Shifting sands of Americanized Christianity

The wise man built his house upon the rock. So we were taught — in lesson and song — as youngsters in Sunday School.

It was a similar story to “The Three Little Pigs” — though a rabbi wouldn’t likely choose such subjects for an illustrative purpose.

The shared metaphor, however, is that the quality of construction — whether the foundation or building materials at large — will determine the resistance to storms (or a really strong blowing wolf).

The account in Matthew’s Gospel — from which the children’s song was taken — is familiar to those raised in church-going circles.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24)

The location of this familiar verse in Matthew’s recordings is very important. It comes at the end of Jesus’ collective teachings known as the Sermon on the Mount.

So Jesus, when saying “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice,” is referring to what he clearly calls his followers to be and do.

The firm foundation of faith is not how deeply one believes in a certain ideology. It is not a call to inflexibility when new light shines on old ways.

The wise person — according to Jesus — hears and puts into practice the teachings of Jesus.

One needs only to scan the verses preceding Matthew 7:24 to find out exactly what Jesus wants his followers to hear and then do.

Here is a nice sampling:

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.”

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth … for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

“You cannot serve both God and money.”

“Do not worry about your life … but seek first his kingdom.”

“First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

“In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.”

“Watch out for false prophets” for “by their fruit you will recognize them.”

Often the shifting sands of white Americanized Christianity wrongly suggest that the life and teachings of Jesus have become optional if not irrelevant. In place of the rock of our salvation is an unsteady house built on self-interest, fear and insecurities.

One only needs to look at how “biblical worldview” and “Christian worldview” are so often fear-driven, controlling and politicized religious ideologies in which Jesus’ life and teachings are downplayed or dismissed.

Firm faith is often claimed by those whose faith is actually so fragile that they want the government to prop up, endorse and advance their beliefs over others — as if their faith cannot withstand the winds of choice and diversity.

So much emphasis is given to “Jesus died for your sins” and “accept Jesus as your personal savior” that many assume Christianity is primary about themselves and their own eternal state.

Faith can be personal without being self-focused and exclusive. Following Jesus should actually widen our perspectives and concerns.

Jesus emphasizes such in his most encompassing teachings about what it means to be his followers in the here and now — not simply readying oneself for eternity.

The “narrow gate” concept — of which Jesus speaks in Matthew 7:13-14 —is often misrepresented as a claim that only those who believe the “right” things can get into heaven.

In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, however, Jesus is admitting that not everyone is willing to live in the selfless, compassionate and radically loving way he offers.

Therefore, “small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Yet Jesus keeps opening that narrow way to those who dare to enter.

It is not the path of fear and least resistance. If the life-affirming, other-focused and deeply compassionate way Jesus called his follows to be and to do.

John D. Pierce is director of the Jesus Worldview Initiative (, part of Belmont University’s Rev. Charlie Curb Center for Faith Leadership.