Is that a presumptuous title or what?
For the last few years I’ve been engaged in some separate studies that have come together in a surprising way. One of the great benefits of being in full time ministry is the time I get to spend in study and research. The pressure to present it adequately is great, but the process is rewarding. I always seem to find something I didn’t know before or I gain some better insight into a particular topic or scripture. For me, study is one of my favorite things to do.
I haven’t really chosen the material I’ve studied over the last few years. Selecting material is one of the most intimidating factors for me and my teaching/preaching. I always do better if someone else selects the material. That’s the one request I’ve made of the current preaching arrangement. I’ll preach whenever and whatever (typically slightly less than half the sermons per year), I just don’t want to have to select the material. Looking back, I can see God’s hand at work as he’s revealed things to me through this approach. This is what makes the converging of the areas of study over the last few years so very interesting.
In the last couple of years, we’ve preached/taught on church as a people and not a place, servant leadership, discipleship, mission and vision, Romans, James, covenant and church membership, basic Christianity, and church history. We’ve always approached the topics with a desire to look at what is really important, to see things fresh, to seek out the heart of God. The crazy thing is, when you seek the heart of God you tend to find it… and when you do it tends to be life changing.
I know that it has recently been cool to bash Christianity and church. Repenting for sins committed by us, and others, in the name of Christ. I also know that it is currently becoming cool to bash those who bash Christianity, as though we’ve all had just about enough of all the sniveling whining. I admit to having been a part of both parties at various times, but in the last few months I’ve become a little more convicted about the state of Christianity.
I’m convinced that, in general, Christianity in the form that we practice it in the U.S. is broken. Church and what we allow to pass as church is a shadow of what it was meant to be. The most important principles of Christianity have been pushed to the side as formulas, traditions, and comfort zones have moved to the top. We’ve turned salvation into something to sell to individuals in an attempt to conform their behavior and have used the threat of losing the same as a motivation for participation and faithfulness to our contrived system. We’ve sought to reduce Christianity to its empirical formula so that we can make sure and cover all the bases without having to give up too much of our time and life.
At the same time, I’ve seen incredible things occur within the borders of what we call church. I’ve seen hurting people comforted, hungry people fed, and I’ve personally reaped the rewards of the availability of forgiveness and restoration. Unfortunately, these events are more extraordinary than they are typical. In my opinion, that means a few things. First, people want the best things about church. Second, the hearts of people within church are typically focused on God, even if they don’t really know what that means. Third, when given the opportunity, God wants to work through His people to affect these things.
So what holds us back? Why are we frequently slaves to culture and tradition rather than moving forward and embracing the true power that comes through Christianity? In the last few years, as my studies have converged, I think I’ve come up with a few ideas as to why. I’ve found roots of our current system in church history, roots that we deny really exist (I never would have described the Church of Christ as quasi-Calvinist with an Anabaptist twist before). In understanding covenant and the role of sacrifice I’ve seen that what we try to pass off as fellowship is pretty cheap compared to the blood brotherhood that should exist. Even in looking at the very basic principles of Christianity and spiritual disciplines I can see how much we’ve missed the big picture in what Christianity is supposed to be about.
In short, I think that Christianity is in desperate need of redemption. I’m not talking about the Christianity established and designed by God, but rather what we practice today. I’m talking about that unique mix of Biblical interpretation, custom, tradition, preferences, and comfort zones that make up what we do as a religious practice. My hope is that I’ll spend a few posts sharing some of the things I’ve been taught in recent months and years, and I hope you’ll join me in the journey.
So, what do you think about the audacity of someone who claims that Christianity needs redeeming?