I was talking with a friend yesterday about the American evangelical church. I often wonder if we, as a whole group, have started to drift away from some important things. As a counselor, I really appreciate teaching that helps the average pew-sitter to function better. How do I parent better? How do I improve my communication with a spouse or family member? How do I lead my family to be strong? I think these are questions that the church must address. But I’m not sure if they should address them from the pulpit.
While learning how to help my child handle a bully, or the statistics for how eating together builds strong families is really important information (truly), I don’t need Jesus to do that. I think the emphasis on growing strong families is crucial to our society. But I need to learn how Jesus is the only true Source for that to happen. In our attempts to help a dying world, I don’t want to see us become the Christian version of a self-help resource for families. Does this make sense?
In the book of John, Jesus mentions His full and utter dependence on God in over 100 verses. He never said or did anything outside of what His Father told Him to say or do. Romans 14:23 tells us that anything that is outside of faith is sin. Anything that is not the Jesus-kind-of-dependence on the Father is still sin, even if it is functionally helpful. In other words, our righteousness (apart from a true connection with God) is like filthy rags. It doesn’t count. So how do we connect people to this truth?
When I read the Beatitudes (found in Matthew 5), Jesus actually taught the crowds in much the same way we do. He told them what it looks like at the end of the process but did not give them much (at that time) of how to get there. So He said things like, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” We think, “Okay, thanks. If I ever feel like grief is too much then I know God will comfort me. I’ll keep that in my back pocket in case I need it.” We use the Bible for self-help information so that we can pull out what we need when we think we need it. But what if, instead, it is a call to mourn? What if God is asking us to grieve our sin instead of trying to manage it? What if He is asking us to be so distraught at the state of our own hearts that we are overcome with grief? He says that we are then blessed because we will be comforted.
I think we tend to teach in terms of “how-to’s” and “practical applications.” I’m not, in ANY way against that. I guess I’m just concerned that we get stuck there and never open ourselves to God’s transformation. We take a practical sermon and file the information in some folder in our minds and know we can pull it out when we need it. Instead of learning the three benefits to mourning, I want to accept the invitation to begin the mourning process. I don’t need more information. I need an invitation.
The Islamic religion is growing by leaps and bounds. The premise for its growth is the strong “moral principles” that drive it. To be Muslim is to respect your family, be a good citizen, and be willing to give your all to Allah. How are we different? We are different because we can’t do it. We believe that Jesus had to do it for us. We are not moral people for the sake of morality. We are a people made righteous by the blood of Jesus. I think we need to keep remembering this or our growth is no different than that of the Muslims. We may be helping our society but we are not saving souls.