In the past few months, our family has developed a little pastime hobby. We began watching an old family sitcom- The Cosby Show. Within a month, our boys loved the show. From the goofy Cliff Huxtable to the wise Claire to the broad spectrum of children and friendly personalities, we’ve enjoyed watching every episode numerous times.
A couple of days ago, a disturbing thought occurred to me. Have we been watching a model of family that is unrealistic? The subtle assumption is that a family can grow in health and relationships year after year without looking to Jesus. Yes, there are token episodes where they mention God, but no one in the show has an evident relationship with Jesus. Now, please don’t hate me because I’m using this as an example. I am only highlighting the false hope of a utopian home outside of a relationship with Jesus.
It seems the Church has been caught on this perilous path also. The new and improved American Church has been able to present a great Sunday morning experience with minimal interference from God’s Spirit. The desire to build a church may be sincere, but the methods of building it in our complex culture of social mood swings has resulted in a popular and equally powerless Church. With every how-to-grow-your-church Facebook or Instagram ad, I’m reminded of the contrasting difference of the early Church. They relied on the Holy Spirit’s guidance alone. Paul wasn’t a great orator, but he had the power of God with Him. (2 Corinthians 10:10) The apostles couldn’t travel as we do now, yet they saturated the known world with the gospel in a short time. They celebrated their inability as a qualification to be used by God. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)
Could it be in our attempt to be relevant to culture, we have found ourselves creating a church primarily concerned with relevance and popularity? Have we discarded the essence of the gospel message? You know, the message of passionately being devoted to Jesus and giving one’s life to serve Him?
It seems the teachings of Jesus have become a tweet-able collection of phrases to aid our pursuit of a good life. Though many applaud truths from the scriptures, it seems easy to overlook a blatant prerequisite. The one who seeks a good life can only attain it by the surrender of their own. There is no middle ground. We either are living day to day, guided by the Holy Spirit’s voice, or we are living with a vague hope for God’s approval of our behavior. The first lifestyle is devotion; the latter is idolatry.
Today, a foreboding concern plagues me. Are we being stripped of the luxuries which have lured us into a weak faith? In all the shaking happening around us, could God be calling us back to the reality of living with Him as our central focus? I’m not saying He is orchestrating all this chaos. Instead, is it possible that our disorder indicates a fallen house of cards? A house we’ve constructed generation after generation?
Many can trophy a life of success and happiness in the short-term, but life’s realities will descend and wreck an award-winning life presentation. We need not look any further than the fate of Bill Cosby to be awakened to humanity’s need for a Savior. My point is this- our culture now lives further from the morality of the Cosby days. We’ve bought the lie that a good life is possible without the abiding presence of Jesus. Man cannot live without Jesus. We know this to be an agreeable belief. Yet, we are watching the unraveling of a Church that has learned to function without Him.
One last thought. When the renowned Dietrich Bonhoeffer was asked how the German Church fell before the maniacal ascension of Adolf Hitler, he noted it was because they preached a gospel of cheap grace. It seems our Church of cards is falling in a similar ideology. How do we identify this cheap grace? In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer defined it by writing,
“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living, and incarnate.”
We would do well to listen to Bonhoeffer’s voice from the grave. His call to return to the teaching of costly grace is a roadmap to restoring the Church. He said, “Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it, a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows Him.
This strong calling of devotion to Jesus and abandonment of self-made faith is key to our survival as followers of Jesus.