I would be repulsed by both Experience Jesus then Behave Yourself Evangelicalism and Fulfill Your Obligations, Do Some Good Deeds on the Side, and leave Serious Religion to the Professionals Roman Catholicism. Only the more severe and other-worldly manifestations of the Faith would seem to approach the genuine: the farthest thing from my understanding as biblical Christianity (and yes, my secular self would have read the New Testament carefully) would be the domesticated form in which Christians lived in the world, owned property, raised families, and “went to church.” This form of religion, best sustained by an attitude denominated “conservative,” would seem to me of a single kind with that denominated “liberal,” for both are so invested in the World, one in its body and the other in its mind, that they are equally willing to think and act toward Christ as Judas did. Kierkegaard and Simon Stylites and Mother Teresa and Nate Saint and the Amish I could understand as Christian; Harry Emerson Fosdick, Bishop Spong, and the megachurch, Catholic or Protestant, I would not. (That the Spirit of Megachurch is either new or distinctively Protestant, I doubt.)
These thoughts came in the context of a recent trip in which I had opportunity to meditate upon how churches present themselves in the attempt to seek the membership that sustains and enlarges them–and no doubt also to convert souls. They have the strong tendency to leave something out. How foreign to their customary operation, that is, of offering enjoyment of some kind as the chief benefit of joining, is the relief for the soul burdened by sin and confusion and worldliness implied by the invitation to come to this place and die, which is the first necessity for being born again. How many churches are filled by “take my yoke upon you and learn from me,” and “sell all you have and give to the poor and you shall have treasure in heaven, and come, follow me,” or, instead of giving them for charity’s sake things to sustain their bodies (thus doing good deeds for their own advantage), chiefly offer them the water that springs up to life eternal and which if given they will never thirst–this being the evangelical kindness from which all the others come?
Do these churches and their pastors understand, whatever the form of life given after this death, that what the man burdened by life seeks, under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, is death to himself and the morbid accretions of the world that cling to him, and that this is the first thing the Church offers him in its baptism? Instead we offer him (usually incompetently, and often risibly) pleasures and palliatives in accordance with the tastes and opinions and philosophies and desires that have already led him to despair, abandoning the serious pilgrim to the tender mercies of cultic thieves who, instead of offering him the infinite treasure of eternal life in Christ, will beat him and strip him bare.
The Church must seek only those upon whom the guiding hand of God already rests, and it must be careful to offer him what the Lord offers him, no more and no less. The only way it can enlarge its borders, to enrich itself as the Church and not as something else, is to enter the kind of death it offers to others, a baptism in which it dies to itself–which means the full willingness to sacrifice its institutional body for the life of its soul, and to see then what the resurrected Lord will do with the dead thing that has expired in his hand.