There is the official pathway toward Christianity. Then there is the dirt path to Christianity. First here’s the official paved sidewalk right up to the front door of Christianity. This is the way it is supposed to go (but then after this I’ll present the way it really happens – like it or not).
First, we SURRENDER our self to Jesus Christ. We are supposed to die to self. We are supposed to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior. Years ago I was taught a certain formula derived from the Gospel of John, chapter one…
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
The formula prescribes that one must first a) receive Jesus – surrender all: morals, worldview, and one’s will to self-govern. True. Jesus often asked men and women to commit to him and follow him by leaving all behind, home, family, job, heritage, fortunes… Jesus often proposed an all-or-nothing commitment if you wanted to be a part of his kingdom. b) Believe the right beliefs. c) Be born and belong. This is nice and tidy. In shorthand this is what some say this is how we boil down and rearrange these two verses: We Surrender Self, we Come Together with the church, and then we allowed to Love Others in the name of Jesus.
Just to make this clearer, here’s more descriptors about what we do after we Surrender.
Join TOGETHER with others. Join the church. Sign off on their catechism, the church’s creed, the statement of faith. Then you may be baptized as a sign and seal of G-d’s possession of you and your wonderful beauty as a vessel of the grace of G-d through Jesus Christ. Again – True. At some point each of us must agree with the beliefs of the church and say and confess The Apostle’s Creed or some other confession of the church.
Finally, we LOVE ONE ANOTHER. On the sure foundation of Jesus as Lord and Savior, with the blessing and confession of the church we go out and love others. We love our neighbor as our self. We help, we feed, we clothe, we visit, we heal, we speak peace, hope and love. We now live a life of love.
What I just described is the “official pathway” to the Christian faith. This Surrender Self, Come Together, and Love One Another three-step process has been the usual and prescribed path for centuries.
But I think this is how we describe coming to faith after the fact. The church would like it if everyone did it the official way. I would, and still do. But my experience shows a jumbled mixed journey for most. People take a short cut dirt path to Jesus. What I see these days is someone comes to church and they do not join or confess or even surrender much at all. Instead, they serve, they begin the faith journey by loving others (the last step). People who are seeking G-d know they should be moral to some extent. They know they should love their neighbor and share and be generous. We don’t need to be Christian to be kind and giving toward others around us, right?
It so happens that people join TOGETHER with others in the church serving alongside people they don’t know in the church. They rehab a house in the inner city. They travel to Haiti to help orphans. They come to a “container packing party” shipping medical supplies to Africa. In short, they LOVE and they COME TOGETHER before they know Jesus and have all their faith questions answered and squared off. They hardly heard of an Apostle’s Creed, much less agree with it.
This is because Christianity is always more “caught than taught.” Christianity is contagious when it working best. As Michael Green once phrased it ‘Christianity is more gossip than gospel.’ Two thousand yeas ago Christianity started out over washbasins and vegetable market banter. Echoing C.S. Lewis’ own conversion, many people just reach down inside and realize they have a moral compass within that is out of whack – they have a conscience. Their life is not right or peaceful. They look around them and see injustice and pain and they want to do something about it. Guardedly they turn slightly toward Jesus, because his is still the best soul doctor the world has ever heard about.
If by G-d’s grace they happen to find a loving accepting church, they cautiously “join in” and serve, responding to that most basic urge to help others just because it feels right.
At Lakeland I’ve had people “become Christians” a couple of times! Puzzling, yes? But what they mean is that they thought they were a devout Christian, but then they have a deep lasting soul embrace of G-d’s acceptance – like an explosion inside – and they feel G-d is real. They feel loved. Like me, they respond by falling on their knees in submitted surrender to the crush of acceptance. They may not know the Creed yet, but they usually want to know about it – that and everything else. They go to every teaching, hear every sermon, read the Bible, read books… oh yes, and they join a smaller study group of other like-minded Jesus followers – friends for the journey. And the continue to go to Haiti, Mexico, the inner city, work with at-risk students, special needs children… on and on. They love.
What I’ve observed is this: the dirt path is the exact OPPOSITE of the “proper way” folks are supposed to come to Jesus and his church. The dirt path says Love Others, Join Together, then finally Surrender Self. But the real story is that the dirt path is not so straight or such a short cut. It is wandering along a small dappled, sun-washed mysterious path in the Garden of G-d. We catch fleeting glimpses of the unknown g-d and hear his strong whisper beckoning us to “Come! I will make you fish for people!” We follow the Voice. Along the way we find jewels of divine mercy – a note from a friend, a sentence snatched from a book by a spiritual writer or Christian thinker or even a newspaper article – it speaks to us in a new language of love. We see Jesus in a street-child in a foreign country. We heard angels voices in they busy smelly streets in a city of 12 million. This is the experience of what all Creeds declare: “God came to earth and dwelt among us.”
Moreover, the pathway is more a “thought-cloud” of Surrender, Together, Love. Some jump in with the people of Jesus, the church. Some study a hard-nosed confession, and chase down answers first – they Surrender. And others begin with Love. Find your way. You are on the right path if you follow the Voice. You will get there from here – but just not the way you thought you would.