American Christianity is in crisis. It is, in its general body (but praise be to God that there are still some pastors scattered throughout the nation who are courageously preaching the Bible, without compromise), on the edge of ceasing to be Christian, in the biblical and historic senses. As the church in Europe has gone (just as the ancient church in areas where it formerly flourished also went), so the American church will go, unless God mercifully intervenes.
There are numerous reasons for the demise of the Christian-ness of the Christian church in America. Many of them are moral. Professing American Christians (and I say "professing" because a shocking number of them are not at all born of the Spirit of Christ) have, for far too long, lustfully desired the gods and goddesses of their pagan neighbors. In their ambitions, they have developed a gluttonous appetite for money. In their child rearing, they have embraced what are, essentially, Darwinian theories about parenting and education. In their personal lives, they have craved the images, diversions, and carnal practices of their unbelieving peers.
However, morality and doctrine are inseparable. As Gregory of Nazianzus (AD 329-389) teaches us, a man's holiness, or lack thereof, always affects his doctrinal soundness, and vice versa. Those who deny doctrinal truths about God will inevitably fall into wickedness. And those who lust after wicked practices will inevitably deny doctrinal truths about God, in order to justify their unholy practices. (For example, a feminist who desires the wickedness of unsubmissive wives in the home, or of women pastors in the church will, in the end, have to violate the doctrine of the Trinity [that is, the truth that there is functional hierarchy, complete with headship and submission, which exists, timelessly, within the very nature of God] in order to justify his or her feminism).
On the doctrinal end of the compromise, the crux of the matter is the holiness of God, and our need to fear Him. Since much of American Christianity has become flippant and casual in her attitude towards God, it is on a path towards destruction. Theologically, the lack of trembling before the holiness of God in most American churches is, once compared with the historic Church, a sign of idolatry in the church. Practically, the lack of biblical instruction on the fear of God and how it applies to every aspect of Christian living is, in light of historic Christianity, the very gateway to licentiousness.
American Christianity's Unorthodox Denial of "Degrees of Sin"
But these are all theoretical concepts. What does this actually mean for the church? It seems that there is a concrete, telling sign of the times for American Christianity. It is how pastors within American Christianity describe sin. They are teaching on sin, to be sure, for if they did not, their heresies would be far too evident to all. However, the fact that they teach on sin does not mean that they give orthodox interpretations of the nature of sin.
In specific, there is a dangerous teaching lurking within popular American Christianity that betrays the deeper, foundational problems within the American church. It is the teaching that "all sins are equal."
By "all sins are equal," these popular pundits in the pulpit do not mean, simply, that all sins, both great and small, merit everlasting condemnation in Hell (which is the point of James 2:9-11). Rather, they misinterpret (and twist) the Sermon on the Mount (e.g. Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28) in order to claim that no one sin is worse than another. They deny "degrees of sin", outright. It then follows, for them, that there are neither degrees of wickedness amongst the reprobate, nor degrees of righteousness (sanctification) amongst the saved.
Historically speaking, this is unorthodox thought. Not only up until the Protestant Reformation, but actually through and after the Reformation, all biblical Christians (including the Protestants, as exemplified in the Puritans) held to degrees of sin, and degrees of righteousness. Luther and Calvin, for instance, denied the Roman Catholic distinction between mortal and venial sins, but the thought of denying degrees of sin, in general, would have been anathema to them.
The Bible and "Degrees of Sin"
Biblically speaking, there is no room in Scripture to deny the doctrine of varying degrees of sin. Overeating at the dinner table is a sin, but it is not of the same degree of sinfulness as a husband striking his wife. The latter is much more sinful than the former. Lust is Satanic, making one worthy of Hell (which is why Christians plead the blood of Christ and His righteousness, alone, for their salvation), but adultery is a million times worse. Not taking care of the poor (the orphan and the widow) is extremely sinful and evokes God's anger. But abortion is much, much worse; it is, in all cases, the actual murder of the weakest of the weak.
The Bible is clear that there are, indeed, degrees of sin. Thus it is written in the sacred Scriptures:
"But if a man acts with premeditation against his neighbor, to kill him by treachery, you shall take him from My altar, that he may die. And he who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. He who kidnaps a man and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death. And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. If men contend with each other, and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist, and he does not die but is confined to his bed, if he rises again and walks about outside with his staff, then he who struck him shall be acquitted. He shall only pay for the loss of his time, and shall provide for him to be thoroughly healed" (Exodus 21:14-19, where degrees of punishment reflect degrees of sin).
"The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born" (Matthew 26:24, where Judas' sin is much greater than the sins of others).
"But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea" (Mark 9:42, where sins that cause little children to stumble are of the highest degree).
"And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more" (Luke 12:47-48, where degrees of punishment in Hell reflect degrees of sin on earth).
"Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?" (1 Corinthians 6:18-19, where sexual sins are of a higher degree of sin because they sin against one's very body, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit).
"My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment" (James 3:1, wherein the sins of pastors are greater than the sins of others).
"Jesus answered, 'You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin' " (John 19:11, where Jesus, our Lord, states, unambiguously, that the Jews [and especially the high priest] who delivered Him to Pilate committed a sin of higher degree than Pilate's own sin).
The Great Implications for Our Future
Lacking both the proper trembling before God's holiness and the practical applications of the fear of God in worship and daily thinking, America's casual Christianity has lost the orthodox understanding of the horrific nature of sin. By twisting the New Testament's definition of "grace" in order to twist its definition of "sin," this new Christianity ("new" meaning "unorthodox") has stepped outside of the bounds of historic Christianity.
The implications are great. First, this denial of the horrific nature of sin (and the degrees therein) explains why many American Christians voted for the most pro-abortion president in United States history. If there are no degrees of sin, then this is a plausible action. If there are degrees of sin, then this is unthinkable.
Also, the trend within American Christianity to downplay the abominable nature of homosexuality, all in the name of New Testament love, is driven by this unorthodox understanding of "all sins are equal." The biblical truth is that heterosexual fornication is Satanically wicked, to be sure (so why, then, do American Christians think that they can watch movies that depict it?), but homosexuality is even more wicked. Instead of arguing that same sex marriage may be legitimately legalized without doing great harm to our society (an argument that is, in light of Scripture, shockingly pagan), Christian pastors ought to summon their people both to be compassionate towards those who have been deceived (willfully and perversely) into thinking of homosexuality as an identity, rather than a conscience choice, and to be appalled at the abominable nature of homosexuality, itself.
(If you attend a church in America, ask yourself this question: "Does my pastor feel obligated, by Scripture, to teach me, from the pulpit, the abominable nature of homosexuality and the wrath of God that it incurs?")
But the previous two examples merely illustrate the way in which a denial of the historic doctrine of "degrees of sin" will corrupt both the preaching of the church and the works of the church. Ultimately, these corruptions will paint for people in the American church a different "image" of God than the true God of Scripture. These corruptions will, inevitably, lead people into idolatry. The wrathful, holy, war-like God of not only the Old Testament books of Deuteronomy, Ezekiel, and Zephaniah, but also the New Testament books of Luke, Romans, and Revelation, just to name a few, will neither be welcomed nor worshiped in our churches.
What is needed, then, is a massive repentance in the American church. We must learn to tear our hearts, and not just our clothes, before the holy, holy, holy God of the Bible. We must confess before Him that we have belittled "grace" by belittling "sin." We must turn from our man-made definitions of "love" and "winsomeness," and return to the true love of God in Scripture, which is a love that abhors sins, in all of its varying degrees. It is only then that we will return to the true glory of the Cross, and the true love of Christ Jesus who bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness.
May God have mercy upon us. May He revive historic Christianity in America, for the glory of His name amongst all nations.
Soli Deo Gloria. Glory to God, alone.
Copyright Timothy L. Fan 2013. All Rights Reserved.