Monday, January 26, 2009

missing the point

I've been thinking about what it means to be a Christian. In my humble opinion, we spend far too much energy defining our belonging in the life of the church by our behavior. Even worse: by what we don't do.

A danger of such definition is that it misses the point of the heart of our gospel message: God's love.

This week's scripture, from I Corinthians, finds Paul writing to the early church, as if answering a question posed about what the outward behavior of Christians should be. (Perhaps they were wondering what should go on the sign at the door?) The main point, he says, is that we remember God's unique place in our world, and that we love.

Lately, I've been thinking about conversations I had while living in Niger, in the midst of a Muslim majority. "I think I'd like to be a Christian," one man said to me. "We have to pray 5 times a day, and you only have to pray once a week."

He, too, missed the point of what it means to be a faithful Christian.

If we reduce our faith to a list of things we do or don't do, it's too easy to measure our success. (And, worse, too easy to waste time measuring and judging others' success...)

If we're captivated by the love of a gracious God, we've got far too much to do in trying to be built up in that love to spend time tallying our adherence to rules. Faithfulness can't be tabulated on a checklist.

And, as Paul goes on to explain, our relationships to one another and to God matter most. If our behavior is going to cause someone else trouble--especially if they're newer in their faith--than we need to be extra cautious. Not because God wants to catch us being bad, but because take seriously our responsibility to one another.

We've got a lot of work to do.

Really, I think I think it all resonates pretty well with those three simple rules we celebrated just after Christmas: do no harm, do good and stay in love with God.

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