Pastor Scott Hannon
St. John Lutheran Church, Amherst, NY
The first followers of Jesus were not called Christians. They were called followers of the Way. Their faith didn’t depend on creeds or confessions. Rather, their faith was a way of living. The book of Acts says, “They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, to the breaking of bread, fellowship and prayer.” When they gathered, they shared stories and immersed themselves in scripture as they sought to discover deeper meaning for their lives. They ate with one another. They met for community and connection. They cared and shared. They addressed the needs around them; what they couldn’t handle on their own they lifted to God in prayer. They were a community of love, friendship and mutual commitment to a greater cause.
But like all groups set up in such a loving way, there were abuses. Heresy and controversy crept in and conflict erupted. To solve the problems, the church developed creeds and confessions. Constitutions and by-laws followed. And then it happened… the followers of the Way became “Christians” and disciples became “members.” Faith that once was a way of living, now hinged on a set of beliefs.
Don’t get me wrong; this is not necessarily a bad thing. Proper theology is crucial to being church. However, there is a very real danger in pulling our faith-life out of our hearts and placing it into our heads. When real service becomes lip service, the church is in trouble.
For instance, in my congregation to become “official members” we created the confirmation process and new member classes. We crammed info into the heads of our youth and new people. Over time many of them drift away. Knowledge dumping – telling people what to believe – is not working. In the wider church, Christianity has entrenched itself in the “right belief” side of politics. We have spent all of our energy in the battles over human sexuality and abortion. Meanwhile, we have ignored God’s call to feed the hungry and help the poor. We are trapped in ‘heady’ conversations, when our hearts should be motivating us to respond to those in need. The end result is a struggling and irrelevant church.
The fastest growing religious demographic in America is the “nones”, that is, those who claim no religious affiliation at all. Most pastors, whether they’re Catholic, mainline protestant, or Evangelical, can share stories of their young people disappearing after high school. Others report that they had none to lose. In many churches men are missing from the pews. Numbers are down. Churches are dying.
Hope is not lost. Not only do we have Jesus who promises to bring life from death, but also the paradigm for discipleship has already been written. Acts 2:42 “They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and the prayers.” The 21st century church needs 1st century practice. It is time to transition back into a people who are followers of the Way.
It’s time to stop fighting and start feeding.
It’s time to stop talking and start listening.
It’s time to stop protesting and start praying.
It’s time to get out of our heads and into our hearts.
It’s time to get up from our pews and get in the Way.
In the Way,
For more inspiration and insights from Pastor Scott and Pastor Shawn’s past columns, please visit www.jamestowngazette.com and click on the Faith Matters page. The Jamestown Gazette is proud to present our county’s most creative and original writers for your enjoyment and enlightenment.