Fr. Randy Dollins: Armchair Christians
September 5, 2008
9.475? Are you kidding me? She was robbed! If you are like me, for two weeks in August, you became an “Armchair Olympic Judge.” Over the past four years, none of us has watched any gymnastics or diving, and yet, with a few hours of viewing the games and listening to NBC’s commentators, we feel completely qualified to dispute the scores given to athletes. We are casual critics who lack real experience. We are Americans and being presumptuous is in our blood. Whether it is watching sports, listening to our doctors, finishing our homework or even practicing our religion, on our own authority, we just know better.
I have had my share of encounters with “Armchair Christians,” i.e., people who believe in Jesus Christ, try to follow his teachings, read the Bible and call themselves Christian, yet do not belong to or attend a church. I said, encounters, but I really meant run-ins. You see, I usually confront these people about their situation. Christianity never has existed outside of a community. Jesus founded the church in the midst of a living community. The books of the Bible, although they contain a message for all Christians, were written for specific communities, and the Bible was compiled within the living tradition of a community. Christianity always has been about church community and never about lone rangers.
Someone who believes he or she is doing just fine as a Christian but does not belong to a church where one can engage in liturgy/worship, fellowship and works of charity has been sold a cheap lie by the master of deceit himself, i.e., Satan. Being Christian is not an activity one can engage in vicariously. A teenage boy who plays a WWII video game is not really a soldier, and an armchair Bible believer who never goes to church is not really a Christian.
A big problem that plagues the “armchair” world is authority. While I may feel very justified in arguing with Mike Shanahan – through my TV – about his play selection, nothing in my resume gives any real weight to my criticism. The same thing is true with religion. Once people removes themselves from the living community of a Church and decide to guide their own Christian journey, by what authority are they taking action? Or more importantly, by what authority will they discern the good or evil of future decisions? Too often, when left to our own devices, we are able to justify just about anything we really want to do.
Living within a Christian community, a person can trust in the authority of his or her church and also in the charity of its members. It is a lot harder to justify sin when a loving community starts to ask questions about your choices. If you want to be a real Christian, find a church whose authority you are willing to assent to, and start going.
When you become part of a community, you stop being the only judge of your actions. While it will become harder to score a perfect 10, rest assured, your fellow Christians will help you to attain the ultimate gold medal – eternity in heaven.
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Fr. Randy Dollins is the
pastor of St. Michael Catholic Church in Craig.