Monday, September 26, 2011

Tom Sawyer Christianity

In Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer gets Huck Finn and a group of boys together to form a gang of robbers and murderers. Tom gives the gang members a list of rules that they must follow in order to be a part of the gang. When questioned about some of these rules, Tom says that these rules must be followed because that's what robbers and murderers did in the books that he read. Because it was in the books, that's what robbers and murderers did, therefore that's what the gang was supposed to do. Of course, the rules had nothing to do with reality, and the boys ended up doing what you would expect from a group of young boys: they pretended to rob and kill. No one was harmed, and the gang eventually broke up because it got too hard to get together.

As I read I thought how much this is like a large segment of Christianity today. Folks gather in buildings every Sunday and listen to what essentially is a list of rules that they must follow in order to be in the gang. These rules range from behavior codes regarding dress, music, etc., to principles and steps to follow to be a better _______________. The unfortunate thing is that some in those buildings think they are part of the Body because they made a decision and are following the rules, but are deluded. While determining whether someone really belongs to Christ is way above my pay grade, a good look at the fruit shows a problem.

The rules and the principles and steps are like the rules in Tom Sawyer's gang; they do not correspond to reality. What is real is that Jesus has finished it. He has done everything that needed to be done. Christ has accomplished everything we need. When he said, "It is finished," on the cross, he meant it. He has called us to follow him, and has given us everything we need to do that. Christ did not call us to give assent to a set of propositions about him. He did not tell us to follow a set of rules, to get our act together, or to "get right" with him. He called us into relationship with him.

It is true that a relationship with Jesus will bring about changes in our lives. We are a new creation, and we are called to live as people who are different. Those changes that make us different will come about by the Spirit of God in us, not from following a set of rules or steps. We are not only saved without human effort, we also live in the power of the Spirit, not our own power. We can not get any closer to God by our efforts, we can not please God in our own strength. Everything we do must be done by God's power. Tom Sawyer's gang failed because they were trying to be a gang like Tom had read about, but had no ability to do what those gangs did. How many Christians flounder in their lives, and how many congregations are powerless because they are trying to be what they have read about, but are doing it in their own power.

Tom Sawyer's gang was playing at being a gang. I wonder how many of us who claim Christ are playing at following him. What would it look like if churches were made up of people who were fully committed to following Jesus in the power of the Spirit?


Kansas Bob said...

Good stuff Fred. I wonder how many of us try to be part of a gang like the one we read about in the second chapter of Acts. Perhaps there is a more contemporary expression of community than one in another time and another culture?

co_heir said...

Bob, I believe the key is not to so much copy the church in Acts as far as going from to house to house every day. Rather, we should have the same attitude they had, a devotion to Jesus, a devotion to each other (which will include getting together for meals and such), and a devotion to prayer.

Kansas Bob said...

Thx Fred. Love the emphasis on devotion. My concern is holding on to an image that doesn't work and being blinded to new way to experience community. Going house to house may work for some but for those with limited mobility community has to be more than that.

co_heir said...

Bob, you are right. That is a tough situation, and I don't think there is an simple solution. Churches traditionally have not done a very good job serving those with limited mobility, other than going and serving communion once a month or so. That is an area where communities of faith need to step up and realize that those who can't always get out are also important members of the Body of Christ who need community. To keep hammering the point, it takes devotion.

I pray that you can find such a community.

Kansas Bob said...

Thx again Fred! We have actually found a church that we feel comfortable with. When we cannot get out they have a streaming web service ( and when we go they are focused on helping Ann with accessible issues. They also have a small group that we attend that is in an accessible building.

These last four years have been a difficult journey because most "church" venues are not always accessible but we are happy to be in a place where we have some fellowship available to us.

Again, I think that it is getting out of some of the stereotypical church culture stuff and finding different ways to enjoy community.

Thanks so much for the ear!

co_heir said...

Bob, that sounds great!

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