I’m recovering from some surgery last week and I have been given some time off from ministry to recover. It leaves me at a loose end, I have to admit. So here comes a blog post!
As I sometimes do when I have the time, I try to catch up on all the unread blog and news articles I wanted to read but didn’t on the Pocket app. It’s an eclectic bunch of good and bad. Some of it I clearly never got round to for a long time. I found one article from 2013 in there.
Today I read a blog post from Rod Dreher (author of Live Not By Lies). Dreher is pretty prolific, so you have to be committed to keep up. (I am not – a dipper inner and outer.) The blog post was about the decline of a diocese of the Roman Catholic Church somewhere in the US. As one who professes faith (Dreher is Eastern Orthodox and former Roman Catholic) he has an interest in the spiritual state of the West and comments on the church’s decline. He is concerned that the church (generally speaking, including evangelicals) is not ready for the trouble that is coming (hence his book Live Not By Lies).
One of his concerns is that professing Christians are not willing to suffer today. But it is worse than not being willing to suffer. It is not being willing to be inconvenienced. The church today is threaded through with moralistic therapeutic deism. Or a do good, feel good, acknowledge-a-god-up-there-somewhere faith (my interpretation). It comes with a “serve me” attitude, rather like one has going to McDonald’s. But Dreher makes this point:
If you show up at church with that attitude, you will be immune to grace.
Now, Dreher undoubtedly has a different theological framework in which he thinks about God’s grace. I believe God acts graciously sovereignly. In other words, when God determines to be gracious nothing will stop him – it does not depend on the person on the receiving end meeting some standard before getting it. Even bad attitudes can be overcome by divine grace. Praise God that that is true! Otherwise no one could be saved.
However, Dreher’s quote does poke a finger into the ribs a little and I think it applies to us in the Reformed/Presbyterian world. Is there a deep-seated attitude problem amongst us? One that does not want to be inconvenienced by the disciplines of the Christian life, disciplines that have been learned through the fires of adversity or even slight inconvenience?
Because of my situation, we had a visiting preacher last Sunday, a Reformed Baptist brother, no less! As one does, we were chatting about the state of things in the church. While there is much to be encouraged by in our church, one obvious feature of it, like many of similar convictions, is that usually less than half of the morning congregation returns for the evening service. Even when you strip out legitimate concerns – illness, emergencies, some with little children find it difficult, works of mercy and necessity etc – it is still baffling that there is little hunger to return later in the day. It points, it seems to me, to a deep-seated attitude problem, where feelings rule and inconvenience dominates over conviction.
A couple of weeks ago, I was speaking to a Presbyterian pastor from Colorado visiting the UK for a few days. We got to talking about discipleship in the church. His church has 500 members, ~10x ours. It was seeking to develop a discipleship culture. They had spent the last few years hacking away at activities in the church that did not contribute to it. I asked him what that looked like. His answer was simple – commitment to three things: worship, praying together, serving. It was beautiful in its simplicity.
Commit to worshipping together. Turn up with hearts ready.
Commit to praying together. Yes, together.
Commit to serving. Put yourself on rotas. Look for unspoken needs. Do something. Contribute don’t just consume.
The church proclaims a gospel of grace that produces serious people, serious about living a disciplined, committed life. It calls us to a life of inconvenience. Some Christians might think, “Are you serious?” but I would bounce the question back at you and say, “Are you serious?”