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American Christians Don’t Know How to Suffer for Christ

February 13, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

On Twitter, there’s a semi-joke in which someone will mention a problem (usually trivial) in his or her life followed by the hashtag, #firstworldproblems, meaning that the problem is most likely to occur in a Westernized country, ie, “Ran out of coffee grounds; Gonna be a rough morning. #firstworldproblems.” I’d like to propose the idea, however, that Westernized Christians, typically Americans (as I am one), deal with #firstworldXtianproblems.

During the past few months, I’ve been mulling over the idea that American Christians do not face the same problems as early Christians, Christians in other parts of the world, or even American Christians of yesteryear. The challenges American Christians—who I’ll refer to as ACs from now on—face are unique to this era and country. In fact, the problem for ACs is that… there’s no problem at all. We are much too comfortable.

As I sit comfortably in my bed in the cushy suburbs of Philadelphia, I think of people suffering in growing Christian churches in places like China or Iran. The suffering they experience so much more real than wondering whether I should go to church today because I’m so tired. By admitting Christ and him resurrected, they put their lives on the line for their beliefs. (And their belief in Christ is so real that many of them are martyred for their faith.) I highly believe that 90% of ACs would crack under that pressure if put into the same situation. How real is our suffering? How real is our faith?

When Jesus calls his followers to suffer for him, to give up their lives for him, to follow him, American Christians often think back to the Christians of the early church who were martyred, became fugitives, or met together secretly. ACs (except foreign missionaries) know nothing about fearing for their lives because of their faith, needing to hide their faith from their neighbor or government due to physical repercussions, or meeting in secret because of widespread federal and/or societal persecution. Here are some of the problems ACs typically face:

  • I don’t like this pastor. I think I’ll find a new church.
  • No one talks to me here. I could go in and out of church on a Sunday unnoticed.
  • This church is too big; I want to find one smaller.
  • There’s not enough activities for my children here.
  • It’s a dying congregation! Everyone’s old.
  • No women pastors for me. I’ll find something else.
  • I don’t like praise and worship bands. This place is too contemporary.
  • I don’t like that boring piano and organ. Those hymns make me sleepy. I need to find something upbeat!
  • Ew! They use the NIV [or Bible translation said person doesn’t like] here!

Granted, there are some legitimate concerns ACs may have with churches, ie, if a church isn’t using a Bible as its main source text for the service and sermon, it’s not a real (or good) Christian church. But most of the issues ACs have are trivial.

So what does it mean to forsake all and follow Jesus as ACs? Does it mean not investing in 401(k)s (for future security) in order to donate to a charitable organization that will help others in the here and now? Does it mean giving up the dream of owning a home in order to adopt a child and transform that kid’s life?

As ACs, we face many trivial problems that in the grand scheme of things, aren’t really a big deal. What we consider to be suffering, in many ways, is really just our way of complaining that we’re no longer comfortable. (First-world response: “The heater broke in our church! I’m not going to go to church to freeze my ass off.” A better response: “The heater’s broken at church so we need to bundle up a bit more to ensure that we can stay warm during the service.”)

Any ideas on what true suffering for American Christians looks like? Or do ACs not know what suffering for the sake of Christ really is?

  1. Warren
    February 13, 2011 at 5:22 PM

    We don’t know what suffering for Christ really means. When the potential for suffering arrives, we mount protests and boycotts. We pitch fits and run political campaigns. We buy bumper stickers. And we whine, whine, whine.

    That’s why the American church is stagnant right now. We think suffering for Jesus means missing the first half of the Super Bowl because we’re in church.

  2. livingcreatingbreathing
    February 13, 2011 at 8:46 PM

    I would much rather adopt a child than buy a house! But I agree that is not the general consensus sadly. We don’t know what true suffering is at all. We are lazy people living in comfort zones, putting ourselves and our needs first. We are extremely wasteful and do not value what we have. Like the above commenter said, sacrifice to us is missing the beginning of a football game because we are in service. Heaven forbid we actually attend more than once a week, now that’s real sacrifice. It amazes me how much money is spent on trivial needless things here, so much money that we could probably take it to a starving country and end their hunger problems. Millions are spent on movies, cars, homes, clothes, etc. Many countries you can feed a person for around $2 a day. Think of how many people we could feed, clothe and provide medical care to if we could actually sacrifice our luxuries and our materialism a bit more.

  3. February 14, 2011 at 7:04 PM

    I am convinced that the biggest problem with the “American church” is the problem of association. Christ’s church is often branded with a particular that qualifies it from the rest, but this should not be, for it compels divisiveness. I believe this has quite a bit to do with the relation of one with the kingdom they profess inclusion with. These are the same who do not step out and will not to witness to others out of fear or embarrassment. There are countless among the faithful, though, who are mocked and hated because of Christ and all within the United States! They pursue the Word and preach repentance, turning from sin to submit to Christ Jesus – they are the gadflies of the American culture. While very few of us are martyred for our faith in America, we are not totally free from persecution. I once heard it said that if people do not hate you for Christ’s sake, then you are doing something wrong.

    In His grace.

  4. K
    February 15, 2011 at 6:41 AM

    Do remember that even within America there are vastly different economic circumstances. Where you and I live (even though we both live far more modestly than most in our zip code, and both could only afford to rent here) is quite a wealthy area compared to even most of our country. I’ve known many Christians struggling financially so a mom can stay home or so a husband can go to school or so they can pay for _____ (pay tuition for Christian school, support an elderly relative, save to get their kids out of a very rough neighborhood, etc)

    • Kass
      February 15, 2011 at 7:12 PM

      Suffering exists on different levels throughout America, but what I’m pondering is whether Americans really understand what it means to suffer specifically for Christ’s sake.

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