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September 20, 2010

"fashions with a Christian colouring" vs. the simplicity of Christ

I recently found this striking quote from C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters. I have not read Lewis' book, but it is a satire in which a demon is training an apprentice demon. Here, the demon speaks to his apprentice:
"What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call 'Christianity And.' You know--Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology...Christianity and Faith Healing...Christianity and Vegetarianism.... If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference. Substitute for the faith itself some Fashion with a Christian colouring.... The use of Fashions in thought is to distract the attention of men from their real dangers.... The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under.... Of a proposed course of action [God] wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; is it righteous? is it prudent? is it possible? Now if we can keep men asking 'Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive or reactionary? Is this the way that History is going?' they will neglect the relevant questions.... As a result, while their minds are buzzing in this vacuum, we have the better chance to slip in and bend them to the action we have decided on. And great work has already been done."
Lewis wrote to issue a warning to the church: are you asking the wrong questions? Is your faith in Christ or in "Christ and..."? I fear that much of evangelicalism is "buzzing in this vacuum" of truth neglect. We weaken the dynamite of the gospel and Christ with our supposedly-spiritual trappings. We're picking out curtain colours for the sanctuary, unaware that the foundation of the church itself is being blasted out from beneath us because it stands not on Christ, but on human ideas.

In How People Change Tripp and Lane describe some typical ways in which believers are distracted from the "simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ" (2 Cor. 11:3). These are some "fashions with a Christian colouring":
  • Formalism - the gospel is reduced to participation in the meetings and ministries of the church
  • Legalism - "another gospel", where salvation is earned by keeping the rules we've established
  • Mysticism - the gospel is reduced to dynamic emotional and spiritual experiences
  • Activism - the gospel is reduced to participation in Christian causes (ie: pro-life cause)
  • Biblicism - the gospel is reduced to a mastery of Biblical content and theology
  • Psychology-ism - the gospel is reduced to the healing of emotional needs
  • Social-ism - the gospel reduced to a network of fulfilling relationships
This list has been helpful to me as God has shown me that my Christianity is sometimes veiled in formalism and Biblicism rather than a vibrant relationship with Christ Himself. I need to those "very simple questions" that God asks, like, "Is it righteous?" "Does it reflect the mind of Christ?" "Is it holy?" When we get distracted from the centre, which is Christ, we ask all the wrong questions, and the life is gone. Solus Christus, sola Scriptura—too simple? I'm finding it to be richer and deeper than ever.

September 16, 2010

my hero

I spent many of my nearly 25 years looking for a hero. Yes, "I need a hero...He's gotta be strong and he's gotta be fast...He's gotta be sure...and he's gotta be larger than life." [Insert cheesy Bonnie Tyler I Need a Hero song here].

And you know, "he" didn't even have to be a "he." Sure, a boyfriend would have been (and still would be) nice, but essentially I remember beginning to long for deep peer friendships during my teenage years. Spiritual friendships, where we could talk about God's Word and grow together. I wanted friends who would love, challenge and encourage me, based on Truth. This was not something that I found readily in my high school years, but that meant that God had opportunity to speak to me. On quiet nights in my blue-walled bedroom, He taught me that He wanted to be my closest friend. He was enough!

Even so, God created me to be in fellowship with other humans, and as the years have passed He has graciously brought me into close relationships with individuals and families whom I admire. As I watch them live, I am a sponge, soaking up wisdom and grace. We talk about Jesus at breakfast, lunch or supper and it is completely normal. I love to see them living lives that are worshipful and obedient to their Creator. I love to be with them and learn from them.

But what I have seen happen, sometimes, is that I worship the gifts instead of the Giver. Like the Israelites, who forgot their Provider once they reached His good land, I easily lose my focus. God has had to show me that I cannot depend on my friends' spirituality. In some cases, He accomplished this by showing me that my friends and their families were no more perfect than myself and my family. Suddenly I saw that they were fallible humans—like me. This was a painful discovery. God also did this by physically "taking away my Elijahs." Oswald Chambers writes:
"It is not wrong to depend upon Elijah as long as God gives him to you, but remember the time will come when he will have to go; when he stands no more to your as your guide and leader, because God does not intend he should. You say'I cannot go on without Elijah.' God says you must." (My Utmost, August 11)
God knew that I demanded to see godliness enacted—I wanted a visible human model to follow. When making decisions, I wanted an Elijah to spoon-feed advice to me—I didn't want to have to search the Scriptures and spend time in prayer. Idolatry? I'd say. God wanted me to get my focus back on Him, so He graciously toppled my idols.

Here is the wonder—once my idols were removed, Someone much more satisfying came to the fore. God began to take His place as Hero again. No human friendship would ever satisfy! If my hope is in humans (even godly ones) my heart will yo-yo from happiness to disappointment, based on their performance. I will seek to manipulate and use them to meet my desires, instead of showing them the grace and freedom God has shown to me. But if I esteem Christ as the only lasting Hero, I can gratefully enjoy deep human friendships and yet source my security and joy in my relationship with Christ. I call this change "the fall of my human heroes and the rise of the one, true Hero." He is "strong, fast, sure and larger than life!" To quote another song from the '80s/Footloose, "let's hear it for The Boy!" He is my everything!