Again there has been a lack of posts on this blog and that’s for two reasons. The first is that the last week this post has been weighing heavy on my heart and I haven’t wanted to post anything else. The second reason was because I was hoping for some replies to my crazy Paul idea, but oh well. Anyway, I wrote up my original post after reading an article linked to by Gordon Dabbs (preacher at my church). I sent my post to my wife because I knew it was written with passion and she recommended I send it to my sister and mother for further review and input, so I did. After speaking with them and thinking about it for several days, it turns out that original post I had written was not something I wanted to post, so I’ve tightened it down into something that I do want to say. I still think the post is rather radical, but try not to take offense at it. Paul wrote in Galatians some pretty strong words, some of which that come to mind are “You stupid Galatians!” (Gal. 3:1, JNT) Yeah, he was inspired and I’m not (at least, in the same sense that he was), but I think as Christians we need to be honest with one another.
The Christian Science Monitor has up a piece called The coming evangelical collapse, written by an evangelical (not some anti-Christian writer). I highly recommend the piece, not only because I share the views posited in it but because I think there is a startling truth: the evangelical movement has lost focus and needs to get it back. The article highlights problems such as youth programs designed to keep kids entertained and help them “feel” their religion rather than know it, and adults who feel at a complete loss for what Christianity actually means to them. I watched a video on YouTube the other night where a Christian youth minister had converted to Islam and he tried to refute Christianity by using Islam. It was the most ridiculous video I had ever seen, and its ridiculousness had nothing to do with Islam, but it was the guy in the video. (Just FYI: Islam is not riduclous and I’m not saying it is) He said at the start he had been raised in a Christian home and had even gone to school and gotten a degree in Christianity, yet what he had was so hollow that he couldn’t answer some basic questions and so he lost his faith and traded it in for one that (to him) had the answers. I’ve heard much better arguments against Christianity before and it was clear to me that the guy really didn’t know what he was talking about concerning either religion. What happened? When did church become so hollow that even our own ministers cannot come to grips with simple issues regarding the Bible and Christianity?
I believe that church became hollow when we (evangelicals) turned Christianity into an intellectual religion. We boiled down the Gospel to its basics and started evangelizing by teaching people: (1) Jesus died for your sins. (2) You must accept the gift of eternal salvation (though denominations vary as to how), and (3) You must walk in “newness of life,” which usually and unfortunately meant to most people generally being a good person (not lying, cheating, stealing, etc) and just showing up at church once or twice a week (or year). Sometimes step 3 was left out altogether! And so people were fed a Christianity where you merely had to accept salvation and then come to church and you were good with God. That’s it. And you know what? People bought into it! That’s how the evangelical movement grew to be the monstrosity it is today. We preached an intellectual gospel – one that only requires an intellectual commitment, not one of the heart where you radically change your life in response to the incredible gift of salvation. You may be vehemently disagreeing with me at this point, but think about it: do any of the above three steps really produce a change in your life like Jesus actually wanted? Jesus’ priorities for your life are so radically different from the world’s that it should flip your life entirely around and that doesn’t stop at waking up on Sunday mornings! Now I’m certainly not attacking teaching people about salvation through Jesus – teaching about that is a good thing. Nor do I think you can somehow do something to earn your salvation – far from it, we are only saved by the grace of God! What I am against is teaching people that making a mental commitment to Jesus is all they need. I saw a quote from (on Alan Stanglin’s blog) from Timothy Dolan, the recently appointed archbishop of New York who puts into words what I could not:
“Maybe the greatest threat to the Church is not heresy, not dissent, not secularism, not even moral relativism, but this sanitized, feel-good, boutique, therapeutic spirituality that makes no demands, calls for no sacrifice, asks for no conversion, entails not battle against sin, but only soothes and affirms.” (”Church News,” Times-Dispatch, Richmond, VA, 2-25-09, A-10)
I have several friends (both in and out of the Church of Christ) that have bought into this version of Christianity. They really believe that now that they’ve checked off the “salvation” box on the form of life they can move on and not worry about church or trying to follow Jesus. And to be honest, the way we do church right now, who needs it anyway? I can totally see why they don’t go or even want to associate themselves with organized religion. I am increasingly finding it empty and devoid of joy and purpose. “Whoa, you’re being radical again, James!” you might say. Yeah, I am, but note I haven’t given up on going just because I’m not satisfied with the way it’s going now. There’s something missing from the way it is now, and I think even “salvation checkbox” Christians can get behind this.
“Okay, so if you’re right, then what’s missing?” you ask. “What’s your solution, oh great and wise know-it-all?” Well, thanks for the compliment (:P), but I didn’t come up with it, Jesus did. The answer is simple and very Jewish: discipleship. Think about the church you go to (or went to) and ask yourself what the point is/was. If your answer is (1) to praise God, or (2) to learn about God, or (3) to fellowship with Christians, or (4) to take communion, then you miss the point of Jesus. Sorry, but you do. Those are great things, but that’s not the point of the church. When we get together as a community of God, yes we will naturally praise God. When we gather together as a community of God we learn about Him and have wonderful fellowship, yes. When we gather together as a community of God we will naturally remember Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, pictured by communion (aka: The Lord’s Supper). But those reasons are not the point of the church! And to think that we teach our children that those four reasons are the point of church really makes my heart ache (that’s what I was taught, at least). I see people at church who leave halfway through the service merely because they’ve taken communion and feel it okay now to leave (without any urgent or pressing need to leave)! If that isn’t missing the point, I don’t know what is! Jesus founded the church on one simple premise: “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matt 26:19-20a) I know in the Church of Christ we’ve traditionally used this verse to beat baptism into people. I still think baptism as an outward (and commanded by Jesus himself) sign of the commitment you’re making to Jesus is necessary, but what’s the point if you don’t live as a disciple? And what we’ve done in the evangelical community at large is “save souls” without giving their new relationship with Jesus any real meaning or backing. That real backing is discipleship. Jesus founded his movement by telling his own disciples to go and make disciples and teach these new disciples what Jesus had taught his own. What had Jesus’ disciples spent the last three years of their life learning? The answer: they had spent the last three years of their life learning how to be a disciple of Jesus (sounds kind of obvious, doesn’t it?). And now Jesus tells them to go and teach other people the same thing! Do you think discipleship was important to Jesus? Yes! Ask yourself why else did the first century church grow so fast and now the church is generally stagnating (and according to the article I linked to, on the verge of collapse)? The answer is that we’re missing discipleship. We’re missing those tight relationships between people as they learn first-hand what it means to be a man or woman of God. The point of the church is to be disciples and make disciples, and out of that you will naturally increase in number and all of the above supposed reasons for church will happen when you gather together.
What do we do about it?
Now ask yourself: if discipleship is so important, whose disciple are you? Or, if you are older, do you have any disciples? My sister pointed out to me that society is very different from the way it was back then and you can’t just quit everything for three years to become a disciple. Probably true. But two questions come up: (1) Have we become too attached to the “American Dream” that we think being a disciple is out of our reach? and (2) If society is different, don’t you think discipleship can adapt? I think the answer to both of those questions is a resounding “Yes!”
If you call yourself a Christian, this is your point in life: to make disciples of Jesus. In order to do that, you must first know what it means to be a disciple and that means finding a mentor/discipler.
But discipleship is not trying to live a good life, going to church on a semi-regular basis, and a quick daily bible reading. Jesus used the first-century Jewish formula for making disciples and here’s what he did: for 3 years he spent every waking moment with them and they learned what it meant to be like him. These disciples walked, ate, slept, and breathed the scriptures, filling their minds entirely with them while Jesus taught about it and explained it.
Are you a disciple? If you are wise in the faith, are you making disciples? Honestly…think about this.
We’ve replaced discipleship with bible class on Sunday mornings. People have this idea that going to church on Sunday mornings is pretty much required, but if you “step it up a notch” and attend bible class, then you’re really learning alot of Jesus! Bible class certainly isn’t bad, but in place of discipleship it’s destroying the church. If every new Christian was seriously discipled like Jesus discipled his 12, and then each one of those turned around and discipled others, then Christianity would radically shift into overdrive and you would no longer have “salvation checkbox” Christians.
Find yourself a mentor and become their disciple. (Yes, I’m talking to me too)
Peace to you,