Monday, July 27, 2009

Comfortable Christianity

Over the last month on this blog, we've looked at "The Easy Three-sy", the easy, less demanding versions of The Key Three, which are the core values of our church. Whereas a real, authentic faith produces Real Spirituality, Real Community, and Real Story, the Easy Three-sy settles for fake versions of these vital expressions of the Christian life.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who died in a Nazi concentration camp, wrote famously in his seminal work, The Cost of Discipleship, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."

That's not a very popular notion with most American Christians. In America, we've been conditioned to believe:

  • that the fastest and the easiest is the best,
  • that suffering and sacrifice are useless,
  • that convenience is a necessity,
  • that waiting for anything is a bother,
  • that pleasure and fun are inalienable rights.

If you don't believe me, just watch our commercials. Every product and service promises instant, easy, convenient fun for the purchaser:

  • Are you tired of the hassle of going to the dry cleaners? Then buy our easy dry-clean-at-home solution!
  • Have you had it with knives that go dull and have to be sharpened? Then get these knives that chop through steel and never need sharpening again!
  • Overwhelmed by all the phone calls from creditors? Then call us, and we'll send you our proven system that simply and quickly transforms your debt into wealth!

So in a culture where running errands is understood as suffering, it's easy to see how death is a tough sell. And yet that's, of course, what Jesus expects of us: "Anyone who does not carry his cross and folllow me cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:27 NIV). As his listeners well understood, a cross was not just a heavy burden to carry, but was the principal device of torture and execution in the Roman Empire at the time. Today, Jesus might say, "Anyone who does not sit in his electric chair and follow me cannot be my disciple." And just in case he hasn't been explicit enough, to drive the point home, he reiterates just 6 verses later, "Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple" (v. 33).

Jesus's expectations for us fly in the face of the "Comfortable Christianity" most of us have consumed for most of our lives--the Easy Three-sy we've grown accustomed to. But if Jesus's expectations are different than our own, whose ought to shift or bend?

I think that notion is worth pondering for a while. Here, I'll stop typing for a little bit while you chew on that thought.






Just a casual scan through the Gospels reveals much about the kind of lives that Jesus expected us to live, as his followers:

  • "When they arrest you, do not worry"
  • "All men will hate you because of me"
  • "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body"
  • "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it"
  • "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me"
  • "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first"
  • "A time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God"
  • "In this world you will have trouble"

It's a wonder that we can read any of these words and still believe in a comfortable Christianity. Yet it happens all the time. Somehow, we just skip over these words of Jesus (and much more from Paul, Peter, James, and the rest!), and we figure that they don't really apply to us, somehow. After all, we're Americans! We don't do the suffering-thing. (When the world criticizes church-people for being hypocrites, this is what they are talking about--they're willing to at least respect all-out commitment, even if they don't agree, but to live the same life that everyone else is living and call it better somehow? That's a little hard to swallow.)

So the question for American Christianity, in a way, becomes... How do we become less American and more Christian?

You see, this isn't a struggle for our brothers and sisters in China, Iraq, Egypt, India, and North Korea--they don't have this problem at all. In a way, when there is no external persecution coming against the Church, the living of a Real Faith becomes much more difficult; there is no crisis that forces us to choose it, we don't recognize our impoverishment that shows us how much we need it.

So Real Faith is born from all the little choices we make along the way:

  • Will I always give to God sacrificially of my time and money?
  • Will I worship with reckless abandon, regardless of what others may think?
  • Will I reveal my weaknesses and failures to others so that I can grow to overcome them, even though it makes me vulnerable?
  • Will I talk with my neighbors and coworkers about Jesus and my church, not knowing whether my talking will be welcome or not?
  • Will I serve others when I have the opportunity to serve myself?
  • Will I continually say "yes" to God, regardless of how much he asks of me?

Will you?

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