Monday, October 17, 2011

Event or Process

I grew up going to church. My dad was the pastor, so I was there twice every Sunday. I can't say that I was happy about it all the time, or even most of the time, but I was there. That was just what we did. I went through the whole process that my church laid out for me to be a good Christian. I needed to make sure that I "prayed a prayer" and that I invited Christ to come "into my heart." Baptism was a public profession of faith, signifying to everyone who observed that I was committing to walk in the ways of Christ for the rest of my life. I was baptized on Christmas Eve 1980.

Years after I went through all of these processes, I began to ask myself what I really meant when I took part in them. Were they things that I did because that was what was expected of me or because I truly believed that they were the right things to do? Had I embraced a faith that had been spoon fed to me or was I sinking my teeth into it, allowing it to become my own, believing it because I knew deep down in my heart that it was true?

I wrestled with these questions and many more for at least a year. I tried to understand what I believed and why I believed it. When I came to some conclusions, they weren't anything like what I expected they would be and I began to wonder if the language that had been used for so long was somewhat antiquated. Was this really the best way to express a journey of faith?

It seems like evangelicals put a lot of emphasis on a decision or prayer and sometimes forget that any kind of decision or prayer is simply a starting point rather than the end of the experience. I have been reading about bounded sets and centered sets lately. Bounded sets define things by characteristics while centered sets define things by the motion in which these things move, away from or towards the center. Many people have described the notion of "becoming a Christian" in terms of bounded sets, crossing some kind of imaginary threshold which we sometimes treat as the equivalent of drinking a special potion. After this event, we are never the same.

I agree that we are never the same, but I don't believe that we experience overnight success. I'm not sure that I believe those who claim that you do. I'm not sure that the apostle Paul would agree with those who do. If you spend any time whatsoever in his letters, you will see that he speaks frequently about the Christian walk as a journey or a race. Regardless of which it is, there is motion and movement, there is progression. There is no stopping, it's a constant flow. Paul even expressed his struggle with doing things which he know he shouldn't do and avoiding things which he knew that he should do.

When we make the pursuit of Christ about an event rather than a progress, it seems that we put the emphasis on what we are doing rather than what he has done. It seems somewhat ironic to me that some who are so hell-bent on preaching against a works based salvation have become the very thing that they detest when they emphasize the event rather than the process. While they might not admit it, it certainly seems that focus on an event can have a tendency to emphasize my part in the process rather than God's finished and perfect work, accomplished for me, not by me.

Another thing that I think emphasis on the event does is de-emphasize the process and transformation that happens later. Some would consider the event their "get out of hell free" card. They can point to an event but after that, there is not much that distinguishes them from someone who does not believe in Christ. In fact, there may be people who don't acknowledge Christ who show more signs of change and transformation than those people who are basing everything on an event. James writes in his letter that faith without works is dead. If we do not exhibit some kind of life change, does that prayer really matter?

I know that I am far from perfect. Anyone who has spent any amount of time with me can attest to that. At the same time, I think that most of those same people who have known me for any length of time can attest to the fact that I am not the same person that I was. I am different. I am changed. That change is something that has occurred over time and will continue to happen over time. I will not be complete on this side of eternity. I do not make these changes myself but it is Christ in me that allows me the strength to endure.

Forward progression towards the cross is what defines a Christian, not whether or not they show all of the characteristics of being a Christian. While characteristics can be helpful, there are other times when it's hard to distinguish between counterfeits and the real thing. Let your direction be the thing that defines who you are, not an event that was experienced and then forgotten. Meaningful events will have an impact far greater than the span of the event, they will cause a change in direction that continues on, forward towards the center. Let your life be centered on Christ, not focused on an event

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