Originally posted June 25, 2012, at The Altar Ego. Republished with permission of the author.
so goes the phrase I sometimes hear working in the church.
It could be at a wedding rehearsal. It could be in a meeting where we discuss the importance of baptism. It could be, really, anywhere the subject of “church” is brought up — for both churched and unchurched people alike.
And my answer is, no. Think for yourself. This is not like the rest of society. It’s different in here.
Let me rephrase that. It seems that in many places and institutions, hierarchy and top-down approaches still reign. I get that. It makes sense in businesses and many organizations to have executive decisions and directives dictate actions.
But in the church, there’s some serious cognitive dissonance going on. We have these annoying biblical verses, like when Paul writes that “you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only don’t use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another” (Galatians 5:13) — and yet, we still operate within a mindset that wants us to be like everyone else, and often our “freed in Christ” communities of faith have this very indulgent, top-down, unequal hierarchy that encourages a one-way dialogue of information and answers traveling to passive, unengaged listeners.
You know — just tell us what to do so we can get our child baptized. Just tell us what to think in your sermon. Just tell us what to do to get to heaven. Just tell us what to believe.
When people asked similar questions of Jesus, he usually turned the question back on them. Very rarely did he give set-in-stone actions and directives. Don’t get me wrong — he definitely did tell his followers certain things and commanded them to listen and obey him. But these directions are almost exclusively committed to that same “freedom in Christ” that Paul talks about: loving God, loving your neighbor, praying for your enemies.
When did critical thinking become a bad thing within Christianity? Why do we teach our kids to question everything in school, but then expect them to check those same intelligent, critical minds at the doors to our churches?
It’s time for us as the church to stop giving pat answers to serious questions in the same way frustrated parents often resort to the “because” method. (“Why do I have to?” “Because.”) This is, of course, completely understandable in that scenario — but not in the church. We need to get better at challenging people, encouraging them to think for themselves, and offering up opportunities for all of us to experience the holy and the divine.
We don’t witness the amazing act of baptism, seeing water pour down on someone as they join in the unbelievable story of God and God’s people, “just because.” We don’t get up to take a seat at the table of grace and mercy, where Christ invites us and God is present in ordinary and extraordinary ways, “just because.”
When we allow “just because” to become our mantra — when we accept “just tell us what to do” as a valid statement — then baptism turns into an annoying increase in the worship time. Then Holy Communion turns into getting in a line for some meaningless theological fast-food.
And then another phrase creeps up: “What’s the point?” And, especially as we transition into the 21st-century church, what will be our answer?
Find a link to Jason Chesnut’s blog The Altar Ego at Lutheran Blogs.