“For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine . . . and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4 This week’s assault on Facebook is 2 Timothy 4:3-4, with assorted memes and photos (one is a shot of the verse, in situ, […]
Family, teamwork, community — for years these words have circulated through our corporate business culture as a means of convincing people that the workplace is warm, caring, fuzzy, and cuddly.
What’s intriguing is that the same words are employed within Christian settings, which increasingly look like the business world: with our leadership meetings, discipleship committees, and small group participatory events, the world of the establishment church is feeling cloyingly like the world of work.
These thoughts were reinforced throughout the week as I used my new calendar, a page-by-page Spanish-a-day affair that is choosing to devote January to business, which is what establishment Christianity is in danger of looking like all year round. Here are the first five days of business-related sentences, in English, and thoughts on how they relate to Christianity:
1) “I love my job.”
Many people actually don’t like their jobs, but that’s beside the point. Translated into Christian culture this phrase is, “I love my church.”
While we may or may not love the place we spend Sunday mornings from 9:30 to noon, church is more than a building, or even the closed group of people living within that building.
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it,” Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:27. It’s easy to circumscribe our definition of church and forget that it includes all of God’s children, some of whom live in Palestine, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Ukraine.
“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (v. 26)
2) “I enjoy interacting with my co-workers.”
Within Christianity, this is called “fellowship,” something that is low on the corporate Christian ladder and well below small groups, discipleship, leadership classes, Sunday School, Bible study, and “ministry opportunities.”
But of all that list, not only is fellowship the most important, it is also the only one that can — and should — be accomplished on the level of the ordinary Christian, without “leadership” supervision or interference.
“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love,” Paul says in Romans 12:9. “Honor one another above yourselves . . . Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”
It’s hard to love, pray for, or be concerned about someone we hardly know, and we can’t know someone we only exchange a few words with (“Will you please pass me the hymnal?”) once a week in a highly structured situation.
Since you probably won’t have much opportunity to do so during religious services, make an effort to seek out and communicate with believers — whether or not they go to your church — on a regular basis. In other words, when Hebrews 10:25 exhorts us to “Not give up meeting together,” think outside the building.
3) “They’ve just given me a raise in my salary.”
(I never said that this calendar was accurate, just that it was teaching Spanish vocabulary.)
Prosperity doctrine infects the church, and even those who say they reject it have to fight the innate belief that when good things happen in our lives, it’s because we’re being good; and when bad things happen — especially to other people — it’s because they deserve it.
“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus,” Paul tells us in Philippians 4:19, writing from prison.
Whatever is happening to us, God knows about it, and if it tends to be unpleasant, this is not necessarily an indication that we are wrong and being punished, nor that we need to “declare” and “claim” all the louder.
Indeed, riches — for all that we secretly want them and are convinced that we would do a better job wielding them than most — are a snare that God doesn’t necessarily want us to be entrapped in:
“It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 19:24. I wonder how often this verse is seriously discussed in contemporary churches?
4) “I have to get ready for the interview.”
1 Peter 3:15 tells us to “always be prepared to given an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
Too many people take this to mean that they have to sound like a professional evangelist, the kind who fills football stadiums, and they disparage themselves because they’re not quick and slick with their answers.
But rather than waste time practicing what we’ll say, why not absorb ourselves in Scripture and in contemplation with God, asking Him to show us what it is that we believe, and why?
It’s a given that, when we talk to people about God, they’ll come up with some difficult questions (like, “How can a loving God send the people I love so dearly to hell?”) and before we put them down for not accepting our standard answers, maybe we should look at some of those standard answers and see if, deep down, they satisfy us, either.
Any doctrine, any belief, any statement that puts into question the all merciful, all loving, all gracious, and all compassionate nature of God, is one that we need to review and pray about.
5) “The company offers rather generous benefits.”
An old joke, still circulating as if we’ve never heard it, is, “I may not get paid much for being a Christian, but the retirement benefits are out of this world!”
Because we are eternal beings, life has to be lived wherever we are, now, and those of us who aren’t dead (physically, that is) do not have to wait until heaven to experience the benefits of belonging to the household of our heavenly Father:
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,” Jesus said in John 10:10.
If your reaction to this sentence is along the lines of, “When will I have this, Lord?” then give yourself points for honesty, and go ahead and ask Him. It’s okay to want this abundant life — He wants you to want it, actually — and if you ask Him to lead you to it, He will. Keep in mind, however, with reference to point number 2, that the benefits the world looks for are not the ones that He is concerned with.
Christianity is not a business, but the people outside of it — and too many within it — can’t be faulted for thinking that it is so. Those of us in the cubicles, however, can make a difference by not listening so much to management, and getting back to the real thing.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity.
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