Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
June 9th, 2015 by Joel Watts

At the End of Casual Christianity, the #UMC Membership Vows – Intro

chesteron against casual christianityI’ve read Michael Gerson’s article, The End of Casual Christianity, several times on Facebook. I may have shared it once, without reading it, but seeing as how the picture on the page is that of Pope Francis, that is my habit. But, I have read it. And I have pondered it.

Likewise, I have read an article supposing that creedal Christianity has done nothing good in the world, but that some how this lackluster, supposedly anti-theological, movement called progressivism can. Indeed, Chuck Queen’s statements is simply a restatement of poor historical details, conspiracy theory, and unmitigated biases. He writes, “As I survey Christian history I find that creedal/doctrinal Christianity has done very little to make the world a better place. One could make a legitimate case that when all the evidence is considered creedal Christianity has done more harm than good.” He fails to realize that the creeds existed before Constantine, among other pertinent facts to a well-rounded worldview. I suspect he has the un-unique ability to decipher history from conspiracy, much like what we see when we see A-theists telling us science has always been at war with religion and that all religion is evil.

I would have no issue seeing this type of ideology — no, I cannot call it Christian — die. And it is, it seems. Why?

“Liberals have learned that it’s difficult for the church to survive,” says historian George Marsden, “if there’s nothing that makes the church distinct from culture.”

In the latest Pew survey report, we find that self-identifying Evangelicals have remained constant throughout the years. What is dramatically dying is cultural Christianity — the Christianity you are born into and remain in. This is the Christianity where you attend Church 1.5 times a month, unless something comes up, and celebrate the High Holy Days of Christmas and Easter, and most the times, with a church service. This “civic assumption” is something Allan Bevere has spoken of before, so I will not focus on it.

Rather, what we have to ask ourselves is this: In the United States and much of the Western world, is Christianity still separated from the cultural or have we become acculturated where the flag, post-modernism, and the cross are intertwined, if the latter even exists given its “trigger warning” and accusations of abuse?  If there is nothing to Christianity but a choice of one path among many, much like the choice of what color to paint your house (yellow or periwinkle), then this is Casual Christianity. Good luck with that.

What I want to do in this series (and I hope others join) is to reexamine the UMC membership vows in light of the end of casual Christianity and how, if we decide to take them seriously, they may look and aid in a revival of sorts. My intent is not to present this as a one-sided discussion. There are those who will take item 1, for instance, as a call for spiritual warfare, while others see it as a metanarrative of oppression. Rather, my goal is to present how it may appear as an active vow.

They are, as follows, but can be found at paragraph 217 in your Book of Discipline:

  • To renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?
  • To accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
  • To confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?
  • To remain faithful members of Christ’s holy Church and serve as Christ’s representatives in the world?
  • To be loyal to Christ through The United Methodist Church, and do all in your power to strengthen its ministries?
  • To  faithfully participate in its ministries by their prayers,  their presence,  their gifts, their service, and their witness?
  • To receive and profess the Christian faith as contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

What is the opposite of civic, casual or other Christian? Perhaps we could use the word active, but that doesn’t make much sense. Concerned? No. Formal? Hardly. Full-time? Sure, I guess.

What about intentional? Purposed.

Intentional Christianity.

Purposed Christianity.

The reason that self-identified Evangelicals remain consistent is because they believe in spreading the Good News. Note, progressives can identify as Evangelical. So can Mainliners. There are even Evangelical Catholic, although I suspect they would first identify as Catholic.

If we suppose Evangelical is based on inerrancy and conversionism, then I am not one. If, rather, Evangelical is about going out and preaching, teaching, and doing based on Christian Tradition (including Scripture), sure. What’s really difficult is to identify a Mainliner (just think about all of the discussions we had).

But, I digress.

Methodism was created within orthodox Christianity, to root out apathy, heresy, and heterodoxy among those who profess Christ. It is given to progressive changes when it is rooted in Scripture, but what cannot be found in Methodism is the disposal of Tradition. Further, it in comparison to other sects, is given to an active life for the Methodist — active in the local faith community, active as the hands of Christ, active as a reader of Scripture, and active as a mystic. Let us discover that.

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

4 Responses to “At the End of Casual Christianity, the #UMC Membership Vows – Intro”
  1. My 2 cents…
    Knocking “casual Christianity” is not good. Simply because “casual Christianity” by the Evangelical is defined by Joel’s comment..
    “If we suppose Evangelical is based on inerrancy and conversionism, then I am not one. If, rather, Evangelical is about going out and preaching, teaching, and doing based on Christian Tradition (including Scripture), sure.”
    Evangelical’s world revolves around two items in Joel’s statement. One, inerrancy. I won’t discuss that because I don’t support it, just like Joel. The teaching and doing, no problem.
    But, two, “preaching”. This seems to be the key to the Evangelical experience, which in turn is rather objectionable to me personally. I am not a minister. I do not feel comfortable telling other people what they should or should not be doing. Leave it to the ministers, if they are so inclined. But I like being a casual Christian. There is a fine line between being a minister (as in, ministering to other people), and being a fanatic. Evangelical ministers can be fanatic (as in, and I’ve heard it stated by them, “I’m crazy for Jesus”), but fine, you are crazy. But don’t expect us casual Christians/non-ministers to be “crazy” for anything. Especially in telling other people what to do.

    • Scott Fritzsche says

      Jesus instructed us, via the disciples, to go, teach and baptize as a part of the Christian life. I wouldn’t say anyone has to be comfortable doing it, but I think that you should be willing to. There is nowhere in the scriptures that I am aware of where Jesus says that comfortable is a part of the deal. I think He does however often say the exact opposite.

  2. Scott Fritzsche says

    Most evangelicals will proscribe to 5 basic points of emphasis or some variation of them. 1.A strong belief in the Bible as the authoritative and word of God. Many will use words like infallible, etc. All have what would be considered a high view of scripture, but this does not mean that all are young earth creationsists for example. (Many, perhaps most? Do ascribe to inerrant interpretation of scripture. Most, in practice do so because that is the word they were taught and not as an actual practice)
    2. A belief is that the only way to salvation is through Jesus Christ
    3. A personal conversion experience—being “born again” This does not, contrary to popular opinion, have to be a baptist alter call, or even something that is marked by a mighty event to you. It can be that day when you come to realize that yes, Christ has indeed opened the Kingdom to you through His death and you understand you will get in. Yes, a lot of modern churches and denoms. harp on the moment of conversion, but this is not at all reflective of the 18th century view of evangelism where all this springs from and certainly does not express the view of evangelical UMCs by and large.
    4. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Don’t tune out. This is not the commonly thought of Jesus is my buddy type of relationship alone. It is the type of relationship that changes and conforms you to the likeness of Christ. It is the type of life altering relationship of transformation, growth and following that the disciples enjoyed. Yes, a lot of people get this wrong. That does not change the history of evangelical theology nor the intent of it.
    5. A willingness to tell other people about the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. The initial thought here is often about the crazy guy on the street corner with his sign, but that is not it or even preferable. It is sen as the natural response to Christ to tell others with word, with deed, with attitude, with how we drive, etc. It is an all encompassing lifestyle decision that the effort is made in everything that we say and do to try and reflect Christ.

  3. I am not a disciple. I’m a casual Christian. If I were to believe the author of Luke, disciple is a rather narrow category, that does not apply to the average church-goer. Although, I will admit it has been conflated by later church history to mean anyone and everyone is a disciple. But I don’t think Jesus would have meant it to be such a universal, all encompassing term.
    26If any man cometh unto me, and hateth not his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. 27Whosoever doth not bear his own cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple

    Now, some may want to be a disciple, but not me. Just don’t think I am going to hell because I am not quite so “crazy for Jesus” as some people might be.
    Example… People may praise Christian martyrs for going to the lions, when given the choice of burning some incense for some idol. I think I would do what some Jews did during the inquisition. Claim conversion to Christianity, but secretly celebrate your Jewish faith in private. There is probably a reason there are more Jewish physicists. They are smarter, and more pragmatic. Crazy is just plain crazy.

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