Tag Archives: Christianity

“Doing church or Being church?”

All of us who have been or are connected with mainline churches have heard the lament many times:   “He/She always went to Sunday School and church.  I can’t understand why they did the bad things they did.”   Or:   “Their children always were in church and Sunday School, but now we never see them.   Why?”

I know there are many answers to these questions, but I would like to suggest one that appears broad enough to cover many of the children who have “gone wrong” or the children “who never darken a church’s door now.”

It is my experience that these children were taken to church and Sunday School and were taught how to “do church”, but the church failed to teach them how to “be church.”

Diana Butleri Bass , in her book, Christianity for the Rest of Us recounts the story of her life growing up in a Methodist church and remarks that she learned how to “do church”,  how to take communion, how to fix casseroles for fellowship dinners,  how to be obedient, how to do the rituals of the church—-but never did she have any instruction in how to “be church“.

All of us know that there is a difference between “doing church” and “being church“, but what is it exactly?   In my opinion “doing church” is a matter of being busy, busy busy,  with committee meetings, church attendance,  decorating for fellowship dinners, planning  programs and carrying them out, fixing the Lord’s Supper,  and doing all the jobs we are asked to do to keep the institution smoothly  running as a business might run.   I am in no way saying these do not need to be done, but they are not the most important  part of being Christian, a disciple of Jesus Christ.   The above are all involved in “doing church“.

The important part, on  the other hand,  is “being church”    It is being a  functioning part of the body of Christ in this world— loving God and living in His Presence, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.   “Being church” is practicing our faith in daily life.  It is walking the walk that the people of the bible and  that Jesus and this disciples walked.  “Being Church” is being Christ’s body here right now in the present.   It is practicing radical hospitality as he practiced it.   it is taking up our cross daily, though that might lead to suffering and self-denial.  It is practicing passionate and Radical Christianity  in our communities, both spiritual and secular. 

Somehow we neglected to show our young people in all of the busy-ness of “doing church” what “being church” was all  about and its importance in living as a disciples of Jesus the Christ.  .   And one of the characteristics of the generation now in young adulthood  is that they are still searching for the meaning of “being church” but are put off by just being asked to “do church.”

Do you agree or disagree?   And if you agree with me, how can we change our practices and teaching in our declining mainline churches so that we do not produce another generation like the one who has rejected the church?

Rather than lament the past, let’s concentrate on changing the future!

Are You a Sheep or a Goat?

Last week’s July 19 post (“Are Christians Different”) ended witha negative answer as I compared today’s Christians and church  with the early church that was seen as very different from its society. If you don’t catch us in the act of going to church it is difficult to tell who are Christian and who are not by our actions.    As a result of that indictment, I would like to examine the impact of this negative answer on two challenges we face in the U.S. and the world today:  (1) the increasingly lop-sided division in our society and the world society between the very rich and the wealthy corporations that enrich them,   and the poor—with the numbers of the poor vastly outnumbering the small number of the rich; and, (2) the fear of violence that this lopsidedness engenders in our own society and throughout the world.   I’ll take up the first issue in this posting and the second in my next posting.

Jesus, reflecting the Old Testament and especially the prophets, saw the problem of poverty in his day as of great importance.  He defined his ministry at its beginning in the synagogue of Nazareth in terms of the importance of the poor and down-trodden.   He read from the book of Isaiah these words to his “home church”:  “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”  (Luke 4:18-19)

The Old Testament saw poverty as neither an accident nor as a natural occurence,  but rooted in injustice.   The prophets saw poverty as being caused by the rich and not as the fault of the poor (as we now like to do).   For example,  Amos echoed many of the prophets when he thundered this warning to the wealthy women of Samaria:  “Hear this you cows of Bashan, who are in the mountains of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, ‘Bring, that we may drink!’  The Lord has sworn by his holiness that, behold, the days are coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks….”  (Amos 4;1-2)

Jesus’ views on money and wealth reflect the Old Testament views.  He identified his ministry with the weak, the outcast, the down-trodden.   Jesus warned about the risk of wealth to our spiritual life in these ways:  “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.   Woe to you who are full now, for you shall hunger.  (Lk. 6:24-25)

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. (Matthew 19;24)
“Take heed and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.  (Luke 12:15)

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.   For where your treasure is, there will be your heart also. (Matt. 6;19-21)

In fact, one of every ten verses in the Synoptic Gospels is about the rich and poor; in Luke the ratio is one of seven.   There are more than 500 verses in the New Testament alone about the problem of riches and money.  Money was one of Jesus’ favorite topics in his teachings.

The early church shared Jesus concern about this and made sure to provide goods for the poor and the orphan and the widows who could not support themselves and were poverty-stricken.   The early church was known for these actions by the society that surrounded it.

And yet, as Jim Wallis (who has challenged me with his ideas) points out in quoting sociologist David Moberg, there has been “a great reversal.  Twentieth-century  evangelicalism in the U.S. came to identify thoroughly with the mainstream values of wealth and power.”   As the country became rich and fat, so did evangelicals (the church), who soon replaced the “good news'[ of Christ’s concern for the poor with a personal piety that comfortably supported the status quo.”  (Call to Conversion, p. 55)

Wallis contiues:  “Evangelicals today have not been the ones calling for economic redistribution.  Instead, they have tended to favor tax breaks for the middle class and for the big corporations.  Many usually support increased military spending and budget balancing by cutting the amount of public resources available for the poor.  ….They extol the virtue of wealth and power when most of the world is poor and powerless.  They call for unrestrained economic growth in a world where resources are running out and much of God’s creation is ravaged by industrial exploitation.”  (Call to Conversion, p. 56)

And each day in the U.S. the rich, who also by their wealth control the power of government at national and state levels and see that laws are passed and legislatures elected that will help them to continue to grow even richer, widen the gap even more between the few  rich and the many in poverty—not just in the U.S. but in the world.

What is the church doing about this?   What words do Christians speak in behalf of the poor?   What is the place of the poor among the priorities of Christians today?  Our disregard of the problems of poverty and the widening gap between rich and poor  is not only an economic problem of the highest magnitude, but also a spiritual problem of the highest magnitude.  For in ignoring the poor we are also disregarding some of the most basic teachings of Jesus.

Listen to the words of Jesus found in Matthew 25:   “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.  Before him will be gathered all the nations , and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left.   Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thisty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”  Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?   And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?   And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?   And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.   Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink.  I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”   They they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?   Then he will answer them, ‘”Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not for me.”  ((Matt. 25:31-46)

Are you a sheep or a goat??

Are Christians different?

Jesus challenged the political, economic and religious establishment of his time with his views and teachings that were radically different.  In my July 17 blog I told how the early followers of Jesus—the early church—were radically different in the way they lived, and how people who knew them observed how radically different their way of life was from the rest of society.

I left you with this question:  Can it be said about today’s Christians that we are different and stand out as Christians in the eyes of our society?

Jesus summed up all the law and the prophets and his own teaching about the way God wants us to live in these words we find in Matthew’s gospel in answer to the question “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?   Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’,  this is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  (Matthew 22:3-40)

We seldom think how radical that second commandment is—and Jesus places it on an equal basis with the first one!   As Jim Wallis puts it:  “We are asked to care for our neighbor’s as ourselves, and our neighbors children as our children.  This is an ethic that would (and could) transform the world.”   (On God’s Side, p. 6)

Wallis further points out this fundamental teaching flies in the face of the  “selfish personal and political ethics that put myself always before all others; my concerns first, my rights first, my freedoms first, my interest first, my tribe first, and even my country first—ahead of everybody else.   Self-concern is the personal and political ethic that dominates our world today, but the kingdom of God says that our neighbor’s concerns, rights, interests, freedoms, and well-being are as important as our own.

Our inability to live the way these two “great commandments” instruct us is why the question “are we perceived as Christians to be different today?” must be answered negatively.

Listen to what Wallis says of this:  “We live in one of the most self-centered cultures in history.  Our economic system is the social rationalization of personal selfishness.  Self-fulfillment and individual advancement have become our chief goals.   The leading question of the times is, “How can I be happy and satisfied?”

“Not surprisingly, our self-centered culture has produced a self-centered religion.  Preoccupation with self dominates the spirit of the age and shapes the character of religion.   ….The common question in evangelism today is, “What can Jesus do for me?”  In other words, the question is how Jesus can help us make it in the present order, not how we can respond to the new order.   Potential converts are told that Jesus can make them happier, more self-satisfied, better adjusted, and more prosperous.  Jesus quickly becomes the supreme product, attractively packaged and aggressively sold to a consuming public.  Complete with billboards, buttons, and bumper stickers, modern evangelistic campaigns advertise Jesus in a competitive market.  Even better than Coca-Cola, Jesus is ‘the Real Thing'”.

‘The gospel message has been molded to suit an increasingly narcissistic culture.  Conversion is proclaimed as the road to self-realization….the role of religion is presented as a way to help us uncover our human potential—our potential for personal, social, and business success that is.  Modern conversion brings Jesus into our lives rather than bringing us into his…..Conversion is just for ourselves, not for the world.  We ask how Jesus can fulfiill  our lives, not how we might serve his kingdom.”  (Call to Conversion, p. 22-23)

These are strong words?   I wish I could disagree with them, but I can’t—can you?   If so, do so!!

They are words that show a credibility gap between the way of Jesus and the way of our churches today.    We are not living “the way of Jesus”, we are living the “way of the world today.”

I hope to discuss in Part Three some of the results of the above indictment,  as we confront two central challenges we face today:  The increasingly lop-sided  division of our world into rich and poor and the fear of violence this raises.