Yes, I am Angry.
“I do not have a faith in Jesus problem, I have a trust in people problem.” – anonymous.
Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner
When I was in seminary I would get two critiques on my sermons, when I was gentle and soft in my presentation I would get praised and when I was admonishing or let my passion get the best of me I would get comments about how great the kind and gentle Jonathan was. I appreciated that critique but I think there are times when, while we always need to speak the truth in love and out of abundance of love, when you need to let people see your angry, especially if that anger has been coming up in your times of quiet prayer not as a distraction from prayer, but because you are praying. In my prayer times I have increasingly discerned that the Spirt is angry, that there is a righteous zeal burning in the heart of God for His church which Jesus demonstrated in clearing the temple that is burning now against the Church in America.
I have told my congregation that if we do face massive persecution in the coming days it will be one that we brought upon ourselves, that it will be a direct result of our failure to live a life that is found in and obedient to Christ. What Eugene Peterson called: “The Jesus life in the Jesus Way.” That failure consists of the idolatry that is Christian Nationalism, our unwillingness to hold our leaders within the Church accountable for their actions, be it their sexual immorality, their racism or sexism, lust and greed. Not just failing to hold them accountable but failing to call them to repentance and even justifying their behavior and defending them. It will be a result of our failure to have a nuanced conversation about oppression and injustice and our complicity in oppression and injustice which God hates. It will be because instead of teaching people to do “All” that Jesus has commanded us we have taught them to do the opposite.
Before you crucify me, consider this statistic memorized you should, the level of trust the public has in Clergy right now is around 15%….15%….the amount of trust in Christians is probably around that area. You can bet after this past five years it has only dropped. Tell me, how are we going to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus and teach people to do all that He has commanded us to do if we are not trusted by the people we are trying to reach? When non-Christians see rioters storming the capitol with Jesus Saves signs and giant crosses are, they going to think: “Wow, this Jesus guy must be really great, I wonder what he saves me from?” No, they’re not going to want anything to do with this Jesus we speak of, they’re going to further cement an already deep hostility to Christianity that has formed because of the ways Christians have acted for the last century. When they hear Christians talk about how great and awesome and powerful God is, and then turn around and say that if the Republican party loses power Christianity is going to disappear, are they going to believe that we believe that God is who He says He is? No!
Added to all of this is the fact that this weekend our brothers and sisters of color had to make a decision, do we meet and face the threat of violence or do we protect our people and go back to remote services because of this threat of white nationalist and white supremacist violence that is accompanied by and even empowered by a Christian Nationalist Heresy rooted in Idolatry and fear. It should not be lost on us that this day comes as we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. The great Civil Rights leader who so many of us quote but know nothing about or the context of his quotes. In allowing this, in not speaking out against all of this, we are violating scripture by allowing the “dividing wall of hostility which Christ tore down in his flesh, expressed through ordinances” to be rebuilt. In the context of the book of Ephesians that is both a wall between us and God and a wall between us and one another. Do you think people hear us making overtures to unity and love and peace and then see us fighting and involving ourselves in white supremacist violence turns people to the Gospel? Do you think the secular world wants anything to do with us? No! By no means.
Why, because what we do in this life and what we say matters, how we act in the public square matters. There are cliches that have developed like: “you are the only bible some people are ever going to read” because they are true, the only encounter some might have with the Gospel in their life is you and your life. But if you share the Gospel with them and then contradict it with Christianity+ you are going to drive them away, or, you will not have led them to saving faith, but deceptive destruction. So when we excuse the sins of our leaders in the Church and otherwise, when we fail to hold them accountable for their actions and call them to repentance and if we participate in those same sins unapologetically then why should we be surprised when chastisement comes for those who claim the name of Jesus. We do not believe in Cheap Grace, we believe in a bible that tells us that “If you are in him, you will keep his commandments” (1 John 2:1-6), where there is to be unfalsifiable evidence that you believe and have moved from in the world, to in Christ.
What the Church in this country is doing is only hastening our demise, we are in a free fall, as attendance plummets and Churches close, we find ourselves unable or ill-equipped to deal with the reasons why. We are likely headed to some kind of real persecution, not the cultural exclusion that we claimed to be experiencing during “The Culture Wars” (read: we were not being persecuted) but actual persecution similar to what Muslim’s in this country have faced since 9/11 where Churches are wiretapped to make sure they are not planning sectarian violence in name of an armed crusade. This is the kind of persecution a friend of mine in the military envisioned for the church going forward on a recent phone call. Not because our churches are places where we live a “Called out” life as the Bible shows us, but because we are involved in violent behavior designed to overthrow the government. No matter what this persecution looks like, the church is about to face a reckoning for our adherence to “Christianity+.” The Pandemic has already started this winnowing process and it is only set to continue as the secular forces in this nation turn against us and we come under judgment. I know this is an unpopular opinion, but this is where we have come, this is what Church History tells us is the next step in our journey as the Church in America when compared to the Church in Russia, in Germany, in England and everywhere Christian Nationalism has arisen.
In the by-line of this article, I used a quote from a Tweet that I came across a few weeks ago. I used it because it resonates with me. This has not been a crisis of faith for me, if anything, it has driven me deeper into the scriptures, deeper into my prayer life and deeper in Jesus. Similar to how the rise of Liberal Theology at Tubingen in the 1820’s and 30’s deepened the faith of the young Philip Schaff as he sat in classes with E.F. Baur. I have been forced to learn what Christ taught us about what the Jesus way is and how that is supposed to be lived out in our daily lives. This time has also helped me refine my historiographical method as I study History for how this has played out when it has been tried. To put it mildly, my credentials have been put to good use the last two years, thank you Gordon-Conwell.
But while my faith in Christ has been deepened, my trust in the people who were once instrumental in shaping that faith has been shaken. I have watched as, one by one, Evangelical Leaders have either bought into the lie or thrown their support behind these movements instead of calling their people to repent and return to Christ and Christ alone. I have watched as these people who were held up as great leaders to me as a kid have prostrated themselves before the god of earthly power and prestige and abandoned the people in the pews to be devoured by wolves. Which is exactly what I was concerned would happen way back in 2015, and it angers me that I am vindicated in what I wrote back then. I feel betrayed and abandoned and lied to and yes, I plan on working towards forgiveness and trying hard not to sin in my anger, it is burning and I am tired of all of this.
Church let me tell you something, the secular world may not be better than this, but the Church certainly should be. In fact, the blueprint has been set forward for us in scripture, along with the means, to being better, and instead of living out that radical third way we have openly embraced the ways and weapons of this world. Yes, we should expect a reckoning and we do not need revival, we need reformation that is rooted in the Word and Spirit of God. That is the only way forward for the Church and persecution may very well bring that about, as a necessity.
May God have mercy on all of our souls and call us back to himself.
Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center