“…because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (revelation 3)
Free Churches are doubly protestant. Of course we know Lutherans protested against the Roman Catholic church, but Free Churches protested against the State Lutheran churches in Scandanavia. The were ‘free’ from the state. Kierkegaard* was a Danish thinker in the 1800’s who wrote a lot about this. The problem was that the state church in these countries was the only ‘show in town’. To be a Danish citizen, for example, you needed to be baptized your first week of birth. So if someone said, “are you Danish?” and you said “yes” and then they asked “are you Christian?” you would have said “I was baptized into the church to be a Danish Citizen!!” so by default in one sense all the Danes were Christian, by no choice of their own. Now Kierkegaard said that was crazy. You have to personally decide for yourself such things. Someone else cannot decide for you that you believe that the infinite (God) became finite (in Jesus) and one man died so that all might be saved– on any economy or logic of thought this is a pretty dramatic belief! And its very weighty–
You might have someone decide for you if you should get sprinkles on your ice cream, or where you will eat for dinner, but few of us would have someone else decide for us if we should get married, or what to name our child, or whether or not to take a job. The decision of whether or not to believe in God, and to believe that Jesus is God incarnate is an even more weighty decision though, and something that the individual needs to decide for herself.
So Kierkegaard (his name literally means “church-yard”) said that the religious decision is much like Abrahams decision to sacrifice his son Issaac– it was a decision he had to make, and it was one which in some sense others wouldn’t entirely understand. He couldn’t tell his wife about it really. If he’d asked his priest if he should listen to God’s order to sacrifice his son, his priest would likely have counseled against it. So faith is this spot where we have to decide for ourselves if we are being drawn towards God, and if we will commit our lives. No one else can make that decision for us. We may be wrong.
It might be that this Christianity is not true, not real. Maybe I should have been of another faith, or not gotten suckered in. Thats a question I have to sleep with each night, and live with each day– the question of whether or not I’m living my life rightly. Is this the right decision?
And for Kierkegaard, its important to realize the gravity of this decision. We like to avoid looking it in the face, because its scary to think we could be wrong. But once we look it in the face, and decide what we believe and where we stand, then it is more likely we will live our lives with authenticity. If we are going to believe that the infinite became finite in Christ to save the world, then you’d better decide to live like that– otherwise, whats the point? In the last book of the Bible– Revelation, St. John thows out a pretty strong challenge to Christians in chapter 3:
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”
That passage is pretty famous. Just a few verses earlier there is this challenging passage as well though:
“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. 3Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.”
Heidegger, one of my favorite German philosophers, said in his commentary on Thessalonians that Christianity is intense because it has this belief that Jesus might return at any time– you are constantly on knifes edge preparing for his return, and trying to live your life accordingly. It is an apparently exhausting constant intensity. But this is what Kierkegaard calls us too as well– a consistently authentically lived Christian life: If you are going to be a Christian, then do it! If you aren’t, then quit playing games and just admit that you are a practicing atheist! This is hard, because I see the atheism in my life– how I live my life at times as though God does not exist.
Thank God for grace and mercy– thats what I always come back to. I am thankful for grace and mercy, but I never want to let it lull me into a complacency which allows me to be distracted from an authentically live Christian life. Don’t waste it. Don’t be lukewarm spit…
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*I have always thought it would be great to have a church called the church of st soren– soren was kierkegaard’s first name. But it would drive him crazy to call him a st. first of all, and he was not into saints and all that sort of higher organization of churches. It would also be ironic because usually its the Lutheran or Roman Catholic churches which would have churches named after saints, and Kierkegaard was far from that…