Thursday, June 13, 2013

Is Today's Christian Overfed?

For a while now I've been on a mission to push for deeper teaching in our churches. Occasionally I'll encounter someone who says that most Christians have enough intellectual knowledge and simply need to be "out there" doing something with it. On the surface this sounds good and right. After all, our churches are full of people who hear sermon after sermon week after week and never really do anything with it. There is no real change. The answer has to be that they are overfed right? Not necessarily.

Think of it this way: There is a major problem with obesity in this country. According to the CDC, roughly one-third (35.7%) of the adults in the U.S. are obese. However, doctors and other health professionals do not recommend a strict regiment of exercise with no eating. Why not? They have clearly eaten enough. Now they need to get out there and work some of it off.

No--starvation and exercise do not go very well together. We would quickly grow weak because our fat supplies cannot be immediately turned into energy. The answer to getting healthier is both diet and exercise. Incidentally, I get so frustrated with many Christians' seeming inability to think in term of both/and rather than either/or. Merely taking away junk food is not enough--you must replace it with good food...and, yes, exercise too.

The problem is: I'm not sure if the American Church is obese or starved. You see, just because people are being fed regularly doesn't mean that they are getting the proper nutrients. Maybe the reason we don't see the Church working enough is that they are subsisting on gruel rather than wholesome food.

In the Letter to the Hebrews, the writer says it this way:

"In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still and infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil." (Hebrews 5:12-14)

In and of itself this passage does not speak directly to the issue I have raised. Here the writer is merely saying that these people should be further along in the process than they are. They should have grown up by now. They are still drinking milk rather than eating meat. The problem can be seen more clearly when we ask ourselves the question of what are we serving in our churches--milk or meat? Some people want to eliminate both!

What would we consider to be meat today? Think that one over for a moment before you read on, because it is a question well worth pondering.

The writer continues:

"Therefore, let us move beyond the elementary teachings (milk) about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again (milk) the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment." (Heb. 6:1-2)

Do you catch what he's saying? Repentance of sin and faith in God, baptism, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead (eschatology), and eternal judgment (seemingly heaven and hell) are kids' stuff...Christianity 101. But when I look at this list, I can't help thinking that if many of the churches I have been in over the years were to preach on these topics, people would think it was incredibly deep.

I don't think our food is too rich. I think we are living on skim milk. The answer isn't to cut people off and send them out the doors to change the world. They will die on the side of the road. I believe the answer is that we need to be offering something more substantial--more nutritional--at church.

I have been in the church my whole life, but it wasn't until I experienced deeper teaching and richer reading through seminary that I was actually motivated to impact the world. There has to be something to back the enterprise, so to speak. When our people are asked to give a defense for what they believe, they should be able to give one. The trendy solution of "just get out there and serve" doesn't cut it. Service is essential. But transformed hearts come from transformed minds (Rom. 12:2). The church must be a place of transformation and growth. If our people are fat and lazy or if they are starved and languishing, the answer is more good food and less filler--not less food altogether.

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