One of the precepts of the Christian life is growth. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. One of the foundations of all of life is growth. If a baby doesn’t grow, we call it “failure to thrive” and it is a serious condition. It’s not normal or good when a baby doesn’t grow. We rightfully worry.
And yet, we’ve created a “christian culture” in which someone can be a “baby Christian” for 5, 10, 15. 20, . . . years and no one bats an eye. We may think, “well, they’re not growing as fast as others but who am I to judge?” So we have church buildings full of people who don’t pray; don’t read their bible; don’t live in sacrificial community; don’t love their neighbors, and in all reality, aren’t growing. True, who am I to judge anyone else’s soul, but if there is no growth, is there life?
We are not yet what we will be. But neither are we once were. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul says that we are “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” In 1 Corinthians 13:11, Paul says that there is a time when we outgrow childish ways. In Ephesians 4, Paul says that as we grow in maturity (which is a community goal), we become more stable. Hebrews 5:14 tells us that as we grow, we gain more discernment. We are able, more and more, to tell what is good from what is evil.
And yet, at least in America, we marinate in consumerism. We are taught from an early age to expect to be served. So much so that I’m sure there are people who no longer know how to make coffee because you can buy it everywhere. We have imported consumerism into Christianity so much so that we can drop the phrase “church shopping” without thinking twice. We expect to be served (or at least “fed”). In consumerism, we learn to trust the retailers. We develop our own set of brand allegiances and we look to certain retailers as arbiters of our trusted brands. Why is there always a Lowes right across the street from Home Depot? Because some of us trust one while others trust the other.
But what happens when Christians, marinating in consumerism, hand discernment over to retailers? For many, “discernment,” the ability to determine good from evil, has simply become a point-of-purchase decision. I bought it at the “Christian” bookstore, it must be OK, right?! No. In any Christian bookstore, you can buy books by people who are not Christians. People who deny the resurrection. People who openly downplay sin. People who do not believe in the Trinity. I’m not being narrow and legalistic here. There are boundaries to Orthodoxy or everyone is a Christian. I’m just saying that you can walk into any Christian bookstore and buy works by authors who are clearly outside any traditionally accepted version of Orthodoxy. Books by people who are not Christians. And no one thinks twice.
So much of our Christianity separates the “professionals” the people who are paid to do ministry, from the rest of us. The Pastoral Staff are the ones who get paid to study and pass it one in bytes for the rest of us, right? I go to them when I have a problem because they’re equipped for that, not me. And it’s a Christian bookstore, so I can trust what’s inside.
Instead of teaching people to rely on “professional ministers,” making people dependent on pastors, local leaders should focus on equipping God’s people for everyday ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13). Discernment is not something we can hand over to the professionals (who don’t always have our best interest at heart), much less the retailers (who care even less about your soul, whether they are designated Christian or not). It is something we must hone ourselves in community.
Our system is perfectly designed to produce the results we’re getting. So we should not be surprised that American Christianity resembles the local shopping mall more often than the Kingdom of the Living Christ.