What do you have to do to be challenged in most churches today? What attitude or behavior do you have to manifest in order for the church (or its leaders) to set a standard you must strive toward? This could be either in the context of discipline (you must stop doing x) or of growth (you need to y). It’s not something I see much in the churches and chapels I have been a part of for most of my life.
Dallas Willard correctly diagnosed our situation in The Spirit of the Disciplines.*
“If one day I assure my Christian friends that I intend to ‘quit sinning’ and arrive at a stage where I can perfectly follow Jesus Christ, they will most likely be scandalized and threatened—or at least very puzzled. ‘Who do you think you are?’ they would probably say. Or they might ask, ‘What is he really up to?”
Yet, is this not what Jesus—and all the prophets before him—called us to?
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying,
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Matthew 4:17 (ESV)
But where are we to go to hear and to see that this is really an option? We mask our unwillingness to pursue holiness in false humility and “authenticity.” “No one is perfect but God.” “Well, of course no one can be perfect in this life…” We’ve heard it all before, yet Jesus cuts across our excuses and raises the standard.
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:48 (ESV)
Not, “It would be swell if you’d try to up your game a little bit and not sin quite so much.” No, he says, “You must be perfect,” and then in case you don’t understand what he means by perfect, he clarifies, “as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Not something I hear a lot. Willard continues.
“But if, on the other hand, I state that I do not intend to stop sinning or that I do not plan ever to follow my Lord in actuality, they will be equally upset. And for good reason. How can Jesus be my Lord if I don’t even plan to obey him? Would that really differ in substance and outcome from not having him as Lord at all? My Christian fellowship circle will allow me not to follow him and even not to plan to follow him, but they will not permit me to say it.”
ibid, p. 13
How have we arrived at this strange situation where the church is largely a fellowship of people who like to give lip-service to following Jesus while still living as they have always lived? In case you think I am overstating my point, let us continue reading.
“Perhaps the most difficult moments in a minister’s or teacher’s life occurs when, in response to his own sincere preaching or teaching, a listener says: ‘All right, I really do want to be like Christ. You have convinced me that it is only as I walk with him and become really like him that I can know the fullness of life for which I was created. Now tell me precisely how to go about it.'”
Walk up to your minister/pastor/priest after service on Sunday and say that and then wait. If they don’t have an answer or can’t at least set up an appointment with you later in the week without fear in their eyes, something is wrong. (My answer starts tomorrow.)
*Willard, Dallas, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives, Harper One, New York: 1990.