Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Being a Christian

This is probably one of the most difficult posts I've ever had to write, for reasons that are all to apparent to me, and yet unfortunately will have to remain somewhat of a mystery for the rest of you. Suffice it to say it is a difficult time right now, but through the difficulty, God has inspired me to write some more general comments that I simply must share.

You see, I have a pretty serious failing (actually, I have quite a few, but one in particular that is relevant for this discussion). Most of you know that I am a lawyer (no, that's not the failing). As with many lawyers, I am very logically-minded. My approach to Christianity, on the Ten Minas website and elsewhere, is often to break down the logical arguments and show step by step why Christianity is true, or how beautifully Christian theology builds on itself. I can illustrate why we all need a savior and how Jesus satisfied that need. All we need to do is to come to Him in faith.

My failing is that this is often where the conversation ends. This is common in many churches too. The focus is on salvation, and we seem to have this belief that Christianity is somewhat like a sprint with salvation as the finish line. We cheer ourselves or our friends on until we or they cross the finish line. Once there we breath a sigh of relief and relax. The race is over. The prize is won. Nothing else to be done here.

But through recent events I have come to understand how much more Christianity really is. Don't get me wrong. I have "understood" what I am about to say on an intellectual level for some time. But something is different now. Something I don't think that I can put into words adequately.

I titled this post "Being a Christian" rather than simply "Christianity" for a reason. I believe that "Being a Christian" describes what begins after salvation. Being a Christian involves the process of developing spiritual friendships with your Christian bretheren. Being a Christian means that you will get hurt, and when that happens it means we must be willing to forgive. We get together with others in our congregation to study the Bible or worship together on Sunday mornings. But being a Christian means we should be getting to know each other on a personal level. A risky proposition to be sure, and one that inevitably will lead to disappointment eventually. After all, we all are sinful humans and we will fail somehow someday.

But it is precisely because we will all fail that we need to get closer to each other. We all need someone to hold us accountable. It is precisely when we believe that no one is looking that we are more likely to slip into sin. For that reason I believe it is important for us all to have a Christian circle that is looking in on the most secret corners of our lives. This group will know "our business", and nip sin in the bud when it first blossoms before it grows out of control and ruins very promising careers, personal lives or spirituality.

There is a type of spiritual friendship that can arise between a Christian and a non-Christian which is elegantly described by Brian D. McLaren in his book "More Ready Than You Realize." That is not the kind of spiritual friendship I am talking about though. Here I am speaking of the relationships that develop between fellow Christians. The point of these relationships is not the same as many people think of as part of secular friendships today. In many modern relationships, people seem to be more concerned with pleasing others so that they "make friends." Honesty often falls by the wayside. We want to avoid confrontation so we try not to say anything that might make someone else upset. We focus on fun and leave it at that.

But for Christians we are not simply talking about social gatherings for recreational purposes. We certainly can have fun with our spiritual friends. But the priority for these relationships must be honesty, accountability and mutual strengthening. This is part of being a Christian. Forget all of the elaborate theological and philosophical arguments. Every Christian should know that being a Christian is not just about theology. It is also about community.

As I said before, entering into this type of Christian community means that you will get disappointed. You will get hurt. And when that happens, you have to be willing to forgive. That is not nearly as easy as it sounds. Remember, you have allowed yourself to get close to someone. You have trusted them with you innermost being and they have violated your trust. That is the type of thing you are going to face if you are truly placing yourself into one of these spiritual friendships. I cannot sugarcoat this. Understand that it WILL happen.

But if sincere repentance is there our role as spiritual friends means we have to hold our friend accountable, condemn the sin, but then forgive, love, and help to build them up again. Please, under no circumstances should you underestimate how hard this can be.

So I apologize for not focusing on the role of Christian community enough in my teaching, and I will try to do better in the future. Ultimately, Christianity is not about making logical arguments. It is about building relationships. And that is something that doesn't stop when you make a sinner's prayer.

For now, ask yourself if you have true spiritual friendships; people you can trust to confront you with what you do not want to hear and who can help bring you back after you repent. I admit to having far too few of these types of relationships. But despite my recent disappointments, I have come out with a commitment to seek out even more of these relationships, with the full knowledge of the additional heartache I may be setting myself up for. I firmly believe, though, that this is what we are all called to do.

If the person who inspired this blog happens to read it, I am confident that they will know exactly what this long rant is all about. If that happens, I would just like to say that I am your spiritual friend. I know you have others, probably many that you are even closer to than you are to me. I obviously cannot condone the sin. But I will always be here to help build you up again. I know you are in for some hard times in the near and possibly even the distant future. If you feel the need for a spiritual friend, please remember that you have my number. I, for one, do not want to lose you as a spiritual friend.

God bless.


No comments: