Wednesday, May 03, 2006

As I reflect on the recent immigration issues facing the United States I realize that there are other immigration issues that are even more pressing. People are leaving the church at a great rate, in my denomination we have lost over thirty percent of our membership in the last thirty years. If you project that kind of loss the denomination is in trouble. Where are these people immigrating to, where are they keeping their citizenship?
One must at some point consider their allegiance, is it to a specific denomination or is it to Christ Jesus and his Kingdom? I realize in my life that I am an Anabaptist with strong Pietistic leanings, while that may not be true for much of my denomination any longer, from my experience many of us have left the Pietism generations ago. Yet, while reading Protestant Spiritual Traditions by Frank Senn I realized just how strongly those pietistic stands of spirituality wound through my life. One of the troubling elements in Pietistic spirituality is for isolation and a distrust of any human institution. This is often balanced by the Anabaptist concern for community. Oddly, I find both of this conflict in much of my private spiritual life. It would be nice if I could blame the drop in denominational membership on a resurgence of pietistic spirituality in my denomination, but is most surely not the case. So, I still need to ask the question, where are those who used to be in church?
An even more pressing question arises as we consider the future. We, as a denomination and a congregation, are unable to rely on biological evangelism (members having children) because the birth rate in North America has dropped, this is true in the church and outside the church. This leaves us with a few options, we wait for new people to just show up at our church doors, which does happen from time to time, or we go and seek out people to be part of our fellowship. However, Evangelism has been a difficult idea for my denomination. At points we suffer from a lack of knowledge, just simply knowing how to go about introducing people to Christ Jesus and his Church. At some points we are fearful, fearful of rejection and the loss of control that can happen when new people come into the mix.
I am increasingly convinced that the greatest problem is shallow faith. We have not been formed by Christ. In this case we are much like illegal immigrants, we have found our way into the Kingdom of God, but we have never become citizens. I do not mean to suggest that people have not had genuine conversion experiences, nor do I doubt that people are committed to what they understand to be Christ and his Church. Admittedly, many people know of Jesus, the scriptures and his church, and we know the word and the motions to the songs, but we don’t really understand the meaning. We are like people reading a language we don’t speak, we can pronounce the words, but we don’t really know what they mean. Thus we have found our way into the kingdom, and we have had some assimilation, but we have missed the meaning.
We have found our way in the door, but still have not been fully integrated into the whole, or better yet, we have not ourselves adjusted to the culture of Christ Jesus and his Kingdom. To put this in other language, we are lacking good Spiritual formation in our churches. Spiritual formation begins before conversion and continues until death, sadly many people look at conversion as the goal, but it is really only the starting point, the point of embarkation for a life changing journey that takes us ultimately to the New Jerusalem. There was a sense that something good was happening with the emphases on discipleship and spiritual disciplines in recent decades. Sadly, much of the focus of the discipleship was really on learning ones way around a particular church of theological system. At the same time there was the renewal of the practice of spiritual disciplines, but sadly, and even from my own experience much of the work went into the disciplines themselves and there was little work toward putting it all together. The disciplines became a an end in and of itself, a skill or behavior to master and then to move on to something else. There seemed to be little work being done to connect the discipline to the goal of being transformed to reflect the image of Christ Jesus. If good spiritual formation does not become part of the life of the modern North American church we will see the church continue to be moved to the side the public square. And this is as it should be, if we have nothing more to offer than superficial Christianity and tepid followers of Jesus, we should be excluded from the conversation because at this point we will only become a tool for whoever is in political power and we will be used by those who can draw us into their camp. Rather than being a source for change and growth in our culture we will be a small party who tags along trying to force our understanding on the nation and the world.
I for one would much rather see us transforming the nation and the world, not through legislation but through spiritual formation. At the end of the day, the best meaning theocratic approach to government will become oppressive and focused on the particulars a few people. I want to see communities transformed, lives changed, families strengthened and hearts drawn to Christ Jesus, but that will only happen if we who are left in the church will be transformed ourselves, and become full citizens of the Kingdom of God, rather than illegal sneaking in to enjoy the benefits of citizenship without going through the process of become men and women of God.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I found your blog entry for today very interesting, especially your views about "shallow faith". Childlike faith, precious as it is, differs tremendously from childish faith which is what many people experience in church settings. No wonder people are turning their backs on God and the churches they were raised within. Allow me to share my own personal experience. I was raised in a church where we went through the motions week after week but there was no real spiritual growth. We were there to socialize and nothing more. But I stayed there for many years because
1) it was comfortable
2) it was all I knew
3) I thought all churches were this way.

It wasn't until my views and beliefs were challenged that I realized I had remained a "babe in Christ" after my salvation. I had peace concerning my salvation but never really grew much past that. I missed that whole "fruits of the Spirit" thing. And here is why. Week after week after week I heard the same message in church. Sure there was a different scripture read and different songs but the message was always the same. Jesus died on the cross for my sins and I must receive this gift of salvation. Yes, it is an important message and one that I needed to hear, but what about after that. What's next? I didn't know for years. Thankfully, I have an honest friend who challenged my beliefs which led me to question those things I had always taken at face value. The Lord has led me to a church home where I have grown in my faith and taught me that there is more to being a Christian than accepting Christ as my Savior.

Enough about me.

Do you think some of your frustrations with shallow faith come from your Pietistic "leanings"? Isn't the root of Pietism that we have a close human type of relationship with God? Just wondering...

Random Thoughts said...

That’s an interesting question, do my frustrations with “shallow faith” come from my pietistic background? I suppose at some level they do, but not only from my pietistic background. I would say that it also comes from my own deepening relationship with Christ. And while that is central to pietism, it is not exclusive to pietism. All Christian traditions will lift up this theme at some point, though it may not be their central point. Even in the worst of the evangelical traditions that focus almost solely one conversion, there will be those who understand that more is necessary.
I think what is at the root of my own frustration with North American Christianity is the willingness to allow such shallow faith to be the norm. This is true for both leadership and laity, if no one is willing to say isn’t there more to this, then we will live with an anemic faith.
I’m glad to hear that a friend challenged you and that your own growth was the result of those questions. I’m glad to hear that you’ve found a place to grow.

Blessings,
Kevin

Anonymous said...

Kevin,

Thank you for considering my questions concerning Pietism. You put a great deal of "thinking" into your blogs and I find them very interesting. I am impressed that as a pastor, you are continuing to challenge yourself and your congregation because ultimately, that is when we truely grow as Christians. I will begin praying for you and other Christians that God will give them the ambition and understanding to grow and nuture that close relationship with Him.

About my own personal growth... I know that God wants to do great things in my life; however, just as in your blog for today I set up my own "roadblocks" that I know seperate me from acheiving that full, intimate relationship with Him. I am thankful to be in a church family where personal growth is a focus but I have to admit I haven't surrounded myself with friends, or others who are helping me acheive that. I don't want to turn my back on my friends however I know I need to surround myself with others who share my goals and beliefs. I would never want my current friends to think I am looking down upon them or give them the feeling that they are not "good" enough. I guess that is why I am enjoying your blog so much. It encourages me think and reflect on my own agenda and intentions.

Anon friend

Random Thoughts said...

There is a strange thing that happens, one becomes a follower of Jesus and in a rather short time all of our friends are also believers. This is helpful in the sense of discipleship and deepening our life in faith, but it also makes sharing our faith much more difficult. I am convinced that the best way to share our faith is in friendships. Now, some will say that we should develop friendships with people for the purpose of sharing our faith with them. This I find to be disingenuous. Jesus does not value us for what he wants us to be, but rather for who we are.
I am really convinced that we should share our faith in the context of friendships with will continue even if our friend does not accept the good news concerning Jesus who is the Christ. They may choose to end the relationship, we may make them uncomfortable, and their may be distance in the relationship because of the different trajectories of our lives. However, I would not suggest that we discontinue relationships because our fiends do not follow Jesus.
I would offer this word of council, our closest friends should be believers. Those we seek council, advice and help with our decision making ought to be fellow believers. I play a game with a group of people who are for the most part not Christian, and some of them are almost hostile to Christ, but I continue to play the game. One because I enjoy it and on some level I hope to be able to be an effective witness for Christ in that context. I call may of the gusy who play friends, but they are not my closest friends. I hope this helps.

Blessings,
Kevin