You might think I’m mistaken, but I don’t think so, and here’s why.
I recently attended Acquire the Fire and was actually impressed with the kids I brought, and their astute observations about the conference, the music and their lack of overtly gross emotionalism that tends to be cultivated by these things. Did it put a pep in our step? Sure. But it didn’t inspire us to go out and Christianize the world, it inspired us to be better disciples, that’s the focus i’ve been putting on things.
Alright, so here’s the deal, we tend to think that if only we could get the kids to be more moral, or to make good choices we’d be set, but that’s not the gospel message. I am convinced that teenagers and young adults can make great choices and suffer for the kingdom as much as adults can, and that this suffering isn’t limited to being made fun of at school for praying before a meal, or wearing a Jesus t-shirt.
I was saddened by the lack of practical advice on small groups, and getting connected, and participation in church life at the conference. Looking back on it, i see a few things here and there that were lacking, and the emphasis on community was definitely one of them. Sure it’s nice to have all the ATF’ers on the same twitter page and facebook page, but if they’re not being encouraged to connect locally, they’re going to fail before they start. The thing is, these kids don’t need an exhortation against premarital sex, though that’s not a bad idea, they need exhortation to be the Church, in and with people who desire that same vision on earth as it is in heaven.
Moral apathy is not a problem unless we let it be, because the heart of Christianity is not morality, but Divine Love. This love is totally dissimilar to human love, yet it beckons our response and embodiment to make it happen in a fallen world.
I think that one of the things I took away from the conference to emphasize to my own kids is that they are not trying to go out and win the world today, but they are trying to cultivate their own discipleship in communion with their church, and their fellow Christians. Faithful disciples make disciples, is a tagline I’ve been using.
It’s not getting jimmy and bobby to not do drugs, though that is certainly part of the vision it’s getting them to experience God’s love in a community of committed and loving individuals who will nurture them and present them with challenges, not just a list of regulations.
Originally uploaded by DiscoWeasel
The lesson is this: a more moral society is not a more Christian society.
The church was born in an immoral world, and if we think that outlawing this, or having a million facebook fans for that is going to do anything we’re sadly mistaken. The only way to change societies towards the love we know is true is to be the Church. Be those people so claimed by God that they serve, and they go and the love and they grow. The churches come out of a world where human sacrifice still existed, orgies were the norm and cruelty could be found for the price of a dime, and yet these churches flourished whereas our churches falter. These churches were consumed with a desire to be faithful witnesses, not a desire to see the emperor be less cruel for its own sake.
If they could not make faithful converts, the churches didn’t make converts. So be it. We’ve lost that costly grace as Bonhoeffer calls it, the grace that requires us to follow Jesus Christ. Losing this expensive grace is our greatest failure, and now we live in a society where we have turned revival tents into the church. Questions of fiathful worship and right thinking have become impractical and to be ignored, so long as we can cultivate fifteen minutes of “repentance,” we’re good.
If we’re going to help anyone, including ourselves, we have to recognize that the locus of salvation isn’t society, it’s the Church (which does not mean just this or that congregation, for my non-Christian readers, it means that the Church is that community of people who believes that among them, they are already experiencing God’s gracious forgiveness and love in such a way that it is saving them). In the churches is where we need to focus on building people into good, loving dedicated people, committed to serving one another. Too often the tent revivals and the culture they spawn focus on getting people in, but have nothing for them to do once they get there.
I’m saying we need robust churches, inspired for service, geared towards nullifying apathy towards discipleship. The last thing we need is a new generation of moralistic preachers building ever increasingly complex lists of rules, or berating young adults and teens with guilt-trips about behavior.
Make faithful disciples, because I’m convinced that without the ever present challenge of Jesus Christ, nothing will matter much longer, and we will have lost our face as a community of Jesus, becoming another faceless social institution for the moral upkeep of society. That’s not the church. Go out and be faithful, love your neighbors, love your enemies, you enemies are your neighbors. It’s that simple.