“There’s an app for that.” There may well be, but in the case of the church, application can be a dangerous thing.
The Church has two apps that I know of. There are probably more, but there are two I always use. One is the theology app and the other the morality app.
The theology app is the one that comes loaded with all the colorful code that gives language to things like real presence. This app takes a long time to load and never gets you an answer in the quickest way possible.
The morality app is not much better, but it loads quickly and you can choose the one that fits your Christian OS. It comes in both the keep your hands off the girl version (the sex app) for right side Christianity and the separate your metal and plastics for the left (the social justice app.)
I think my apps are broken. They are supposed to tell me what to believe and how to behave, only the theology app always ends up telling me to “only have faith” and the morality one says, “live with grace.” Those who know a little about such things….I know what you are thinking and you can slow the roll because this is not going to be a post about a Christianity that shies away from tough questions or excuses sin. It is rather a post about applied Christianity and its’ failure especially as it relates to evangelism.
Seekers, new Christians, and even long time believers all occasionally need a good dose of evangelism and at those times the last thing they need is applied Christianity.
Several years ago I am waiting in the line that leads to the rail. I attend a High Church Lutheran congregation that takes this very seriously even for a tradition that has a very developed theology of the Eucharist. I’m with a friend who is there with someone who gives his life the greatest meaning. Like her, I am ready to receive. He is conflicted on the matter and does not know what to do. Eventually he kneels at the rail and receives a blessing.
In a conversation afterward he is questioning if it would have been righteous to receive for he is uncertain in matters of belief. The only thing I can tell him is that I too am uncertain in matters of belief, that all I know is I have taken a leap of faith that is more about God being fully present to me and the hospitality extended to me in that presence than I am about anything that involves certainty. Despite all my reading on the matter, the only thing the verbiage of real presence has done for me is reduce me to the place of faith. The application of why I am supposed to believe in real presence has always been broken leaving me not with an applied Christianity, but an actual Christianity.
The sacraments are usually not what holds up evangelism, however. That would be ethics, more specifically the morality part of it, and more specifically still the sexuality and social justice parts of morality. In the case of evangelism, these moralities often make little sense to those Christianity needs to reach.
Most of us do not spend our spare time burning down villages. If you do, you are not excluded from attaining the gift of grace, but your morality needs to do a 360 and the full force of civil law brought against you. In this case you can use a good dose of applied Christianity.
For most people the matter of morality is more mundane. That does not stop it from being everyone’s favorite applied Christianity if only because the application is so easy to use. The problem is this app, like the theology app, is broke too. Somewhere in its code, the Fall becomes confused with particular sins and the need for grace with doing one thing or not doing another.
We all know we are a fallen people. Even those who don’t believe in the Fall know this. They don’t use the language, but they can see the world and know it is not the way it should be. The evidence is clearly there….broken families, environmental catastrophes and what have you. The list goes on forever but I stop at two to illustrate a point and because each points to the only two things Christians obsess on.
Applied Christianity ignores the likes of broken families and manmade disasters to concentrate on why it is not appropriate to love another person in certain ways or to stress we must use the recycling center down the street. I am no ethicist, but I’m pretty certain single people being physical is not destroying families and throwing the milk container in the garbage is not going to bring on environmental ruin. I get the one thing leads to another argument, but that bogs down evangelism turning Christianity into legal code that condemns what may or may not be sins. To avoid the risk of allowing us to think through our moral decisions as we make our way through the messy world, this applied Christianity becomes about the rules and ignores the larger vision.
When the legalism fails, we lose this applied Christianity and our evangelism is left with only an actual Christianity that has to preach the good news if it is to reach anyone at all. The only thing left of our application is the message of God’s grace and the love God gives to fallen sinners and when it comes to evangelism that message is the only thing we have to go on when reaching out to others.
There will be time for the other things. Who doesn’t like a good argument about unconditional election or if two people should spend the night together? Okay so only one of those things is interesting, but the point is such things are never a starting place or even an end point. They are only theology and morality. They can and must inform Christianity, but they are not Christianity itself. I don’t need Christianity to tell me the world is a better place when I work for a cleaner environment or a marriage is a building block of society. I can get that with or without Christianity….there are plenty of apps out there for those things. What I cannot get is the good news that comes from hearing of Christ crucified and the Easter it brings, the good news that tells me to have faith and know grace. Unfortunately there is no app for that. What there is, however is the heartfelt witness of an evangelism that brings us and others to an actual Christianity and that is far better than any app.
Image: flickr user ErgSap, Creative Commons