The Bare Minimum: Part 2 – What Is the Least I Must Do or Believe?
In part one of this mini-series, I began by addressing the faith vs works debate as an attempt to answer the question “How do we gain access into salvation and life with God?” To summarize, I think the faith vs works debate misses the point…partly because we’ve missed the point of the goal and question we’re asking. I’d like to get into that a little more in this post.
One problem is that we cannot seem to squelch our obsession with comparing ourselves to others – and to come out looking good in that comparison. To state it in overly-simplistic terms: If you do less good than I do, you’re not committed enough. If you do more good than I do, you’re trying to earn your salvation. If you do different good things than I do, you’re misguided at best and an enemy of God at worst.
I think that most of these problems really stem from our understanding of who God is – that’s a subject I’ve written on before so I won’t spend too much time on it here. But it seems to be assumed that our goal should be to figure out the most basic, bare minimum of “being a faithful Christian.” This is not a new development. Its in the background of the discussions of faith and deeds in the writings of Paul and James as well as Isaiah and the other prophets. More recently, much of the Protestant protesting came from a desire to throw off the “extra trappings” that had accumulated over time. For folks in my own tribe in the American Restoration movement, that desire was an even more pronounced and primary consideration.
Again, none of us magically or arbitrarily arrived at this point. We have received both the unfinished struggles and the firm conclusions of those who came before us.
We owe a great debt of gratitude to pioneers in the faith who helped to chart the course through difficult waters. We pick up and continue their struggle to discern how it is we are to live faithfully in this place. And yet, sometimes we fail to recognize the ways that past discussions about how we should live are influencing more and more matters in less and less healthy ways.
At some point along the way – and perhaps this struggle was present from day one – we began thinking of our life in God in terms of the bare minimum. “What is the least I have to do in order to be okay with God?”
Let’s set aside for a moment what this implies about our view of God, and look instead about what this implies about us. Do we really want to treat our faith the same way we would a silly class or assignment in school that we don’t care about, but must complete for graduation? Is life with God something we simply go along with to avoid punishment?
Okay, its unavoidable, we have to consider the implications of how we view God in this quest. Do we really think God is basically a cosmic principle who, with detached professionalism determines whether or not we graduate? (Or, if you believe in Purgatory, may choose to leave us in Junior High for an indefinite period…wait, no, maybe that’s hell…never mind, the metaphor is getting out of hand.)
If we believe that God sees humanity as basically detestable things that deserve nothing more than eternal punishment, but has grudgingly offered reprieve to those who meet a rigid set of criteria…then, yeah, I guess concern for the bare minimum makes sense. Honestly, who would want to spend any more time than required in the presence of such a being? Talk about a stressful and toxic work environment. You just think having 8 bosses complaining about your TPS reports is bad.
If I believed that this were an accurate depiction of God, I’d be writing a best-selling book about “The Gospel According to Office Space” – my real motivation would be to not get hassled…and to keep my job – but you know what Bob? That’ll only make someone work just hard enough to not get fired.
What if, in our obsession to get it all right, we’ve pulled a Pharisee and completely missed the point?
What if God came near because God actually…likes us and wants to be with us? What if God has invited us into a full life of collaboration with the one who creates universes? What if the whole point is to experience life to the full, which is found in the way of Jesus; in the renewed Kingdom of God?
Perhaps if this is true, the question is no longer about the bare minimum, but about the abundance of new adventures which await us today. Maybe the reason we have seen such minimal transformation of life in the church (we don’t really look all that different from anybody else) is that we’ve only sought after minimal transformation in God. Even if we’ve obsessed our whole life with getting every little piece of Biblical knowledge memorized and correctly categorized, that’s still SO incredibly minimalistic. Isn’t there more to us than storage and recitation of information or checking the right box on a doctrinal belief test? Isn’t there so much more to life?
Yes. There is.
What impact has this minimalistic approach had on how we “do” church? Well, probably more ways than we can begin to describe. But there’s one way in particular that actually scares the hell out of me. That will be the focus of the third and final installment in this series.