The Demands of Christianity
I heard this morning that one pastor(?) at a regional convention announced that they felt that churches should stop reciting or using creeds in their services since newcomers might not know the creed or what the church believes and thus would feel uncomfortable.
Now, I’m not arguing that we all should be reciting a creed in church services. I think it’s valuable, but take it or leave it. It’s not Biblically mandated, so you’re certainly free to choose. What frustrates me, however, is some of the ideas behind it. First, a newcomer is going to be uncomfortable when walking into a new situation because there will surely be songs, habits, and other rhythms that are going to be unique to any given church; you can’t eliminate everything that will make someone uneasy in a new situation. Second, if people don’t know what a church believes, isn’t a creed a pretty good way to introduce them? Doesn’t taking it out only compound the problem? Third, there is the underlying idea that we need to make things easy for people, something that I just don’t believe is scriptural, nor is it good for them spiritually, developmentally, intellectually, or even physically or biologically.
M. Scott Peck begins his famous book, The Road Less Traveled, saying, “Life is difficult.” Thanks to sin, of course it is. For that matter, I think even in the absence of sin, we still would have had to engage in some kind of work or effort. Adam was told to rule over the Earth and the animals, which at least amounted to naming them, and who knows what God would have given him to do beyond that later on. Our bodies are designed to be used, or they atrophy (just ask astronauts). The same is true of our minds as evidenced by Alzheimer’s disease and the fact that those who work the mind in particular ways throughout life statistically suffer less from this disorder. All of this to say that we live in a world where things are required of us, and engagement with life can sometimes be hard.
This is no less true of the Christian life than it is of a secular or unbelieving life. Paul admonishes the Thessalonians that those that don’t work shouldn’t eat. He provides various litanies of sins to struggle against. He admits to “beating” his body in order to get it to cooperate with him. Christianity demands something of us, just as church demands that those who enter it learn to follow along with what is happening, creeds included. This isn’t to say that we should not be patient and gentle with those who don’t know, but if they intend to stay, then they can’t be coddled forever. They must grow up.
There is a tendency in our culture towards trying to make sure that no one has to suffer at all. As a teacher, I repeatedly see parents telling their children it’s okay when it often isn’t. Yes, such parents should be loving with their children, but they must also acknowledge the truth of failures, sins, and consequences. This is but one example of an entire cultural mindset that difficult things must be avoided or eliminated, even if we are the cause of those things. I half-joke with people that we’ve changed the passage in the Declaration of Independence from “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and just struck out the “pursuit of” part. Our affluence as well as various other factors has deluded us into believing that we have the right to be happy all the time, but it’s simply not true. In fact, if we are happy all the time, then we are failing to grow because growth sometimes involves hard times. Yet failure to grow means that our happiness is ultimately limited. Deep issues of sin that still remain in our hearts that prevent us from fully experiencing the love of God, finding complete contentment, having our fundamental desires met deeply, etc., will all remain, and so we will never enter into those places apart from growth. This is not to mention the reality that even the happiness that we think we have is marred by those and similar issues, and we inevitably suffer from moments where we aren’t happy, even if we deny it.
The Christian life includes work and effort. Jesus engaged in them; should we thereby expect any less of ourselves who claim to follow him? Should we expect any less of those around us who also bear His name?
For many people, this is a message that they don’t need to hear. Many people are already working themselves to the bone, trying to do what they believe they are supposed to do. To those who fall into this category, please do not be hard on yourselves. You already carry weight enough. But the culture overall leans towards laziness or being entertained rather than engaging with life. Christianity demands something of us, and we lessen ourselves when we fail to engage with it because Christianity is merely telling us about our real nature – about who we were designed to be. So what if life is difficult? The difficult can be very, very good – if we chose to engage with it.