29-year-old Andrew Bowen became a Christian in high school, but says that he took “a nose dive into fundamentalism. It just ignited a furnace in me.” His journey with God since then has been challenging. When his wife experienced a complicated pregnancy that ended tragically, Bowen says he plunged into a “two-year stint of just seething hatred toward God.”
Last year he decided it was time to explore what he really believed. He began Project Conversion. With the aid of religious mentors, Bowen practiced 12 different religions each for one month including: Hinduism, Baha’i, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Buddhisim, agnosticism, Mormonism, Islam, Sikhism, Wicca, Jainism, and Catholicism.
As I thought about that, I wondered how many others are drifting around sampling the Christian landscape and finding it bland. Has Starbucks met its match in Christianity de jour? Perhaps.
The question is whether he or anyone else can practice one religion each month. I don’t think so, for three reasons. Yes, a superficial practice and orientation is possible, but not the essence of the faith, especially the Christian faith.
Christian faith is not about me, but Christ
If we reduce Christianity to mere outward rituals, then we find that it is not really any different than some of the other religious samplings. But the Christian faith is about Jesus Christ, not me or anyone else. The heart of the faith is who Jesus Christ is and what he has done.
Who is this Jesus? Jesus is “true God begotten of the Father from eternity and true man born of the virgin Mary” (Luther’s explanation of the 2nd article of the Creed). Immediately that statement excludes all of those other options (except Catholicism) that Andrew tried. If Jesus is indeed true God, how could he put up with a pretender, no matter how well-intentioned? He can’t.
What has Jesus done? God the Father sent his Son, Jesus, to take care of sin, death, and the devil:
He is the payment for our sins, and not only for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2 GW)
Christ must rule until God has put every enemy under his control. 26 The last enemy he will destroy is death. (1 Corinthians 15:25-26 GW)
The reason that the Son of God appeared was to destroy what the devil does. (1 John 3:8 GW)
As a result, we can say that the Christian faith is both exclusive and inclusive. The Christian faith is exclusive in that no one can be in the center except Jesus Christ.
No one else can save us. Indeed, we can be saved only by the power of the one named Jesus and not by any other person. (Acts 4:12 GW)
The Christian faith is inclusive, in that Jesus died for everyone, to take the sins of the whole world upon himself.
God loved the world this way: He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life. (John 3:16 GW)
Christian faith involves death
Paul writes about it this way:
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20 NAS)
This is far different than sampling Christianity. Being crucified with Christ takes the Christian faith out of the casual, drive-by kind of spiritual experience. Jesus invites us to follow him, even unto death. He does not invite us for a week long retreat, or even a one month retreat. That is not Christianity.
The battle with sin is real; the daily encounters with sin, confession, forgiveness, cannot be reduced to mere pantomimes that one learns in a month. That is why Paul is so graphic in his life-death struggle. A one month sampling doesn’t even get us to the point of recognizing how real the battle is, let alone evaluating what it is like.
Christian faith involves community
The Christian is saved alone, but never saved alone. By that, I mean that the individual must believe—no one else can take it upon herself or himself and “believe for another.” But God never saved people so that they live in isolation from other Christians. The Christian faith involves community.
Christian community is not living in a commune (it could, but not the requirement or expectation). Rather in community, we get to know one another beyond a mere hello. For some of us, we can barely know people’s name in a month. Living in community moves into the realm of having to deal with each other’s sins, failures, short-comings, irritations, etc. For a month, I can grit my teeth and endure just about anyone; but that is not living in community.
Community living means having to interact with other sinful humans. That means we take sin and its effects seriously. Even more seriously we take God’s approach to dealing with sin. First, in relationship to God:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9 NIV)
Then in relationship to others:
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32 NIV)
It is one thing to endure someone for a month. It is quite another to interact with, confront with sin, forgive, restore, and grow together. That does not happen in one month snatches of an outward observance.
My hope is that Andrew, and others who have been encouraged to prepare a pottage of spiritual experiences, will take a second look at who Jesus Christ is. Perhaps they will understand why they can’t sample him and mix in religious elements that deny Jesus Christ.
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 NIV)