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David Platt is taking a swing at our long-established national ethos. The one that says citizens of every rank can achieve a “better, richer and happier life.”
The one that says with hard work and a can-do attitude you can buy the perfect home with a picket fence…two cars in the garage…and a monster flat screen television pinned to the living room wall.
Unfortunately, it’s an ethos at odds with Jesus Christ.
Nasty Side Effect of the American Dream
Originally quoted by James Truslow Adams back in 1931, “The American Dream” is rooted in the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence:
“all men are created equal…endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights including Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
It’s an idea that motivated immigrants of all stripes. That drives our bulldog entrepreneurial spirit. And feeds Olympic-sized dreams.
But it’s got a nasty side effect: conspicuous consumerism.
In other words, it breeds the sense that we are not people until we have the large house in an exclusive subdivision with a 28-foot boat parked at the marina.
In this version of the American dream, material goods and worldly success rule because it provide us with a sense of safety, satisfaction and security.
And unfortunately, Dr. Platt argues in his forthcoming book Radical: Taking Back Our Faith from the American Dream, it’s hijacked the American church.
The Tension Between Building and Mission Budgets
The American church is obsessed with budgets. Building campaigns. Entertainment value. Head count. Comfort level. Presidential hat tips.
A systemic problem considering the church wasn’t built to pamper us. It was built for something completely different.
Platt points out the tension between the American church and its original purpose with two headlines he saw recently in a local newspaper: One headline declared a church spent 1.5 million dollars to build a new sanctuary. On the same page that same church gave $5,000 to missions in the same year.
There’s something very disturbing about that picture. And it says something about us, too: Our American view of the gospel makes much of us.
Jesus’ gospel, on the other hand, makes much of God and his mandate to reach the lost and the poor.
It’s an obsession with missions.
Now, before you think Dr. Platt is a small-town pastor frustrated with larger churches and their enormous budgets and congregations that rival small cities–think again.
Platt is the pastor of Birmingham, Alabama’s 4,000 strong The Church. That means he’s coping with the same ills as most megachurch pastors.
And he’s finding it hard to live with this model, a model that is on a collision course with Jesus.
The Original Purpose of the Church
In Matthew 28:19 Jesus commanded his disciples to go and make disciples of all the nations.
One thing is clear: No one is exempt from this commandment. We are all responsible for spreading the gospel and training believers.
Look around a contemporary American church and what do you see? Not much training. Discipline. Or hardship.
Look at churches overseas, though, and you get quite a different picture. Here’s how Platt described one underground church he visited:
A woman who lived in the city and knew some English shared, “I have a television, and every once in a while I am able to get stations from the United States,” she said. “Some of these stations have church services on them. I see the preachers, and they are dressed in very nice clothes, and they are preaching in very nice buildings. Some of them even tell me that if I have faith, I too can have nice things.”
She paused before continuing. “When I come to our church meetings, I look around, and most of us are very poor, and we are meeting here at great risk to our lives.” The she looked at me and asked, “Does this mean we do not have enough faith?”
Sharp contrast wouldn’t you say? He paints another humbling picture of this contrast when he compares the American church with the history of the SS United States.
Short History of a Luxury Liner
The SS United States was originally designed to carry over 15,000 troops anywhere in the world at speeds of 40 miles per hour or faster.
It was the biggest and fastest combat ship of its kind. However, it never went into combat.
Instead, the Navy used it to carry presidents, heads of state and celebrities to enjoy 695 staterooms, 4 dining rooms, 3 bars, 2 theaters, 5 acres of open deck and heated pool while they sauntered across the Atlantic Ocean.
“Instead of a vessel used for battle during wartime, the SS United States became a means of indulgence for wealthy patrons who desired to coast peacefully across the Atlantic.”
Replace SS United States with the America church and you have a startlingly real picture of what we’ve become.
This is hot tub religion. Not what Jesus intended.
Jesus vs the American Dream
Jesus intended the church to prepare Christians for battle. And to actually send them into battle. It’s purpose is to mobilize a people to accomplish a mission.
However, we seem to have turned away from a sense of mission to share the gospel with pagans and alleviate suffering and adopted the gospel of American consumerism dominated by “self-advancement, self-esteem and self-sufficiency.”
It’s our bliss versus their pain.
But the church never should’ve gotten to this point. Long ago Jesus said “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
In essence, Jesus Christ and the American Dream are NOT compatible.
What Platt Isn’t Saying
Understand: This is not a call to abandon abundance. No–it’s a call to rethink how we use it. Scripture clearly teaches that God intends our plenty to supply the needs of others.
And it’s not a question of “What can we spare?” No. It’s a question of “What will it take?”
Over a billion people are headed to a Christless eternity. Over 28,000 children will die of starvation before the day ends.
The implications are huge: We don’t have time to waste our lives on the American Dream. Not if we all have been commanded to take this gospel to them.
In the end, Jesus said we will be betrayed. Tortured. Killed. This is the undeniable truth behind being a follower of Christ.
So if we want a safe, untroubled, comfortable life free from danger, then we should stay away from the biblical Jesus and continue to cling to the American Dream.