Monday, October 25, 2004

Convenience Christianity

Yesterday I entered my SS classroom to continue my series on the letters of John. As I entered I noticed that three of the participants (a married couple and a widowed mutual friend) were absent--again. They were absent not only from my SS class, but from church as well--again. These were the same people who virtually begged me to start the class in the first place. They were the ones who talked me out of taking a hiatus from teaching a class after the previous study was finished.

As I've already intimated, this was not the first time they decided not to show up with no notice. In fact, this is their pattern. They attend for two or three weeks in a row, then they fail to show up for two or three weeks in a row. This pattern has been true of them since they started attended my Bible studies several years ago, but has gotten progressively worse. To them, church and Bible study is a wonderful place to go on Sunday mornings--and they "just get soooo much out of the study" (their words)--so long as there isn't "something better to do" (not their words, but clearly their sentiment). Over the years I have made a special point of teaching them the significance of meeting together as a church, of getting involved with the ministry of the church, and of viewing the church not as something that serves them but as something to be served. When I taught through Hebrews, I hit especially hard on chapter 11, which contains some of the most inspiring examples of shunning the world and dedicating one's life completely to Christ and his kingdom:

[Some] were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated--the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
I have taken them through a study of Philippians--no clearer example of the kingdom-based mindset of a spiritually mature Christian, in which I am in this world only at the good pleasure of Christ and the sole purpose of my life is to be used up and disposed of by Christ as he sees fit, exists in the entire New Testament. I have taken the time to read to them the words and the actions of persecuted Christians from the annuls of history, in the pages of the apostolic fathers and Foxe's Book of Martyrs. I have shared with them news of persecuted Christians in the underground church of China and elsewhere, where Christians are regularly beaten, imprisoned and/or killed for simply meeting together . . .

. . . all of which were beautiful words to them; words they will never take to heart. Why? Because, sadly, they are products of "Convenience Christianity."

I have even connected the dots for them and have asked rhetorically how comparatively shallow "our" Christianity is when we decide not to meet together with the church because "it's such a nice day out, and I thought how wonderful it would be to go horseback riding," or "we spontaneously decided just to go for a drive," or "well, we promised our unbelieving aquaintances that we would help them with a secular community benefit that they decided to put on right smack dab in the middle of when we would otherwise be attending church," or "It's Mother's Day, and of course instead of offering to take mom to church with us to show her how committed we are to our church, how committed we are to meeting with the body of Christ, and how committed we are to Christ and his cause in this world, we have decided that the only way we can honor her properly is to take her to breakfast (no other meal honors a mother so much as breakfast, after all), and doggone it, we must have breakfast right at the time the church meets together--which is not our fault, mind you; it's the fault of society, who decided breakfast should happen right in the middle of the time we should be meeting with the saints to honor the Lord of the universe and to meet with his bride."

Upon hearing all this, they look at me blankly: "We just looooved the study today. It was soooo powerful. Oh, by the way, we won't be here next week. We're having hay delivered for our horses right at the time church starts."

Well, at least they gave me some notice that time. Usually, I find out they won't be there only after I get there--you know, after I have arisen at 4am (as I do everyday) to study for the next several hours and to put together the Scripture passages from which I have planned to teach that morning.

Too many Christians too easily decide not to attend a local church, or to attend sporadically, or hop from church to church looking for what they can "get out of it" rather than what they can put into it. They look for a church that can "meet their needs" rather than a church they can serve best. Worst of all, there is no shortage of churches out there that encourage that self-absorbed mindset. They want to become "relevant" to lazy-minded, self-willed Christians who are the product of the instantly gratifying fast-food industry rather than the apostolic deposit. I have in the past called this "Christianity lite--it's less filling and it tastes great!"

Meanwhile . . .

On the same day when three Chinese Christians were sentenced to jail terms of between one and three years in the Zhejiang Province (See Chinese Court Jails Three Christians), more than 100 house church leaders were arrested in Kaifeng City, Henan Province on 6th August. More than a hundred house church leaders were beginning a two week retreat, held at the home of MrsXiang Zi, the wife of one of the retreat organisers. Suddenly more than 200 military police, Public Security Bureau (PSB) and other officers surrounded the venue, without providing any arrest warrants or official identification papers. Mrs Xiang Zi was arrested along with their three children, aged between eight and eleven years. . . . This is the most recent in a series of mass arrests of unregistered Protestant Christians in China and is yet further proof of the increased crackdown on the house churches. The last time such an incident occurred was when more than 100 house church leaders were arrested one month ago in Xinjiang Autonomous Region. >>More

Convenience Christianity is exceedingly draining on those of us who have committed our lives to the spiritual wellbeing of the church, because we put so much into it only to see this kind of result. There have been many times which, out of sheer frustration, I have just wanted to call it quits. And I often wonder whether men like Paul experienced much the same frustration with that kind of mindset in his own day. The frequent frustration levels that I detect in his writings indicate he may have. But he never quite reached the point where he forgot that God is faithful.

There's nothing you can do about Convenience Christians--take my word for it, I've tried everything. But here's some consolation in the midst of the frustration:

"God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them." (Heb 6:10).