BEWARE OF AMERICAN TRIUMPHALISM!
“What is triumphalism?” some may immediately ask, so allow me to explain. It’s the spirit that we saw at the recent Olympics in which Americans won the medal total, and the shout was, “We’re number one! USA, USA, USA!” That’s nationalistic triumphalism plain and simple. It is saying, “May the best man win, and that’s us, of course!”
But wait—that misguided spirit has the potential to hurt the Gospel. We do not go to another country with that underlying mentality of our exceptionalism and conquest. We are not sharing the gospel of Christ with a competitive spirit, saying with a vaulted and arrogant attitude, “We do it better than anyone else!”
In Christianity, the moment we come out acting that we are better than others, something has gone terribly wrong. Peter Marshall prayed, “Lord, when we are wrong, make us willing to change. And when we are right, make us easy to live with.” Yes, we are Americans, yet we do not represent the USA—it’s Christ. America—that’s just where we live. We don’t go to the world bragging about our nation. We boast in Christ. Our pride and confidence is centered in Him.
Nothing is more of a contradiction than an arrogant witness of Christ! John Stott, the late great English preacher, said, “If pride and madness go together, so do humility and sanity.” Spurgeon said humility of spirit is not that hard, “Humility is to make a right estimate of oneself.” With a twinkle in his eye Spurgeon went on to say, “I believe every Christian has a choice between being humble and being humbled.” I confess it, I have never preached a sermon that could not have been preached better, and you have never sung a song that could not have been sung better. Thank God that He allowed us the honor of being in His service!
We do not want to indicate we believe “the American way is always the very best way.” Like it or not, perhaps without realizing it, we actually do think we are superior. But let’s stop for a moment and realize something very basic. People hearing us sing and preach know full well that we have not lived our faith out in the difficulty of their cultural context. Imagine them thinking, “Yes, I know you are a Christian in America, but would you be so confident and have a face with such a bright, beaming smile if you lived where I live and faced what I face day after day?” We have to consider the challenge seriously. There is some truth and honesty in that challenging question.
We must guard our words when we go to recklessly extolling today’s America with a higher crime rate and higher suicide rate than most other countries. At any moment on any day 135,000 Americans are saying, “I wish I had never been born.” You mean America where over 52 million babies have been murdered legally in the womb of their mothers? (That’s greater than the population of many countries!) It’s the worst epidemic of death in American history. You say America is better? Focus on the Family says there are 94 million men who are fathers in America; 68 million of them do not attend church. 10.4 million households in America have no father present. We boast that America is number one—really? You mean the America that annually spends in manpower, fertilizer, and water more on the golf courses of our nation than is needed to feed every malnourished, hungry child in the world for the entire year?
And even religiously: America has given the world most of the weird cults. America is where more than 65% of evangelical Christian youth are sexually active. A Texas church boasts of having 10,000 members, but that church does well to average 1,000 on Sunday. Where are the nine? And what about the Baptists in America? We have over 10,000 Southern Baptist churches with full time pastors that baptized not one single person last year! We wisely guard our boasting tongues.
American Christianity is the best? Really now, you mean what you find in the average American Baptist family? If that family owns two dogs, they spend more on dog food each year than they give to evangelize the world! Does that sound like New Testament Christianity to you?
But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater! With its many flaws America is a great nation that we cherish in our hearts. We love America, it is our home. We are patriotic and loyal to our country. All of us are red blooded Americans; in unison we sing with pride, “God bless America, my home sweet home.” But that fact is not why we go to other countries. Our single mission is to exalt Jesus Christ, who is universal in His Lordship and appeal. That is the truth that must be dominant.
Let us all walk before men with dignity and serve with humility. Who is it that God uses today? — It’s those who glory in His amazing grace without regard to their face, race, or place. After all, an American passport is not recognized in Heaven! I remember reading one day in the early morning darkness the prophetic words of A. W. Tozer, “God is looking for men in whose hands His glory is safe.” Let us determine like Jonathan Edwards to be that person. Edwards wrote in his diary, “Resolved: that all men should live for the glory of God. Resolved second: that whether others do or not, I will.”
What we desire is for God to do something that cannot be fully explained in human terms. Warren Wiersbe commented, “If you can explain what God is doing in your ministry, then God is not really doing it.”
When all is said and done, if we reduce everything to what really matters, it is this: Our only business in our life is to please God. Without God’s help we cannot be effective; with His assistance we cannot fail.
Never, ever let us be superficial in our thinking. If we go in with a superiority complex instead of being in the flow of God’s purpose, we totally miss the meaning of the entire mission! Jesus came in simplicity and humility of heart. He tells us, “learn of Me.”
A young preacher strutted into the pulpit with an air of superiority and pride. He preached terribly and he descended the pulpit steps like a wilted flower. An older Christian whispered to him, “If you went up like you came down, you would have come down like you went up!”
A spirit of robust self confidence exhibited in another culture is a very scary thing. If we stand before them and they sense that our attitude is “We know your problem, and we are your answer,” we have a serious setback before we start! The reality is that we often do not even know their problems—we have no idea what they face. Let everything we do be tempered with Christ-like humility and touched with Jesus’ love. Note these words; they are not original with me: Let us all have a servant-like heart, a dove-like gentleness, and a snake-like awareness. (Read Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:16) It all comes together.
An African met two young Americans in London. They were on their way to his home country. The meeting had been arranged by a veteran missionary. They had a meal and began to talk. The conversation lasted an hour and the Americans left. After it was over, the African told the experienced missionary—“They never asked me one question about my country or culture; they just told me what they were going to do when they got there!” We all should blush at this true incident!
I am confident we will avoid typical mistakes of American nationalistic triumphalism often seen when mission teams travel throughout the world. We will avoid them by His grace. I see God sending us all out with a heart to serve, to grow in cultural understanding, and to trust Him for authentic impact caused by His Spirit at work. We will avoid the temptation of triumphalism. Yes, we will pray asking for a great response, and we go with confidence in the power of the Gospel attracting people for it has lost none of its ancient power, but we will do all we do in the spirit of Christ-like humility.
Let us remember, the man who is full of himself can never sing or preach the Christ who emptied Himself. In fact, there is not in the entire universe a more ridiculous and laughable sight than a proud person trying to tell the world of the submissive humility of Jesus Christ which took Him to the cross. Each of us, when we stand before people, must remember that no person sits in front of us that is more of a sinner than we. The only difference is, we are forgiven, and, of course, we get no credit for that, it’s all of God. Do we want God to come and transform people? Then we must come as transformed people in graceful humility, pointing away from ourselves to Christ. John the Baptist is our role model, “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30).
Let Him do His own work in His own way for His own glory, while we are just grateful He found a place for us in His kingdom work.