Many Evangelicals see a clear dichotomy between the spiritual and the non-spiritual world. The spiritual world is where the Christian God rules and reigns. This world is dominated by Christianity and its God, the Bible, and its standard of morality and ethics. The non-spiritual world is one where Satan is king. The Bible says that Satan is the God of this world, the prince and power of the air. According to the book of 1 Peter, Satan walks about the earth as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. While Satan certainly is not equal in power or authority to God — after all he’s a created being — he can display near God-like powers such as causing death, sickness, and all sorts of catastrophes. Just as God the Holy Spirit does with Christians, Satan can invade non-Christian minds and bodies, taking up residence and controlling them.
Evangelicals believe that God and Satan, both on earth and in an unseen spiritual dimension — think Frank Peretti — are locked in a battle for the souls of humanity. Satan wants to take as many souls to hell as he can, so Christians feel they are duty-bound to do all they can to make sure that as few people as possible end up in the Lake of Fire. They also believe that Satan, despite Christians being indwelt by the Spirit of God, can influence and, at times, control followers of Jesus. While Satan cannot take away their salvation, he can, through trial and temptation, keep them from being the kind of Christians they should be — people who follow the Lamb (Jesus) whithersoever he goeth. Such Satan-influenced Christians are often called carnal or worldly believers. Often these weaklings in the faith are called baby Christians. This terminology came up in public discussions about “Christian” Donald Trump’s abhorrent, vile behavior towards women. Desperately wanting to believe that the Republican candidate is God’s chosen leader for America, some Evangelical talking heads have suggested that Trump is a “baby” Christian. By labeling Trump this way, they dismiss virtually all of his narcissistic, psychopathic behavior.
Evangelical churches, pastors, and parachurch leaders, realizing that the overwhelming majority of American Christians are behaviorally no different from the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world, have decided that the best way to counteract and repel Satan and his atheistic, secularist followers is to build some sort of alternate reality, one that I often call the Christian Ghetto. The goal is to wall off Christians, as much as possible, from the world. They do this by replacing the “things” of the world with Christianized versions. The Bible says in 1 John 2:15-17:
Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
Knowing God’s view of the world while at the same time understanding that Christians are, after all, h-u-m-a-n, Evangelical leaders have developed programs and activities that allow Christians to feel that they are part of the human race without being tainted by worldliness. Every day, millions of Evangelicals, forced to work secular jobs, go out into the world and endure rubbing shoulders with the followers of Satan. They do all they can to put in a good word for Jesus through witnessing, handing out tracts, writing Jesus loves you on bathroom stalls, and decorating their cubicles with religious kitsch. When lunchtime comes, these light-in-darkness followers of Jesus will quietly bow their heads and offer up a prayer of thanks for their lunch. They will also likely ask God for strength to help them get through the day as they come in contact with “sinners.” Come five o’clock, these world-weary Christians file out to their cars, turn on the local Christian radio station or stream their favorite contemporary Christian artists to their car’s entertainment system, and head for home. Once home, they immerse themselves in the Evangelical replacement culture. Whether in their car, at home, or at church, Evangelicals do all they can to cleanse their minds and hearts from what they perceive to be the filth of the world. Many of them will offer up prayers of not only thankfulness, but of repentance, telling God they are sorry that they allowed the “world” to influence their behavior.
Evangelical churches and parachurch groups have spent the past seven decades building a Trump-worthy wall around the Christian Ghetto. On Sundays, the front gate is opened so unsaved people — often viewed as Wildlings (Free Folk) in the Game of Thrones — can attend church services, with Christians hoping that the worldlings will get saved. The rest of the time, the gate is shut, opened only when its inhabitants go out into the world to scavenge for food and earn money to pay their tithes and offerings.
Inside the Christian Ghetto is found a plethora of worldly things that have been Christianized. Take Halloween. Many Evangelicals, not wanting to support Satanism and witchcraft, instead turn to Halloween-like parties and events that have been sanitized for Christian use. Children wear Bible character costumes instead of dressing up as witches, fairies, or Walking Dead characters. Some churches use Halloween as an opportunity to evangelize those who live outside the ghetto. These churches sponsor what are commonly called Hell houses. One such event was scheduled to be held at a Chicago public school, that is until school officials found out that the event included a re-creation of the Pulse nightclub shootings. The goal is to scare the hell out of people, and lead them to saving faith in Jesus Christ. As is often the case, Evangelicals are quite willing to use the world to further their agenda. The Catholic church wrote the playbook for this when it, centuries ago, co-opted pagan and secular holidays and turned them into religious holidays.
Most of the time, however, Evangelicals are content to live safely behind the walls of the Christian Ghetto, reading Christian books, listening to Christian music, surfing Christian websites and blogs, and attending a plethora of services and activities meant to make fat sheep fatter. Evangelical pastors, churches, and parachurch leaders know that most Christians want what the world has to offer. We humans want what we want, right? Despite everything the Bible says about the world and avoiding its soul-damaging influence, most Evangelicals want to enjoy all that life has to offer. While some Evangelical sects choose to develop rigid lists of rules that dictate what behaviors are permissible, other sects choose to allow congregants “freedom” to enjoy life, but only within the context of the Christian Ghetto. Evangelical preachers will preach against rock music and secular musicians, encouraging church members to listen to contemporary Christian music or Christian rock. They also encourage members to listen to local Christian radio stations instead of tuning into classic rock or top 40 stations. The recent explosion of praise and worship bands onto the church scene allows pastors and church leaders to use rock ‘n’ roll music during worship services. Churches now have full-blown bands that almost rival Satan’s bands. I say almost, because, as anyone who has ever lived in the Christian Ghetto knows, rarely are Christianized replacements as good as those which are found in the world. Sadly, much of the entertainment-driven worship found in many evangelical churches is a cheap imitation of that which is found in the world.
When presented with a choice between the real thing and a cheap imitation, many Evangelicals choose both, negating the purpose and reason for the Christian alternative. Fact is, despite an endless stream of Christianized entertainments, Evangelicals still love the world. DirecTV provides all sorts of Christian and “family” oriented channels and programming, and I am sure that cable TV does the same. Despite having a treasure trove of Christian programming at their disposal, Evangelicals still watch “worldly” programming, and are quite capable of having intelligent conversations about shows such as Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. The same Evangelicals listen to Christian music, but when pastors or fellow Christians are not around, they flip the channel to local classic rock radio stations and sing along to songs by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
Perhaps it is time for Evangelicals to give up on the replacement doctrine. It simply does not work. Evangelical parents can homeschool their children or send them to Christian schools for thirteen years, hoping to shelter their offspring from Satan and his humanistic, secularist, immoral ways, but sooner or later these same children will have to go out into the world without mommy and daddy protecting them. And once out in the world these lambs become easy prey for those who really do want to hurt them. Or, as many of us can testify, once free from the constraints of Evangelical parents and churches, young adults will throw themselves headlong into “worldly” wants, pleasures, and desires, often making a big mess in the process. The solution is not to build higher walls around the ghetto, but instead to teach children how to navigate a world filled with things that could harm them. Instead of giving them long lists of things to avoid, children would be better served if they were taught to think for themselves. Instead of telling Evangelical teenagers that drinking alcohol and engaging in premarital sex are sins, perhaps it is better to teach them how to make responsible decisions when confronted with opportunities to engage in these behaviors. Of course, part of this training would mean teaching them a situational or relativistic view of human conduct, and therein lies the problem. Evangelicals are wed to the notion that the Bible is some sort of divine road map for life, and its directions must be followed at all times. Because of this, Evangelical girls end up pregnant and boys and girls alike end up infected with sexually-transmitted diseases. No need to teach them to handle their sexuality responsibly, because God says it’s a sin and that is all they need to know. Well, God says lots of things are sins, yet from my seat in the pew, it seems that most Evangelicals are not paying attention. Try as they might to play by the rules, Evangelicals need, want, and desire that which a bunch of bronze-age and first-century men say they can’t have. Freedom awaits those who dare to consider leaving the Christian Ghetto. The first step towards freedom is relegating the Bible to the dustbin of human history. Once free of the Bible, people can then embrace their humanity without fearing God or Satan is going to get them.
Did your parents or church practice the replacement doctrine? Did you as a Christian parent do so? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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