Is the Church Canceling Christianity?, Part 4
And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Matthew 6:5
According to gospel accounts, Jesus divided his waking hours among three activities: prayer, teaching, and service to others. His prayer always left space for God to speak to and work through him. His teaching always left space for God to speak to and work through his followers. And his service always left space for God to work through him to help others in need. He did not take personal credit for his acts of service, giving credit instead to the faith of the receiver and to God working through him. He was a selfless instrument of God, pure and simple. And he called for us to follow his lead.
The fact that Jesus created space for God to work through him in everything he did is an important lesson for us. It means neither his intellect nor his ego controlled his actions. He did not serve others for his own glory but to work with God in reducing human suffering. In fact, he criticized those who performed religious actions in ways that glorified themselves, as is evidenced in the epigraph from Matthew. Acting in ways that bring glory to ourselves brings its own reward to our ego-self, but that reward is neither lasting for us nor helpful to others. Narcissistic actions done for personal attention are selfish acts and not selfless acts. They benefit us, often at the expense of others, under the guise of service to others. Acts of prayer, teaching, and service to others should be done with humility, under God’s guidance and leading, and with no expectation of personal reward. To do so requires us to surrender space for God to work in and through our prayer, teaching, and service. To surrender space requires us to hold our ego in check, instead of allowing it to control our actions, and to subject our intellect to the wise counsel of the heart and Spirit.
The church cancels Christianity whenever it encourages ego-driven or individualistic actions. We are not individually responsible for sin or salvation, nor are we individually responsible for fixing problems or relieving suffering by ourselves. Rather, we are to join in joint efforts with the gifts we have been given, being faithful contributors to good as opposed to expecting ourselves or others to act as lone rangers in the salvation of humanity. Even Jesus relied on the faith of others and the working of God. Too many churches treat people as individual bodies of Christ instead of individual members of the One body of Christ. There is a difference, and that difference is significant. Yes, we are unique and important, as are our contributions to society. We often fail to realize, however, how that is true of everyone else, too. Some churches act as though they are a body of Christ in and of themselves, as if they can create their own heavenly existence apart from anyone else. Too often, those same churches are quick to condemn outsiders to a hell entirely of that church’s making. A church, like its individual members, is one part of the larger body of Christ.
The more we pray our own agendas and with words only, and the more we teach inflexible and intolerant church doctrine and practices, and the more we serve with a personal or organizational agenda, the less space we leave for God to influence and work in and through us. AND, in my opinion, the less Christian we become, at least in the sense of being faithful followers of the Christ as manifested in Jesus. And the more a church encourages and practices these types of prayer, teaching, and service to others, even in fervent sincerity, the more it strays from the path Jesus modeled. And the more Christianity is canceled by the very church that bears its name.
Most churches focus on teaching. Few focus on teaching in ways that leave space for God to work through their teaching. Fewer still teach prayer in ways that allow God to speak and act through the person praying. Churches, like most individuals, seek to help members understand God through their teaching. But understanding is an intellectual exercise that will not lead us to God. God cannot be understood. God can only be experienced. We grow closer to God not by understanding but by learning to sense God’s presence with us in our daily lives, making the way we live a more Christ-like example for others, and seeing God’s hand in the fruits of our labors. Churches with a laser-like focus on these types of activities are worthy of the title of Christian.
This is the 64th in the series of Life Notes titled Churchianity vs Christianity. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at email@example.com, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning and browse the archives of my Life Notes, Podcasts, music, books, and other musings.