Which came first: faith or theology? Am I crazy, or didn’t faith come first? Didn’t people know Jesus and believe in Him first, and then go write the gospels and epistles?
Why is it then, it seems like nowadays whenever one starts talking about sharing the faith or evangelizing or making disciples (that is, talking or teaching about Jesus) immediately a half-dozen people appear out of nowhere and try to force you to fit their theology? “Do it this way, follow these rules, obey this church hierarchy, observe these traditions” they say — and before you know it you start feeling like David wearing Saul’s armor. It just doesn’t fit. Give me a slingshot and a few smooth stones — and the name of the Lord — and I’ll be fine.
I’ve been wrestling lately with the question of how one might “do ministry” within the context of organized religion — a very frustrating and discouraging train of thought, btw. Here are four questions I’ve come up with, and I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on them:
Question #1 — Within the structure of organized religion / churches, can there be found a “safe haven” in which to evangelize and develop disciples, where new believers won’t be harassed by the hierarchy of their own church?
Question #2 — Is trying to remain within existing organized-religion structures of any kind useless at this point? Is there any chance the existing churches will ever put the horse (evangelism / discipleship / outreach) in front of the cart (religious tradition / theology / ‘church-ianity’)?
Question #3 — Of the creeds, liturgies, and sacraments currently available in the various churches — if you had to start all over again from scratch and define a community of faith, what would you consider absolutely essential and what would you leave behind?
Question #4 — What would happen if churches confronted their members and prospective members with this: “Are you prepared to lay down your life? Are you prepared to give everything you have and everything you are to Jesus? If not, then you’re not ready to become a Christian yet. You’re welcome to keep attending church, but membership, baptism and the sacraments are only for those who are putting their lives on the line.” Would our churches suddenly empty? Or would they suddenly fill? What do you think?
(…the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour is playing on the radio…)
The above questions were inspired in part by readings from “Reclaiming the Great Commission” by Bishop Claude E. Payne & Hamilton Beazley and “Death of the Church” by Mike Regele. Quotes from Reclaiming the Great Commission:
“The role of the church… is not to create a demand for religious experiences… but rather to address and effectively satisfy the demand that already exists.”
“Evangelism is not a program of the Church; rather it is the essential work of the Church.”
“If we do not engage in evangelistic activities, then we miss one of the great opportunities of the Christian faith: to be used by the Holy Spirit in the Lord’s work.”
Quote from Death of the Church: “At the core of Jesus’ message is the insistence that unless there is first a death, there can be no life. Unless we say no to our self-will, we cannot know the depth of God’s will; unless we turn away from following our own way, we cannot know God’s way; unless we confess our sin, we cannot know God’s forgiveness and his gift of righteousness; unless we are willing to die to self, we cannot know our true selves; unless we die, we cannot discover the life of God.”