If you have very much exposure or involvement in modern, Western religious communities (notably Christian ones) you may have noticed a strange and troubling phenomena; these people often don’t do very well at ‘practicing what they preach!” Or more accurately, they struggle to practice what has been preached at them.
This situation produces awful fallout. The non-religious (or at least non-Christian) onlookers are generally unimpressed with the high sounding claims to truth and divine revelation brandished by these supposedly ‘born again, Spirit-filled, children of God.’ And, equally sad is the state of apathy and discouragement that these believers sink into as they find that their hopes and expectations for ‘new life’ are dashed on the rocks of their relatively unchanged lives.
The statistics are terrible. Divorce rates among Western Christian couples are nearly identical with non-religious couples. The same addictions to chemicals and sex are common to both groups (even among Christian religious leaders). Often, Christian people have developed horrible reputations regarding their honesty, integrity or generosity among their non-religious neighbors and business associates.
Now, to be fair, some of this bad rep may be due to religious persecution and intentional slander by those who want to harm or hinder the Christian cause because of religious disagreement or personal animosity. Truthfully, however, even with that factor taken into account the bottom line is this: something is horribly, horrible wrong.
I think part of the problem, at least among those in the Evangelical Christian communities of the West, is that the message given to the faithful day in and day out is mainly about the goal of getting to heaven and speaks only in passing about living life in the mean time.
Another contributor to this is the apparent accommodation that the Western Evangelical church has inadvertently made with Gnostic thinking. N.T. Wright has pointed out that there is a strong habit of thinking that the present, physical world is ‘bad’ while the future, spiritual world is the real good. Believers have their attention frequently turned toward death and the life to come (the hope of heaven) or the coming escape from this awful world (the Rapture of the saints). Neither emphasis produces much of an urgency to discover and master a new kind of living in the here and now.
This is why it is so critical that we rediscover the Way of the Lord as the basis for normal Christian life and practice. The 1st century saw a religious movement begin around Jesus of Nazareth which within three centuries had overwhelmed and transformed the Roman empire. This feat had much to do with how these disciples of Jesus lived their lives. They apparently did things very differently than the typical church member of our generation.
My hope is this; if God is real, and if he has revealed himself through the ancient Judeo/Christian scriptures, and more specifically in Jesus of the bible, then there has to be another way to do this.
Lets go back to the original sources, back past our recent history or religious experiences, and look again at God, at life and at what He might have to say about how this is all supposed to be working out in practice.