Written by Jonah Albrecht / November 2017
Series Introduction: The 4 -isms of American Christianity is a series based on the book Has American Christianity Failed? by Bryan Wolfmueller. In this book, Wolfmueller shows how many Christian churches in America places the focus on the internal testimony of man vs the external testimony of the Scriptures. The more you look at American Christianity, you see how so often it falls into the pendulum of pride and despair.
As a line judge for volleyball, I see great enthusiasm every game ranging from the players to the fans. The fans have enthusiasm in the success of the team, and the team has enthusiasm in each other after a great play. There is another type of enthusiasm that is a staple in American Christianity. This enthusiasm is different than what you see on the volleyball court in that this enthusiasm promotes the internal testimony of God over the external testimony of the Scriptures. The enthusiasm of American Christianity is centered in the actions that happen inside of a person.
American Christianity loves to put all activity of God on the inside. Yes, God does work our hearts, but the enthusiast goes beyond that. Unless the Spirit confirms a teaching or a physical thing in their heart, they believe it does not contain any spiritual benefit. We hear God speaking in the Scriptures through our pastors and teachers. The enthusiast hears God speaking in their hearts.
The problem with this idea of all activity inside our hearts is that we have a sinful heart. “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it (Jeremiah 17:9)?” From the moment sin entered the world, our hearts were corrupted. Adam and Eve went from having the power to not sin to total obedience to sin. That is what all mankind inherited, slavery to sin. Our wills had no ability to not sin. The actions of American Christianity – Revivalism, Pietism, and Mysticism could not happen in our hearts because our hearts knew no good.
According to the Bible, God uses plenty of outside things to show our salvation. Consider Baptism. According to Enthusiasm, Baptism can’t save you because it is a physical thing that happens outside your heart. But in fact, God says it does save you! “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21).” God gives us the Scriptures, The Lord’s Supper, your Baptism as evidence of your salvation. Relying on our hearts to see, hear, or feel our salvation only sends us into the pendulum of pride and despair. Either you feel you have done enough for your salvation and you feel the Holy Spirit inside you (pride) or you don’t feel the Holy Spirit and you feel lost, empty, and doomed (despair).
By limiting salvation to the heart, you lose sight of what Christ did on the cross and you put the focus on your heart. Jesus didn’t die for your sins in your heart. He died for your sins on Calvary where HE was forsaken by God for you. His death is real and His resurrection is real. It is His death and resurrection that objectively justified the whole world, and brought you into His family as joint heirs with Christ.
Should we then, not have enthusiasm in our faith? No, but place enthusiasm in the right area. Our enthusiasm is not in seeing, hearing, and feeling our salvation in our hearts. We know this throws us in pride or despair. Our enthusiasm is in the Absolution we receive from our Savior. Every day we should match our hearts against the perfection of God’s Law. Every day we will see how destroyed we are, how hopeless we are. But every day, we also receive the absolution that our sins ARE forgiven.
As we confess: “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, has had mercy upon us and has given His only Son to die for us and for His sake forgives us all our sins. To them that believe on His name He gives power to become the sons of God and has promised them His Holy Spirit. He that believes and is baptized shall be saved. Grant this, Lord, unto us all.”
How great is our God, who knows our sinful state and tells us to lean not on ourselves, but on Him alone for salvation! Just as the fans put their enthusiasm in the volleyball players to win the game, we too place our enthusiasm in Jesus Christ who has won for us the victory over our sinful flesh, the devil, and the biggest of all – death.