I can’t remember where I saw it now, but a few months back I read an observation that one of the current, popular distortions of Christianity is what this particular writer had nicknamed Cashpoint Christianity.
Can you see where this is going? We’ve all used a cashpoint: you pop in your card, enter your pin, and then – bingo – out pops your cash.
And the point they were making is that sometimes Christianity is portrayed a bit like that. It’s all about an initial transaction: you get baptised/confirmed/pray a prayer and out pops forgiveness/a ticket to heaven. Now you can just sit back and wait. Enjoy your life ’til you pop your clogs. Job done.
Of course, as is the case with all distortions, there’s glimmers of truth in the forgery. God’s offer of forgiveness is free and the only response God is looking for is faith. It’s not about scrubbing up beforehand. As the old hymn goes, “the vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives.” Amen.
Well, actually we’ll come back to the ‘but’ in a moment, because this got me thinking about another distortion that we can often take on board.
If sometimes we fall into the error of Cashpoint Christianity, surely just as common is the error of Club Christianity.
In this counterfeit, the package that we’re buying into is all about belonging to (what is effectively) a social club. Any commitment we make is a commitment to a group of people and – perhaps – a certain way of doing things. The emphasis probably lies on outward conformity and activity, without much else. You could say it’s all about the horizontal to the detriment of the vertical.
Now, again, we’ve got to watch we don’t chuck the baby down the drain along with all the dirty soapsuds. Christianity is about community, something that too often our individualistic culture can blind us to. But…
(Ok, so I know what you’re thinking: this is the point where I pull a long-eared cuddly creature out of my hat and offer an alternative, probably also beginning with the letter ‘C’. Well, yep, you got me – and anyway you’ve already read the title, right?!)
…as a church family we were journeying through Paul’s letter to the Philippians a few weeks ago, and it struck me that there we find something altogether different. Have a read of these verses:
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
(Philippians ch2 v12-13)
So let me introduce you to – cue drumroll – Construction-Site Christianity.
But, just for a change, it’s not the church website or leaky roof that’s under construction.
It seems this Bible passage inadvertently corrects the two errors described earlier. It shows us what’s missing from both Cashpoint Christianity and Club Christianity. There’s no expectation of personal, inward change.
Have you ever thought of yourself as a construction site? Maybe you’re someone who’s regularly in the gym or at the spa. We often talk about make-overs and diets and work-outs.
But here the expectation of change is internal. It’s at the level of our thoughts and desires and ambitions. And maybe that’s kind of awkward because we’ve become pretty accustomed to not letting anyone else go anywhere near those.
And yet this isn’t something we’re to plough ourselves into single-handedly, as if God hands us the flat-pack, instructions and toolbox and just expects us to crack on.
Read those words again: “…it is God who works in you…”
That’s why Paul talks about having an attitude of “fear and trembling”. The God of the Universe wants to change little old me. That’s pretty breath-taking when you stop and think about it.
Mark Twain infamously quipped: ‘Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.’ Yet in Christianity God doesn’t just tell us to do something. He comes and lives within us, by his Spirit. He comes and changes our desires.
Sometimes I want to do right, but I seem to lack the energy or ability to change. Other times, it seems like I don’t even want to do the right thing; my heart is dull and cold.
But these verses encourage me: God provides the desire, even when we do not have it. It encourages me to ask God for his help in working within me a desire to do his will.
Now we might hear that and just think, ‘why?’ Doesn’t God have better things to do with his time? Like saving the world? Spinning planets? Or hanging out with holy types in special buildings?
There’s even a way of phrasing that objection that makes God sound quite petty. Ever heard someone say, “What kind of a God is bothered about what I get upto in my bedroom?” Maybe one of the reasons we opt for Cashpoint Christianity or Club Christianity is that we know full well we sometimes don’t want to change. As I’ve written before,
“Change is something we campaign for out there, but it’s not something we particularly want in the depths of our hearts.”
But it all depends on your perspective. The Bible describes humans as being uniquely made in the image of God. That means we’re uniquely called to reflect God and honour him with all that we are.
And so when I slip into ways of thinking about my faith that resemble Cashpoint Christianity or Club Christianity, I’m avoiding the staggering truth that God wants to change each of us. He wants to change me.
Do you still believe in Construction-Site Christianity?
You can take a longer listen to my reflections on Philippians 2v12-31 below: