I’m old enough to remember Steve Grace as a legend of Aussie Christian rock music and one of his songs that struck a chord with me back then was ‘Children of the Western World’, a prophetic challenge to western lifestyles.
Currently at QBC we are looking at the New testament letters and considering some of the issues that faced the early church and some of the heresies that had infiltrated those first communities. Gnosticism , arianism and the like were all first century mutations of the original gospel, often tampering with Christology. They were not exactly blatant and obvious heresy, but they were usually believable enough to sit alongside, slowly become entwined with and eventually take the place of the true gospel. (I’d suggest that if you can upend Christology then eventually everything topples.)
Perhaps if you ignore something for long enough, or if you accept something for long enough it just becomes a part of your modus operandi.
It begs the question what are the heresies that infect and cripple us?
My guess is they are less overt and destructive and more sly and insidious. The chances of conservative evangelical western Christians denying the resurrection are fairly slim… but the chances of that same group of people being seduced by the dominant values of the culture are fairly high.
Its hard to acknowledge our heresies because in many ways they are our blind spots – and you simply can’t see your own blind spots (that’s why they are called that…) or they are our deepest desires and passions that we struggle to admit to – much stronger than our desires for the kingdom.
As I was teaching I mentioned again that in my view the ‘holy trinity of suburbia’ is career, house and family and Jesus is often invited to mold his call on our lives around those 3 priorities. These markers are set down before anything else and he can fit around them.
At face value it might seem like an extreme statement, but my hunch is that our ‘heresy’ is found in these areas. (And no – I’m not using ‘heresy’ in a technical sense) When career takes the place of vocation and our life is driven and shaped by our employment then we will struggle to hear the voice of God calling us to consider unconventional options. Surely the next move is upwards and will result in more $$?…
Or when we desire a certain kind of home so much that we are prepared to go into mega-debt for 30 years just to have it, then surely we have to ask what will our life now be shaped by? Of course it will be shaped by the need to repay a huge debt – and we will then be compelled to whatever that takes. I’m not a fan of big mortgages unless there is simply no other way to have a family home, but when monster mortgages are chosen over small mortgages I scratch my head.
Then there’s family… And this one is even more dangerous to critique, but for some the worship of family and all goes with it renders them useless to a God who is not so concerned for safety, security and comfort. I wonder how many times God’s call is ignored or simply unheard because ‘it wouldn’t be good for my kids…’
Each of them alone are enough to wrench us away from the life God has for us, but when the whole package kicks in, then we see churches like we have in suburbia today. Busy, heavily in-debted people giving lots of time to their families, but churches that struggle to be more than a pitstop on the way to the next week of slog.
Instead of a beautiful picture of the kingdom we often end up with lame religious versions of everyone else’s life. We pay lip service to Jesus but all the time pursue the God’s of our culture wondering why we aren’t content.
Most church leaders seem to be equating regular church attendance to 1 Sunday in 3 these days. It seems an odd number to equate with the word ‘regular’, but busy, overworked people need to find time to be with family… and Sunday becomes that… which wouldn’t matter a great deal if there were spaces for discipleship and formation outside of Sunday, but I’d suggest that for many these don’t exist either.
We are on a disturbing trajectory and the only way to respond to it is to choose to live differently – to choose a different path and to show people an alternative to the story that is told to them loud and clear.
I’d suggest this is the core of discipleship in western churches now – simply teaching people how to live. Jesus said ‘seek first the kingdom… and then the rest will be taken care of…’ Surely this is the start of life?
As a church leader I find myself wondering that means for how we lead a community, how we challenge people and nurture them towards the life of the kingdom rather than simply falling in line like lemmings and waiting for their turn to jump.
But of this I am convinced – to disciple is simply to ‘teach people how to live’…
(This blog post comes with all the usual disclaimers about wealth not being evil, home ownership not being bad, and family being a blessing… yada yada yada…)