The Church and Ideology By Jeff Olson
When the Church was born through Jesus Christ, He gave her an identity and a mission; a mission which He knew would be a challenge and be challenged from the get-go. He also knew then that the world would continue to compete with the Church for the heart and soul of man and do so through the wily schemes of Satan (Ephesians 6:11). This challenge has not changed, but it does come through more avenues than ever before, many of which fall into some form of ideology.
Ideology has been defined in various ways, but mostly in political terms. However, it all boils down to a different kind of faith; a faith in man’s reason and ability to have all the answers to the fundamental questions and problems of life; to be the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong and truth and justice. Ideology’s forms come under many names, but range from extreme nationalism to various derivatives and degrees of socialism and modern liberalism – or a combination thereof.
Ideology’s abstract nature has unfortunately too often made it subject to the desires and ambitions of those who endeavor to substitute secular doctrines and goals for religious doctrines and goals on a national scale, and in some nations to the point of totalitarianism and tyranny. Such was the case with Nazis Germany and communist Russia. Ideology places man at the center of the universe and does not recognize his imperfection and imperfectibility in this life. In other words, it does not account for the human condition – original sin. As such, ideology leaves little to no room for humanity, humility nor an appreciation of the lessons of history and our vulnerability for repeating the hard, tragic and costly ones. Ideology inverts Biblical doctrine in that God is not God, rather the state is god. It denies the Christian doctrine of salvation through grace, substituting collective salvation by the state here on earth and even using religious terminology to make it sound more innocuous and acceptable. Ideologues believe that human nature and human society may be improved to the point of perfection by applying the techniques of physical and biological sciences to the governance of men. Today, in America, we see this attempt at creating a celestial paradise here on earth under various labels, but most have in common a belief in moral relativism. Because religion is man’s attempt to reach God and Christianity is God’s attempt to reach man, the Church and ideology are antithetical to one another. Lack of this distinction has lead to a misunderstanding of the Church’s identity as well as a dilution of her effectiveness in her missions of evangelism and of affecting our society and culture in a powerful way for Jesus Christ.
In today’s postmodern society, we no longer see much reference or influence of Judeo/Christian core values or the lessons of history in many of our traditional institutions and forums of public and political discourse. Those values and lessons are too often considered outmoded and archaic, with little or no relevance to the current “progressive,” politically-correct counterculture. When ideology begins to replace Biblical truth as the basis for guiding a society; when a society becomes so paralyzed and polarized over opinions and ideas without a transcendent frame of reference or an overarching standard for individual freedom and the common good, then that society unravels because there is no cohesive bond, no common value system holding it together. This divisiveness is seen profusely in the cultural tribalism and identity politics so prevalent in America today. We cannot continue on this course without losing our nation (Mark 3:25).
By rejecting the moral absolutes of the Bible and holding to a belief that there is no such thing as a truth beyond what each person defines for himself or herself, then the opportunities for reasoned, principled discourse are minimized. Thus, all that is left is differing opinions from which people disagree and clash and never arrive at a true rational consensus. This is becoming more commonplace today, as people resort to personal disparagement as a replacement for honest and frank debate, mostly because of ignorance and arrogance. It’s much easier to call someone a bigot or racist than to take the time to have a civil discussion and to courteously and humbly listen and consider another’s viewpoint. This is happening all about us, all the way from family, church, society, in many of our institutions of higher learning, and especially at our highest levels of government where lack of compromise and progress are seriously harming our country.
As Christians, we should be among the first to recognize ideology and see it for what it is and understand that it is intended to reconstruct and perfect society and human nature and thus is hostile to enduring order and justice and freedom. It seeks to overthrow the spiritual and moral and social order, substituting human schemes and methods for revealed and transcendent truth. Therefore, the ultimate consequence is not the betterment of the people but power and control over them.
Historically, many ideologies developed from an economic and political doctrine at a time when the spiritual vitality and the influence of churches were in decline. It appears that history may be repeating itself. Before the Church can successfully battle ideology and change the culture, she must recover her own identity and culture through re-discovering her priorities and chief mission as expressed in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). However, we must also remember that Christianity is all inclusive in its application to every aspect of our lives. Through living a Christian worldview, all of life will be under the lordship of Jesus Christ thus equipping each of us to discern truth and engage spiritually and boldly (Ephesians 6:12-17) in the battles at hand, including those that are cultural and political.