Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Love of Christ

Yesterday, we set the stage for this discussion a little bit by looking at how the church has approached evangelism - as a personal decision that you have to make for Christ - and how, despite overwhelming numbers of individuals "coming to Christ," the church herself is struggling. What gives?

They took us seriously.

We put so much emphasis on the personal nature of making a decision for Christ and on how your faith is something you and God work out together and on the eternal redemptive aspects of Christian belief that the world thought that's what we were all about, that's what God is all about. 

So today's Christian converts feel perfectly comfortable skipping church and going out into the world doing "good things," whatever they determine that those "good things" are and saying that this is their worship, this is how they "do" "church." Or this is how they "do" Christ.

It doesn't matter, they say, if their "good works" are specifically attributed to Jesus or if they ever even mention Him at all; what matters is that they are doing these good works at all, from their personal starting point of "faith," and so...Jesus approves. 

In other words, we told them that being a Christian was an intimately personal decision, they took our word for it, and made their Christianity their own intimately personal secret, then set about the world being "good" people and doing "good" things and figuring that Jesus, if He even really cares much past the point of the prayer of conversion, would know that He was at the heart of it all and be cool with that. 

They also figure that others, the recipients of their "good" works, will know that it's because they are Christians, and if they don't, well, it didn't matter anyway. You know, if you go to the soup kitchen and ladle soup for an evening, clearly everyone there knows it's because you're a Christian. Or if you pack bags for the homeless and pass them out under the overpass, it's obvious that Jesus is your motivation for doing so.

And if they don't figure that out, then it's because they aren't really interested in Jesus and, well, in that case, isn't it such a good thing you didn't try to "evangelize" them? That could have been disastrous.

The central ethic of all of this is that our Christian faith is about...us. We made a personal commitment to Jesus in the privacy of our own hearts. We do good works because we love Him, and that doesn't require us to make a show of Him. It's about Him and us. And...He approves.

So, you know, faith by works, which cannot possibly be dead.

Again, that's what we told them it was all about. Who could blame them for thinking we meant it?

But this has two extremely dire consequences for the church. First, those we invested our energies in are abandoning us, and the church itself is struggling because of the number of "Christians" who don't figure they need it. Second, these "Christians" who fill the world with "good" works that don't require them to ever share the name of Jesus...are not sharing the name of Jesus. They aren't telling others, not even trying to get the same minimal buy-in of an intimate personal decision for Christ that they had. Which means these Christians who have left our churches and struck out on their own are nor making new Christians; their faith lives and dies...mostly dies...with them.

What was it Paul said? "How will they know if no one tells them?" How, indeed.

Therein lies one of the greatest challenges to today's church. 

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