Blog - Supporting Believers
Part-Time Christians?Saturday, June 15, 2013
Earlier this month Roy Costner IV, valedictorian of the 2013 class of Liberty High School (in Pickens County, SC), stunned his audience. He ripped up his prepared speech in front of them and recited the Lord’s Prayer instead. A few days later on CNN, Piers Morgan interviewed the graduate’s father, Roy Costner III.
"Religion is slowly going out of fashion in America,” Morgan said. "I mean there are far less churchgoers today than there were 25 years ago.” Then he asked Costner: "What do you make of that?” In his response to Morgan’s question, Costner said, "In today’s world, I think there are a lot of Christians who are part-time Christians.”
His description, "part-time Christians,” reminded me of the formative nature of words. God’s words, of course, are infinitely powerful. When God spoke, his words called all of Creation into being. But because God created us in his likeness, our words—on a far lower scale—also have great power to create or to destroy.
If Costner is right, if a lot of us are "part-time Christians,” is it possible that some of our unbiblical but often-repeated vocabulary has helped to bring that about? I’m thinking, specifically, of that phrase so common in Christian circles, "full-time Christian service.”
Take, for example, "What Does the Bible Say?”—an article in a current website. In it, the author describes three calls. Call one—to salvation in Christ. Call two—to sanctification. And call three? "The Call to Full-time Christian Service. The greatest honor that can come to any person is to be set aside by the Holy Spirit to serve Jesus Christ with all of his life. These people are identified as those who are in the professional ministry.”
Words are slippery. They often communicate far more than their face value. The phrase, "full-time Christian service” implies that there must be other options for serving God. Are those without that third "call” left with "part-time service”? Are they stuck with "spare-time service”—serving God off-and-on, evenings and weekends? If so, it should come as no surprise if many turn into "part-time Christians.”
But, of course, the Bible never uses the phrase, "full-time Christian service.” When Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth, he addressed them all—not just a handful of leaders. His instructions to them, a group that undoubtedly included a number of slaves, were: "Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord” (I Cor.15:58). The words "always” and "fully” leave little doubt he expected all the believers to serve the Lord and to do so full time.
This habit of drawing a dividing line between Christians based on the way they serve began long ago. Eusebius of Caesarea, a fourth-century church leader, wrote about the "perfect life” (clergy) and the "permitted life” (everybody else). He spoke of believers in non-church-related occupations as having "a kind of secondary grade piety.”
Jesus spent most of his adult life on earth as a carpenter. Was he in "full-time service” for God? Paul preached and made tents. Did he toggle back and forth between full-time and spare-time service? All Christians are members of Christ’s body. Would you care to have a part-time liver? Or a lung that works only on its off-hours?
Suppose we were to abandon the phrase "full-time Christian service.” What wording might we use instead to get across the truth that, in spite of our diversity in work, all are called to serve God full time? We might say, for example, that some serve mainly with the Word and that others serve mainly through their work. (Mainly, not exclusively in either case.) The New Testament recognizes both Word and work (deed) as vital in the overall service of the body of Christ.
One of the first roles God assigned to Adam was naming the animals. Naming has such life-shaping force we must exercise it with great care. To attach the "full-time service” name to some believers and deny it to others does not meet the truth-test of Scripture. As some of us heard our mothers say: "Let’s watch our language!”