“It just makes you feel good inside”: the pitch of a local church I won’t name (though I suspect many of you know of whom I write… still, not naming it has a way of making the point that I don’t want to digress into church/denomina-tional battles). To me, it’s too much the sentiment of the age: “I need a faith and a church that make me feel good inside.” To me, it’s disturbing: Christianity is not so much nor has it ever been about our avoiding the cross as much as it is our living, with Him, through (and beyond) our crosses!
It’s truth I encountered as I finished Gary Thomas’ Authentic Faith the other day. (It’s not the best written book, but it does do a good job of establishing its thesis: namely, that there are hard parts of life and even hard disciplines of the faith that God uses for our spiritual growth; to avoid such hard times is to side-step spiritual maturity.) In his Epilogue, Thomas quote Harry Schaumburg’s False Intimacy:
A quick reflection on the first-century church reveals that New Testament Christians never attempted to validate the truth of Christianity by the way in which their experiences in life improved [or made them feel better or become richer]. For them, becoming Christians meant real sacrifice and sometimes death. (Thomas, Authentic Faith, p. 241)
Folks, to borrow from Mother Theresa, discipleship has nothing to do with our becoming more successful but it has everything to do with our becoming more faithful–becoming transformed more and more into the full image of Jesus our Lord (an image which was often bloodied and bowed and broken, with tears streaming down the cheek.)
Sadly, though, there are too many who pick and choose – custom design – their discipleship response: “I’d like a good heaping plate of feeling good, topped with prospertiy… and, oh, hold the ‘brussel sprouts’ which are the dying to self and the mission work and any real identifying with the poor and broken and the…”
Recalls for me an article by Dick Staub on “Buffet Religion, Buffet Christianity”:
We should not be surprised that today’s Christians are constructing a self-serving approach to the faith. Most Christians seem to think the faith is a buffet when it is, in fact, a fixed menu. At a buffet you pick and choose what you want, but in a fixed menu you get it all… Buffet Christians want to take the part they like and leave the less appealing parts—you know, lots of desserts and no broccoli. (from “CultureWatch” at http://www.dickstuab.com/)
The Christian life is not a buffet; it is a fixed menu. Everything on the menu has been carefully planned and is time-tested to produce health and growth. As the old chorus puts it, Jesus must be “Lord of All or not Lord at all.”
Tough as it is to accept, we are not in charge of the menu! No, ours is the simple choice: to be in it for the full course of Christian discipleship… or to be about some other diet which is delicious and immediately satisfying but hardly Christian (no matter what you call it).