Since Christianity became the popular religion of the world in such a short period of time (you know you are old when you can refer to 300 years as a short period of time), we tend to forget that Jesus Himself was not very popular among his contemporaries. His death was mourned by a handful of followers, celebrated by a larger group of critics, but primarily ignored by the masses. Yet, He turned the world upside down.
He revealed a side of God that had been completely missed by every human since the fall. He exposed religion as a failed enterprise, explained a new kind of righteousness based on being rather than doing, and expected His followers to care for others more than themselves. Everything about Jesus must have seemed the exact opposite of what was expected.
Turning things upside down is no easy task. It is not always a good thing. Sociologist Robert Wuthnow of Princeton University made the following statement that caught my attention:
“At one time theologians argued that the chief purpose of humankind was to glorify God. Now it would seem that the logic has been reversed; the chief purpose of God is to glorify humankind. Spirituality no longer is true or good because it meets absolute standards of truth or goodness, but because it helps me get along. I am the judge of its worth. If it helps me find a vacant parking space, I know my spirituality is on the right track. If it leads me into the wilderness, calling me to face dangers I would rather not deal with at all, then it is a form of spirituality I am unlikely to choose.”
For centuries, the church has taught that our primary purpose in life is to bring glory to God. It was so woven into the fabric of Christian thinking that it was taught as one of the basic beliefs to children and new believers. It is the opening statement of the Westminster Shorter Catechism that has been considered an important confession of faith by many within the church since the 1640’s.
However, Wuthnow suggests that this way of thinking has been turned upside down by today’s Christian world. I think I agree. Many of today’s popular theologians teach that God is spending His time calculating ways to make our lives easier. Best selling authors instruct us how to be satisfied and accomplish great things with God’s help. Contemporary musicians sing the praises of God who helps us feel good and experience victory. Well known pulpiteers proclaim the benefits that we can expect from believing God’s Word like they believe it.
It is a totally new way of thinking to assume that God is just as concerned about our comfort as we are. If we are not careful we will find ourselves believing that the world revolves around us and our needs. This leads to a Gospel of success instead of sacrifice; it is the broad way that leads to destruction rather than the narrow way that leads to life.
This notion that God’s purpose is to help me have a better life is especially prevalent in the way we do stewardship. When you read much of what is taught as stewardship today, you come away with the idea that the goal of stewardship is to become a debt-free member of the middle class with a well funded retirement account. In other words, the goal of stewardship is our comfort.
In reality, the goal of stewardship is to bring glory to God. With that purpose in mind, many of our decisions about the way we handle the world will radically change. If enough of God’s people could grasp this concept, we might see the world turned upside down once again.