“It just makes you feel good inside”:
the pitch of a Houston mega-church a few years ago.
While I can appreciate the word play (“feels good inside” the sanctuary, “feels good inside” my heart), I rail at the sentiment it supports (i.e., that the primary function of church and faith is feeling good). Too, I am deeply disturbed by the theology that supports it (i.e., that the Gospel is somehow our exemption from bearing our crosses).
It’s a truth I encountered (again) as I finished Gary Thomas’ Authentic Faith the other day: namely, that there are hard parts of life and even hard disciplines of the faith that God uses for our spiritual growth. To avoid such hard times is to side-step spiritual maturity. In his Epilogue, Thomas quotes Harry Schaumburg’s False Intimacy:
A quick reflection on the first-century church reveals that New Testament Christians never attempted to validate the truth of Christianity by the way in which their experiences in life improved [or made them feel better or become richer]. For them, becoming Christians meant real sacrifice and sometimes death. (Thomas, Authentic Faith, p. 241)
Folks, to borrow from Mother Theresa:
discipleship has nothing to do with our becoming more successful
but it has everything to do with our becoming more faithful —
becoming more and more conformed to (indeed, transformed into)
the full image of Jesus our Lord.
And while his could be and is a a visage of laughter and joy,
we can not and should not forget or dismiss
his sacred head wounded,
his broken heart,
his tear-streamed cheeks.
Sadly, though, there are too many who pick and choose (i.e., custom design) their Gospel-discipleship response: “I’d like a good heaping plate of feeling good, topped with prospertiy… But, hold the ‘brussel sprouts’ which are the dying to self and the mission work and any real identifying with the poor and broken and the…”
Recalls for me an article by Dick Staub on “Buffet Religion, Buffet Christianity”:
We should not be surprised that today’s Christians are constructing a self-serving approach to the faith. Most Christians seem to think the faith is a buffet when it is, in fact, a fixed menu. At a buffet you pick and choose what you want, but in a fixed menu you get it all… Buffet Christians want to take the part they like and leave the less appealing parts—you know, lots of desserts and no broccoli. (CultureWatch at http://www.dickstuab.com)
And then, he goes on to conclude:
The Christian life is not a buffet; it is a fixed menu. Everything on the menu has been carefully planned and is time-tested to produce health and growth. As the old chorus puts it, Jesus must be “Lord of All or not Lord at all.”
Tough as it is to accept,
we are not in charge of the menu!
So that the choice is clear but not so simple:
to be in it for the full course of Christian discipleship…
Or, to be about some other diet
which might be delicious and immediately satisfying
but remains hardly Christian (no matter what you call it).