I have had a few people approach me about my reactions to an article that has been making it’s way around Social Media. The blog post was by Benjamin Sledge and his title is “Let’s Stop Pretending Christianity is Actually Relevant, Okay?” So, what follows are my insights and reactions to this article…which you can read HERE.
First and foremost, I want to thank Mr. Sledge for his thought provoking blog. There is so much here that is worth considering further, which is what I plan on doing. I must confess that as a minister and preacher, I am having a harder time considering the “practical application” of Biblical texts and it is not because I cannot come up with them, but because I want to give people something they might actually consider being or doing. A fellow minister tweeted a few weeks back that preaching on the Bible is like “giving a book report on a book that no one else has really read.” That has stuck with me as much as Sledge’s remark, “It’s quite strange to expect people to conform to your morals because you quoted a book they don’t read.” I often wonder how Christianity might change if the Bible was taken seriously and read by the people who claim their devotion to it. I also wonder how our study of the Bible would affect our interactions with those who don’t hold to the same belief system that Christians hold.
Don’t mishear my apprehension, I know that there are some Christians who read the Bible and try to take it seriously, but I know many more Christians who would rather assume they know it from childhood memories and one sermon a week than to actually pick it up and read it. So, I say this to reflect some concern as to the level of relevancy the Bible has for Christians before we even begin to look at the larger American culture.
When we do look at American culture, I think this article assumes an emerging correlation between the pagan Roman culture of the first century and the current American culture. This assumption exposes a division in the larger Christian landscape. I know Christians who hold to an understanding of American history and cultural development that claims the United States is a Christian nation, founded by Christian principles, and held together by Christian leaders. Yet, Sledge represents a growing group of Christians who point out that the United States has strikingly familiar parallels to Greco-Roman rule and culture, and has been that way from its conception. Perhaps a truce might be had if we acknowledge that regardless of our bent in regard to history, American culture is growing more pagan and Roman cultural practices, as described by Sledge in his article, are taking precedent over the teachings of Scripture.
Let me try to supply four observations from the article that I believe need to be addressed and corrected if the church is to be Attractive to the culture once again:
1. The relevancy of the church is found in our actions and not in our doctrines.
Ok, so before you pick up your stones to drag me out in the street, what I am claiming is that the church has high-level doctrines like God, Christ, God as creator, Humanity as the beloved creation, the Holy Spirit…etc. And the church has low-level doctrines that have developed between denominations and lead to our unique identities as sects and tribes. So often, we take our lower-level doctrines and try to show the larger culture why our distinctiveness needs to be appreciated and followed…we lead with low-level doctrines. In contrast, it is the higher-level doctrines that produce within us the ability to love, serve, give, and extend hospitality. So, as the church leaders teach us about life as a ______________ (insert denomination here)…as opposed to life as a ________________ (insert hated denomination here…the culture around us scratches their heads and continues to be lost. To seek the lost, we need to actually DO - love, give, serve, and invite - and it is the sum of these qualities found in a group of Christians taking Jesus’ life seriously that becomes attractive to others.
2. We have replaced the pursuit of faithfulness with the pursuit of fame.
Why must we use social media for every little concern we have? I must agree with Sledge that Christians on social media during an election year is one of the most Kingdom destroying activity I have ever witnessed in the American culture. It doesn’t matter who your candidate is, what side of the isle your on (if your even in the chamber), some one is going to represent Christ in a way that makes you go…WHAT!?!? But that isn’t all…what about our Christian celebrities that people flock to go hear speak at the colleges and non-profit events? I mean, what’s better than a super Christian with mega-bucks? I’ll tell you, a widow who has lost her husband and continues to visit the sick, reach out to young mothers, and attend worship services even though she doesn’t know what the internet is….because she continues to be faithful. Sledge says that churches have become bigger, but that doesn’t mean they have become better…I experience the pull and tug between being a famous minister or a faithful minister. I didn’t use an and/or there because I have a hard time understanding what a famous and faithful minister really would look like. I really wonder if anyone can really be famous and faithful…It almost seems to much for us to handle. But I do know this, my neighbor doesn’t really care how famous I am, but she does care about the respect I give her and the conversations we have…What does faithfulness look like, well, it starts by being present and paying attention to others. The famous are often absent and self-focused. Our culture needs more faithfulness.
3. In making God accessible to the peoples, we have displaced God’s holiness.
We can dress God up in skinny jeans, hand him (or her) a guitar, and request Oceans (a good song) as much as we want. But God resists being our friend and pal because God is not as we are…God’s ways are different…God’s thoughts are different…and God as the Holy One refuses relevancy to some degree. Some groups of Christians have synchronized with culture by placing persons and our lives at the center (or top) of our priorities and then they ask God to provide something good or grand for us to entertain and maybe adopt as our way of life. God is a counselor in our efforts to self-help, and this notion of God should be foreign to the Christian experience and is completely unheard of in the text of Scripture. God is Holy, and we are to live a life that is relevant to God and whether God is relevant to us depends upon our choices to put God at the center of our lives and view God as top priority. If God became less of a friend and more of a…well, God…the great “I AM” of the Old Testament who cannot be controlled or manipulated, then we would do as God wants and the life of service to God by loving and serving other would flow out of this attitude adjustment.
4. In prioritizing education through the pursuit of knowledge, we have forgotten to teach the discipline of discernment.
When I went to seminary to study ministry and theology, in my very first class I was handed a book entitled, “A Little Exercise for Young Theologians.” It was a brief book that I could make much more brief—the book told us to shut-up! Yeah, not that way but basically the book assumed that we would be gathering all of this knowledge and would learn new things and the author made a point to suggest that take the time to discern what was appropriate for us to pass along and what we should think about a little more before putting it out there. I think that I am smarter than the generations of old, that is I am more well read and have a more well-rounded education. I can look anything up on the internet and learn to do anything on YouTube. We know a lot…but I think we have a hard time discerning…between sources of information…between socially appropriate outlets…between private and public arenas…and so forth. I agree with Sledge that Christians need to halt the relenting pursuit of being right in favor of a pursuit of doing right.
I’m sure there is more I could have thought about, but I think the relevancy of Christianity is dependent on the relevancy the faith finds in the hearts and lives of Christian people. Which brings this to me and to you…are we part of the 70% who are culturally Christian or are we going to be the smaller group characterized by love, grace, and acceptance who live the life of Jesus?
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.