Monday, October 14, 2013

Outgrowing Christianity

Churches often present ‘salvation’ as something that will bring one the ‘good life’ as epitomized by the American Dream. It’s the perception that ‘this is what Christianity is about’—because by and large this is how it’s portrayed in the media and on church billboards—that has turned off the average unchurched American to the possibility of Jesus Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer addressed this issue already in the 1930’s in his book Nachfolge, translated into English as The Cost of Discipleship. He wrote that the church’s trafficking in what he called ‘cheap grace’ is what bores the world to disgust, and I agree with him: it bores me to disgust. Orthodox Christians may object that this is not applicable to the Orthodox Church, and I agree with them, provisionally.

‘Orthodoxy’ is the intact form of the Church and presents a consistent, homogenous doctrinal and even practical face to the world. It is this alone which probably accounts for the majority of converts who come not by marriage but by choice, swallowing elements of strange dogma without question or turning the other cheek to things they don’t really agree with. But the same affliction that has decimated the ranks of non-Orthodox Christianity is intrinsically present even in Orthodoxy. I have seen the beginnings of the purveying of cheap grace in my own community, and the sorts of converts that are being drawn to us because of it. It’s all very, very green. It should not be about, ‘what are they looking for?’ It should be about ‘Who…’

I have met many good Christians ‘out there’ that are unchurchable precisely because they cannot find the Church. It’s not exactly that the Church is invisible, but that it’s too visible, and not dressed in the humility of the Lord, but in the cheap, flashy garments of self-love and false hope, proud of itself and flaunting its illusory achievements, its building programs, its seminars, its selective charities and its roster of learned, professional leaders. It may be for different reasons, the externals may be different, but for the Christian today the churches have made the following of Jesus Christ within churchly structures nearly impossible, just as they did in Germany when Bonhoeffer wrote his book.

The outcome of all this is what I have called outgrowing Christianity. Those who are churchable pursue the American dream and justify it with selective scriptural abandon. Those who are unchurchable pursue the American dream and go it alone with their conscience as their guide. And as for me, I simply don’t know which group has outgrown Christianity more, or worse, whether they have outgrown Christ.

But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto him, The first…
Matthew 21:28-32a KJV


Thesauros said...

Churches often present ‘salvation’ as something that will bring one the ‘good life’"

I suppose some do, which is tragic. Although I've been attending Church as a Christian for 30+ years and I've never once heard health and wealth preached as a desired goal for a follower of Jesus.

Nevertheless, good post.
God bless
See you There!

Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

This aberration of prosperity gospel occurs more often in certain denominations, probably never in Catholic, Orthodox, and classic Protestant churches. Usually it shows up in charismatic churches, but because it has been noticed, it is being downplayed in some, but it's still there. Isn't it a pity.