Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Keeping the Faith

Most Christians spend their time hemming and hawing and debating about what Jesus meant when He said whatever He said because they know that if they admit that they knew what He meant, they'd be held accountable for acting or not acting upon His words. (Not to be a bother here, but they're held accountable anyway, for the Lord knows what they know, even when they pretend not to.)

But the problem that Western Christianity runs up against really is a semantics problem. Not Christ's semantics; ours.

Here's what we've done: in a world that accepts Christianity, as much as it accepts it at all, as just one of a myriad of options of religion for a people who seem predisposed to such a thing, we have come to identify it as "the" Christian faith, the same way that we choose "the cheeseburger" or "the tacos" off of a dinner menu. And this makes it forever something different, something distant, from ourselves, something we can objectively study in the third person or point to in a museum and discuss in some high-brow, removed kind of way. 

What we have here is the Christian faith. If you'll notice, you can see that it....

We become, then, a people who can either talk about the Christian faith or cannot. We become a people who can point out all of its details or cannot. We become a people who know about it or do not. But it's a relic and nothing more in our human story. It is the Christian faith. 

This is the way that outsiders have always talked about the Christian faith - as that thing that other persons do that is so weird and bizarre and beyond them. As that thing that they can only describe "objectively," from the outside looking in. (Objective and subjective are not really the right words, but stick with me here.) Ah yes, they say, the Christians. The Christian faith. 

And our postmodern, relativistic, every-man-to-his-own-truth culture has made us all outsiders to our own faith. Hence, the Christian faith. No wonder we no longer own it; it is a thing to be beheld, but not touched, just as all artifacts in a museum.

Better would be to have a Christian faith. At the very least, if you have a something, you leave open the possibility that you own it. For example, our youth minister asked last summer if anyone had a unicycle he could borrow for a lesson series. I have a unicycle. It is mine. In the same way, I have a refrigerator, a piano, and a dresser. Being a and not the leaves these things open to being owned, to being unique to my possession, rather than being an exhibit of something forever to be preserved in its pristine condition and discussed by intellectuals who happen to have an interest in such things. Having a something, including a Christian faith, creates the possibility that I actually own it, it is mine, and I might even use it. 

Better even still would be to have my Christian faith, but almost no one talks this way any more, except perhaps as a deference to a culture that insists that all faith can only be private once held, and therefore, it would be inaccurate to ever say that there is a Christian faith outside of your own possession of it. But that's not the linguistic context we're talking about here. 

How often any more do you hear someone cite "my" Christian faith as a reason or an example or a meaningful construct of who they are? It just doesn't happen. Not because we don't have a Christian faith, but because we don't own it. We no longer believe that we even can own it. It is the Christian faith, and it exists far beyond our own manifestation of it. In fact, most of us have even come to believe that we somehow pollute or poison the Christian faith by my imperfect living of it, as though our being Christians at all cheapens what being a Christian even means. 

So it's easy to say that we don't understand. It's easy to sit back and debate what Jesus must have meant. After all, it's not about me any more. Whatever He said, it's about the faith, not my faith; my faith requires me to sit here and figure out what Jesus meant for me when He said whatever He said. And thank God (blessed Lord, Amen), that always keeps me one step away from actually owning my own faith and having to do anything about it. After all, He can't hold me accountable for what I haven't interpreted yet....can He?

We have a semantics problem in our faith. Yes, our faith. But it's got nothing to do with what Jesus said. Rather, it's got everything to do with whether our faith is really the faith or if it's my faith. If it's my faith, then I best start living like it is. Oughtn't I?

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