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Saturday, June 03, 2006

Cafeteria Christianity

Pick 'n Mix Religion Posted by Picasa

"We've trivialized God," said Larry Crabb, a Christian psychologist and popular author. "...God is the butler who serves you for one reason: to give you a happy life. We've turned Him into a divine Prozac."

You know what's worse that having no faith at all? Having a self select "Do It Yourself" (DIY) faith; a faith where God is exquisitely tailored to my own needs, preferences and opinions. Because this commits the sin of making God in my image rather than accepting the consequences of being made in His, cafeteria religion is the most beguiling and "spiritual" of all idolatries. It is beguiling because Christianity recognises the legitimacy of doctrinal dissent when an informed conscience dictates. However, this bears no true relation to cafeteria religion whatsoever. In this scheme of things no formal received teaching (tradition) is to be accepted at all. The great "I" is the measure of all things. The serpent in the garden of Eden suggested an autonomy from God as the basis for a moral life. DIY religion goes the whole way and makes autonomy into God.

On the grounds that we need to know what God has revealed concerning our lives and how they should be lived all pastors of any church need to ask themselves some rather awkward questions:-

(1) Does my church maintain any formal teaching on sex, money and self will? (There are many other sins but these 3 most personal ones are a good litmus test for my purpose here).
(2) Do I accept that teaching?
(3) If I don't accept aspects of that teaching, am I still prepared to teach it?
(4) If I am not prepared to teach it, how do I handle the discrepancy between my ordination responsibilities and my own position?
(5) If I am prepared to teach it (accepting or not accepting it myself) is this "words only" from the pulpit or do I try and apply this teaching in my pastoral ministry?
(6) Does my church require of me or does it expect me to develop a network of consequences (however they might be defined) for consistent and unrepentant violations of that teaching, first in myself and then in the community for which I am responsible?
(7) Is this network of consequences, this pastoral discipline, effectively communicated to the community?
(8) Is it consistently applied?
(9) Do I "go the extra mile" to begin to restore those who show the slightest sign of a change of heart?
(10) To whom on earth (as well as in heaven) am I accountable for the exercise of this ministry?

This may prove to be a very challenging and tough set of questions for those of us exercising pastoral leadership as church leaders but if we don't address them we might as well just cave in and practice cafeteria religion ourselves: in which case we also perhaps need to ask whether or not we are doing the right job.

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