05 August 2011

more culture than christian

I think the ongoing (perhaps eternal) struggle with evangelicalism is that it is trying desperately to find itself somewhere between culture and christian. We self-define this endeavor in the context of in-but-not-of, though the discussion seldom reaches serious scriptural examination. When individuals cannot adequately locate themselves on the spectrum of Christlike behavior in a fallen world, then a community of individuals isn't going to look any better. Hence, we have churches that are more culture than christian while the kingdom goes drifting by.

It is somewhat like the parable of the two sons who were called to work in the vineyard (Matthew 21:28-32). The church is full of people who initially responded appropriately to the summons to go and work on behalf of the master, but in the end did not. Of course we have all seen this and know it to be true, but our focus should turn to that transition - the moment when acceptance turned into rejection. For some, it is simply a lack of genuine commitment. For others it was a certain 'yes' that drifted away at some other point.

This drifting away can be pulled apart and examined in many different ways, but one epidemic that is sweeping through our congregations - via the hearts and minds and souls of individual believers - is a stronger affiliation with culture than with Christ. It is a failure to become disciples of Jesus rather than churchgoers or christians (by socio-identification). Being a disciple demands spiritual growth and the transformation of one's identification. Christians-in-name-only do not reflect this because they still operate from a cultural ethic rather than a Jesus ethic.

Hence, we have churches filled with people who hold grudges rather than show forgiveness. We have self-proclaiming believers who handle conflict by separation rather than embrace. Too many churchgoers seek to hold the community of faith hostage by threatening to remove their presence . . . and cash. And, as I have witnessed from close-up, entire churches which operate on this principle do not flinch over the opportunity to act illegally in order to prop themselves up over and against another church and its programs.

Which part of our faith is any longer being lived out in fear and trembling?

Those who conform to this world forsake the grace of God insomuch as they live as though their salvation is certain and that they are not like other people. Those who are more culture than christian have no need to look toward heaven and cry, "God have mercy on me, a sinner." And though their hypocritical lives - mouths speaking of mercy and hearts burning of vengeance - might gather around the 'winners' of the world into large groups, they also allow the genuine life of faith to slip through their fingers like sand . . . and miss the kingdom of God.

Christ came to initiate a radical transformation within the hearts and lives of the people of God. The notion of radical transformation means the complete surrendering of who we are to the image of Christ for the sake of others. To follow Jesus demands that we first must follow Paul, who became a slave (one without rights or self-governance) to the Messiah and his new life springing into the world. Without this we simply replicate our own fallenness and multiply the damning of our selves.

But if we could catch for one eternal moment the fire he came to light . . .

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