Tuesday, December 11, 2007

False Maturity

I'm creating a message for Grace Point that I will be giving on December 30 as part of a family worship service. The theme that I'm working on is Maintaining a child-like faith while growing in maturity. This theme has caused me to consider what real Christian maturity must look like. As a result, I've been digging through the scriptures (focusing on the Book of Matthew) looking at false examples of maturity. That is, people who thought that they and their actions epitomized mature faith, but who Jesus specifically rebuked for missing the mark.

I'm not sure exactly how I'm going to use this yet, but here is a table of my discovery so far.

“Religious” claim



We lean on our fathers’ faith

Matthew 3:7

God can raise up followers from nothing, no need for heritage

Righteousness will earn credit toward the Kingdom

Matthew 5:19

Righteousness alone is not enough

Keep the right company

Matthew 9:11

Jesus’ gift is for the sinner not the righteous

To follow rules perfectly

Matthew 12:1-13

They forget to show love to others

Demand to see signs

Matthew 12:38

Miss the most obvious signs written in the scriptures

Hold rigidly to traditions

Matthew 15:1

Traditions often substitute for what God really wants

Debate the finest points of the law

Matthew 19:3

They miss the bigger points of God’s Grace

Use the law as a test of spirituality

Matthew 22:34

They miss that the goal of the Law is to help people to be close to God

Unfortunately, I think that too many Christians today struggle with these same problems of false maturity.

While most evangelicals wouldn't lean on the faith of their fathers as the Pharisees did in 3:7, we do tend to uphold time as a measure of Christian maturity. "Oh, he's been a Christian for years. He'll be a good leader." Over time many will grow in maturity, but as a measure alone there are many who find a comfort zone and never grow, or grow very little in many years. Further, we will elevate people who come from a "good Christian family" equating their upbringing to the development of their faith.

Again few evangelicals will assume that works will create a door to heaven, but we aren't above looking at works for a measure of value in our churches. "That family gives more money to the church than anyone else. Should they have more say on this issue?" We often also focus on the surface response of people. In my work I know many children who have excellent behavior when their parents are around, but take mom and dad out of the picture and you can see some clear spiritual flaws. Unfortunately, too many evangelical leaders focus on discipline in teaching parents to raise their children. This discipline often leads to a surface/works-based religiosity.

On the issue of company (i.e., friends), I'd suggest many evangelicals are stuck using this false measure of maturity. "I'm just glad that most of my daughter's friends are church girls." To assure that church people keep the right company, we make sure that most of our evenings and weekends are spent in church event or at least with other Christians. We even take our families to Christian camps in the summer because we need to make sure that everyone that we hang around is Christian. Not always, but too often, Christians choose to homeschool or send their children to Christian schools because they are afraid that their children might make friends with non-Christians.

Of course rules play an important role in the contemporary Christian sense of religion. Yes God does set some clear standards in His Law, but some of these rules are strange too like, "he can't be a Christian; He's not even Republican." I've heard this one a most recently of a presidential candidate with a strong testimony. Or how about, "That person isn't growing in his faith since she's not bringing her Bible with her to church on Sunday." How many other rules have we developed that are not a part of God's Law which when summarized is simply to love God and love others.

Tradition is an issue that often divides evangelical churches, particularly when it comes to music or "worship" styles. Unfortunately, I still hear people on both sides of the music isle upholding traditions that have little to do with commands that Christ taught. Most of these traditions have to do with methods that we use for worshiping or discipling. My main pet peeve is that we equate the hour plus that we meet in a large auditorium (aka. The Sanctuary) as our time of worship for the week. More precisely, we equate the time that we are singing as our worship time. And in regards to discipleship, it amazes me when I hear that a church would evaluate the level of discipleship going on in a church based on the number of people that show up for a Sunday school class that is often fact based and seldom challenges its members to reach out in service to others.

Doctrine is important, but I wonder if evangelicals haven't been led to believe that main issues are important that really aren't. The doctrine of the timing of Jesus return comes to mind as an issue that is made important beyond the scope of the Scriptures. An other issue might be exactly how and how long it took God to create the world (sorry, the universe) also comes to mind.

Finally, evangelical will use the law as a test of spirituality. "He doesn't drink; he must be spiritual." "She said a dirty word; she must not be." The problem here is that our measuring sticks may have appropriate roots, but we make the branches of them the measure, not the firmly planted roots. I mean, for example, while drinking in excess can be a sign of a spiritual problem, we are incline to label anyone whose had a drink in the last (you determine the time) as an unspiritual person.

It seems to me that the Christian church in the U.S. is struggling as much with understanding real maturity as the Pharisees of Jesus' day. I would hope that after 2000 years of being the church, we would be better at applying the words of Jesus to our community and our lives.