Becoming a disciple of Jesus is not “doing this” or “doing that” the right way. Being a disciple of Jesus is giving up doing life my way and beginning to relate in all my doings the way that Jesus would relate if He were doing my life. It is not right behaviours that bring about inner change. It’s an inner transformation which brings about a result, or a side benefit of right behaviours.
Without this dying to self taking place, we wind up too often (outsiders would say always) whereby we have “Sunday Christians.” These people feel and sometimes even act pretty righteous on Sunday. However, they live almost exactly like the rest of the world lives the other six days of the week. And what do these people do on Sunday that makes them feel righteous? Why, they follow traditions. They chant phrases that have always been chanted and do rituals that have always been done and this allows them to go home feeling as though they’ve participated in something special. The inner person might feel pretty good about all this, but the inner person remains essentially unchanged.
In each congregation and in each denomination, down through the ages, times of something special really do happen. Our own congregation was on a roll 10 to 15 years back. Things were properly aligned with the cause of Christ. And then, as always, always, always happens, people forgot WHY things were on a roll. We / they (my wife and I have only been here for four years) forgot that anytime that a Church or a movement of some sort is getting it right, it’s because those involved have submitted themselves to the direction of God. They’ve humbled themselves before Him and followed His convicting, His counsel, His leading.
The things that happen when we forget why things were good would be comical if it wasn’t so tragic.
A group of Christians in submission to Jesus creates a very contagious and attractive atmosphere. The Church itself was born from this atmosphere. The love of others that is so evident draws people to Jesus. It draws people to the group. However, when new people enter the mix they will be of necessity less knowledgeable, less committed, less submitted to their Lord. After all, they’re beginners with a lot of the old nature still clinging to them. The influence of this old nature(s) begins to water things down and what is perceived as a slide begins to happen. Forgetting why things had been going so good, we begin to cling to the vestiges or the behaviours, the cloaks and sounds of the good old days.
Let’s see now. What were we wearing? What were we singing? How was it that we were doing things when we seemed to be operating under God’s blessing? It might be a building that is fondly remembered, or a Pastor, or an order to service. The introduction of new songs is usually the first thing to be blamed for the slide. In our minds we really believe that our very survival hangs on our ability to form a tradition and cling to what once was. I don’t mean to keep harping on them but it’s true that Roman Catholics have mastered this mistake. Tradition and icons and even people - dead people - are worshipped and prayed to as though they were Jesus - our High Priest, Mediator and Saviour. And all the while Jesus is left in the wings, waiting (He will never force Himself on us) to be invited back into the relationship.
We are all prone to this error and it truly is tragic because new Christians and those who aren’t Christians can see the resulting farce for what it is. We are no longer in relationship with Jesus and are instead “doing religion.”