The average Canadian child is among the most blessed, nurtured—and entitled—in the world. Imagine if such a child announced it has decided to leave the family because it just isn’t getting fed! Now, imagine the parental response. A child who would leave an otherwise nurturing family because it is “just not getting fed” would be scoffed at. It would be seen as immature and flighty.
There is an unchecked blind spot in our disciple-making and it shows up every time someone says of church, “I’m just not getting fed here.” The blind spot is our failure to deconstruct the wider culture’s insistence that personal happiness and “having it our way” are how you measure the meaning of everything, including church. As the North American church is responding to secular humanism—the idea that humanity is the centre of all things, with God/god/the gods deemed irrelevant—many Christ-followers are unaware they are recovering secular humanists themselves.
But in the end, secular humanism, with its insistence that human reason and rights alone should govern life, leaves us alone with ourselves, or with small bands of others who think like we do. It results in little authentic and respectful wrestling over truth, a lot of wrangling over who likes what, and often shouting matches about how who is right and who is wrong, with the loudest protest winning the day.
We seem most interested in forming churches we like, rather than being the church. But the church is the body of Christ in the world, God’s missionary. She is God’s, the bride of Christ in this time and place; you are part of her and God will use her even if you don’t think he can, so get over yourself.
This blind spot is noticeable in every denomination and theological expression whenever we hear grumbling about “the church not meeting my needs.” Christians are infamous for trading churches (about 70 percent of North American church growth is attributed to either transfers or newborn babies). Or we begin finding it more “meaningful” to do what we like, chase what pleases the kids and slip into a spiritual wasteland, rather than be disappointed by the hard work of Christian community.
Many “churched” children are increasingly becoming disciples of humanism, aided by their parents, even as prayer is uttered before dinner, for they are learning that wants and likes are the chief decision-maker in life. We begin viewing church like those streets lined with restaurants where we pick and choose what we feel like today. “Restaurant row” tends to produce obese, lonely, narrow souls deceived by the “pursuit of happiness,” who no longer know how to cook. Try as we may, we can’t seem to find what we’re looking for until we come to the slap-upside-the-head realization that happiness based upon a life of my own choosing is actually a blatant untruth.
The good news of Jesus confronts this cultural lie and presents an unsettling alternative: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). These words must always challenge the world I want. I am not the way, my way of seeing things is not the truth and I am really incapable of defining life. This confession ushers in a world redefined by the lordship of Jesus. In the words of Lesslie Newbigin, the formation of our wants and likes is then “under a new and critical light.” This light alone can reveal our unchecked blind spot and save us from all our endless, self-satisfying choices.
Phil Wagler (firstname.lastname@example.org) serves the church in wonderful multicultural Surrey, B.C. Consider joining him on a TourMagination trip to Israel in February 2014.