What’s the point of being a Christian? No, seriously, what is the point? What is it we’re aiming for: what’s the pinnacle of the Christian experience, the Christian life? What is our ambition, our purpose, our prize? I’m not sure I know any more, and I can’t find answers in much of the Christianity being practiced in contemporary western culture as I know and have seen it.
I thought salvation was about turning away from the self-sufficient mindset that tells us we don’t need God for anything, and that faith was believing both that God is, and that He is able to do what we cannot. I thought sin was our human attempts to assert independence from God; to become self-ministering and self-reliant and self-satisfied, to meet our own needs through our own methods and on our own terms. I thought repentance meant stopping in your tracks and making a 180 degree turn to face the other direction – to become one hundred percent reliant on God and willing to heed his Word and His Spirit. I thought church was a community of believers who loved and supported each other, sharing their lives and their prosperity with enough to give out to the people around them; the poor, the sick, the blind, the lame. I thought Christianity was discipleship: allowing oneself to become moulded and shaped into the likeness of Christ; not Christ the ideology, the celebrity or the gushy, romantic lover, but Christ the person. This God: a man who walked among us and showed us with His life and His death His heart for humankind, and His great love. But, it seems, I have been wrong.
I am coming to see that contemporary Christianity for the most part isn’t any of these things. Salvation has become about joining a movement, becoming a partner or stating a pre-written, verbatim declaration. It’s become less about dying to self and more about simply reinventing the self in the graven image of the twenty first century born-again Christian. Salvation used to mean being saved from ourselves, because we understood that we are filled with selfishness and obsessed with comfort. But we have come to understand salvation as merely an elevation to place of fewer problems and less inconvenience. If ambition, self-centredness and pride were ever considered avarice to be overcome, it is sure that they are now considered talents to be exploited. Sin was once not seeing the need in others. Now, our greater sin is that we cannot see the need for salvation in ourselves. Sin is what we observe others doing from a place of their own great need, while we deny any of our own such need. Real sin is ignoring the plight of others, that we may revel in our own comfort; the comfort which often we have arranged without any help from God. Worse, true sin is believing that an unchurched sinner in their plight deserves what they get, and that we Christians in our comfort deserve what we get.
Our cleverness and prosperity has made us as Christians fat and smug. The level of freedom and wealth we enjoy and take for granted means we no longer believe in such things as poverty or misfortune, or in disadvantage and tribulation. Our sense of superiority and entitlement tells us the poor are stupid, the sick are flawed, and those with troubles are just poorly organised. Depression, mental illness and addiction are evidence of weakness and for us, weakness is sin, and sin, as we all know, is repulsive and contagious. They all get what they deserve, and thusly, so do we. Funny how what we used to feel about the demon-possessed, about epileptics and about lepers in society, we now feel for those in lower socio-economic groups, alcoholics, drug addicts and the mentally ill.
For Christians, charity is no longer about loving your neighbour, at least not enough to do anything practical. We actually don’t see the poor who are right on our own doorstep. In western Christian capitalism, our “poor” are our cross to bear, our shame, and our pariah. They are our mistakes. Those poor in India, in Indonesia, in Africa are the poor we want to help. Their unwashed masses are pitiable little round-eyed victims. They are oppressed. They are outside the protection and provision of our God. The God of western capitalism, that is. Our own unwashed masses are just an embarrassment. Funny how when those brown-skinned, round-eyed victims turn up on the doorstep we don’t really know what to do with them, unless they are prepared to become like us: to want what we want and do like we do to get it. Heaven forbid they should bring their poverty and their differences with them.
Yes, we Christians have our poor, but we don’t give charity to them. We have our blind too, but we hope they don’t find their way to our door. We have our lame, but we’d like to get them rehabilitated or just plain healed up to standard. We also have our widows and our orphans, but they have welfare. We have our Samaritans, but we’ve condemned them as deceived fundamentalists as separatists, as terrorists. What right do these minority groups have to practice their weird religion here? With no groups left who are worthy of our charity, we may as well go buy a new sound system.
Ministry once was about service. Now it’s about running the service. It used to be about making disciples. Now it seems it’s more about helping people solve their personal issues so they can hold down the jobs that pay the tithes. Once, people used to lay down those jobs, and their friendships and their entitlements and go away to strange places to make disciples for Christ, and not even get paid to do it. Once, churches used to support these missionaries because they saw it as their job to use their prosperity to make disciples of people in places where God was trying to get to. Now, the missionaries still go away, but church money rarely follows them to the mission field. Churches instead teach their members that their friendships with unchurched people are special mission work. It’s cheaper and much, much easier to administrate.
We don’t know how to pray anymore because we rarely know true lack or hardship. We’re too well organised to have real problems. When someone we know endures a real life-shattering tragedy, we don’t know how to pray for them, or even how to talk to them. This wasn’t part of the program. We are so used to having everything we want and need we don’t know how to beseech God any more. We don’t know how to comfort each other. We don’t know how to be grateful, because we don’t see how blessed we are. We see the worn sofa and the torn curtains and the broken TV and the arguing kids and the flat tyre, and we pray and ask God to work it all out for us. We don’t see the house full of furniture, or the healthy family, or the car that qualifies us as being amongst the richest 2% of the world’s population. We’ll pray and ask God for a parking spot when we drive to the mall to buy more stuff with the money we get every week to spend on the lifestyle and the education and the health system and the other things we take for granted. We are so very spoilt. We are God’s big fat spoilt brats and we need a good spanking to make us stop our selfish whining.
I hate being a Christian. I hate that I am expected to get with this Western-encultured, Christian-church, white-trash program; this program that says Perfect Marriage, Perfect Kids, Own your Own House, Manage your Big Piles of Money, never get Sick, never have an Accident, never have Problems, retire with packets from all your Wise Investments and die in your bed with No Regrets. What’s any of this got to do with Christian Discipleship? Since when did Christ aspire to all, to any of this? Born poor, he left his family home and the only trade he ever knew to talk to the plebs of society, he never married or had a family, never owned a house or anything else except the clothes he stood up in, and the only organisation he ever managed disbanded the minute things took a turn for the worse, after which he was eventually imprisoned, tortured and killed. Jesus had a very full, albeit relatively short life, followed by a shameful, painful and untimely death. Yes, he promised a more Abundant life for us – but is this Abundant Life he promised The Perfect Life?
What if Christ never promised the Perfect Life….simply more of it? More interesting? More challenging? More confronting? More opportunities to be like He was? More life as in more life, not more as in More Comfortable, More Promising, More Financially Secure or More Perfect. I don’t see how the featureless life, the life that look exactly the same as if I didn’t know Jesus, is the Abundant Life he speaks of. I am tired of apologising because my Christian Life is not a Perfect, well-behaved, featureless, uneventful life. If we as Christians are not the great risk-takers: the ones who go to great lengths to love, to give, to include, to heal, to forgive, to bring, to serve, to bless, to reach….then who will do it? If we are so busy accumulating the stuff and solving our petty issues and constructing the Perfect Life, who will help the ones who could never, ever aspire to The Perfect? Who will carry the lame, see the blind, heal the sick? Will you? You who bear the name of Christ….Christian: will you?