Many Christians today were raised in a church environment that called for them to simply grease the wheels of the institution as best they could and everything would tend to move along nicely. There was a time when churches were an established cultural center of most of American society. There was a time when all that we had to do was provide weekly worship, Confirmation classes, an annual VBS, visitation to the sick and elderly, etc., and the wheels of our church institution would keep on going. Yes, many Christians today were raised to grease the wheels of the church of their parents and grandparents, with pastors trained to be the chaplains of this past church environment and cultural reality.
Now everything has changed on us — culturally, socially, religiously, etc. — and merely greasing the wheels as in bygone days isn’t enough anymore. In fact, if we want to see an increase in religious faith and faithfulness, and a more healthy society and better world, then we the church of our Lord Jesus Christ need to be community focused. In other words, we need to recognize that God is calling us out into the local community to serve and witness according to the grace and truth of God revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior.
As Christ’s modern day disciples, God is calling us and sending us out to meet our neighbors (no matter who they are), to build relationships and friendships, and to charitably serve and prophetically advocate. Among our neighbors, we may observe drug abuse, broken families, alcoholism, or at-risk youth. Or, we may observe that our neighbors are experiencing a subtle but nagging meaninglessness and hopelessness in life that we do not have due to the amazing grace of our Christian faith and hope. So, for the glory of God and the benefit of everyone, the Lord is calling and sending us out to cast wide the net of God’s grace and love revealed in Christ — especially reaching out to the least, last, lonely and lost.
The simple truth is that we need to show what Christ can do for these people. A mere cultural Christianity does nothing for these people. People need the Lord. We all do. Therefore, cultural/nominal “Christianity” is nothing, and it really does nothing for anyone in the long run. Consequently, we need Christians to be devout Christians, passionately devoted to their faith and fervently practicing lovingkindness in their daily lives. We need more devout Christians who know that their faith is not just something they keep in their own heart for their own self.
It is not just about what Christ means for me and you as believers, but it is about what Christ could mean for those who have yet to come to faith. And it is what Christ could mean for society, as Christians practice charitable service and Christ-like social advocacy. As Christians, we believe and profess that the way, truth and life of Christ is the answer to all our spiritual and relational ills. And we also believe that Christ’s way of love, truth of grace and life of the Spirit have a positive effect on all of society as well.
When hearts are changed by the grace and love of God revealed in Christ, then the elderly are respected more, children are cared for more, racial bigotry is reduced within people of all ethnicities, the homeless are helped, the hungry are fed, and so on. This is the reign of God among us. Hearts and minds are changed, lovingkindness flourishes, society is transformed, and there is a multiplication of the people of faith. This is how Christian faith and spirituality first grew, and it is how it best grows even today (especially today).
Block by block, person by person, neighbor by neighbor, relative by relative, the character of Christ reflected in the character of those who claim the name Christian is the thing that increases the community of faith (along with the corresponding benefits to society). When people have their hearts changed by the grace of God, they tend to take more personal responsibility for their lives. At the same time, they tend to be drawn together to take more social responsibility for the sake of everyone. But, again, for all of this to happen, we need devout Christians passionately devoted to their faith, empowered by their faith, who are practicing charitable service, social advocacy, honesty, integrity and lovingkindness in their daily lives.
This is the reason why we gather for weekly worship together, share in weekly Holy Communion together, study the Holy Scriptures together within our congregational Bible studies we offer (and group Bible study is very empowering to our faith), and it is why we pray to God continually each and every day of our lives. All of this is so that we can be filled-up and empowered by our faith in order to live grace-filled, hope-filled and joy-filled lives for our own sake, for the sake of our church, and for the sake of the world around us. After all, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” [The Holy Bible, Galatians 5:6b].
Together in Christ’s Mission, Pastor Tim