Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Is It Too Easy?

I have had the opportunity to attend or serve in churches from at least three major denominations. It’s very interesting to observe the “discipleship” process that each of these faith traditions take. The new terminology in churches for “discipleship” is “spiritual formation.” Call it whatever you want, it’s still the same thing. As I look at the process though, I wonder if we’ve made it too simple. Have we packaged everything so nicely and neatly and handed it to people on a platter right there on the table in front of them? Or have we actually required commitment and passion to move through the process?

There are a number of schools of thought in this area. Regardless of which school of thought a church embraces, it seems that the end result is generally the same: once you’ve gone through the process, walking right out the back door is a perfectly acceptable option.

I know that it sounds harsh, but hear me out. In some mainline Protestant churches, those who believe in what they would refer to as “believer’s baptism,” there is a membership class that is required in order to go through the process of baptism. Once the class requirements are fulfilled, you can successfully “pass” and are then eligible for baptism. In other mainline Protestant churches, those who believe in infant baptism and the confirmation process, there is a more stringent confirmation process that is required in order to “pass” and be eligible to be confirmed.

The same problem occurs in both of these areas: people show to church up long enough to take part in the class and the process, and once they get their certificate, they see no need to continue with church attendance. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that out of all of the people that go through this process there is a 100% church dropout rate, but there is a larger dropout rate than any church should be satisfied with.

So what is the church doing wrong? Have we made the process too simple? Is the process meaningful or has it become a distraction and even an idol to a real relationship with Christ?

I would much rather see people involved in churches who participate in worship, spiritual formation, and service, regardless of whether or not they have been baptized or confirmed. In some ways, these things, while beneficial to the spiritual formation of those who claim to be followers of Christ, have instead become symbols that they have been “approved” by the church, and therefore by God. They have become ends rather than means. They are not seen as part of the process, they are seen as the end of the process.

I don’t really have any answers or suggestions of what to do with this. I hate to feel like I’m criticizing the Church, especially when I have no suggestions or alternatives to present that might be beneficial. All that I know is that it is a problem, regardless of denominational affiliation or faith tradition, and that problem desperately needs to be remedied.

People continually argue over whether or not the United States is a Christian nation or not, I don’t think that’s the right question to ask. I think that the right question to ask is, “Is the Church in America really a Christian church?” Are we going through the motions or do we really consider ourselves to be followers of Jesus?

Jesus made it very clear that following after him would not be easy, the symbol of following was an instrument of death: the cross (he said take up your cross and follow me). Easy Christianity seems sort of like an oxymoron. While it should be much simpler than we make it seem at times, it will rarely be easy. But we will live in the tension between grace, faith, and works. While we don’t earn salvation, if we are doing nothing to show the fruit of what God has done in our lives, than we really have to question what kind of “plant” we really are. You know a plant by its fruit, what kind of fruit are you bearing?

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