It's the whole "vaccination" idea. Edward Jenner developed this to combat the scourge of smallpox. Smallpox is deadly, highly contagious, and passes most easily through close relationships. Jenner noticed, however, that people who contracted a mild disease known as cowpox became immune to smallpox. So he tried taking some of the pus from the sores of a person who had cowpox, and injecting them into a healthy person. The injected person got a mild case of cowpox and from that point forward, they were immune to smallpox. Voila! The modern practice of vaccination was born. We have standardized and industrialized this practice so that now we manufacture dead or weakened versions of viruses which, when injected into a patient, spur the body to build defenses against that particular virus. We have vaccinations for everything from smallpox to the flu.
Great. But what I'm going on about here is that too often, the church has taken on Edward Jenner's task, and we have vaccinated the world against Christianity. You see, true authentic Christianity is a lot like smallpox. It is spread through close relationships. It is highly contagious. It demands death -- that is, the call to follow Jesus is a call to take up a cross, to die to ourselves, and follow Jesus. As the Apostle Paul said, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
Too often, the church has infected people with a cowpox-like strain instead. We've made Christianity a religion of one hour on Sunday and a commitment to try to be nice. We drop our kids off at Sunday School so they get a taste of it, sort of like making them take a Flintstones vitamin. I'm not sure it does them a bit of good to chew that thing, but I feel better. Later we force them through a Confirmation program so they can become a voting member of the church we don't attend. And they get infected with a cowpox version of Christianity that effectively prevents them from ever catching the real thing.
Now, I'm sure that sometimes it seems like I'm just harping on the church. I don't want to be a whiner. I believe that the church, with all its faults and problems, is God's plan to bring the world to know Jesus, to bring it out of darkness and into light. So I am passionate that the church must figure out how to begin to do what we are called to do! I get frustrated because I see so much in the church that is ALMOST what we are supposed to be, nearly what God hopes for. And believe me, I include myself in this -- that so often I fall far short of what God has designed me to be and to do.
What would a "smallpox" church look like? I think the book Total Church is a good beginning, because this kind of church would be laser focused on Jesus, passionate about the Bible as it bears witness to Jesus, and it would live in authentic gospel communities where the love of God was not a concept but a way of life, and sinners are loved toward holiness.
That's what I want.