First, with this article, I do not wish to offend anyone, though I am positive I will, and though I do regret offending anyone, I am not sorry. Second, by Populist, I am not referencing the political party of the United States during the turn of the 19th Century, nor am I referencing the modern political approaches of certain political pundits, but a trend I have observed in Christianity, especially after the democratization of Europe and the West.
Populism is simply defined as leaders, particularly those of political association, who “fight” for the common good of the lower man against the powerful elite. With this definition, one could say that in a way, Martin Luther was a “populist” for the common Catholic against the powerful elite of Rome, and that, in its defense of being called a rebellion, Protestantism was truly just a populist movement to stop the Papacy and her “minions” from perverting the principles of Christ and His Church. Though this ideology, the individual becomes the forefront. No longer is the body as important, for the individual is just a part of the body, and therefore, instead of fixing the body, the individual must first be fixed. I grant that, as an explanation of Luther’s theology, this is a gross misrepresentation, and yet, over the years, as the “church” has grown, split, and evolved, this has become an ever increasing position. From Calvin, to the Puritans, to modern day Baptist – and all others in between or around (I do not wish to single any group or persons out), the individual is the key.
Many Christian and world historians would argue that this began in Rome, culminating obviously with the Inquisition, etc. Obviously this is true, but the practice of focusing on the individual has hence been dominated by the Protestant tradition. One can turn on the television on any given Sunday and here how the judgment of God is being dealt to individuals and nations due to sin, or go to any random church in the southern United States and either here, a) Some sort of sin focused on and the sinner condemned, b) If you sin you are condemned to Hell (unless repentant of course), c)The rapture is near (please explain…), and d) etc, etc, etc. True, I will agree, sin is death, death leads to the grave, and un-repentance brings a curse. Yet, it seems, that, with the focus on the individual, the emphasis is lost on the sin itself, but is placed on the sinner.
Let me be clear, I do not want to seem to be over generalizing this issue. Nor do I have any respective references, or canons, creeds, documents of faith, etc, only my experience from what I have seen, and what I have been told. In defense against this experience, it is quite plausible hat what I have seen or been told was simply out of guilt by myself or other individuals, and yet, at the same time, I am quite confident on the Gospels that I myself am forgiven, and that my sins have been washed away and God remembers them no more. And though I have remembrance myself, and at times experience regret and remorse for the pain I may have caused myself and other, I do not feel guilt.
Condemnation Theology is wrong. If I was to say that anything in the world today is the Anti-Christ, it would be the preaching of condemnation. It is false religion, and in a way, it is idol worship – paganism. For, by putting the focus on the individual, and the sin as well, we begin to worship the sin. Sin has become an idol, an Icon if you will, of both why evil persists in the world, and why the world it self is so “messed” up. In any given message you may hear that, if you drink an alcoholic beverage, you are going to Hell, if you smoke a cigar, Hell has opened up her gates to you. These things may seem trivial, but I promise you there is someone out there who thinks, because he or she may suffer from an “Addiction” – or better yet a “disease” (I’ll come to that at some other time), that they are going to Hell. Yet, it gets worse.This Sunday, someone pastor – a supposed father and shepherd to his people, will stand in his pulpit and preach that if you have ever had an abortion, or ever paid for an abortion, or told someone to have an abortion, you are condemned to Hell. Even more, God is mad at you, and they might even go even further and say that God hates you for what you did. Homosexuals, going to Hell. Murders, going to Hell, etc etc, and the same tags apply to all other sin that is out there. Granted, they would admit that if you repent, God will forgive you, and many even offer healing counseling etc, but who wants to listen to someone who will use you and your sin as an example from the pulpit, and until you actually “publicly” repent, looks down on you and thinks you less then human. OR better yet, sees himself as better then human. As a note to this, I know, again, that this is not every Christian, or every church, and it may not be a majority, and yet so many times the reasons you hear for people leaving the church, or for losing faith in God is because they do not believe they can truly be forgiven, and because of the condemnation they felt from fellow Christians, and worse, Christian ministers.
One Protestant attack on both Roman and Eastern traditions is the appearance that one ay sin as much as they want, and all they have to do is go to confession. Though this may appear to be true, they forget to mention the fact that in the confession rite the priest also asks if that person intends amendment of life. Also, it must be recognized what Paul said, “We are all sinners and have fallen short of the Glory of God.” Once we believe, we do not stop being sinners, the difference is that God has redeemed our life from the grave. Because of this redemption, we are enabled, by the Holy Spirit, to enter into the Life of God and His promises. We still sin. Whether you argue that it is human nature, or a by product of free will, the fact is we are still sinners, redeemed yes, sinners still. If not, we would never have to confess our sins, there would be no need for prayer and confession. We would not need the Holy Spirit to be sent to us as a Guide. Jesus never preached a message of condemnation to the people, in fact, the only two groups he condemned were the religious leaders of the day – Pharisees and Sadducees, and the money changers at the Temple. Why only these? For it is better for one to tie a millstone around one’s neck and through himself into a lake then lead a child of God astray – these men were leading the children of God astray, either by manipulating the Law, or through economic gain, AH, the crux of the Protestant argument – Purgatory and Indulgences – and yet, instead of remaining in the Body, and working to correct (as impossible as it may have seen), they decided against reformation – which by the way had already begun 500 years prior – and was still in the works, and amazingly enough was still a recognized necessity by many. The decided to secede from the Church and form there own, in which it now began to be possible to focus on the individual – because obviously it was impossible to fix the Body – and by doing so, the “Reformation” abandoned Catholics world wide. Which is the greater sin? I dare not judge, but I believe both sins are wrong.
Jesus preached a message of love. Condemnation is not love… nor can it be presented as “tough” love. Tough love is what Christ did as He hung on the Cross… He sacrificed Himself for the world. We claim – both Catholics and Protestants – to be Christians. To me this is absurd, we are no more “Christ-like” then the non-believers who wish to help humanity. We prefer to condemn and focus on sin instead of doing what was commanded of us, to love out neighbors as ourselves, and to love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. Maybe therein lies the problem, maybe these people who condemn so many people honestly do not simply love themselves. Maybe they feel guilty about their past, or worse, their present. There is no seeming end to the scandals that have rocked the Church as a whole, and I am sure there will be more. And to those men and women who are part of the body of Christ, do not condemn these leaders, but love them, as Christ has loved us. Be willing to, instead of judging them, lay down your life – time, money, effort, etc ,etc – for them. Because if you cannot cast aside your judgments, and love, then I encourage you to re-evaluate your faith and your claims of Christianity.