A few years ago, I preached a sermon with this title. Lately, I have been thinking more about this. I have been reading a lot of blogs discussing what is wrong with the modern church and what we can do to fix it, and I think one of the problems that is the most troubling is the phenomena of inoculated Christians. Let me explain what I mean by the term so we have something to work with. The type of inoculation I am speaking of is a reference to the process of “immunizing” against a more serious threat. The dictionary definition is something like this: to introduce immunologically active material (as an antibody or antigen) into especially in order to treat or prevent a disease <inoculate children against diphtheria>. I can hear people already asking if I think Christianity is a disease, and I am not suggesting that it is, but the analogy is very appropriate. In many churches today, a weakened form of Christianity is being taught and preached and lived. It is a Christian message and life that is devoid of power and effectiveness. Those exposed to the message become more resistant to the full blown message of Christ, and in most cases feel that they have already “done that” so to speak. Many of them will never develop a “life-threatening” case of Christianity. They will never feel that they actually have to do all of those things that Jesus said. Jesus said that we must deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Him. This is a radical message and if we truly believe it, there is no way that most of us would have lives that are as normal as they are. What does this have to do with the problems in churches? It is very simple. If most of our church congregations are inoculated Christians, then they are not Christians at all. They have a form of Christianity, but not the power. Actually, I think that I read that in the Bible somewhere, perhaps 2 Timothy 3:1-5
1But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.
If you look at this list, you see a host of conditions that cause nothing but problems. Face the facts. When Rick Warren starts off his big bestseller with a first chapter that simply reminds folks that the world doesn’t revolve around them and that becomes a real revelation for people, we are in serious trouble. We have already hit the lovers of themselves category that Paul warned about and most of the others follow quite naturally. But that last statement goes to the heart of what this post is about. Modern Christianity is often about everything but the “real deal”. We can go to long lengths to package and market Jesus and the Christian life and never touch the power and reality of being a follower of Jesus. We can focus-group the community and find out how to meet their “felt needs” and we can meet those needs without ever telling them that they have sinned and fallen short of God’s standard. We can convince people that coming to church and getting involved in the programs we have or the services we offer are the right thing to do, and never bother with that troublesome act of submitting our live to Jesus. We can spend all of our time crusading for our favorite issue in Christendom or theology or Bible scholarship, and never worry about leaving everything that we cherish and love at the feet of Jesus.
I won’t say that Baptists are the most effective practitioners of this inoculation to Christianity, as I can only speak to what I know. Too many years of telling people that they just need to pray a prayer and walk the aisle and be baptized (in roughly that order) and not challenging people to instead give their lives to Jesus Christ completely have taken their toll. Other churches inoculate by different methods. Some say that you just have to show up every time you are required to be there and do what they say and all is well. Some say that you have to be active in ministry or service of some kind and that will do the trick. Some say that you have to display some sort of “spiritual gift” to know you are truly “infected”. None of this fits what Jesus said to those who would follow Him. He said, “The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.” -John 12:25-26 And this isn’t some isolated command. Everywhere you see Jesus talk about being His disciple, you see admonitions to count the cost, deny yourself, and take up your cross. This is the language of Christianity that many are uncomfortable with. This isn’t permission to find your calling and gifting and pursue it.This is a call to find your life by losing it.
I would hazard a guess that public speaking wasn’t one of Peter’s better skills, but he is the one we see delivering the first big gospel message at Pentecost. He did it because he was obedient and had given his all to follow Christ. If we want to see real change in ourselves and in our churches, we need to stop working with a dead or weakened strain of faith and Christianity. We need to allow the full-blown version to infiltrate us and consume us. When it does, we won’t have to guess if we know Jesus. We will know that we know Him. (1 John 2:3-6)