We live in a culture where commitment is not normal. This is not news. The decline in commitment has been well documented. Social researcher, Hugh Mackay, says that this current generation is…
“growing up in a world of ever-expanding choices, they have made a virtue of keeping their options open, and they have adopted “what else is there?” as their general catchcry. It’s a question that comes up whether the topic is a course of study, a job, a sexual partner, a musical genre, an outing, a set of religious or political beliefs, a fashion label, a food fad or a make of car.”
It is interesting that Mackay added religious beliefs to the list of things that people don’t want to commit to. One way we could respond to this trend would be to make it as easy as possible for people to say they are part of our churches.
There are five practises at my church, and many churches, that run directly counter to this temptation. Each one of these practises demand a level of commitment that is increasingly counter-cultural.
The five practises are baptism, child dedication, communion, giving money and church membership. Other churches do some of these differently, but all churches have practises that demand commitment.
As a Pastor I often feel the temptation to make it easer for my people, but the more I am honest both about what the bible says and what my experience is, I know that reducing committment is not a path that ultimately makes life better.
Of course, Jesus himself seemed to go out of his way to draw a line of commitment in a way that was starkly confronting. Imagine how people who had been deeply shaped by the law of the Old Testament, and in particular the Ten Commandments, the fifth of which charges true followers of God to “honour your father and mother”, heard these words:
“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
It seems that Jesus demanded a level of commitment that flies in the face of our culture.
In addition to Jesus’s strong call to committment, my own life experience tells me that committment is essential for mental health and real relationship.
It is for both these reasons that I don’t feel it is right to water down the level of commitment our church demands for people who want to be followers of Jesus.
Baptism was commanded by Jesus (Matt 28:19-29), and is both a mark of our identification and membership with the people of God (Col 2:11-12) and an expression of our commitment to die to ourselves and live for him (Rom 6:3-4). I am pretty sure it’s possible to be a Christian without being baptised, I am less convinced it is right to call yourself a follower of Jesus unless you are willing to follow in this practise that he both demonstrated and commanded.
Child Dedication is a declaration of commitment by parents to raise their children according to God’s plan; in the knowledge and understanding of God’s Word and expressing their purpose to lead their children in the way of Jesus Christ. As parents make this commitment, we as their church family, along with their own family and friends make a reciprocal commitment to to them to do all we can to support them on this important journey.
Communion is a regular symbolic act that Jesus instituted where bread and wine (or for us crackers and cordial) are used to represent the price he paid to institute a whole new way to relate to God and be a human being and are a way of regularly re-orientating around that new reality (1 Corinthians 11:23-27). Communion is not a light thing. It is a regular expression of our commitment to Christ. The Apostle Paul rather challengingly claimed that engaging in communion in a self-focussed way has some pretty intense ramifications. (1 Corinthians 11:29).
Giving money is a very tangible and confronting expression of where our commitment actually lies. Part of the plan that God laid out in the old Testament was called a tithe, which literally means a tenth. The idea was that the first 10% of all of our resources was given to God. That principle was never contradicted in the New Testament, but in the story of the generous widow (Mark 12:41-44) and in teaching about the Kingdom in Matthew 6:19-34, Jesus sets a much higher standard than even tithing. We believe we are called to give to God whatever he asks us to give (2 Corinthians 8:7) but never out of a sense of compulsion (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).
Formal Church membership is an extra level of commitment to the decision we make to be follower of Jesus. In becoming a church member I am saying “I believe Jesus is asking me to commit to this particular group of people and I am willing to share the load of working shoulder to shoulder with my brothers and sisters in this particular mob.” Church membership is a reciprocal thing, as I commit to a church I am given more influence in that community.
These five practises are not light or easy. They demand a level of commitment that almost seems strange in our culture, however the whole point of the church is to demonstrate to the world that God’s way of doing things is different and makes sense (Eph 3:10) in a way that the normal way of doing things just doesn’t.
Watering down commitment is easy, it’s just not right.