A Civilized Faith

"But then the worst thing happened that could happen to any fighter, you got civilized."

That's what Mickey told Rocky when he quit as Rocky's trainer. Rocky once had a passion, a thirst, and a desire. As he became successful and rich, that initial zeal disappeared.

Unfortunately, we do the same with our faith. We civilize our faith. "Civilize" means "bring (a place or people) to a stage of social, cultural, and moral development considered to be more advanced." Historically, it's how Westerners viewed their role when encountering native tribes in Africa or the Americas. They were to teach them society's ways, culture, and the right ways to behave.

One of the big problems that I see with civilizing our faith is that it goes completely against what we are intended to be as followers of Jesus.

Instead of assimilating with the social, cultural, and moral advancements, or regressions if you prefer, of society around us, we, the church, should be anti-civilized and strive to be like the early church in teaching and practice. It is true that we fail at times, but we want the Holy Spirit to move among us like it did in the early church. We want transformed lives like that which was common in the early church. We want to be radical followers of Jesus like those who were in the early church.

The church's truth should be unwavering through the ages. We should stand up for the truth of Scripture no matter which direction the winds of society and culture blows. Sometimes those winds blow like a tornado destroying everything in their path.

The methods of church change even when we are trying to be like the early church in teachings and in practice. We're not doing the Gregorian chants of times past. Videos are frequently used in teaching. We have designated buildings to meet in rather than homes. But it seems like all great revivals begin when a group of people get serious about going back to Scripture and living out the radical teachings contained within that sacred text despite the culture's teachings around them. The church should transform the culture, not the culture transforming the church.

Yet we have this tendency to civilize the radical demands of Scripture time and time and again. We have had great, amazing leaders pull us back to Jesus and His word only to then live lives devoid of that inspirational and world-changing passion. Martin Luther went  back to the Scriptures, and the world was changed. Then, in what seems to be typical, his movement created a new standard, non-radical status quo. Many of the people who came through his line of spirituality have now lost their radical passion for Jesus. John Wesley did the same. Like those from the strain of Luther, his movement followed suit and created a new standard, non-radical status quo. And my streams founders, Alexander and Thomas Campbell and Barton Stone did the same, and our movement - despite being one of the few Christian groups growing in the United States - wavers between establishing a standard, albeit  nondenominational, non-radical status quo instead of radically following this call of Jesus on our lives. As the time from experiencing the passion of the original founders of these great movement grows, the zeal begins to diminish. There is this constant tug to create an institution that can exist without the power of God. Yet we are called, not to an institution, but a movement that transforms our lives, our homes, our workplaces, and community. We aren't called to separate ourselves from the world; we're called to join in on God's transformation of this world.

This cycle of surrender and eventual corruption isn't just an institutional problem; it seems to also happen in our lives. We will draw close to Jesus and surrender all, but  then the world will creep in. Its social teachings. Its cultural teachings. Its moral teachings. If we aren't careful, we will find ourselves slowly conforming one small compromise at a time. Then we wake up and realize how far we have strayed. Usually, we pop back and start following Jesus radically once again. But sometimes people don't. And that's the danger. The fallen culture will gladly take us back in and rebreak us into what we once were, or even worse.

Others take a different approach. They isolate themselves from the storm of society. But instead of hiding in the cellar of pseudo-Christianity where we find safety from destructive winds of society, we are called to march out into the wind with Jesus guiding us, to clothe ourselves in His protection, and bring others to a point where they join in.

We need to get back to our roots. Most Christian movements that linger on today have incredible roots. We need to live out New Testament Christianity in a time greatly detached from those days. We need to avoid falling prey to becoming an institution rather than a mission station. We sometimes want to hole up in our cellars that we call churches and isolate from society. Some even think churches are too corrupted, and they just hole themselves up in their home. But we're called to something greater than that, a life together surrendered to Jesus.

We segregate our faith from our regular life because that is the civilized thing to do. Civilized people have a personal faith and keep it to themselves. In doing that, we miss out on Jesus because the Spirit is found in the wind. He's found out there among humanity. In the pain and in the suffering. In joy and the celebration. He is not contained in a book or a building; He is unleashed from that book and that building.

Jesus is not found in a religion that becomes an institution devoid of truth and love. He can be found in the every day, in every moment, in every emotion. Seek and you shall find.