Compare these two lists. Which list of words do you find more appealing?
- The America way of life - The way of the cross
- Individual freedom - Community
- Self determination - Submission to others
- Financial freedom - Serving God not mammon
- The right to private property - Calling nothing your own
- The best defense is a good offense - Strength through weakness
- Patriotism - Citizenry in a nation with
no land, army or flag
- Pride, power, prestige - Mockery, hatred, reviling
Now which one seems more in tune with the life of a disciple before being a disciple was cool? If you are like me, you find that first list more appealing, perhaps inserting your own national identity in place of America. That second list is just a glimpse of the more difficult to handle doctrines in the Bible. Those truths are truly the hard sayings of the Bible but they are also crucial to the life of a disciple.
So why don’t we talk about the hard teachings of the Bible? I am not talking about Calvinism here. The doctrines of grace are easy to talk about compared to the all-encompassing death to self that the Bible depicts. I am not talking about most of the stuff we fuss and feud about that we keep safely tucked away in book, blogs and the halls of the academy (in other words, a lot of what I blog about). I am not talking about meeting in a house instead of meeting in a building. Those questions may be important, and they may not be. They all dance around the core of the Kingdom life: proclamation, self-denial, community, humility, submission, willing sacrifice. They all allow us to continue to live more or less as we choose with only minor inconvenience. I find myself so easily slipping into a smug self-assurance of how right I am walking based on a few practices here and a few doctrines there. I can win arguments all day long with a clever turn of phrase online while living pretty much indistinguishably from my neighbor. The life of a follower is so much more than that. We are told that anyone who takes hold of the plow and looks back is not worthy of Him (Luke 9:62) but most of us haven’t done much more than look at the plow or walk around it to admire it as if the church is a farm show rather than a working farm. We can’t take hold of the plow because we have never let go of the world.
I think there are two reasons these teachings get such meager attention in the church.
One we don’t believe it. Oh we believe in Jesus, we believe in this doctrine and that doctrine, we believe in religion and we really believe that while “those people” are going to an eternal hell, I certainly am not but when it comes to some of the crazy stuff that Jesus and Paul and Luke were talking about? Well, maybe they didn’t really mean it or perhaps it doesn’t apply to us now. For a people who wave the banner “Bible believing” and “sola scriptura” around, we don’t seem to take the commands that require action on our part terribly literally.
The second reason is because teaching what the Bible teaches would empty out a church right quick. I think that is absolutely true. I also say: good. There is no place of lukewarm, spectator sport, subcontracting, ritualistic religion in the Kingdom of God. NONE. There are too many people who need to hear the Gospel, too many orphaned children, too many people in prison, hungry and homeless in the world for us to have most of the church sitting on the sidelines. We should never water down the Gospel to make it easier to swallow because then we end up with churches full of false professors clamoring for teaching to tickle their ears. Let me qualify that statement. That is as true in many conservative churches as it is in “liberal” churches or emergent or seeker-sensitive or whatever buzzword we use these days to describe the wrong sorts of churches. It is also lived out all around us everyday. We would have to take a step up to be the lukewarm church of Laodicea, we more resemble the church of Sardis, reputed to be alive but in reality spiritually dead with but a few remaining that still have spiritual life within them.
For a people that have been sermonized, Sunday schooled, Bible studied nearly to death, we seem to have missed an enormous amount of the message of the Bible, especially when God in the flesh is speaking directly to us in the Gospels. The question becomes how to shake myself and encourage others to shed the lethargy that paralyzes us and get involved in community in the church, global and local mission on behalf of the King and dispensing grace and mercy to those around us. I am not sure what the answer is but I know something is missing. I am desperately seeking others who are motivated for the same thing to support, encourage and prod me when I slip back into the comforts of religion. I am not nearly mature enough to do this on my own and I don't really think that is what God intended in the first place. We need each other and we need each other more than on Sunday morning and Wednesday night.