Two days ago I shared the one thing I had not yet surrendered to God: A lack of complete faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Yesterday I noted that my faith pales in comparison to that of early Christians and I theorized that based on the actions (and inactions) of the modern church many other Christians seem to have faith in the resurrection as uncertain as mine.
Today I want to discuss some thoughts as to why our faith is weak in comparison to our earliest brothers and sisters in Christ.
- Distance in space and time from original events – Early Christians heard eye-witness accounts of the life and miracles of Jesus; we have to rely on Scripture alone. Furthermore, most of the world today is so culturally removed from 1st century Palestine that the New Testament cannot be understood today the way it was understood by its first recipients. I acknowledge that the Holy Spirit is at work today to reveal the Word and will of God, but I believe the church is setting a stumbling block in the way of the Holy Spirit’s work…more on this in a moment.
- Lack of persecution – Some people say that true Christianity died the day it became the state religion of the Roman Empire. Christianity changed from a religion based on faith to one based on rules and hierarchy. Without the pressure of persecution people can become complacent with regard to their faith; Christianity can become just another ‘world religion’. This problem is prevalent in the post-modern world where people can pick any system of belief that best-suits their needs and desires; Christianity is just one of the myriad choices available to our neighbors. The risen Christ is the only thing that has ever distinguished Christianity from any other religion; without a risen Christ we are just a bunch of people trying to be nice and ‘do the right thing’ (which varies tremendously based on your denomination, culture, etc.)
- Abdication of responsibility – Closely related to the point above, since the adoption of Christianity by Rome vast hierarchical networks have emerged to govern and control the church. Over time non-clergy Christians abdicated a growing amount of responsibility over their own spiritual growth to paid church staff. 21st century Christians in the West now seem to want to be spoon-fed their faith; we want entertainment; we want paid church staff to do all the work for us. It seems that churches have forgotten how to ‘teach us to fish’, resorting as they have for so long to feeding us instead.
- Competing denominations – Christians were first labeled as such because they collectively followed a man who was seen alive after being crucified by the Romans, a man who claimed to be the Son of God and the promised Messiah. Though the basis for the label remains today, Christians are better known for their differences than their common belief in a risen Christ. Churches and denominations are created anew each time a group of ‘Christians’ decides that a disputed tenet of doctrine should take precedence over the doctrinal preferences of other Christian groups. These doctrinal differences become the primary focal point of teaching and giving; members of a denomination focus their time, talent, and energy on, and consequently become known for, those things which make the denomination unique among the various churches rather than the historical event which unifies them. The primary underlying principle of the resurrection is thus placed in a secondary position of faith relative to issues of doctrine.
- Putting the cart before the horse – Christian faith is learned in a bass-ackward way in today’s church. I like to say that we have put the cart before the horse, spiritually speaking. This was the selling point of early Christianity: “We have seen with our own eyes a man who was killed in the worst possible way, but who came back to life three days later. He died for your sins. He has conquered death, and if you believe in Him you can live forever, too.” Today it seems like the resurrection takes a back seat to the church organization. Sure, we have a risen Lord, but we’ve also got 16 points of doctrine you need to accept, growth groups you can join, volunteer positions that need filling, conferences, charity events, dress codes and worship rituals. Once we’ve prayed that ‘magic prayer’ that gifts us eternal life it seems we never have to give a second thought to our faith in the resurrection. True, variations of the phrase “Jesus is alive” are oft repeated throughout the year, but consider how often the resurrection is preached in your church…I’m guessing it’s as often as in my church…once every year. The most important tenet of our faith, the thing that makes Christianity anything other than a self-help set of beliefs, and the resurrection is only preached on Easter Sunday. How many sermons have you heard on lust, tithing, gossip, greed, the parable of the sower, the parable of the talents, or the Sermon on the Mount? How often are those topics revisited throughout the year? More than once, I’ll wager. Yes, those things are important, and yes, the early church repeated these teachings of Jesus in order to establish a way of life holy and set apart. But the church taught these things to a group of people who were already convinced beyond a shadow of doubt that Jesus is alive!
There is so much more to say, but I’ve already doubled my normal daily word count so let me end by claiming personal responsibility. I am not a victim; I made choices that allowed others to control the development of my faith, but I’m done with that. I am going to ‘wrestle’ with God on this until He blesses me in the form of a certain faith in the resurrection.
What are your thoughts?