One of the themes that came up over and over again in the various books I've been reading about being Evangelical is backsliding, a term I have not heard in the liberal church. Backsliding is the sense that if you do not keep up the self-discipline of a Christian life, through daily Bible study, prayer, devotions, attendance at worship, small groups, reading Christian books and periodicals, and generally staying within the confines of Christian culture, you are bound to lose your faith entirely.
I have very mixed feelings about all of this. First of all, I do think that a certain level of spiritual discipline is a good thing: regular prayer, reading the Scriptures, what have you. But the notion that unless you do all of this all the time, you are bound to fall into perdition is actually, as I think of it, rather sad. It suggests that a) we can maintain our faith through our own efforts and b) if we don't, then God will be powerless to hold on to us through God's own love and presence.
I certainly feel I have a healthier relationship with God and a better understanding of God now than I did when I was younger. Maybe it would be better, simply because of mature understanding, along with the Daily Quiet Times (DQTs) and other paraphernalia of a more conservative faith. But one of the things a more liberal faith has given me is freedom from fear.
That would be c) in the list above. I hope a lot of people are involved in their spiritual disciplines because they want to do so, but much of the time I feel it is motivated by fear: if you don't do this, then something terrible will happen. Not doing the spiritual disciplines becomes its own level of sin instead of something that will help us to be free from sin and be more loving to God and neighbor.
In the baptismal covenant, we promise to "persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord." I find that very refreshing, that if and when I sin, there is something I can do about that. There's hope.
I posted last week about Sesame Street's 40th birthday. Today is the actual day. Big Bird says it well. I'm not going to call it backsliding any more.
My fear with that all or nothing mentality is that people (me) would find it easier to do nothing and ignore God in their lives altogether.
I'll have more to say about this in a future entry, I'm thinking.
The "backsliding" issue is about controlling people, not at all about faith. Those people who judge others, as they ought not, are doing so because if you can make someone worried or fearful about doing right or belonging or believing, that means you can manipulate them. In other words, assertions of backsliding come from authoritarian thugs, be they playgound bullies, totalitarian dictators or seemingly mild mannered ministers of certain sects.
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