I wonder if you are familiar with Rob Lacey’s amusing sceptical send up – too near the truth for the liking of many, I suspect – of the shallowness of much Christianity today: ‘O Lord, we worship your woodginess. For you are the Forever Fluffy One, the All Squidgy, Squiggly One. And we giggle and gush in your presence as we raise our hoorays all the days of our trouble-free-lives. For we are your simple dimples. And we trust in the warmth of your cuteness everlasting. And we declare that you are beyond all naughtiness, above all itchy twitchiness, and higher than all horridness. And we raise our hippity hip hoorays all the days of our trouble-free-lives. And we want to be your best friends. And we want to give you our sweeties – even the blackcurrant ones – because we think you are … just … so … nice!’
I think it was the late Chuck Colson who described American Christianity as being ‘three thousand miles wide and half an inch deep’. Colson specifically had the American ‘Bible Belt’ in mind, but the same could be said of much evangelical and charismatic Christianity here in the UK. A number of the various blogs I read on the internet have recently had a common theme – concern over the immaturity of so many evangelical and charismatic Christians today. As a Pastor of more than 40 years standing, I have got used to young people returning from events such as Soul Survivor very enthusiastic for Christ and the Gospel, determined to see the local church experience revival. On average this enthusiasm lasts about two weeks before the reality of living as Christians in the real world hits home. Some young people understand this, and are able to channel their experience of renewal into spiritual growth and Christian service (as those who lead Soul Survivor continually advocate those attending should do). Many, however, simply criticise their own churches for not being ‘like it was at Soul Survivor’, failing in the process to learn the lessons taught us by ancient Israel who had many a ‘mountain top’ experience, but found that all their battles were won in the valley! Some of these young people mope around saying things like ‘I can’t wait until Soul Survivor next year!’ as they wait for their annual ‘quick fix’!?
Now, to a degree we expect this of young people, simply because they are ‘young people’ and there are no ‘short cuts’ to growing up. Many young Christians will, hopefully, continue to ‘grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 3:18) and become mature men and women of God, men and women ‘full of faith and the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 6:5), who will be greatly used by God in the work of the kingdom. The problem comes when believers don’t grow in this way, but remain immature in the things of God, and ineffective in the work of the kingdom!
This, of course, is not a new problem. Way back in New Testament times we find the Writer to the Hebrews exhorting his or her readers to move on from baby food to solids (Hebrews 5:13,14). And for as long as I can remember, a recurring theme in Ministers’ Fellowships has been how best to help members of the church and congregation move on from simply being believers to becoming true disciples. It may be that I am guilty of seeing the past through rose tinted spectacles, but it seems to me this particular problem is worse today. I am personally grateful for all that the charismatic renewal, at its best, brought to the church back in the 1960s and 1970s. Charismatic churches of today, however, are very different from those of the 1960s and 1970s. Today, if a church sings lots of ‘worship songs’ it is classed as ‘charismatic’ even if there is no significant manifestation of the gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit to accompany the singing.
I welcome the release from the legalism and formalism of much of the Christianity of my youth that the charismatic renewal brought, but recall the prophetic words of David Pawson to us as students at Spurgeon’s College in the late 1960s that ‘If charismatic renewal simply degenerates into the endless, mindless singing of worship songs, we will have missed all that God is seeking to do through this movement!’ It would appear those prophetic words have been sadly fulfilled, and it may well be that the charismatic movement has actually created as many problems as it has solved, not least in encouraging an atmosphere in which what we might call the ‘woodginess’ of so much evangelical and charismatic Christianity today breeds.
Jesus, in what has become know as the Great Commission, exhorts his Church to ‘Go and make disciples’ (Matthew 28:19) and not simply believers. This is something we all need to recognise, given the emphasis today on the need to be ‘missional’ churches. The Greek word for ‘disciple’ literally means ‘a learner’ and draws a picture of a student learning from a teacher. We are reminded of Mary ‘sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to what he had to say’ (Luke 9:39). But the word ‘disciple’ also implies discipline, dedication – an athlete making the necessary changes to his or her lifestyle, taking on board a stringent training schedule, in order to win the Olympic medal and not just be an ‘also ran’.
In order to help members of the church and congregation become mature disciples some churches have started disciple training programmes, but the plain fact of the matter is that discipleship cannot be imposed upon people. Essentially discipleship is about self-discipline. There are plenty of resources out there – not least from God himself – which we can call upon if we truly want to become the men and women of God that God wants us all to be. Time, I think, for us to junk the concept of God as the ‘All-Matey’ and reinstate the concept of God as the Almighty – a God who both demands and deserves a thought-through, dedicated, commitment from those who name the Name of Christ. As C T Studd understood, many years ago, ‘If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him!’