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When I posed that question to my students in Penuel School of Theology in a Pastoral Theology class, I got reactions of varied incredulity. Mildly, from raised eyebrows, dropped jaws to stunned statements like “what kind of question is that”? Surely being saved by grace, sealed by the Spirit and called by the Lord is enough for one to stay (if you’re Arminian) or be kept (if you’re Calvinist) a Christian.
My class was made up of advanced students; many were experienced pastors with years notched in pastoral work. But that precisely was the basis for my asking that question. Their common profile was they entered the faith in their youth, perhaps being active and a leader in church groups even while in high school. Many responded to a call to serve in the ministry in some summer camp on their way to college which, in turn, would lead them to a Bible school to prepare them for ministry (usually pastoral or missionary work). Most have been successful in their work and are now continuing their studies on their way to possibly greater responsibilities.
Most are about to hit mid-life crisis (MLC).
The funny thing about MLC is that Christians filled with the Spirit are supposed to be victorious and triumphant (redundant…) over that malady. Take it from me, after counseling with apparently “victorious and triumphant” pastors, what is revealed is quite the opposite. Except you do not and cannot say that—it is “bad advertising” for the pop Christianity of this day and age.
Many—supported by a big denomination—can opt for a sabbatical or a rest from their labor and regain their vision. Even more, however, does not have that option and have to continue in their hard labor despite their fear and doubts. It is in light of this backdrop that I ask: “why are you still a Christian?”
Consider that many knew no life apart from the Christian community and ministry; many does know any other skill than to be a pastor or a minister. Can they—in their honest doubt—stop what they are doing?
If one, for just an extreme example, come to the point of doubting where he concludes that God, faith and all these are not true—can he actually decide to stop being a Christian? From what I have seen, the answer is no, and it is not because of the spiritual reasons of being saved, sealed and called that has anything to do with it but because of being lost—what would they do if they admit to doubt? What security would they have?
A “chicken and egg” dilemma thus forms: is their livelihood a result of being a Christian or is being a Christian a result of their livelihood. The former is what we take for granted: we are workers in the Vineyard because of our faith. The latter statement is something we have to seriously reflect on: are you a Christian because your livelihood depends on it?
"There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds" (Alfred Lord Tennyson).
I entered the Christian ministry a little late—after I graduated college. It was a result of a series of events related to teaching, psychology and counseling that took me on a journey to seminary where I basically stayed as student, faculty, and administrator (in various guises) for over 20 years. I posed that question in the latter part of my ministry which ended about 2005 which coincidently coincided with terms of duty ending exacerbating whatever MLC I was already encountering.
Various reasons appeared and thus a new call came—to be a photographer. Now, no longer in the “official” Christian ministry, I can now confidently say that I am a Christian because I have been saved by grace, sealed by the Spirit and called by the Lord.