The long Gospel readings in my church on Palm Sunday offer an unflattering portrait of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus. Judas sells out his master for 30 pieces of silver and leaves the Last Supper to put his betrayal into action. Later that evening in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asks three of his followers to stay awake while he prays but must rouse them three times from sleep. When those who despise Jesus come to the Garden to arrest him, the disciples run away. Before the rooster crows, Peter denies three times that he knows Christ, cursing as he does so. At the crucifixion, only John, the youngest of the Twelve, stands at the foot of the cross.
Meanwhile, the throngs that had welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem with shouts of acclamation and palm branches have less than a week later given way to a mob calling for his blood.
Christians celebrating Easter this Sunday might want to reflect on these readings then look into a mirror and ask, “Do I stand with the truths taught by Christ?”
In his recently released Letter to the American Church, Eric Metaxas delivers a withering critique of Christianity in the United States particularly appropriate to this Easter season. A biographer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer—the theologian and pastor executed for his resistance to Nazism—Metaxas lays out the similarities between the abject weakness of the German church in opposing Hitler and the bowing and scraping diffidence shown by so many churches today to government and woke culture.
Both before and after the Nazis seized power, many German clergy, Protestant and Catholic, either remained silent or sought compromise with Hitler and his minions. Consequently, the German churches became toothless institutions with no real moral power to resist Nazism’s horrors. Of Bonhoeffer, Metaxas writes that he “knew the concessions the Church was making would be fatal in the years to come. He knew that in their ignorance, silence, inaction, and theological confusion, they were not only helping evil gain a foothold, but were lending evil a helping hand.”
Likewise, Metaxas argues, American Christianity has similarly compromised itself, with far fewer churches these days defending Biblical principles and morality. In their accommodation with the culture, the major denominations in particular have lost vast numbers of worshippers, but more significantly, they have jettisoned or ignored many of the ancient core beliefs of their faith. Like Esau, they have exchanged their inheritance for a mess of potage, adapting faith to the culture rather than bringing the culture to faith.
In his chapter “The Idol of Evangelism,” Metaxas asks this question of Christians: “On what issues are we being silent, and for what reasons?” Here and elsewhere, he underscores the failure of so many churches to engage with the raging cultural battles of our time like abortion, transgenderism, the sexual deviancy taught to our children in our schools, the ugly critical gender and race theories, and the ideologies that conflict with Christianity’s free will and human liberty. Like the Apostles in those Gospel readings, like the vast majority of German churchgoers of Bonhoeffer’s time, many Christians today are afraid to profess Christ and his teachings in the public square. Some fear persecution or becoming objects of scorn while the more docile just want to “go along to get along,” bending to the winds of culture.
Here is another question Metaxas puts to Christians at the end of Letter to the American Church: “Will we trust God who tells us that victory will be given into our hands and that we must fight with all we have? Or will we, like the twelve thousand German pastors, hang back and see which way the wind is blowing, and in our inaction guarantee that evil prevails?”
This season of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection should prompt Christians to seriously consider whether they will choose the hard or the easy path. Those decisions may well determine whether Christianity will survive as a force for truth, beauty, and goodness in this world.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons-Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 4.05 comments