Christianity: No Civic Religion

This pastoral passage was first written for LRBC on December 11 2016. I remember having the initial idea for this after a wearying day of my beekeeping work.

Sometimes (I confess) I have thought it would be nice if Christianity was more of a “civic” religion. Civic religion is faith that fits into human life, on an individual, family or societal scale. We can see this when certain religious groups fulfil their expected role as charities, or when religious leaders fulfil roles officiating state events. At a more personal level, civic religion has us give thanks to God for the good things we receive, request help and health and safety, and evokes a sense of guilt or fear to dissuade us from bad behaviour. It revolves around our life.

It’s not all bad, but it’s not New Testament Christianity. NT Christianity is much more than this. If this is your understanding or experience of Christianity, you have in view only an anaemic substitute for the real thing. Christianity calls on life to fit into faith. This is why Jesus called on people to leave everything in order to follow him. It was no civic religion that he embodied. When we consider the apostle Paul’s concerns for the churches he wrote to, we don’t see him praying that they might have their lives go well and that bad things wouldn’t happen to them. He prayed rather that they might truly know God, that they would realise what belonged to them in Christ and that they would have a new view of the world – and one that did not match the world’s view of itself (cf. in this case Eph. 1:15-23). In essence that their lives would not ‘go well’, but be changed. Reoriented to willingly fit the gospel-shaped reality that they professed to believe.

‘Civic’ Christianity is not wrong. It is just a distracted and half-hearted version of the real thing. First steps, perhaps. The real thing is costly, but it promises much more. The real thing is what we get from Jesus and the prophets and apostles. Is your understanding of Christianity what they passed down to us? Or is it a tamed, civilised version of it?