“I’m astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel …” Galatians 1.6
My PhD is in Galatians. I haven’t written about it for a long time. I ought to get back to writing something on it in the near future. Quite a while back, a church was trying to invite an academic to be a speaker for a special weekend conference. The church has had some history. In fact, it is one of the older churches in the town. As a subordinate made suggestion for this speaker, the more senior leadership said that they didn’t think the church is mature enough to take such intellectual vigor. This whole scenario probably occurs more often than everyone realizes.
Readiness is something quite tricky. When exactly is the believer ready to tackle hard questions of faith? When is the believer ready for some real meat? I believe it all boils down to philosophy of what we can expect from the church. Some people these days even propose that we really don’t need anything like this. All we need is something practical, “grounded”, and adhere to tradition. The problem is, “What is that tradition?” I used to work with youth a long time ago, after I first graduated from seminary. Most youth groups are just programs to babysit teens. The fun factor is the focal point. I even saw one advert that says, “Lots of fun and some Jesus.” When will the young people be ready for hard studies. I suppose many leaders expect them to just “get it.” The fact is, most teens never “got it.” They go to the university, drift away from church and never come back. Some eventually “got it” and wondered why they didn’t get it in their youth groups. A normal and healthy upbringing for any family is to prepare children to grow up. A normal and healthy youth group prepares the teens to face adulthood, and adulthood is not always pretty or fun; adulthood is tough. In the same way, what is the church for? A standard answer is that it is a place that builds up believers to grow into adulthood. Will a lot of fun and some Jesus do the trick? I doubt it. Believers will NEVER be ready if they aren’t challenged.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians above expects the Galatians whom he left for a short while to have the ability to distinguish one kind of knowledge from another kind. Paul expected intellectual vigor in new converts. I suspect Paul taught with intellectual vigor when he first conducted his mission. How far off we are today in our churches in the way we approach faith? We certainly talk about readiness. The fact is, people are never fully ready to become adults. Many adults have the EQ of a teen (or below). That’s why we have so many relational problems. In the same way, the spiritual journey of the Christian should start with strong intellectual nutrition. No way should we use “readiness” as the excuse for laziness. I propose that we don’t waste young believers’ time (and also that of the older believer) by teaching the fluff. I propose that our church should be the hotbed for creating mature believers right off the bat. This goes for our preaching and our Christian education program. I believe many churches need an overhaul, but the most important overhaul doesn’t come from the program level; it should come from the ideological level. If more of us think like Paul and have higher expectations for our churches, we won’t be in the mess that we’re in now.