Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
September 9th, 2014 by Joel Watts

the con game of Christianity

The Sting

The Sting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But as for us, we have been taught that to expose newly-born children is the part of wicked men; and this we have been taught lest we should do any one an injury, and lest we should sin against God.1

The early Christians not only would not expose their children, deformed or otherwise, but they would rescue the exposed and make them a part of the community.

I have, lately, seen a lot of articles about attracting others to Christianity. Everyone is worried about number$. We need to do X to attract demographic Y to us or else we will die. No doubt, this is what has led to the extremes forming. The Conservatives are becoming more entrenched, almost to the point of fundamentalism* because they fear the changes (from technology to any form of biblical criticism) while Liberals have nearly completed their march to the great oblivion of inconsequentiality. Why? Because too many seem focused on attracting new members.

Christianity has become something less than a hope for a grand do-over (the cosmic conflagration), ethical impulses, and philosophical considerations about our place within God’s plan all made possible because of the death (and resurrection of Jesus Christ). Rather, it now focuses on megastar pastors (and, more importantly, their downfalls); the latest theological trend (or lack of theology); and the number of people in your bean=bags, folding chairs, or other cool, hip seating circles. We focus on ourselves. Or, worse, we focus on the perceived sin of our neighbor because somehow the only verse we take super-literal and super-missional is James 5.20.

This is the great con of Christianity. We need members to make congregations grow — we measure vitality not by the immeasurable (i.e., the good we do) but by numbers. We need new members; we need new buildings — we need bigger buildings to attract new members to give us new buildings to attract members. It is a vicious cycle Mainliners, Evangelicals and others have fallen into. Fundamentalists, such as independent fundamentalist Baptists and oneness pentecostals, do not focus on this so much as focus on saving souls from the pit of hell using every ounce of fear they can muster. Neither of these approaches work. Instead the approach we must relearn is the method of the early church, something Wesley I believe saw and try to implement.

This method is very simple. We work. We work at correcting the ills of society where we can — depending not on the Law of Empire but on the Law of Grace. When the church was powerless it had the most power. It was not protected and thus it protected. The church led the way in changing morality in the Roman Empire. When the old religions fell, when immorality was worse than we can imagine today, when Christian was persecuted for doing these things it was the faith and religion it should have been. Creeds, doctrines, and our finely expressed theology all matter and must be taught. However, if we are only there to attract people into our buildings rather than serving as a means of delivering God’s reconciling and reforming grace to those around us, we are nothing more than a less successful Amway with prettier, more stationary market stations.

BTW, my local UMC church is awesome at service projects for the sake of service. I’m not bragging. I’m boasting. 



  1. Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe; vol. 1; The Ante-Nicene Fathers; Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 1172.
Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).


7 Responses to “the con game of Christianity”
  1. Mark Allison says

    Great article. I was reading in Deissmann’s “Light from the Ancient East” and saw this letter from 1 B.C. from an Egyptian laborer to his wife, urging her to kill her baby if it turned out to be a girl.


  2. Very good points. If I may, I’d like to add something…

    You say “We work at correcting the ills of society where we can”, but a well-meaning conservative Christian can say they are doing exactly that by pointing out the errors of others. They might even take the example of John the Baptist pointing out Herod’s error having his brother’s wife. You say we should “[serve] as a means of delivering God’s reconciling and reforming grace to those around us”, but a liberal Christian can say they are doing exactly that by attracting people into the church so they can experience that grace. Both of these points have an element of truth but they seem to focus only on one small aspect of our outreach to our communities. Could it also be true that serving others, while very important, is also only one aspect of our outreach?

    Over and over again, the Gospel message is “…The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46-47) The Conservatives focus on sin and repentance. The Liberals focus on faith and forgiveness. Each group seems to neglect something while focusing on one piece of the pie. Maybe we can learn from this and adopt a more comprehensive approach?

    Again, Jesus told us the two greatest commandments: loving God first and loving others second. If we do one without the other, we miss a lot or worse, we mess things up royally. Do you see my point?

    Lastly, we must always remember that God is sovreign. We are completely powerless to change anyone.
    “So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.” – 1 Cor 3:7

    Perhaps these points are obvious, but I thought they were worth bringing up.

    God bless!

    PS. My apologies for saying earlier that you were not interested in discussion.

  3. Know More Than I Should says

    One problem stems from Christianity’s insistence on using seriously outdated information while, at the same time, claiming to have all the answers all of the time. The following two links may offer some insight in the intellectual quandary thus created.



    • In scanning the article, I noticed the religiosity seems to be solely dependent upon American evangelicalism. He forgets that the big bang is a jesuit find along with numerous other scientific revolutions produced by believers who knew enough to question.

      • Know More Than I Should says

        Despite exceptions, history clearly records that religious zeal more often stifles thought and innovation than promotes it. That was certainly the story of the Middle Ages in Europe. It is currently one of the problems that currently bedevils Islam – once a garden of intellectual blooming.

        Similar conditions abound in the United States. Highly religious red states tend to be more backward than their more liberal northern neighbors.

        An overemphasis on religion tends to produce a highly stratified culture – even to the point of breeding a de facto caste system. The same religious mindset that once promoted racial segregation as God’s will is now trying to turn homosexuals into a perpetual caste of untouchables.

        Christian evangelicals make easy targets for secularists because, from abortion through evolution and onto women’s liberation, they manage to lose every fight!

  4. Maybe it’s no coincidence that the new Pope was a Jesuit?

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