What is the life of Christianity? What does it involve? What is the objective of Christian Spirituality? Is it Holiness? I have been reflecting on this issue in the life of the church since the late 1980s. Currently, I have been reading through Choose the Life by Bill Hull as he tries to answer: "what is the life that Christ calls us to live?" I appreciate his proclamation that "a faith that separates salvation from discipleship is not the faith of the New Testament. Faith without obedience is not real; it is nothing more that intellectual exercise. The faith taught to us by Jesus embraces a lifelong abandonment [to] following Jesus whatever the cost or destination" (Bill Hull, Choose The Life: Exploring Faith That Embracdiscipleshipeship, p. 10).
The lives Christians lead is a problem in the church today because we have accepted "nondiscipleship Christianity." First, I think that "nondiscipleship Christianity" has rendered us ineffective in our primary task - the transformation of individuals and communities into the image of Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer defines this as "cheap grace." A second thing that "nondiscipleship Christianity" has done is to cause great damage to the authenticity and power of the Gospel by shredding justification from sanctification. This theological separation is a reason that "the church in the United States continues to shrink in size, lacks relevancy because or moral duplicity, and preaches a gospel that produces more consumers of religious goods and services than disciples" (Bill Hull, 11).
The solution must deal with the separation of justification and sanctification because "only the believer is obedient - only the obedient believes" (Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography, 450). I appreciate Bill Hull"s statement: "Our gospel does calls everyone to believe what Jesus believed, live as he lived, love as he loved, serve as he served, and lead as he led" (Hull, p.12). The solution to our problem is first to accept that we are preaching a wrong Gospel - one that is different from the Gospel that Jesus preached. Here are some statements that reflect my analysis of the different Gospel we preach today in Evangelical churches:
- It is truncated, limiting grace to forgiveness of sins,
- It separates justification from sanctification,
- It allows discipleship to be optional,
- It does not require cross bearing and allows for cheap grace
- It does not require repentance,
- It tries to give assurance of faith to false professors,
- It sees people as consumers of a products, (and the gospel is just another product to be needed or not)
- It tries to make the gospel acceptable to men,
- It does not trust that the results are in God's hand.
What can one do in our Americanized Culture to restore the idea that the believer and the disciple are one and the same person? To answer this question we need to:
- rediscover what the gospel and conversion (in light of biblical theology) is again, one that unifies justification and sanctification,
- champion a Biblical understanding of church membership and church discipline,
get back to expositional preaching where we deal with Biblical texts rather than our own concepts (so we can change),
- practice an evangelism that is God-centered rather than man-centered,
- lessen our dependence on the mechanics of the church machinery or infrastructure and push people out to minister in their areas of influence,
- help believers deal with "blow the line" issues - the "show stoppers" that block transformation, and
- understand above all, that living as disciples, will create a kingdom influence (that may not be localized to a particular church).
There are probably more that you could add to this list. If so help me think through how the Gospel we are preaching actually prevents us from living a holy, Christ-like life. Are we at a point in America where our version of Christianity without discipleship is Christianity without Christ?