Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Anemic Christianity

In the story of the rich, young ruler we see a man who is not so far off from the way many of us who call ourselves Christians live our lives today. When he comes up to Jesus the young man refers to him as "good teacher". Jesus immediately challenges the man on this point. Why? It was because Jesus knew that this man underestimated what makes someone "Good". His standard was set too low.

The crazy thing is that I see the same exact thing happening in church life today. I recently saw a list of accountability questions that some local churches have been using in their men's accountability groups. Here are the 13 questions (disguised as ten) that these accountability groups are asking themselves.

1)Have you fulfilled your personal goals for prayer, Scripture reading and Bible memorization this week?
1a)Have you been faithful in Bible reading? What has the Lord shown you in the Bible this week? 1b)Have you been faithful in prayer? What have you been praying about this week?1c)Have you been faithful in Scripture verse memorization this week? What verse(s) have you been working on?
2)Have you exposed yourself to any explicit material (e.g., TV / movies / Internet / magazines / books), or taken any illegal drugs, or engaged in occult activities this week?
3)Are you aware of any unconfessed sin(s) in your life?
4)Have you been completely above reproach in all your financial dealings this week?
5)Have you been a good steward of all of the resources God has given you (e.g., money, time, talent)?
6) Is there anyone you need to forgive?
7)Have you been involved in the sins of gossip, or demonstrated critical spirit or jealousy?
8)Have you been with a woman this week in such a way that was inappropriate or could have looked to others that you were using poor judgment?
9)Have you stood for Christ in the marketplace in which you work?
10)Have you taken every opportunity to share Christ with your unsaved family, friends, and coworkers?
Immediately upon reading this list it made me cringe. I cringed not because I want to see men living licentious and immoral lives, but because if this is the standard by which we measure our righteousness then it falls way too short. I began drafting a new set of questions. Here are some of the ones that came to my mind immediately along with my explanations for why I added them.
1) Have you not only fulfilled your times of prayer, but have you allowed the scriptures to wash over you as you meditate on them and light your path with each step you take?
Why is it that we are so easily satisfied by jumping through a few , so called, spiritual activities. Reading X number of Bible chapters each day is worthless if we don't approach the scripture with a heart of humility and a desire to hear the spirit speak to us. Merely checking off a reading list is worthless if it does not take root in our hearts. So, are we reading to fulfill an obligation or are we seeking the scripture because we are hungry for the Words of life.
2) Have you prayed without cessation during this week or have you merely put in a few minutes here and there?
15 minutes a day? Half an hour a day? An hour a day? Why do we set the bar so low and then pat ourselves on the back when we do so little and yet we are called to pray continually.
3)Have you allowed anything or any person in your life to have a higher allegiance within your heart than the Lord God Almighty?
4) Have you misrepresented Christ in anyway during the week through either action or inaction or words spoken or left unspoken?
If we call ourselves Christian (or a follower of Christ) then everything we do or say represents him whether we like it or not. Knowing that should make us very humble and quick to admit the ways that misrepresent him in our lives each day.
5) Have you kept the Sabbath holy by keeping it both as a day for your own rest and by causing no others to work on that day?
One of the big 10, but somehow we seem to disregard it in our day.
6) Have you had any violent thoughts, been exposed to any explicitly violent material (violent sporting events, fighting championships, first person shooter games, movies, television shows, etc...) or even had thoughts of hate towards any individual, people group, sports team or political party?
American culture is hyper-sensitive and protective of our children when it comes to sexually explicit material (which is a healthy thing) and at the same time we turn a blind eye towards violence. I was first made aware of this when I lived in Europe and movies that would be considered PG-13 by American standards, were rated R by Spanish standards due to their violent content. In the church it almost seems like violence is not an issue at all. Maybe we need to rethink violence and the place it has within the heart of God.
7) Have you been exposed to any sexually explicit material, or even had a lustful thought about another person this week?
Whether we have been exposed to explicit material or not, if we lust after another person we are guilty of adultery.
8) Have you consumed anything whether legal or illegal that has in any way damaged or polluted your body during this week?
Does God care if we are harming and killing ourselves with legal substances or gorging ourselves on fried (but legal) delicacies??
9) Have you coveted anything that belongs to someone else? (House, jewelry, car, shirt, tennis shoes, computer, phone, video game, food, meal, job, etc...)
C’mon, tell the truth.

So here's is the next problem. Even though I went through the list and made it more strict by ten-fold it is still not enough to produce righteousness in someone's heart. Phillip Yancey does a great job addressing this very issue in his book The Jesus I Never Knew. His excerpt begins with the words of Jesus as he speaks to a crowd:
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.... For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."

That last statement surely made the crowd sit up and take notice. Pharisees and teachers of the law competed with one another in strictness. They had atomized God's law into 613 rules- 248 commands and 365 prohibitions- and bolstered these rules with 1,521 emendations. To avoid breaking the third commandment, "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord," they refused to pronounce God's name at all. To avoid sexual temptation they had a practice of lowering their heads and not even looking at women (the most scrupulous of these were known as "bleeding Pharisees" because of frequent collisions with walls and other obstacles). To avoid defiling the Sabbath they outlawed thirty-nine activities that might be construed as "work". How could an ordinary person's righteousness ever surpass that of such professional holy men?
So, where does this leave us? Should we just throw in the towel and stop trying? No, but we must be cautious not to fall into the fallacy of the Pharisees by dealing with external behavioral changes and neglecting issues of the heart. Ultimately, that was what Jesus was most concerned about and he left us with some simple guidelines. If we want to have accountability questions then we need have only two. In these two questions, God will reveal how far we are from his heart in every area of our lives through these questions all of our sin and folly will be exposed.

These two questions are simple to remember, but they are not easy to fulfill. Let us be deliberate and prayerful as we think of the implications of these two questions in each of our lives. In the areas where we fall short let us confess our sins to God and ask him to change our hearts.
1) Do I love the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind and with all my strength?
2) Do I love my neighbor as myself?