One of the things my older two kids (17 and 15 yrs.) sometimes say they don’t like about going to youth groups and Christian camps is that they get re-evangelized over and over again. “There isn’t much for those who already believe,” they comment. They tell me, “Okay, so I’ve heard the four spiritual laws. I’m a believer. Now help me grow. Do I have to go??”
Of course that is not always the case and I am not making reference to any ministry in particular. But, it is the case often enough to render them bored stiff on more occasions than I would like to admit. They end up going to “Church” for growth in socialization and not for growth in Christ-likeness. (Now, parenthetically, let me share that my daughter has finally found a youth group where she says, “they are really teaching me something.” So, it is not all bad news)
Then, there are the kids who have grown up in the faith of their parents but it is not THEIR faith. It was parroted back, obediently, to their parents. They told their parents what they desired to hear until they left home and then…. Watch out!! They exploded and burnt out. They became disenfranchised toward the faith. It took years for them to come back around to Christ and find a way of living “the Way” with integrity.
Am I overstating it in both cases? To be sure… But, it is for the purpose of making a point.
I use those stories to point out a syndrome that is not just true for kids but true for adults as well. I have many people to say to me, “I have come to the end of my tradition’s offering of growth. Isn’t there anything more?! I want to go deeper. I want steak, I’m tired of oatmeal.”
That syndrome could be termed “the dumpster syndrome.” Let me explain.
A person enters the front door of the Church through Holy Baptism or saying the “sinner’s prayer.” They get all excited about their faith and begin to open doors of growth deeper and deeper into the heart of the denomination’s tradition and therefore into relationship with Christ Jesus. All is well for a while. Then, one day, with expectancy and excitement they come to a door. They joyfully expect to open it and enter into even greater depth in Christ Jesus. When they open it they are shocked to find that they have exited out the back door of the denomination’s tradition into the back parking lot next to the dumpster! Now what?! Go back?! Settle for the last room they were in?!
As Peggy Lee sang, they wonder “Is that all there is?” Surely, this cannot be the extent of the Good News – being re-evangelized over and over again or helping to evangelize or re-evangelize others over and over again. What about growth? Is evangelizing others the same thing as growth in maturity? Are they interchangeable? Aren’t there anymore doors to open that lead deeper and deeper into the life which is union with the living Christ Jesus and bear the fruit of legitimate evangelization? Is re-evangelizing the believer what “making disciples” means?
Now there are all kinds of ways to end up at the dumpster. Some are not the Church’s fault. I get that…
But nonetheless, it is true. It is true more and more these days.
I tend to hang out at the dumpster. There are a lot of amazing people hanging out bewildered and confused and yet still yearning for Christ-likeness. There are also some pretty fantastic people who hang out there for the sake of those who have found themselves at the dumpster – the dumpster community.
The dumpster, to mix my metaphors, is a crossroads. Folks have come to the crossroads – the dumpster – and are asking for directions to the ancient path. Are you walking in the ancient way? Can you give them directions?
I came across a quote from Origen regarding the importance of not just “rehashing” the same “altar call” for those who have already come to the faith.
First, I share a couple of passages of Scripture and then Origen’s reflection on the real danger of leading people to the “dumpster.”
Hebrews 5.8—6.12  Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered;  and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,  being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchiz’edek.  About this we have much to say which is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need some one to teach you again the first principles of God’s word. You need milk, not solid food;  for every one who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a child.  But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.  Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,  with instruction about ablutions, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.  And this we will do if God permits.  For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit,  and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,  if they then commit apostasy, since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt.  For land which has drunk the rain that often falls upon it, and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God.  But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed; its end is to be burned.  Though we speak thus, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things that belong to salvation.  For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love which you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do.  And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope until the end,  so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
Ephesians 4.11-16  And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ;  so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.
2 Timothy 2.1-15  You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus,  and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.  Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him.  An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.  It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.  Think over what I say, for the Lord will grant you understanding in everything.  Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descended from David, as preached in my gospel,  the gospel for which I am suffering and wearing fetters like a criminal. But the word of God is not fettered.  Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus with its eternal glory.  The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him;  if we endure, we shall also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us;  if we are faithless, he remains faithful– for he cannot deny himself.  Remind them of this, and charge them before the Lord to avoid disputing about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.  Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
Origen’s Reflection: “It is not the same thing to call men who are sick in their souls to be cured, as it is to call healthy men to a knowledge and understanding of deeper spiritual truths. We take account of both of these. At the beginning, when we call men to be cured, we encourage sinners to come and hear words which teach them not to sin; the unwise are taught to hear words which will implant in them understanding, children are taught to advance towards a manly character, and those who are in a wretched state are led to happiness, or, to use a more appropriate word, to blessedness. But when some of those who have been thus encouraged make progress and show that they have been purified by the Logos, and do all in their power to live better lives, then we call them to our mysteries. For we speak wisdom among the perfect.
As we teach that, into a malicious soul wisdom shall not enter, nor dwell in the body that is subject to sin, we say: Let anyone come to us who has pure hands and so lifts up holy hands to God; anyone who, because he offers sublime and heavenly sacrifices, can say, The lifting up of my hands is an evening sacrifice; anyone who has a wise tongue because he studies the Law of the Lord day and night, and has his senses exercised to discern good and evil. Such a man should not
fear to go on to solid, rational food, which is suited to athletes of piety and every virtue. And since the grace of God is with all who love the teacher of the doctrines of immortality, let anyone who is pure not only from all defilement, but also from what are regarded as minor sins, be boldly initiated into the mysteries of the religion of Jesus which are delivered only to the holy and pure.
Celsus’ priest says: Anyone whose soul knows nothing of evil, let him come. But according to Jesus’ teaching the one who leads to God initiates who have been purified in soul will say: Anyone whose soul has for a long time known nothing of evil, and especially since he came to be healed by the Logos, let him hear even those doctrines which were privately revealed by Jesus to his genuine disciples. Accordingly, in his contrast between the exhortations of those who initiate men among the Greeks and those who teach the doctrines of Jesus, he does not know the difference between calling bad men to be cured and calling those already pure to more mystical doctrines.
It is not, therefore, to mysteries and to share in wisdom hidden in a mystery which God foreordained before the ages to the glory of his saints that we call the dishonest man, the thief, the burglar, the poisoner, the grave-robber, and any others whom Celsus might name for rhetorical effect, but it is for healing. There are some characteristics in the divine nature of the Logos which help to cure those who are sick, of whom the Logos says: They who are strong need no physician, but they who are sick. But there are other characteristics of the Logos which show to those who are pure in soul and body, the revelation of the mystery which has been kept in silence through times eternal, but is now manifested, both by the prophetic scriptures and by the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ; this is made clear to each one of the perfect, and illuminates the mind so that it grasps the true knowledge of reality. (Origen, Contra Celsum III” 59-61; tr. Chadwick (1953).)
Let’s strive with all diligence to offer folks of all ages who we have taught to desire to walk through door after door, deeper and deeper into Christ Jesus, the Living Holy Tradition that was designed by the Holy Spirit for exactly that purpose. There is a way that doesn’t lead to the dumpster – “the ancient way,” and we need to walk in it. We need to not only walk in it ourselves but invite others at the dumpster/crossroads to join us “on the Living Way.”
“Thus saith the LORD, ‘Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.’” (KJV)
“Thus says the Lord: ‘Stand by the roads and look; and ask for the eternal paths, where the good, old way is; then walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’” (Amplified Bible)
“Thus says the LORD, ‘Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls.’” (NASB)
“Go stand at the crossroads and look around. Ask for directions to the old road, the tried and true road. Then take it. Discover the right route for your souls.” (The Message)