America is a melting pot, not merely of people, but also of religion. The so called “soup stock” might have been Christianity but the current stew of national religion is a recipe that reads less like the ten commandments and a little more like this:
“Combine Buddhism, Unitarianism, Wicca, Catholicism, Islam, a hefty sprinkling of Eastern religions of all sorts, do not neglect Atheism, Agnosticism and a small selection of paganism and Satanism. Add a few dozen flavors of Protestant Christianity demonstrating clear preference for the more liberal flavors, Mix firmly with Moral Relativism. Test flavor and add a dash of sexual indulgence mixed equally throughout â€“ be certain to overcome and suppress the bolder flavor of pure Christianity. Pure Christianity does not mix well with other belief systems.”
America might have been founded on the basics of Christianity but that foundation is rapidly crumbling.
In a rather lengthy article Robert Bellah1 wrote about what he called “the civil religion of America” which is not at all evangelical, except for a few rapidly fading national preferences for Christianity in its weakest forms. The faith of America is a faith in America with only a casual hat tip to the god of your choice. Bellah writes:
“…American religion at least since the early nineteenth century has been predominantly activist, moralistic, and social rather than contemplative, theological, or innerly spiritual.”
In other words America has lost faith in the God of the Bible. Unless of course its expedient to claim faith. Look at politics and you will see both parties claiming God is on their side. It is considered common knowledge in both Republican and Democratic parties that President Bush was elected by Evangelical Christianity in 2004. Hence the rallying cry of the democratic party early on centered around trying to show America that the Democrats had religion too.
A 2003 poll by the Gallup organization revealed that 60% of Americans claim that God is very important in their lives.2 I have no doubt that America remains a largely religious society but it is not a religion of Christianity.
So how can we bring Christianity back to America? I think the Bible has the answer. It was to a religiously pluralistic society very much like our own in which Paul arrived in the book of Acts chapter 17:16-34. Please turn in your Bibles to that passage. I would love to delve the richness of the entire passage but this morning let’s just take an overview.
<read Acts 17:16-34 />
Start with “religious people”.
There are a number of people who are religious but not saved. Even here in Central Illinois there are people in church who we know, but we do not know if their faith in Jesus Christ is authentic. If you want a measure of authentic faith you can find it in the second chapter of 1 John. Anyone who claims to be a Christ-follower had better be walking like Jesus.
Do you know what that means? It means my friends that if you’re life does not display a trend of walking with Jesus than your faith may very well be worthless. It means the same thing for your neighbors and friends. Real faith will produce real results. If there’s no action in your faith, you’re not the real thing.
There are a good number of religious people who need to be introduced to the real Jesus. He’s not the license guy that gives you permission to sin all you want. He’s not the insurance salesman who grants fire insurance. He is Lord.
Paul went to the synagogue, the site of religiosity that most clearly looked and smelled like real faith. Jesus, you recall was a Jew who did Jewish things. He fulfilled the Jewish law and Saved Jews first.
Take Jesus to work
Notice in the seventeenth verse that Paul also went to the market place. He went where common everyday people were. Shop owners, shoppers, and lookers milled through the streets and he was there, finding an audience and sharing the gospel.
I know that everyone is not wired for confrontational evangelism. But make sure you’re not using that only as an excuse to make you feel better about cowing to fear. I don’t know if Paul went to work as a tent maker in Athens, it doesn’t read like he did, but he did take the gospel to where people were.
So where do YOU run into people? Some of you work, some of you are retired, some stay at home most of the time. But where do you run into people? That’s where YOU are supposed to take Jesus.
I want you to consider that if you work in a department with 4 other people and none of them are Christians “ God has entrusted you with their souls. If you work in a corporation of 10,000 employees and you’re one of them, God has entrusted some of those souls to you. If you’re the boss with two employees, God has given you trust of their souls.
I know that every single conversation with every person probably won’t include a gospel conversation. But opportunities do come. I’m not going to tell you how to do it, but may start with small conversations. Diligent personal prayer and being ready to give an answer are part of the answer. Basically you have to leave this building with the mindset that you are entering the mission field. And you have to do that everyday.
Look what happened when Paul took the gospel to the market place. He ran into some people who just wanted to hear a new idea. (v18) It doesn’t say that they fell to their knees and prayed a sinners prayer, they just wanted to know more. They invited him to speak at their clubhouse. And Paul Got ready.
Be consistent over the Long haul
Notice please the last portion of the 17th verse. Paul did this “Every day with those who happened to be present.” He was at Athens for awhile and maybe he did or did not have fruit. We’re not told. But he remained consistent.
Has anyone here ever worked and worked at something and you just don’t see the progress happening? It’s kind of like raising kids. You say the same thing 10,000 times and nothing appears to change, but somewhere around repetition 10,001 they start listening.
Every person you talk to is in a different place and has different life experiences. Some of them might be religious at heart, some might be Christians or not. Some however will be receptive.
Jesus told Peter, “I’m going to make you a fisherman that catches men.” If there’s one thing I know about fishing it’s that not every cast is successful. Even the pro’s go home empty handed from time to time. But catching the big one requires diligence.
Be consistent not only in your verbal presentation but in your personal presentation as well. And chances are good you’ll get the chance to explain salvation in more depth. When that happens, be ready to be clear.
I’m always impressed by Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill. He starts wonderfully by bringing them in, talking to them about their obvious religion. He mentions their idols and promises to clear up their understanding. Then he explains the gospel. When he gets to the resurrection, some of them shout him down. But there are a few who listen. They want to hear more. Others joined him and believed.
Paul didn’t water down his gospel. He knew how to explain it and he took the opportunities that came. Some believed him, others didn’t. The same thing happened to Jesus. So why do we get so upset when we finally muster the courage to mumble something about Jesus and nothing happens?
Not everyone believed Jesus, and not everyone is going to believe you. But you don’t have to be Billy Graham or Louis Palau and launch citywide crusades. God might call some people to that. But you just need to be you, bringing the gospel faithfully to where you are.
That’s how we are going to win America. Start where we are. Take Jesus to work, Be clear and consistent. Trust God with the results.
1Robert N. Bellah is Elliott Professor of Sociology Emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley. (http://hirr.hartsem.edu/Bellah/biography.html)
2How religion defines America By Dr Richard Land Downloaded from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/wtwtgod/3518221.stm on 11/02/06.