I have been investing time recently reflecting on my faith journey over the decades. I may be wrong, but I don’t believe the experiences of my faith journey are unique. Based on my experiences, we as church leaders, need to shift our emphasis away from personal salvation. The shift needs to be toward Kingdom creation. Let me explain.
Our focus on personal salvation has created selfish and arrogant Christians. Many Christians’ profession of faith was fear induced. People were threatened with hell if they didn’t make a profession of faith. My faith journey began not out of love for God, but out of a sense of self-preservation – avoiding hell. This beginning put me on a trajectory to do what was necessary to make sure I got to heaven when I died. My focus became following the rules not forming a relationship with God.
My salvation was contingent on me giving accent to certain doctrines and beliefs and following some arbitrary moral standards. Mine was a religion of rules not a faith in a living God. I went to worship because I was supposed to, I read the Bible because I was supposed to, I prayed because I was supposed to, I gave because I was supposed to, I served because I was supposed to, and I tried to not do all the thing I wasn’t supposed to. I followed the rules so I could avoid hell. Everything connected to the church was about me and what I needed to do to secure my salvation. If my journey was all about me, then everything at the church should be about me. They should sing the songs I like, the preacher should preach the sermons I like, they should teach the classes I like, they should paint the walls the color I like. Also, if I’m faithfully following all the rules, then God should answer my prayers. The prayers that are often prayed treat God more like Santa Claus, only with a higher expectation of a positive result. My attention was not on the present, but on what would happen when I die.
The emphasis on personal salvation also makes us arrogant. I’m “saved,” that must mean I’m following all the rules. If you aren’t “saved” that means I’ve got something you don’t have and something you need, which makes me superior. The feelings of superiority applied to non-believers, but it especially applied to people of other faiths.
Our focus should be to join with God to create the Kingdom of God here on earth as it is in heaven. We do pray that prayer regularly. So, what does the Kingdom of God look like? It is a place of joy, peace, hope, love, freedom, there is no violence, no oppression, no judgement, no discrimination. If we will engage our communities and join with God in creating the Kingdom of God here on earth, we will have people come to faith in Christ. They will be coming for the right reasons and not because they are afraid of going to hell. They will come with an attitude of generosity and service rather than selfishness. The end result is much the same, people come to faith in Christ, but we will have helped to create the Kingdom of God here on earth.
It is much harder work joining with God to create the Kingdom of God here on earth, then it is to preach a sermon or have a conversation and convince someone they’re going to hell if they don’t follow the rules. I can follow all the rules and give accent to all the right doctrines and beliefs and still not have a relationship with God. It time we switched our focus.