We live in a culture of self-determination. You determine your career and educational trajectories. You pick where you’ll live. You pick who you’ll be. This has even extended to what gender you claim for some. Throughout history, most people had very little freedom of self-determination, you were what your family, community, country, or faith system needed you to be. Your place was influenced more by outside forces than internal forces. Today, we have the ability to buck the external forces and self-determine our place in the world.
Working with teens sometimes leads to odd epiphanies at odd times. Last night I was hanging out with my students before our Bible studies when something occurred to me. I would say that my mind drew a parallel that I had not previously noted. We have moved self-determination into the realm of faith.
Who we are in the church, what we do for the church, how we approach faith and church-life is largely determined by ourselves. This attitude is reflected in songs like, “My Church.” But, I fear that this approach is flawed. The reason I believe that this approach of self-determination is flawed is that it ignores the central tenant of being a Christian. If we accept that God is the creator and that as Jesus Christ he is the redeemer, then as Christians we have to recognize that who we are and what we do as Christians should not be self-determined but rather determined by our creator and redeemer.
We, as a Christian culture, have accepted that it is okay to self-determine our church life and Christian walk. I believe in freedom of conscience, but within the framework that God gives us in scripture. The most basic skeleton of which is the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40), the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), and the Great Commitment (Acts 2:42). Love God and others (Great Commandment), go and make disciples (Great Commission), and do not neglect church fellowship (Great Commitment).
God gives us a lot of freedom as we follow him, but he does place constraints on the Christian life and you cannot follow him outside of those constraints. Self-determining that I am going to be a Stay-at-Home-Christian ignores the Great Commitment, it ignores the gathering together of Christians for the work of the church. Self-determining that I am going to be a church attender and nothing more, ignores the Great Commission, the command that Jesus gives all Christians to go and make disciples. Being a gossip or a negative force is self-determining that you are going to ignore the great commandment.
You have freedom, but don’t forget that God has standards to which he calls us all. You have a creator, a God who loved you so much that not only did he create you, but he sent his son to die for you. Who you are as a Christian is determined by your creator and redeemer far more than by your own desires and whims.