I caught sight somewhere, in the last couple of days, of a book (I think by George Barna) entitled ‘Pagan Christianity.’ It must have been the internet, because I don’t remember having it in my hand at the time. I think the jist of this book is the fact that Christianity today is shrouded in things that can’t be decribed as authentic biblical Christianity. You know, things like pews, choirs, dog collars, candles, format of worship meetings, liturgy. And yes, flags and bands and uniforms and ranks and mercy seats and songster brigades and all that…we have as much clutter as the rest, if not more.
Now, I don’t know what his conclusions were. My experience is that traditions and elements of how we express our faith appear because for someone, at some point, they are helpful, or maybe even just practical. My theory is that if its helpful and practical then it doesn’t get in the way. The danger is when people place the peripherals in the place of the necessities, thus creating a mongrel form of faith.
For as long as Scotland has been Christianised, I’d reckon there has always had a folk Christianity, a folk religion. It manifests itself in many ways. We saw it very much in play in Glasgow when we dedicated around 25 children to the Lord, of non-Christian families, because they wanted to ‘get the wean done.’ I would always emphasise that there was nothing I could do other than pray that would change the destiny or outcome of the child’s life, that neither water, ceremony, standing on my head or some other such thing, could do anything. They accepted that, interestingly, and still had the desire to have the opportunity to thank God (admittedly a God some of them may not have believed in, or know as Saviour and Lord) for the gift of their children.
These are instances in the vague sense of being Christian, even of going to church, but yet not fully engaging. My suggestion is that this is not people’s fault. Of course they will have a desire to find out more about God, and to connect with them. HOW they do it is pretty much dependant on how we lead them.
As I reflect on our corps here in Wick, and to be honest, pretty much every corps I’ve experienced, there are often times when the formality of a meeting, the hurdles of our brand and the pew-warming culture makes it so difficult for people to engage. I love The Salvation Army, if you know me you know that, but I fully recognise that ‘The Salvation Army’ often gets in the way of Jesus. For me, it doesn’t because as a Christian, Salvationism helps give me expression of my faith. But we have to realise that all people see sometimes is Salvationism and not Jesus.
Some of you will be thinking thats a hefty statement for one who identifies himself with Primitive Salvationism, but therein lies the paradox. If it has been communicated the Primitive Salvationism is anything less than passionate, covenanted Jesus following, then its not Primitive Salvationism. It is certainly possible that ‘PS’ itself can get in the way, but yet, that in itself would be a perversion of it.
Why do I write this? I recognise the gap between folk religion and authentic faith and I want to be a catalyst for the latter. I feel the responsibility for every soldier in my care, every adherent and friend, to ensure that Jesus is evident in our ministry and when our ‘forms’ of worship get in the way, there must ALWAYS be a way for the average non-beliver to taste and see authentic faith in action.
As part of our Hope 2008 focus, its my prayer that we’ll be able to find ways to help people engage. It was my commitment as this morning I responded to God on this Commitment Sunday.