Counterfeit Christianity – Pietism – That You Can Find God in Your Life

Mark 5:25-34 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed." 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. 30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?" 31 "You see the people crowding against you," his disciples answered, "and yet you can ask, 'Who touched me?'" 32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."

She was alone and afraid. She felt ostracized from the church and rejected by her family. She could not have a husband. She could not have children. Her bleeding issue defined her in society.

She is alone and afraid. She feels ostracized from the church and rejected by her family. She doesn’t want a husband. She has to find a donor in order to have children. She defines herself by her sexuality in society.

And how we react to and treat each woman defines us as Christians.

Last Friday, the United States Supreme Court struck down every state law that prohibited same-sex couples to marry. That should not have come as any real surprise to us. However, it does signal a great divide among the people of America.

As we consider what this will mean for us as Christian individuals, Christian business owners, and Christian churches, it is important that we do not rush either to fear or to bitterness. God’s people were never going to triumph at the ballot box or in the courtroom. The only way we are ever going to win people over to God’s side of any religious debate is to boldly proclaim God’s Word – both Law and Gospel. This is our strength and this is our power. God has promised that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church (Matthew 16:18).

We lose the religious debate when we remain silent about God’s Word and proclaim that it doesn’t matter how we live. But we also lose the religious debate when we say more than God’s Word says and proclaim that it only matters how we live. This second way is called Pietism.

Pietism has been affecting the Christian Church – and even the Lutheran Church – for a long time. The Pietistic movement began among the German Lutherans in the late 17th century. It started as a reaction to a perceived spiritual deadness in the state church. Pietism tends to emphasize sanctification rather than justification; deeds rather than creeds; and stressed holy living rather than the forgiveness of sins.

Does it come as any surprise to you that you and I can become Pietistic in our Christian morality as we live in a society that becomes more and more immoral? A society that doesn’t understand that even though something may be declared “legal” by the government, it can still be declared “immoral” by God. We see that we are surrounded by spiritual deadness and darkness. We Christians try to change society by creating laws to make people more moral. We put down those who are living outwardly immoral lives. And as we look around at the immorality that is pervading our classrooms, our media, our culture, we feel better about ourselves that we haven’t been sucked into all of this depraved nonsense.

And right there is where our Pietism shows through. Pietism simply put is having a “better than thou” attitude.

We know that we are sinners – we confess that every Sunday. But we also know how hard we try to live rightly. Deep down we feel a little more deserving of forgiveness than those heathens, pagans, druggies, adulterers, homosexuals, etc. We make our forgiveness dependent on how we are living rather than purely on God’s grace.

How pious of us!

We need to root out this counterfeit Christianity of Pietism that has infiltrated our faith. As Christians, we claim no moral high ground based on our own merit. Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth (Psalm 124:8). Because of Christ’s bloody sacrifice, we look to the cross daily to cleanse us from our sins. Whether those sins are outwardly immoral or inwardly pious.

We are in gray and latter days as our society appears to becoming more the playground of the devil than the kingdom of God. But these days allow us to have the unique opportunity to gently and respectfully share the hope that is within us. Unrepentant homosexuals are not pariahs to be shunned. They are sinners in need of a Savior, just like we are. Just like the woman with the bleeding issue was.

As Jesus is racing to the home of Jairus, he is stopped by a woman who touches His cloak. For twelve long years, this woman had suffered from a hemorrhage. This bleeding made it impossible to bear children. It also kept her perpetually unclean. She could not go to the temple to worship the Lord.

She had tried doctors. But they couldn’t cure her. Instead, we are told that she “suffered much” from them. I don’t even want to know that that means. Use your imagination. Though they didn’t cure her, they still exacted their fees from her. She “had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.”

Finally, after exhausting every other option, she crafted an outrageous plan. She could not enter God’s presence in His temple, so she entered the Son of God’s presence on the street. This unclean woman then touched the holy, holy, holy Lord God almighty.

What is even more astonishing is what happened next. I’m not talking about her being healed. That’s awesome, but not astonishing. Rather it is Jesus’ words to this scared, trembling, unclean woman who dared touch the holy Son of God. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” He utters not one word of rebuke. He doesn’t go all fire-and-brimstone on her for daring to lay unholy hands on Him.

In other words, Jesus does what He always seems to be doing – He welcomes the outcast; He embraces the pariah; He gladly and willingly pours into her His holy and healing love. What to others might seem sacrilegious, to Jesus is just one more opportunity to exhibit His scandalous, transformative, and sanctifying grace.

What we tend to forget about those are living in open, idolatrous, and adulterous sin is that they are often rejected by Pietistic Christians. Very much like the bleeding woman.

I’m sure the Jewish people in her hometown would have noticed that for the past twelve years she didn’t go to the synagogue or travel to the temple. They probably looked down on her if she wasn’t married and was unable to bear children. They would have noticed that her lifestyle kept her farther away from God than they were.

Sadly, as Pietistic Christians, we do the same thing to our homosexual brothers and sisters. And when I say brothers and sisters, I literally mean our brothers and sisters who are in our own families.

Rather than rejecting them, we need to reclaim them. We add them to the long list of others who have been rejected by many, but whom Jesus welcomes with open arms. Jesus welcomes the hated, traitorous tax collectors. He welcomed the “sinful” women who sold sex to put food on the table. He welcomed the woman nabbed in the act of adultery. He welcomed those with horrific skin diseases. He even welcomed Gentiles. That means He welcomed us.

Indeed, Jesus says that He did “not come to call the righteous [or pious], but sinners to repentance” (Luke 6:32). He invites the “weary and heavy burdened” to come to Him for rest (Matthew 11:28). He didn’t travel around Israel looking for the right kind of people to believe.

If anything, Jesus seems to be calling to Himself the wrong kind of people. Gathered around Him are people with enough skeletons in their closet to stock a cemetery. They flock to Him because they see in Him what they never dared dream before. This is a God who has no qualms about sitting down in the gutter with the downtrodden. A Savior who is happy to have a prostitute weep on His feet and dry them with His hair. A Friend who will share a meal with the most infamous folks in the community. A God who loves the soul of the outcast, even when their bodies belong to the devil.

Counterfeit Christianity excludes those who are not as pious in their lifestyles as the “good Christians.” But true Christianity includes everyone – addicts and alcoholics, cons and ex-cons, prostitutes and pimps, lawyers and politicians, the homeless and the mentally ill, runaways and castaways, the LGBT community and the haters of those in that community. Amazingly, the true Christianity of Jesus Christ even welcomes the pious heterosexuals, the pious happily married couples, and – believe it or not – even the pious pastors.

No matter who you are or what you have done, Jesus preaches the same message to everyone – repent and believe the Gospel. Leave behind the life that is a lie, the life in which you pretend to have it all together. Forsake your religion where you believe in a god who will let you create your own truths and your own lifestyle. You’re lost. You’re unclean. You’re dead. There is no hope for you inside of you. But there is an abundance of hope if you put your faith in someone else. There is forgiveness and cleansing and healing and resurrection and life in the One who bled and suffered for you. In the One who endured God’s wrath over your lifestyle choices and reconciled you to the God who is way more holy than you think you are. In the One who died so that you might die to your sin and lives so that you might live for Him. In the One who will turn no one away.

In Mark chapter five we find a woman who bled for twelve years and a twelve-year-old girl. One was dying slowly and the other died suddenly. In our culture we find the same thing. Those who are dying slowly and agonizingly from their sinful choices and those who die suddenly without faith in Christ. We need to know … and we need to believe … and then we need to proclaim … that life is found in the touch of Jesus. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done, faith still leads to the touch of Jesus that heals and saves and resurrects.

Our counterfeit Pietistic Christianity focuses on us living for Christ. True Christianity focuses on Christ living and dying for us. We run to Him. We get down on our knees before Him. We beg Him for healing and resurrection and saving. And He touches our sins with forgiveness, our death with His life, our sorrow with His joy, our wounds with His healing, our afflictions with His patience, and our fear with His power. 

No matter what the Supreme Court decides or the media trumpets or our protagonists shout, don’t worry. Don’t hunker down. Don’t be afraid of being called racist or homophobic or bigoted. Just keep proclaiming the love of Jesus who touches and heals and saves all. That is true Christianity. Amen.