” His Sunday rant on FOX News reminded me of a passage in Romans that my wife and I read in our morning devotions.

In our modern, democratic, “sensitive” age we have crafted a church that for many people emphasizes love, acceptance, grace, mercy, and the more “friendly” aspects of the Bible and Jesus’ character. We talk a great deal about receiving Jesus as our Savior but don’t usually emphasize what he saved us from or another all-important aspect of Christ’s identity.

Sovereignty.

In “modern” Christianity we want to be sensitive to perceptions of those outside the church. We take our cue from the Apostle Paul who instructed us to be “all things” to all men (I Corinthians 9:22) and to maintain a good reputation with those outside the church (I Timothy 3:7), and not to give offense, unnecessarily. Yet there is another side to Christianity that in our day of modern sensibilities we often overlook. It is the side that emphasizes the supremacy of Jesus Christ above all else. It is the side that emphatically and unquestionably stands for truth, righteousness, and authority. It is the side that sometimes in the midst of over-sensibilities must stand up and say without reservation that there is only one God, and one truth, and one authority that is over and above all others.

When beginning his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul began with a greeting that if written today by a missionary or pastor might seem foolish and even dangerous considering whom he was writing too.

Roman Christians at the time of Paul’s writing were about to face a long season of persecution. Up until this time Roman Christians had experienced some troubles, and were considered a bit of a nuisance—but the full scale persecution was yet to come. However, the seeds were planted. Christians were often thought of as traitors to the Roman State. In the midst of this festering, one of modern sensibilities would think that the best course of action would be to write a non-threatening letter that emphasized love, personal character, and a cooperative and humble spirit. Paul certainly did that in Romans, but he did something in the first chapter that if done today, would get a missionary, pastor, or other writer in a lot of hot water with the so-called authorities around him. Look at what Paul did when writing to the Roman church.

First, Paul purposely raises Jesus’ authority as King when he mentions in verse three that Jesus was “born of a descendent of David according to the flesh.” The reference to being David’s descendent was a Jewish claim to kingship. What makes this interesting is that Jesus was crucified under Roman law for claiming to be a king, specifically of higher authority than Caesar. Make no mistake, this was a slap in the face to Roman authority that now had to deal regularly with Christians who prescribed kingship to a man they executed for treason.

In no other letter to any church does the Apostle Paul begin by emphasizes the kingship of Jesus. It is almost as if Paul is thumbing his nose at the authorities of the day by declaring within their own capital city that Jesus Christ is King. Under Roman law such a declaration was treason, punishable by death. But here, within the first three verses Paul draws a line of distinction saying from the very beginning that Jesus Christ is the highest authority. Paul certainly knew well that his letter, with such an emphasis, could put its receivers at grave risk—yet he did it anyway.

If that were not enough, Paul upped the ante, claiming an authority for himself that only the political or military authorities of his day would dare claim. When speaking about his authority as an apostle of Jesus, Paul says he has the power “To bring about the obedience of the faith among all the Gentiles.” His language was chosen very carefully, and specifically. Paul claimed to have authority to demand obedience, and by using the phrase, “Among all the Gentiles” he challenges the authority of Rome that ruled over his part of the world. We may not think in these terms today, or understand them completely in this way, but a Roman politician, familiar with Christianity, would understand the meaning behind Paul’s words—and he would call them treason.

There is a lesson here for the modern Christian who regards his Christianity with a sense of “nicety.” Christianity is not a democracy, or a rights movement, or even about making people good. Christianity is about the person of Jesus Christ and His supremacy over all. We “wussify” our faith when we cover over the harder truths of the Bible in lieu of the Jesus who loves, but doesn’t judge. In fact, He does both with equal fervor, right, and authority.

In the face of what would surely be a negative response, Paul asserted Jesus’ sovereignty above all rule and authority. In fact, Paul went on in chapter one to rip Roman cultural and religious practices to shreds—the cornerstone of their society, at each phase emphasizing the supreme sovereignty and rightness of Jesus Christ. He set a black and white tone for the rest of the letter of Romans, considered to be his most important in all of the New Testament.

The sovereignty of Jesus Christ means that He and He alone has absolute authority to command from our lives whatever He wishes. We have the comfort of knowing that He is a benevolent and loving king, but we can never forget, as Paul reminds us throughout Romans 1, that He is also wrathful against sin and those who “Suppress the truth in unrighteousness (1:18).”

It is important that we remember the niceties of the Christian faith. Love, grace, mercy, peace, and humility—they are all cornerstones of Jesus’ character, and should also be ours. But we must not forget that the same Savior who demonstrated love, gave grace, showed mercy, and encouraged humility was also the same Lord who demanded obedience. If He is the sovereign Lord above all earthly authority—Rome in the past or any nation today—then how much more should He be sovereign over those who call themselves by His name?

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