I write as someone who, during his lifetime, has attended Catholic, Baptist, Independent Bible, Pentecostal, Calvary Chapel, Seventh Day Adventist, Episcopal, and Lutheran services. So I am familiar with what all of them teach — and I am familiar with what they should emphasize, but don’t. It is this failure which is destroying our Christian civilization, even as we speak.
What separates Christianity from all other religions is a hard truth: Man is intrinsically evil. This flies in the face of hyper-leftist dogma that man is essentially good; all that is necessary is an environmental tune up.
While it is true that crime is greater in poor neighborhoods — poverty can bring out the worst in people — it is equally true that that potential for evil has to be there. Increasing prosperity will lessen street crime to be sure. Well-fed people have less need to steal, but crime will merely blossom in other areas.
This doctrine is called “Original Sin;” and it has been replaced in our culture by self-esteem.
Other religions do not have this concept. Islam treats men as morally neutral, with his eternal fate being the accumulation of merits and demerits from his actions. Hinduism and Buddhism (which is really reformed Hinduism, the Buddha was born Hindu) teach that men eventually merit nirvana through cycles of reincarnation. Here, again, men must merit their redemption, however it is defined. Technically, Jews do not believe in original sin, either.
Moses declared that it is man alone who can and must merit his own salvation. – Outreach Judaism
Though I have seen some lectures by Hasidic rabbis speaking of intrinsic weaknesses, most Jews I have discussed the matter with have denied a concept of original sin. This is no small matter, nor a theological curiosity unique to Christianity, which makes a neat topic for a college debate. It is the essence of good Republican governance.
The Founding Fathers grew up in a culture where a complete distrust of human nature informed their decision to limit government. If men were by nature good, then tyrants could not emerge, and governments could be trusted with power.
If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. – Federalist Paper #51
Calvinists referred to this as Total Depravity, which properly defined means that man is so depraved that everything he does carries some imperfection. This does not mean that men cannot do good, but rather that they cannot do good perfectly. Hence every human system, no matter how good, carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction. One does not have to be Calvinist to embrace that truth.
This concept is fundamental to the American Republic, and polar opposite to Marxism, which considers human nature a blank slate merely to be programmed by environment — which is exactly what Islam teaches, by the way. A hundred years ago no one trusted the government, nor was this seen as conspiracy theory, but rather as applied practical theology informing politics.
It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress. – Mark Twain
Good aspects of human nature were not denied, but rather understood as still imperfect, and needing of control. If men did not control themselves according to Christian principle, they would be controlled by tyrants.
Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. – John Adams
Americans of the 18th century were informed by this view, much of which stemmed from the Reformation, with its re-emphasis of what is probably the most important verse in the Bible, and the Gospel in a marvelously brief two verses.
Eph 2:8-9 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
There it was. Man was so depraved that God had to save men apart from any merit (or work) that men could do. All that was required was trust in the work of Christ on the cross. Salvation had been dumbed down, as it were, because men were that dumb. Salvation was absolutely free, but only if one admitted he was incapable of doing perfect good. And that was the rub!
Most men do not like to admit they’re are hopelessly rotten. Certainly not Marxists or Muslims.
I found that verse while reading the bible, and it changed my life. I had never heard it preached by Catholic priest, nor Protestant minister. Though when I talked to some ministers, they nodded their head and affirmed my interpretation of it. Okay, but why didn’t they mention it in their sermons? I found it mentioned only in old classic theological texts, and the occasional writings of some incisive bible commentators.
You would be amazed how many denominations screw up on that doctrine. Liberal clerics say man is good, and we must act for some social cause to earn God’s favor. Liturgists require weekly attendance at mass or service; which is rather pointless if the clerics never sermonize on the gospel of free grace, anyway. Hard line preachers say we must stop drinking alcohol, and dancing to rock ‘n roll, as if being frumpy saved us. I know many people who were pretty good Christians, until one forced total sobriety on them. By the way, Jesus drank wine, not grape juice. Whatever one thinks of Catholicism, the Catholics got that right. These clerics, of whatever persuasion, always teach what one must do for God, rather than what Christ has done for man, as if man were somehow capable of self-improvement.
In this both the liberal Marxist, and the overly strict cleric, make the very same error. They deny that man is evil, and somehow insist that man must improve himself, rather than trust what the Bible says, and realize that man is not improvable. He might be educated, better fed, better cared for — and these are all laudatory, and to be sought; but human nature remains pretty rotten.
It is this depravity — a concept well known to 18th century Americans — which informed their revolt against Britain so they could set up a limited constitutional republic. If men were evil, why on earth would you give power to the government beyond what is minimally necessary?
This view did not inhibit charity, but rather informed how charity was applied. Charity was a response to an already achieved salvation through faith, rather than a means of acquiring salvation. God was gracious to us; let us be gracious to others. Improvement was a result of meeting God, not a way of getting godly. If the concept of a free salvation sounds airy, and nebulous, the observed consequence of the principle has practical applications: Namely, man is totally rotten; don’t trust men.
The doctrine teaches humility, and proportion. It would allow us to tolerate homosexuals as citizens out of mercy, but would forbid us to ennoble homosexuality, by re-defining it as equal to marriage. It sets limits to governments, and informs us of what is right and wrong, making allowance for weaknesses — since Christ made allowance for our own sins — yet forbidding us to redefine morality based on majority vote.
None of our modern churches teach this. Too many Baptists teach salvation by abstention from alcohol, too many liturgists require sacraments or clerical celibacy, too many liberals require social activism.
Men need to be told they are depraved, and they need free grace. It is not earned. Our churches do not teach this. This is why official Christianity in the West is dying. We need a restoration of humility and perspective to define our behavior and to define our goals in society.
If the churches, of whatever denomination, continue to ignore this, let them die out. What recent surveys show is that Christianity is not shrinking — just the 501(c)3 official corporation churches — but merely retreating to home churches and bible studies, which is how the church started out in the first century. Despite what clerics think, God does not need clergy.
Christianity is not dead. If the churches will not teach grace, home churches will. Hopefully, the Republic will prosper as a result.
Mike Konrad is an American who writes on various topics.