Thursday, August 27, 2009

Integrity: "Maybe We're Not Christians"

A real Christian life is one infused with the qualities of Christ himself. But we have replaced submission, service, and sacrifice with salesmanship, self-help, and success.
Here is an excerpt from a challenging article written by someone who may surprise you. Read it first, and I will tell you who wrote it after.

When Martin Luther lamented at the end of his life that he might not be justified, he must have seen something dark in himself in relation to the Scriptures, something that we in the modern church might be overlooking.

The Scriptures say that we are to be known as followers of Christ by the evidence of our love for one another, but we’re not (see John 13:35).

The Scriptures say that we are not to boast about what we have or what we have done, but we do (see Jer. 9:23-24).

The Scriptures say that in the last days people will be lovers of themselves and lovers of money, and we are (see 2 Tim. 3:5, NKJV).

Very often we charismatics rejoice in the power of God, and rightly so. But we subject ourselves to ridicule when we boast that we are not among those “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5).

We claim that we have spiritual power and others don’t because of our openness to accept and operate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

But our words fall short when our marriages don’t work, our children are wild and disobedient, and we refine the art of giving and receiving money to the point that we could qualify as the experts in greed that Peter warns about in his second letter (see 2 Pet. 2:14).

We have a credibility problem. We have some wonderful churches, but increasingly, people do not seek to be connected . . .

. . . Maybe we’re not Christians. Maybe we’re just the most popular religion of the day, using the power of persuasion, the force of our numbers, and the strength of our money to advance our ideology.

Maybe we just believe whatever makes sense to us by default, and we don’t truly—as individuals and as communities of Christians—seek to be genuine disciples and to do God’s work of caring for the fatherless and the widow of our day.

Could we be Pharisees? Our own books, television programs and prophecies should make us wonder.

I believe that we all know and love the Word, but we live in earthly vessels with a fallen nature. We feel and see the hopes of the Spirit within, but we also end up doing the very things we do not want to do.

When we preach, write, lobby, raise money, build, broadcast, threaten, sue and spin, we present conflicting images that don’t stand up very well against the tests of time and scrutiny. We are confusing the world, other Christians, and our families.

This isn’t something that can be changed with a list of practical exercises. This is something that has to be dealt with deep within us by exposing ourselves to the wisdom of the Scriptures, to one another, and to God.

"Maybe we're not Christians." Ouch.

He has a very real point. As long as our churches -- religious, irreligious, and anti-religious -- keep preaching Jesus as one who makes your life better rather than Jesus who makes dead people live, as long as we keep teaching Christianity as the gospel of personal fulfillment rather than the call to self-crucifixion -- we are proclaiming Christianity as an unneeded cure for a mythical ailment.

The truth is not that we don't like ourselves enough, have enough success, get happy enough, etc. The truth is that we are sinners in need of resurrection. If no less a giant than Martin Luther could acknowledge this, what makes us stumble over admitting it for ourselves? I think it is because we are prone to believe the problem is everyone and everything else -- but not us. It is not safe or "nice" to talk about this stuff. Sin is a forbidden word in the American church. We don't want people to be uncomfortable or feel judged.

But if we are not honest about the real problem facing us -- inside of us -- we cannot be truthful about salvation. And if we are not truthful about salvation, the people we are so fearful of offending or irritating will face a discomfort and a judgment that is eternally more uncomfortable and judgmental than some hurt feelings this side of the second coming.

Christianity is life or death stuff.

The writer of the above article excerpt is Ted Haggard. Three years after its publication, he would resign from the pastorate of his Colorado megachurch because he was cheating on his wife with a man. This is how he concludes his article:

We have to get this right. Even though the global church is stronger than we’ve ever been, we in the American church are showing early signs of impotence. We are in a global theatre now, which means that our words, actions, investments and thoughts have greater impact. Thus, we have the opportunity to do unprecedented good, but also the dangerous ability to do unparalleled damage.

Let’s make the right choice. If you are like me, you are conflicted. I don't like this column. Granted, there is a part of me that does. But most of me likes the comforts of the church I serve, the way I travel, the way I'm treated by both the public and the body of Christ. I enjoy the political platform we Christians are given.

But at the same time, there is a dark cloud in the back of my mind woondering if God isn't stirring another Martin Luther to nail his theses to our church doors.

I would rather have us return to our foundations of integrity by the prompting of the Holy Spirit and the illumination of the Scriptures, rather than have us defending our lifestyles, edifices and power to future generations as they read history books recounting our demise because of our own hypocrisy.

We need to ensure that we are not the whitewashed tombs and snakes of our day (see Matt. 23:27, 33). We need to be sure.

Are we willing to embrace this sort of Christian integrity? Haggard's words here are piercing, penetrating. They are also chilling in retrospect. This is obviously a man wrestling with sin, a sin that, as the Bible promises, "found him out."

Can we be honest with ourselves and about ourselves? Are we willing to trade in the gospel of personal fulfillment for the gospel of Jesus Christ, who was pummeled and pierced for our brokenness? Will we trade our right to happiness for real joy? Will we trade in our desire for conflict-free lives for real peace? Will we trade in our selfish optimism for real hope?

Will we trade our Christianity for Jesus'?

That is God's call upon the life of the follower of Jesus. That is God's call upon the life of His churches.


Dan said...

I agree with you...we as a church have lost our way. The problem is that we, and by we I mean me, need a way to get out. This is what I grew up with...I just don't know anything else.

How did you embrace this call? How is Ted Haggard now embracing this call after his fall? That's the question. The church is made up of individuals and "we" won't embrace this call until "I" do.

Just my thought.

Bird said...

In just about every letter to the churches in Revelation, JESUS commands repentance. He's asking church-goers to repent. The church needs a revival badly.

jason said...

Talk about a passage that kicks you right in the face. Seeing that it was Ted Haggard gives it all the more impact in hindsight.

And the thing that's getting me...when he wrote that he knew everything he was doing. He KNEW that it applied to him and he KNEW someday it would catch up to him. He still wrote that and it's almost like a cry of a desperate man. At least, we can see that now.

Solid meat here to chew on. Thanks, Jared.

Steve said...

We have (as did Luther) the blessed assurance of our baptisms.

But we don't take our justification for granted. We don't presume on God's grace.

It keeps (as much a possible) our feet on the ground and gives us a bit of humility (hopefully).

James said...

Haggard's ability to articulate with prophetic precision the idols of his generation, while walking in utter darkness himself, scares the crap out of me. Lord, have mercy on us!