This week, a blogger I respect, Tony Jones, wrote a post “Why Are You Still a Christian?” It was an open and honest piece about his personal struggles with doubt and faith. His basic assertion could be characterized as saying that he is a Christian because most people believe in God. Not the best argument in my mind.
Tony Jones tweeted that he was feeling a little beat up after it all.
A post like that, trying to give his reasons for his faith, was destined to fail in the face of “rational” scrutiny. But the point of the post wasn’t to give THE argument for God, it was to share what he is clinging to at the moment. However, the responses in the comment section cannot really be faulted either.
The problem is ‘Christendom’ and how Christendom’s argument for faith and for God has been playing out over the last several decades. Now, bear with me for a moment as I try to explain.
I heard Nadia Bolz-Weber last fall in Winnipeg, and one of my favourite “Nadiaisms” that she uses to describe her church, House for All Sinners and Saints is:
“We are high commitment, low obligation.”
Theirs is a culture that allows people to participate in planning and leading as they are able, people can come and go as their interest and availability changes.
Sounds like great system, if you can work with change and chaos.
But the issue of obligation vs. commitment is one that has been rumbling about my brain for months, and I am starting to realize it is much more than a quaint idea for a little mission congregation.
Obligation vs. Commitment is at the heart of Christendom’s argument for faith.
Or more precisely, Christians have been trying to obligate society to observe, defend, practice, uphold, and respect Christianity. Then while society pushes back against being obligated in such a way. As a pastor, I get to hear the lament of failed obligation attempts pretty regularly. The lament is for a loss of privilege:
“They used to say the Lord’s prayer in schools, pastor!”
“Stores used to be closed on Sundays so people could come to church.”
“Kid’s play sports on Sunday mornings, and that is why our Sunday School is so small. It never used to be like that.”
“The cashier at (insert name) store said “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.””
“People need to start coming to church to fill our pews and give offering! People should be here.”
“This is a Christian nation founded on Christian values.”
“They took the 10 Commandments down from the courthouse, what is the world coming to?”
I cringe when I hear these statements. I would be willing to bet they bother me as much any non-Christian. But they bother me for a different reason.
We have lost of the plot when we think that we can obligate belief or faith.
This is why Tony Jones, who did not set out for a debate, lost before he even began. Christendom got in the way of his point. Christendom has been trying to obligate faith for decades, and people who don’t want to be obligated anymore are rightfully protesting. It is pretty hard to make an argument for faith and for people not to hear the Christian attempt to obligate everyone to follow our religion.
But the bigger issue is for those of us who are Christians.
Is forcing everyone to say a Christian prayer in school or to say ‘Merry Christmas’ or to come to church because the rest of the world is closed on Sundays really a valid evangelism or discipleship method?
I think it is time for Christians to give up trying to reclaim the obligations of Christendom past.
I think it is time for Christians to say sorry to the world for trying to legislate our faith into their lives.
I think it is time for Christians to stop trying to argue people into believing in God.
Even if there was some argument that could once and for all prove that God is real, and the Trinity is that God, and that everyone should believe… it would be the worst idea in the world to use it. What good is a Christian who has been forced to faith?
I actually don’t like it when people who think they should be there, come to my church. I don’t want people to come to church or be Christian for the sake of filling pews and saving souls.
I want people to want to come to church. To want to become Christians. To want to have a relationship with the Body of Christ.
I want people to feel like church is something they need, not something forced upon them.
You know who makes my heart leap for joy at church? People who can’t imagine being anywhere else on Sunday mornings. People who choose church over the other options.
But we can’t all feel that way every week. Even the most devout Christian cannot want faith enough sufficiently every day, every week, every month.
And that is where I come back to Tony Jones’ post.
“Because everyone else is doing it,” is simply not a good reason for faith. Yet, I didn’t hear that in his post.
“Because on the days when I don’t have enough faith on my own, my brothers and sisters in Christ will have enough faith for me” is what I did hear. This is one of the most important theological, ecclesiological, liturgical reasons that I can imagine for why most of us are still Christians.
Because we are committed to each other, because we commit to share our faith and to share our doubt as a community, because everyone is else is doing faith WITH me. This is one of the most important reasons in the world.
Our desire to obligate people to faith is a desire to preserve Empire, but Christians, the Body of Christ, cannot be about Empire anymore.
The Body of Christ does not obligate you, me or anyone to faith. The Body of Christ commits you, me and all creation to God.
This idea changes everything. Wanting people to believe in God is one thing, but what if Christians strived to help people to want to have faith? We would be a different Church if we tried that.
Have Christians lost the argument for faith? Is there a defense for faith that will help? Share in the comments or on twitter @ParkerErik or on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/millennialpastor
Want more drama? Check out the high school drama of Evangelicalism.