Passionless Christianity?

After a full day of presiding over charge conferences yesterday and a previous six weeks of the same, I am both heartened and dismayed. There have been wonderful stories of great ministries, but there have also been not-so-hopeful admissions of less than stellar stats. Most churches are doing well with the vital church numbers for small groups, people involved in mission, and dollars given to mission, but the two glaring deficiencies are in average worship attendance and professions of faith. It seems that we as United Methodists are great at “almost” making disciples.

In light of this and in honor of MLB Baseball’s playoffs I am reminded of a particular “Peanuts” cartoon where Linus the team “statistician” brings Charlie Brown, the manager, his report. “I’ve compiled the statistics on our baseball team for last season,” Linus says. “In 12 games we ALMOST scored a run and in 9 games the other team ALMOST didn’t score before the first out. In right field, Lucy ALMOST caught 3 balls and once ALMOST made the right play.” “We led the league,” Linus concludes, “in ‘ALMOSTS.’”

This cartoon reminds me of a sermon John Wesley preached called, “The Almost Christian,” on July 25, 1741. It spoke volumes about the Church of England, but it indicts us today, too. Gosh, we do great things, but we’re so darn shy about Jesus being the reason we do them. “That’s too Baptist!” we say, but if we think we’ve found the best restaurant around and don’t tell people the name of the place, we must either be so selfish as to keep the parking lot to ourselves, or we’re unconvinced!

Of course, the source of John Wesley’s text and sermon “The Almost Christian” comes from the episode with Paul in Acts 26, where as a prisoner he is brought before King Agrippa answering charges of insurrection. He tells the King that he is innocent and is being judged based on the “hope of the promise made by God to our ancestors.” Paul tells about his prior life and conversion to Christ. His defense is an appeal for Agrippa to accept Jesus. He asked, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” Agrippa’s response is, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.”

Almost isn’t good enough. It should, therefore, be no great surprise that the most common Natural Church Development “minimum factor” in South Carolina United Methodism is “Passionate Spirituality.” Passionless Christianity is not even close to almost being Christian, hence our survival mode mentality. I dare you to review the movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” and sense the depth of God’s earnest desperation for us.

On this Monday morning with 6 more weeks of charge conferences to go I am shocked by our apathy in leading others to Christ. “Almost” isn’t Christian enough unless you think Jesus’ death and resurrection are meaningless, and the eternal state of your neighbor’s soul isn’t important. Many of us are more concerned about whether or not their yards have the “right” candidate’s sign stuck in them than the state of their spiritual lives. “That’s their business,” we say as an excuse.

My prayer at this halfway mark of Charge Conference season is that we won’t be halfway Christians. The world is hurting and Jesus wants to use us to reach them. We have all heard or thought of every reason to simply rock along in our faith and preserve the status quo in our churches. The problem is that the status quo is already gone. We’re in steep decline that only a revival will reverse. Let us resolve to pray hard and do something about it!

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9 thoughts on “Passionless Christianity?

  1. Excellent Tim, but this brings to mind the numbers who fill the pews today who themselves know nothing of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. How can expect the church to be passionate for lost souls when they themselves are the sitting lost?

  2. Tim,
    I believe that you are in the wrong denomination if you are talking about saving the lost. Baptists, Pentecostals, and unthinking fundamentalists talk about saving the lost. We modern United Methodists know that God loves everyone so much that there is no need for Christ’s atonement to restore people’s relationships with God. If you start talking about saving the lost, next thing you know you will get into discussing original sin and hell, which are really verboten subjects in modern United Methodism. How could any good United Methodist think that their nice neighbor who doesn’t know Christ is “lost” and maybe even condemned to eternal damnation. Such thinking is judgmental, intolerant, and exclusive. Thus, the state of my neighbor’s eternal soul is not a concern. Everyone is inherently good and our loving God will bless them all.
    Compare the number of sermons you have heard about introducing the lost to Christ (saving the lost) versus the number you have heard about living a solid moral life, being active in the church, how Christ will improve all aspects of your life (even improve your golf game see http://golfswingdoctors.net/Scriptures.html) helping the poor and downtrodden, and bringing justice to the oppressed. This whole rescue the perishing (in a spiritual sense) business just is not a United Methodist thing. We don’t preach about it so why should our people be passionate about it. However, we are into rescuing the perishing in a big way in the physical sense, which is the important thing. We even have our own disaster relief agency. Sort of a “junior” Red Cross.
    You need to stay focused on where our focus and passion is — inclusion, helping the downtrodden, and social justice. We are called to transform the world by eliminating racism, sexism, injustice, inequality, and intolerance. So long as we keep our focus here we offer the same things that many secular organizations offer. Of course the secular organizations focus on it without any of that potentially off-putting superstitious nonsense or that judgmental about sin and stuff. Why would someone passionate about inclusion, helping the downtrodden, or social justice choose to be part of the United Methodist church when secular organizations do the same work without any of that religious baggage?

    1. Well, You are very articulate but haven’t read the UM Articles of Religion or Confession of Faith lately. I love your satirical affirmation of from whence we have come and need to return. We still believe and better keep practicing or we are much less relevant than Rotary.

      Sent from my iPad

  3. What we really need to do is to affirm the mission of the United Methodist Church-Make Disciples for Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World. If we do that, everything else will take care of itself. Want your numbers to go up? Make disciples. Want to have enough resources to do ministry? Make disciples. Want to make a difference in your community? Make disciples. It’s not complicated, just difficult!

  4. the problem with the satire of John, whowever he/she may be is that they just stated exactly what some of our laity and clergy really do believe and hence that’s a major reason why we are in the mess we are in but then again if we get too honest about this stuff depending on whom you are you’ll be told you are the problem for attempting to bring these issues to light to be dealt with.

    1. Robert, I agree with you and John that our lack of passion is a real problem and certainly is exacerbated by the failure of UM clergy and laity for failing to be faithful disciples. My point to John is that on paper we believe the right stuff. Problem is that most people don’t know our beliefs or history and how relevant it is for today. Our denomination has the best matrix of grace with personal and social implications. We’re not in love with Jesus and our neighbors enough to ask them about their faith journey and offer them Christ. We have let present and personal agendas keep us from things of eternal importance. We must these issues to light or the UMC will die and that’s okay because it won’t be Christ’s church anymore. Just saying!

      Sent from my iPad

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