Is it possible to retire from the Christian faith? Can you get to a point where you know that you know enough? Can you even get to a stage where participation in the life of the church is no longer necessary?
Now the reason that I ask that, is because those questions define a contemporary problem within the life of the church. The problem of the church in a state of decline. And one of the reasons that has occurred, is because people stop learning, people think that they know enough, and as a consequence for many people, going to church ceases to have any relevance.
Of course, complicating all this, is the issue of the modern life cycle. Because life, these days, is often considered in terms of cycles. There’s our birth and early years. That is then followed up by a period of growing up and learning. Then there’s our adult life and the everyday experiences where we grow in knowledge and experience. And after that is retirement.
And depending where you are on the life cycle, will invariably reflect your attitude to life. So, for example, those in the growing cycle don’t always consider the implications of their actions for the future. So they can take great risks without considering the consequences. On the other hand, those in the retirement cycle can often look longingly at the past, and in doing so gloss over many of the negative things that have occurred.
The advantage of thinking in terms of a life cycle, however, is that it makes it easier to put things into perspective. Unfortunately, it can also colour our thinking, with the danger of excluding the things that are really important.
As a consequence, the young may not always be ready to face the realities and responsibilities of life, let alone the Christian faith. And, those in the retirement cycle, may end up retiring from more than just paid work.
So, having said that, is retirement from the faith really an option?
Well not according to the Apostle Paul, for the Apostle Paul argues the exact opposite. Indeed, Paul argues that the most important thing in life, is for us to get our relationship with God right. Furthermore, he states, that as far as God is concerned, the most important thing is for us to have a good and healthy relationship with him. God wants us to pursue a good and healthy relationship with him.
And how we do that? Well there are some clues in the reading from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. A letter Paul wrote to a group of people who were Christians and who were actively involved in the church at Philippi. Indeed, more than just involved in the local area, they were considered partners with Paul on his missionary journeys. In other words they were heavily involved in the Christian faith (which included church life). And this is what Paul said to them.
Firstly, he thanked them for their faith and participation as a church in the life of mission. He then encouraged them to continue the mission work—even after he had died. Not just for a few years, then, but until Christ came again. In addition, he encouraged them all (without exception) to become much more deeply involved in the faith and in their relationship with God.
As far as Paul was concerned, faith wasn’t something where you could reach a particular point and that was it. It wasn’t something that you could pursue, but only so far. It wasn’t even something you could pursue outside of the church, outside of the community of faith. Rather, it was something that had to be worked at and pursued no matter where one was in the Christian faith. Indeed, there was always more to learn, and a deeper relationship with God to pursue. Faith and commitment to God’s church for Paul were inseparable, and not something you could retire from at all.
So, as you can see, Paul’s attitude and teaching are in stark contrast to the attitudes of many people today. For many people today get to a certain stage in their Christian journey and then that’s it. It’s like there’s no need for any further effort. And, sadly, it is those kinds of people who tend to fall away. In contrast, the biblical reality is that there is no such thing as retirement from the Christian faith. On the contrary, the Bible expresses the need for people to be spurred on, and to pursue an even richer and deeper relationship with God.
Paul taught there is always much more that we can do. Indeed, each time we reach one step, there is always another step we can take. There is no retirement from the Christian faith. And there is no retirement from a commitment to God’s church. That’s how God works.
Fortunately for us, he usually asks us to take only one step at a time.
Posted: 28th September 2018
© 2018, Brian A Curtis