There is no shortage of criticisms being launched at the church these days, many of which are justified. One of the things that I am increasingly hearing from generally well-meaning people who are on genuine spiritual searches, looking for answers that will give the live meaning and purpose, is that Christians are basically lazy people from an intellectual perspective.
“Most of the church-going folks I know are content to have others do their thinking for them,” said Charlie, an old and dear friend who recently left the Southern Baptist Church, where he had been a member since he was 14, and joined up with a group that studies and applies the teachings of Edgar Cayce, an American psychic who achieved fairly miraculous results and healings in the middle of the 20th Century. “If I ask one of them a question about a specific writer or teacher, at best they just parrot back what they have heard. Few of them have even read anything that particular writer has written.”
Charlie went on to say that the primary reason for this was the fact that these folks didn’t like to think too much.
I hate to say it, friends, but Charlie has a point.
Let me give you two examples, the first one brief and the second one a bit more detailed. Steven, a good friend and the pastor of a growing, dynamic Baptist Church here I the area where I live, recently invited me to lunch and to discuss a new service project his congregation was considering.
During our conversation, I mentioned that I had recently finished reading Rumors, a book written by the popular evangelical author Philip Yancey. I mentioned how much I enjoyed the book and a couple of points Yancey made about the undeniable existence of the spiritual world. I was somewhat surprised at Steven’s response.
“I really like Philip Yancey and most of what he has to say, said my friend the pastor. “But I don’t read his books very often. They make me think too much.”
Gee, Steven, I thought that was the whole idea.
The other example comes from a few years back. When I was on the mission field in China, one of the missionaries, a young Southern Baptist in his late 20’s, was a fine young man, a dedicated follower of Jesus, and an even more ardent disciple of Jerry Falwell. Jackson worked at another site in the city where I lived and we had numerous occasions to discuss theology, missions, and the state of the church in general.
I vividly recall mentioning a number of authors that Jackson had probably heard of and possibly read. As it turns out, more than a few of there authors had been black listed at the seminary where Jackson had been educated.
“I remember hearing the name,” Jackson said when I brought up no less a prominent Christian figure than Quaker writer Rufus Jones. “All I remember was that our ethics professor said the guy was already dead and in hell and there was no need to read anything he had to say.”
To make a long story short, there were dozen of these taboo writers that Jackson had never bothered to explore, all because he was told by those in authority in his denomination that they were apostates, heretics, or at best, just plain misguided folks who didn’t have a whole lot of sense. William Jennings Bryan was one of these figures of lesser intelligence as I recall.
These experiences, and scores more like it, have convinced me that far too many followers of the Master are guilty of intellectual laziness. Rather than exploring their faith beyond the most superficial level, they are content to either allow someone else to do their thinking for them or engage in no theological speculation beyond what’s on the menu at next Wednesday’s pot luck. Is it any wonder many seekers looking for relevant and in depth answers to their spiritual questions are looking to other venues besides the church?
Following Christ, although built upon a foundation of good news and joyful living, is also a serious business. The Apostle Paul tells us repeatedly throughout his letters that we are to grow deeper in our faith with the aim of becoming more and more Christ-like. Many of us, however, lose sight of this goal and wind up settling for a life that is far beneath that which the Master intended. In Ephesians 4:1, Paul exhorts the believers in Ephesus to understand how important their calling to a new life is and also keep in mind the source of that calling:
Therefore, I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. (NLT)
Paul uses the word “beg” for emphasis on how important this all is, then goes on to implore us to “live a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.” I think few of us pause to see what Paul is really telling us here. All too often we are tempted to gloss over the opening verse of one of Paul’s letters, figuring perhaps that they contain the usual greetings of the day, as well as instructions to say hello to so and so and other salutary remarks. Chances are, the reasoning goes, no nuggets of wisdom are contained in these opening remarks so why waste valuable time on these obligatory pleasantries. It’s better to move deeper into the chapter and get to the meat of the matter.
Unfortunately, such reasoning causes us to miss teachings that are very important and, at least to some of us, potentially life-changing. Ephesians 4:1 is such a passage. In clear, concise words, Paul tells us to live lives that are worthy of being called by God. In essence, the Apostle is telling us to consecrate ourselves completely to our calling – and that this is really the only adequate response to being called by the Creator of all that is.
…….to be continued
(c) L.D. Turner 2011/All Rights Reserved