In the Great Commission, Jesus tells the church to go and make disciples of all the nations. It’s a fairly clear statement that we – as Christians – are to engage our world, our communities, and our people about what it means to follow Christ. This is more than simple evangelism of trying to reach the unchurched, but goes to a deeper level of walking beside believers about what it means to follow Christ in our daily lives.
The concept of making disciples includes multiple aspects. It includes evangelism, fellowship, means of grace, and other spiritual disciplines that help to lead one into a deeper relationship with God that seeks transformation in their life so they may be a loving and transformative witness of Christ Jesus in their world. But, one of the most important elements of discipleship – teaching is one that often gets overlooked and ignored. And, if the latest Pew Form on Religious and Public Life is correct then this is a serious danger in the life of the church. According to the survey, Protestants do not know as much about their faith as, perhaps, they should; the same with Catholics. Those whom know the most about faith: atheists and agnostics.
Now, it is possible to spin the results towards relationships with atheists and those outside the church. That the survey leads the church to focus outside of its own walls. There is some good and positive things that can happen when a church moves from beyond its own walls and seeks to engage the world around it, but that is not what the church should be concerned about.
Instead, what this survey should alert us to is the deep need for teaching in the life of the church. In this, we have all failed the body of Christ, by allowing the world standards to speak to the church’s standards.
What the study showed is that we are not teaching the doctrines and the history of the church. We teach that Christianity is a relationship, which it ultimately is, but we’ve ignored teaching our congregations that there are reasons for why we do and believe the things that we do. We have moved teaching doctrine and history to the seminary classroom and hardly ever do we interact those topics, on a regular basis, in the life of the church. This has led to a serious problem inside the church. We have created a body that could not say why we practice communion they way we do, why we believe in grace, and how the struggles we have faced in previous centuries can help guide us today.
So, why have we ignored our calling to teach and help our members in the renewing of their minds?
There are several. For one, we’ve allowed the consumerist model of church to dictate how we do church. We’re worried that if we offer our members anything on a deep level that they will lead and go somewhere else. Thus, we’ve become so concerned about numbers that we’re ignoring our demand to create disciples. We’re more interested in personal religion. While religion is personal, it is also public and requires both a personal and public response to God’s working in our lives. When faith is personal only, it eliminates the need to think about the history of the church and the history of doctrinal, because, we say, how can someone in the 1600s speak to what is going on today.
As leaders of the church, we must do a better job in teaching our laity – and ourselves – the doctrines and history of the church. It is for the benefit of the body, for it helps to shape and guide our discussions, today, on several key issues. If we do not, it is only at the hindrance to the church. We must proclaim the message of Christ. We must teach our congregations – and the world – what it means to follow God. We must be a better witness for Christ.
If not now, when?