Is there one level of obedience and sacrifice for American Christians and another for Christians in other parts of the world? This question should cause us to sit up and take notice. American Christianity seems to have placed value on some rather unusual and unique things compared to the rest of the world.
Listen to discussion among church members in America and you will be forced to make some clear assumptions. One area of discussion is that the American church is focused on consumerism. Personal decisions about church are based on wants. The focus is on whether we like the music or youth program or the comfort of the pews. Today many go to one church for the children’s program, another church for worship and yet another for the sports program.
This is in stark contrast to Christians around the world who long just for the opportunity to meet together without being arrested or abused. Many meet in caves and barns for worship hoping not to be discovered. Amenities are given no thought. To sit on a wooden, slat bench for two or three hours of Bible teaching and worship is considered a great privilege.
We compare preachers as we do television programs. We do not measure them by their content, but by their entertainment ability. Do they tell good stories or jokes? “I don’t want to go to that church because that preacher talks about money.” Some change churches because the pastor is always preaching on sin and hell.
One of my fondest memories took place in Romania. The dictatorship had just fallen. For the first time Christians could join together for worship without fear. I stood to preach, opened to my text, and walked them through the passage. After about 40 minutes, including translation, I drew to a close and gave an invitation to come to Christ. Several responded, and I sat in my chair on the platform. The pastor came to me and spoke music to my ears . . . music I had never heard before.
“Pastor, the people want to know if you will preach more. They are not ready to go home; they are hungry to hear you teach the Bible.”
Whoa, Nelly! Nobody was looking at a watch—no one putting on a coat when the invitation started. “Teach us more.” My, my!
Does God call the people in persecuted nations to a different commitment than He does the American Christian? The answer is NO! Jesus said it clearly in Matthew 16:24, “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.” The call of God does not change with locality. An American and Saudia Arabian are not called to different standards of commitment. The decision to follow Jesus requires giving up our agenda and surrendering totally to Him, no matter what the cost. Circumstances may require a greater level of sacrifice, suffering and hardship, but the absolute surrender is the same.
I have a feeling—no I am convinced—that the consumerism in the American church falls very short of the standard of absolute surrender to Jesus as Lord. The conversation is very shallow when compared with the level of commitment called out when we determine to follow Jesus.
Perhaps the conversation should move from “I like” and “I want” to “Yes, Lord, yes to Your will and Your way. I am not my own. I have been bought with the price of the blood of Jesus.” Just maybe our consumer agenda needs to be dropped at the door and our focus drawn toward “Thy will be done.”
Anthony L. Jordan is executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.