“What does it cost to be a Christian?”
At first blush, this question seems simple – too simple to dignify with an answer.
“Nothing, of course,” I reply. “You’d be hard-pressed to find any Christian church in or around Ottawa that charges admission. And if they do charge admission, they shouldn’t be called Christian.”
Naively, I figured that answer would suffice. After all, Christ paid the only cost that matters.
“Actually…” The raised eyebrows told me there was more to the story. And this woman proceeded to tell me about one church, with a brand-new facility and an army of ministers & church workers. At one time, this particular congregation had promised to never leave downtown Ottawa. But the city core, with its population of 250,000+ and plethora of big-city problems, proved to be too much for the congregation. A mere four miles further out, the congregation found a wide-open space in a mid- to upper-income area. From an outsider’s perspective, the potpourri of beggars, crime, and parking space could have easily prompted the move.
But that’s (somewhat) irrelevant. The interesting thing is what happened next: At this new location, with its incredible programming every night of the week, its shiny and spacious facilities, and its Broadway-worthy sound system…the church instituted a new policy.
Every person who wanted to be a member needed to bring in their bank statements. Plain and simple, no exceptions.
Yes, the policy is slightly more involved than that; and yes, the church tries to approach it tactfully, as they help the new members set up an automated percentage offering. But naturally, the question arises again: what does it cost to be a Christian?
Surprisingly - or not? - the expansive parking lot is packed every day of the week. Families flock to the programs; the gigantic theater-style sanctuary is filled to capacity for both Sunday morning services.
I have no doubt that commitment is part of the attraction. In a religious landscape rife with churches that cater and bend over backward for the consumer’s every care, desire, whim…this church took the bold step of asking for a commitment that involved sacrifice. Real sacrifice – not simply the “sacrifice” of waking up early on a Sunday, nor the sacrifice of spending a weekend hour in church.
No. The church welcomed anyone to attend the church at no cost. But membership there carries a price tag. And the question I was asked seemed far more involved than I had ever imagined: “What does it cost to be a Christian?”
Rest assured, I think that policy does a good deal of harm and very little good. It seems more in line with the approach & attitude of the Muslim religion, which demand 2.5% of one’s yearly net worth charitably distributed in Allah’s name. Without proper context & explanation, the policy implies - declares? - that I must pay in order to be a Christian…or, at least, a “good Christian.”
As a result, Christianity is disparaged and Christ’s free forgiveness is concealed.
But that church’s policy made one good point, besides prompting the question “What does it cost to be a Christian?”
As our nation wriggles and writhes, striving to shed its nominally ‘Christian’ status, perhaps American Christians need to be reminded about the sacrifice that our faith entails. Peruse the Gospels, and note how often Christ talks of sacrifice, cross, forsaking, losing, separation, persecution.
Yet our comfortable American existence knows little of such a Christianity. One might credit the Constitution for its religious protections; yet the Christian knows that such a document would be useless without God’s providence and protection.
The current price of our Christianity is, generally, an hour or two out of the week; a nationwide average of 3% of our wealth; a mild dose of ridicule in the public square. In other words, 200+ years generally devoid of true sacrifice and cost.
But that will change.
When it does, what will be the cap to the cost of your Christianity?
And…why is there a difference between now & then?