On the blog experimentaltheology Richard Beck posted a reflection called The Bait and Switch of Contemporary Christianity, wherein he wrote: "The trouble with contemporary Christianity is that a massive bait and switch is going on. ‘Christianity’ has essentially become a mechanism for allowing millions of people to replace being a decent human being with some endorsed ‘spiritual’ substitute."
As an example he recalls waiting tables: "The single most damaging phenomenon to the witness of Christianity in America today is the collective behavior of the Sunday morning lunch crowd. Never has a more well-dressed, entitled, dismissive, haughty or cheap collection of Christians been seen on the face of the earth."
Beck’s article implies that the first followers of Jesus were about transformation and being different, better human beings, examples of a better way of treating one another within a larger culture. Perhaps the change has occurred since most of the earliest followers of Jesus were those who served rather than were served, in America the opposite is probably true today. (Beck is the Associate Professor of Psychology at Abilene Christian University. The entire article can be found at http://www.experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/).
Beck’s observations are not novel, though they may be difficult to internalize. We can either be angry then dismiss the observation, or we can honor them as a reflection of how some Christians act and therefore how many Christians are perceived.
In rereading The Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith, I was reminded that the first use of "Christian" in the Bible is as a noun and not as an adjective. Author Rob Bell makes a good case for this. Being a Christian is about being a particular way--a better person--a decent or good human being. Traditionally we have called this "virtue."
It reminded me of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. One of Paul’s shortest, the letter is addressed to the infant church at Colossae in the Lycus Valley in Asia. This was a new congregation started by followers of Jesus, inspired by Paul’s mission to Ephesus and it was in trouble. There was some false teaching going on.
Scholars believe this false teaching distinguished itself within the church community of Colassae directing individuals to hold, act and impart certain teachings in order to be considered true members with the real tradition. The emphasis in Colossae focused on particular practices necessary to receive the unveiling of heavenly mysteries. What strikes me as interesting is in the midst of pressure to discern rightly Paul reminds the Colossians that the traditions that matter are those given by Christ himself and that they should engage in following the traditions embodied in the life of Christ.
Paul teaches them (3:12) the way of Jesus, the manner of being followers of Jesus. Not surprisingly the work Paul offers the Colossians as spiritual disciplines might be the type of spiritual development that would actually make us better, more decent, human beings. Paul says we should be compassionate, kind, humble, meek, and patient. We should think of others and support them. We should forgive one another, in the manner that God forgives us. We should be loving. Paul says that the love of Christ binds everything. Christ’s peace dwells in our hearts if we allow it.
Paul concludes this portion of his letter by saying, "And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (3.17)
Paul reminds me that the work of the Church is to first, glorify God through the singing of hymns, prayers, psalms, and remembering the breaking of Christ’s body for the world. What we learn from Paul, and soon discover in our own life, is that this work of glorifying God extends to how we treat one another: family, friends, neighbors…waiters, waitresses, and those who wait on us…the servants of all. We participate, as partners with Christ, in the restoration of creation by acting as Christ in the world, that includes restaurants and with people we don’t know.
Becoming a virtuous person, a "decent human being" is our personal Christian work and it is the work of discipleship where we help others live a more virtuous life.
This Fall, let us be willing to engage in spiritual disciplines, ministries and worship that change, that transform who we are…that make us better people. As C. S. Lewis once remarked, let us be about the work of restoring and recreating one another as the embodiment of Christ in the world. That is the work of the Church, each of our congregations and each and everyone of us.
- "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
- "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
- "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
- "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
- "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
- "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
- "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
- "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball