Confidence and Piety: Gifts Gone Wrong?

One of the primary gifts of the Protestant Reformation was confidence – confidence that God loves us, chose us, redeemed us, saved us, and will never leave us. For many people, the Roman Catholic Church had lost or neglected to communicate that confidence. People lived with the hope of heaven and the terror of hell. Both were real possibilities. We are grateful for the rediscovery of the biblical truth of confidence in God that came down to us through both Luther and Calvin. 

Confidence, properly placed and focused, is a good thing. The surgeon needs to be confident in her abilities to excise disease. The gardener needs to be confident in his horticultural knowledge. The sailor needs to be confident in her navigational skills. A degree of confidence is necessary to complete almost any task successfully. 

But there is also danger in confidence. Confidence can easily degenerate into arrogance. 

The great gift of the Pietistic Movement in Methodism, the Second Great American Awakening, among some Anabaptists, and, later, in the Pentecostal Movement, was a reinvigorating of the awareness that God has called us to holy living.

Personal holiness is so needed in our culture – a holiness that sets the captives free, loves, cares for, respects, and serves others while keeping oneself unspotted from corruption.

Piety, personal holiness, is a good thing. God designed and redeemed us so we could become free of addiction and sin – good, kind, compassionate, loving, holy people. 

But there is danger in piety – piety can become self-righteousness.

The confidence that some of the Pharisees of first century Judea had in their ability to understand and interpret scripture became prideful arrogance. “I thank Thee that I am not like this tax collector.” Their piety degenerated in to legalistic self-righteousness. 

Both Luther and Calvin eventually condemned those who disagreed with them and sanctioned violence against them. Both encouraged the brutal persecution of Jews, Anabaptists, and Catholics.  Equally confident and pious, the Roman Catholic Counter-Reformationists returned the favor. Everyone thought it their God-ordained duty to eradicate the “pagans” – Moslems, Buddhists, indigenous people groups of all sorts. Popes and pastors sanctioned slavery and genocide. 

Today there are seven distinct generations living together in America: 

  1. The World War II generation is now in their late 90s or older.
  2. The Builders are mostly in their late 70s to early 90s.
  3. The Boomers are in their 60s and early 70s.
  4. Gen-Xers are in their late 40s and 50s.
  5. Millennials range in age from their late 20s to mid-40s.
  6. Gen Z persons are in high school, college, and graduate school.
  7. And, finally, we have the Alpha generation kids.

By and large, much of Gen-X and most of the Millennials and Gen Z women and men have rejected the institutional church. Why are the majority of those under 40 turning their backs on church and identifying as “none” on religious surveys?

Many Builders and Boomers blame public education, or the “liberal media,” or “secular humanism,” but secularism is not nearly the threat to Christianity that hypocrisy is.

Too many Americans over 60 claiming to be Christians confident of their doctrine, certain of their salvation, and convinced of their piety, have allowed their confidence to sink into arrogance and their piety to degenerate into self-righteous judgmentalism. They champion civil religion that homogenizes flag and cross, participate in environmental destruction, support wars and capital punishment, condemn the LGBTQ community, stockpile ammunition and weapons designed only to kill other humans, display xenophobia, support institutionalized racism, censure science, resist helping immigrants, the homeless and the poor, think it their duty to forcefully legislate their moral interpretations, and support corrupt immoral (or amoral) politicians. Claiming to follow Jesus, they support policies diametrically contrary of what Jesus taught. Claiming to follow Jesus, they act exactly the opposite of how He acted. 

Mega-churches are so 1990s. The future of the church (and I believe the church does have a future) belongs to small communities of genuine faith meeting in homes and coffee shops. Younger Gen-X’ers, Millennials, and Gen-Z’ers are leaving the big institutions in droves; they long for authentic community in which persons care for rather than judge one another, and seek to rectify rather than excuse injustice. 

I read recently a Tweet from someone who said he often wondered what he would do if he knew he had only a day to live. Then, he said, it hit him – Jesus really did know that. And He washed feet. 

About Dr. Larry Taylor

Radical Anabaptist, Jesus Freak, Red Letter Christian, sailor, thinker, spiritual director, life coach, pastor, teacher, chaplain, counselor, writer, husband, father, grandfather, dog-sitter

Posted on March 22, 2020, in anabaptist, apologetics, Bible, Bible Teaching, Christianity, Jesus, Kingdom Life, kingdom of God, Peace Shalom Hesed, Spirituality, The Cross, Theodicy. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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