‘Crucify’ American civil religion, Moore says at Southern Seminary chapel
“We can be Americans best if we are not Americans first,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, in a March 19 chapel message at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Moore preached from 2 Chronicles 7, including verse 14, which Moore called the “John 3:16 of the American civil religion.” This verse says, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
Moore recounted his experience as a cub scout, when he heard a pastor who did not believe the Bible urge him to have faith in God to be a good American. Moore said this vague, patriotic moralism is very different from true Christianity.
“God and country is much, much easier than Christ and him crucified,” he said. “This text does not point us to a bloodless civil religion. This text points us to the cross.”
The cross defines God’s people, Moore said, and 2 Chronicles was written to Israel as a post-exilic reminder that they were God’s people.
“This is not just a series of generic principles,” Moore said. “God’s relationship with the people of Israel is in order ... to bring from them the Christ who is the God over all.” Moore said that Christians, as God’s people, must understand who they are as God’s people in order to move forward in this culture in a way that honors God.
Second, Moore said that the cross defines the presence of God. In 2 Chronicles 7, God placed his presence in Solomon’s temple as a cloud of glory after Solomon and the people offered animal sacrifices. The people of Israel fell down and worshiped because, “They are standing before God through a veil of blood, and God is receiving them,” he said. This points to Christ, who gives believers access to God through his blood.
“Even more so than in this temple constructed by Solomon’s hands, God’s presence is with his people through union with Jesus Christ,” Moore said.
Finally, the cross defines the promises of God. Many people, according to Moore, preach this passage like an American prosperity gospel. They treat the promises of God as guarantees of a moral population or a stable economy if Americans humble themselves before God. But Moore said that prosperity gospel “works no better for nations than it does for individuals.” Only Jesus lived in a way that earned God’s blessings, and he took on himself all the curses earned by his people.
The curses and promises of 2 Chronicles 7 were fulfilled in Christ, according to Moore. Christians know God’s acceptance, not through animal sacrifices that temporarily cover sin but through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. The healing of the land comes as Jesus rose from the dead and will create new heavens and a new earth.
Moore said that believing the promises of God frees people from fear. The worst thing that can happen to someone is not losing his job, friends, freedom, or life. The worst thing is to be cursed and cut off from God. In Christ, this has already happened to believers.
“And the best thing that can happen to you,” said Moore, “is being raised from the dead to newness of life in fellowship with the living God, and being assigned by him a mission as heirs with God and joint heirs with Christ. That has already happened to you, too.”
Because of the true gospel and their identity in Christ, Moore urged Christians not to fear the persecution that is coming.
“Let’s crucify our civil religions and our discount-rate prosperity gospels and hear behind all of them the gentle lowing of golden calves, and let’s instead define ourselves not by the generic god of American values — we do not serve that god. We serve the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, God and Father of Jesus Christ. And the promises that he has made will outlast Mount Rushmore.”
Russell Moore delivered the chapel message while on Southern Seminary’s campus for the Gheens Lectures, titled “Onward Christian Strangers: The Gospel and the Public Square in Changing Times.”
Audio and video of Moore’s chapel message are available online at www.sbts.edu/resources.