Is Christianity merely an intellectual agreement with a set of propositional truths? Is it merely a warm tingly feeling and the presence of comfort and peace? is it building one's life and diary around the activity of the church? Of course not. Having said that, I recently heard a man who had been representing his area at a national church assembly saying 'I'm not really into spiritual things, but I am active in the life of the church.' Deitrich Bonhoeffer sums up the teaching of Jesus and Paul in the New Testament on life in Jesus when he says 'When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."
Yet, it even seems we manage to do dying wrong. How many times have you sat in a church and recognised the signs of spiritual decay all around you? How many times have you encountered Christians whose 'joy' is so deep that its hidden? How many times during your experience of being part of the body of Christ have you come to the end of your tether in boredom and put it all down to 'great adventures in missing the point?' Maybe I'm the only one.
In many places, as the church we've tried to tackle this. You know, in emphasising joy, vitality, fulness of life in Jesus and in being a 'big happy family' as the church. Lively services, stories for the kids, powerpoint, good music and life-centred messages. Yet, I don't know about you....I think whilst this certainly deals with misery and decay, it produces another equally monotonous by-product ...that is, shallowness. A culture where church is a consumer experience, where services are a show to be enjoyed and where running the whole thing is high maintenance church yet low demand discipleship.
And yet, even here, I'm not talking about a culture that seeks to zap all the free time a person has outside of their work and family (or even in spite of their work and family) and engages people in playing their part in the high maintenance game. I'm not suggesting that the demand be on spending more time at church doing churchy stuff. This too is a symptom of Christianity Lite. It might be one that asks for time from your diary, but it is not one that can be described as maybe the sort of discipleship the New Testament calls us to.
We are all aware of Christianity Lite. Some of us feed it. Some of us ignore it...and sure, its easy to 'judge' it, but how do we speak life into this situation? How do we lower the bar on how we do church and raise the bar on how we do discipleship? And how do we get people into a deeper level of encounter with the Living God through Jesus Christ? This is something I've wrestled with for years as a leader and I've tried all sorts...guilt, coercion, high motivation, deep pastoral care and maybe even paid people to go on course to see if they catch it (desperate, I know). And how do we begin issuing a deeper call to discipleship in environments where the previous call has been less than radical?
This is an issue for Primitive Salvationism with regards to its call to folks to live up to covenant, to raise the bar of discipleship through soldiership. Its an issue for the whole church in its understanding of 'membership' of the church.
Thing is, spiritual depth isn't something you can learn. Its not something you can read about, although there will be things that will be helps to it. Its not something that just 'happens' either. I'm convinced that it comes when the divine penetrates the human heart and soul at its deepest level. Discipleship begins, I believe, when out of a heart saturated by Jesus, the individual takes steps to follow in the Rabbi's footsteps.
In the last blog I recounted my conversion and my subesequent filling. But let me tell you, conversion is simply not a once in a life time event. The life of discipleship is a life of constant conversion. Interestingly, early monastic communities which arose out of insipid Christendom were know as 'Schools of Conversion.' It was the monks and sisters of these communities who were considered to be the disciples, the rest were just 'regular folks'. Subsequently, many people would pay the monks and nuns to live the lives of discipleship that they weren't either willing or equipped to live themselves.
Might it be that our corps/churches/communities/groups need to establish schools of converstion? Not with the goal of creating a two tier discipleship, and certainly not as a hurdle through which one must jump, but simply a place where the call is issued, the path is made, the journey is accompanied into the deeper life? Or, wait a minute...is it not simply the case that our churches should be those exact places? Are we too scared that people will count the cost and fall away? Is that better or not than lulling people into a false sense of what Jesus-following is? How do we avoid letting faithful people like the gentleman I mentioned earlier wasting his life in the church and to start following Jesus?
For me, this is totally not the case of deciding who is 'in' and who is 'out'. This is about what is at the centre of our community. I beleive that if Jesus is truly at the centre, then it will always be attractive. With Jesus, it was never the case of who was in or out, but in about how near you were to the Kingdom. Instead of having churches surrounded by fences which determine the standard of who is in and out, we should have churches with Jesus firmly at the centre. Jesus acts like a well from which people draw upon. Consequently, they will never want to stray far. I'll unpack this at a later date.
Lets not allow our converstion to stop at the day we meet Jesus. Let him fill our whole being so that we might be as the accusation accuses: Christians.