Soren Kierkegaard was irritated. He was irked about a lot of things, including the Christianity of his culture (19th century Denmark). Lutheranism was the official religion of the state. As a result, participation was confused with passion. Kierkegaard responded with comments such as:
“The Christianity of the New Testament simply does not exist.”*
“Christendom has done away with Christianity without being quite aware of it.”**
Those are some pretty harsh statements! I think, however, they do contain some truth. Most people have never heard of Kierkegaard. He was an eccentric, existential philosopher who wrote both philosophical and theological articles and books. Having read almost everything he has written, I still find him confusing and a bit strange. Yet I also find him quite insightful. There were times he “hit the nail on the head.” Perhaps his critique of the Church in his day is one such example.
As Kierkegaard studied the New Testament, he saw a radical belief accompanied by radical behaviors. But isn’t that what you see as you read the early history of the Church (Acts) and the letters which were circulated (the Epistles)? The believers were devoted to Christ and to one another (Acts 2:42) to such an extent that they actually sold their possessions and belongings in order to help those in their midst “less fortunate” (Acts 2:45). Disciples of Jesus were to be on a mission to minister to each other, using their gifts and talents to assist physically (meeting needs) and spiritually (edifying, encouraging, etc.).
Do you witness such vibrant fellowship in your local congregation? Have you seen this form of radical belief accompanied by radical behavior on a regular basis?
I doubt it.
I can only comment on American Christianity. For the most part, it is costless, unwilling to sacrifice. The overwhelming majority of the Christians I have met over the years are hoarders rather than helpers. Instead of sharing with those in need (“being rich in good deeds” [1 Tim. 6:18]), they remain focused on their retirement and savings accounts. Rather than investing in the glorious cause of worldwide evangelization and church-planting, they spend thousands of dollars annually in dining and entertainment. Americans making over $70K annually consider it a sacrifice to give 10% to a church and an extra $25 a month to a missionary. Consider these lines from poet William Wordsworth:
“The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers…For this, for everything, we are out of tune…”***
If you are engaged within the subculture of American Christianity, those words written in the early 1800’s must strike a chord. The world is too much with us. We are out of tune.
What’s the cure? I’m not sure, but whatever change needs to be made must begin with me. The world is too much with me. I am out of tune. Are you willing to admit the same (of course, I am assuming that we’re all a bit messed up)? New Testament faith is radical. And–radical faith calls for radical behaviors. It calls for us to use our God-given gifts and talents to alleviate suffering, bless the body of Christ and equip evangelists, missionaries, pastors, etc. as they devote their lives in full-time ministry.
Is Christianity dead? Nah, just a little sick. But maybe, just maybe, it can be a little healthier if we get a little more radical.
If you have a second, check out the Quick Takes pages for several evaluation questions.
*Attack Upon “Christendom” (Princeton University Press, 1944, Walter Lowrie, ed.).
**Training in Christianity (Princeton University Press, 1941, Walter Lowrie, ed.).
***”The World Is Too Much with Us” (The Top 500 Poems, Columbia University Press, 1992, William Harmon, ed.).