On Americanism and the Myth of Self

The more I think and study about this, the more I feel I need to say.

Or rather, the more I see confirmation of what others have said: things I am observing and seeing in all new ways the more I look at them.

Many Reformed theologians have spoken before about “Americanism.” I have used this term loosely to describe the dispensationalist branch of the Church that is prevalent in America. However, when these theologians, much smarter than me, use the term, they refer to an actual Americanization of the Church; that is, a nationalist spirit that has been growing since the Great Awakenings.

When first I realized the discrepancy between my definition and theirs, I at first thought I might need to find a new term. But the more I reflect on it, the more I realize that there is almost no practical distinction.

I’ve used “Americanism” to refer to the individualist, dispensationalist, emotionalism, and like “isms” that have come to define American Christianity in its various forms as the Baptists, the Pentecostals, Church of Christ to some extent, and other branches.

As a whole, Reformed theology has managed to stay aloft of the flood, but only just. Even the staunch defenders of tradition and the Word of God, such as Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Presbyterians have shown signs of falling as well.

Of course, the Roman church swings far to the other side, and I will not discuss them further unless necessary.

So how are these two definitions related? Let’s go back to the root concept: the Americanization of the Church.

The American dream has always been to be the master of your own destiny. We are told this was the primary motivation of the first settlers (it was, but not for the reasons we are told).

“Freedom” is the catchphrase pounded into our heads, day after day, along with “democracy.”

All of this hinges on the belief that it is not man who is sinful and broken, but his surroundings. It’s the thinking behind the Urban Renewal projects. “If we can just get people out of their situations, they’ll be fine.” As if removal from a bad situation will just fix sin.

The problem with that, however, is it inherently denies original sin and salvation. It’s not the circumstances that are sinful, it’s the human being.

This we can expect, because we know America is all about repression of the gospel (like any other sinful nation). The problem arises when we begin to see these same trends in the Church.

This has led to many, many problems. The concept of original sin has been lost, and I think this has directly led to the rejection of biblical paedofaith by many, even in the Reformed world.

Another big problem is the belief that you can “go it alone.” Of course, the Christian version of this is “go it alone with God.” That’s all you need.

Of course, that is never condoned in the Bible. Rather, we find that the Church, the Body of Christ and the Body of Believers, is where we find salvation. The Church is the instrument by which the Sacraments of Grace are administered.

Due to these weak views of the Church and Her power granted by Christ (the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church, not an individual), the Sacraments themselves have lost their meaning.

What does a covenant renewal service mean if there is only you and God? What is the point of a communion meal if you are the only participant? What is baptism if not induction into the family of God and the Life of the Trinity?

When we lose the significance of the Church, we immediately lose these relationships and meanings as well. When we start focusing on ourselves, and ignoring the big picture, almost every tenant of the Way of Life becomes meaningless. It’s just motions. And barely that.

We wonder why baptism has become so convoluted, or why the Eucharist is so rarely partaken of. All we have to do is look back at this principle of Self and the rejection of the Covenant Church (remember the Scottish Covenanters, who understood the significance of covenants and fought Rome and England for that belief).

I also strongly suspect that this has effects in the way we view ministry and the Great Commission. I’ve discussed this briefly in On Revolution and the Paradigm Shift, but I think there is much more to be said. However, that will have to wait for another time, as I’ve not fully worked through those issues as of now.

Worship and liturgy is another area that has taken quite a heavy hit. Again, I’ll discuss this in length at a later time. Suffice for now to say that worship is one of the most important things the Church can do…and She’s not doing it.

If we refuse to reform, Christianity in America will fall, and the Lord will choose another people or nation to bear His Light to the world. We’re not doing it, and we need to be. Satan does not tremble when Americanists gather together.

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