He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:6)

Except for politicians, I tend to expect at least a minimum competence from practitioners. I want my dentist to know a molar from a bicuspid. I would like the short-order cook to have some knowledge of both hamburgers and hygiene. I demand that my barista know what extra hot means. I would hope my local fireman was acquainted with the fundamentals of the hose and hydrant.

My expectations for expertise go up with the importance of the job. I want my local cop to be able to shoot straight. If I need surgery, I think it’s reasonable to expect that the doctors have more medical training than just from playing Hasbro’s Operation. When I climb on a plane, I would like to believe that my pilot knows what all those knobs on the console are for and how not to overshoot the next airport by 150 miles. And when it’s a matter of my life and death, I want the responsible parties to be bona fide, qualified, identified, certified, and verified.

So when it comes to matters of eternal destiny, I’m thinking the standards of competence for practitioners should be freaking sky high. I’m thinking that those entrusted with implementing the divine New Deal should have impeccable credentials. I’m thinking these folks ought to be experts in all things God. I’m thinking that the official spokespeople for Holiness Incorporated should at least look like they have their acts together.

Yeah, that’s what I’m thinking. But apparently God has a different definition of competence than I do. Apparently, his idea of competence has nothing to do with actual job performance. If it did, I’m guessing most Christians would be unemployed. Obviously I’m missing something here.

Let’s see if I can figure this out. He has made us competent. If I’m reading this right, it’s God who bestows—no, bestowed (past tense) competency, which means one of two things: either 1) Christians are competent but mostly incompetent about being competent, or 2) God’s standards are really really really low. In the first case, God get credit for getting us the job but has to deal with dismal performance records. This option has the benefit of keeping God the good guy but makes me wonder about his hiring practices. It’s like electing some proven idiot to Congress and hoping for the best. Okay, maybe that’s not a good example.

The second option has a better ying/yang balance, but makes the job seem sort of lame. If God makes Christians competent by mere edict, then their performance doesn’t matter at all. This is a good thing for Christianity as we know it. If there are no real job requirements, then we are more than competent. In fact, from what I can see, we excel at the zero requirement thing. Barney Fife was a great deputy as long as he didn’t have to do any real law enforcement; being the sheriff’s cousin was good enough. The downside is that a job with few real responsibilities and a low competency threshold is probably a crappy job. Ask any United States Vice President. If Christianity requires little in the way of post-salvation aptitude, then, as a religion, it’s akin to the guys on the curb with cardboard signs reading “Anything helps. God bless.” They may pick up a few bucks by the end of the day, but who the heck would want to be one of them? I imagine that evangelists for the hobo way of life have limited success.

The only other thing I can think of is that if we’re in the spirit of things then the details don’t really matter. Maybe God only requires us to be cheerleaders or like that gung-ho dude at the office everybody secretly hates. Maybe competency is merely a matter of proper esprit de corps. Maybe it really is the thought that counts.

Whoa. If that’s the case, I’m so in trouble.


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