February 7, 2009 / David Fitch

Whoah, That Just Felt Like Christianity!

I was listening to Moody Founder’s week on the radio yesterday morning (I love Moody’s Founder’s week). Francis Chan was speaking and told two stories that I loved.
Story One. Chan talked about a gang member who got saved and then baptized in his church yet disappeared a year later. A leader in the congregation noticed and sought him out and asked “What happened?” He said “I had the wrong idea about what I thought church would be. I thought it would be like family, a different kind of family. See, when I was in the gangs, we hung together, watched each other’s backs, took care of each other, we committed to each other 24-7, not just two meetings a week. When I got here, it was like each one was on his own. There was just no reason for me to be here with these people.” Chan said this broke his heart. The gang was better at being the church than the church was at being the church.

Story Two:  Chan met with the elders over this (I presume). They talked about their commitments to each other. They talked about the ways they were so radically independent of each other and tried so hard to maintain that independence. Each had their own insurance policies to take care of their families if they died. Each sought hard to take care of their own needs and never ask each other for help. They saw in themselves what this gang member saw in the congregaton. And they started to break it down and commit to each other. In the midst of praying they started to make commitments to each other. “I commit to take care of your kids if you die.” “What is mine is yours.” “They opened up their bank accounts.” “They sold their insurance policies gave some money away.” Chan said these commitments were not haphazard that night they prayed. They were commitments out of deep trust in God and that relationship borne out in their relationships one with another.  Chan said they left that meeting that night with a feeling of awe like you read about in Acts – kinda like – “Whoah … that just felt like Christianity.”

I don’t know Chan or his church although I’ve run into him at times. But I commend what I heard in this sermon and I ask a question I’ve asked for many years in the last two church communities I have served: is this kind of commitment to koinania possible in our time?

Forgive me if I go off on this again, but I really do think this is central: Given the ways we are influenced by capitalism and the way we let it reign in so many areas of our lives, is this kind of koinania possible in our times? I get chastised whenever I try to show how capitalism shapes Christians into being pagans. Many of my evangelical friends, automatically assume I am espousing socialism as a social system that is better than capitalism. Sorry, I am not doing that. Instead I am showing how this system shapes us into a spiritual formation that disables us from being Christians. Chan’s illustration of life insurance illustrates my point. Many of us have sat down with an insurance broker and watched him/her outline on an excel sheet how much we will accumulate if we contribute so much. We then hear the words and if we “want to maintain our lifestyle” when we retire we will need some sort of outrageous number of dollars of life insurance. Then this person walks off in disgust if we dare question these “scientific expert” projections. But right there, as we listen, we are all being shaped by the powers to be independent, do not trust anyone else, and be responsible, and maintain a lifestyle you never needed in the first place. This in turns shuts us off from one another, and keeps us working harder and longer and keeping more of our money so we can pay these insurance premiums. We lose our capacity to be dependent upon one another and to give time and money to His Mission. This is one good example of how capitalism shapes and forms our lives into being pagans.

I have no desire to get rid of all insurance (I still recommend car insurance). Our church requires health insurance of some kind to work at our church although there are Christian coop’s now that embody the idea of sharing our medical burdens much better than insurance companies (who got the idea from Christian coop’s in the first place). I do wonder however if we can ever come together in these incredible ways (hinted at by Chan’s sermon) to find the blessings that come in koinania. Or has capitalism done us in. Better yet, perhaps now that capitalism as we once knew it is unraveling, these days might be coming sooner than we think.

Blessings, and if you want to listen to Chan at Moody, here’s the link.