I don't know if the local McDonald's is run as a franchise or not, but if it were, I imagine it might work something like this...at a distant corporate headquarters, led by a CEO and board of directors, vision and values are set for the multinational organization. Certain standards of product quality are determined and a manual of operations is designed to guide local branches in delivering such consistency worldwide. Individual managers of local franchises are required to govern their operations by the manual. Diligent application of the manual's principles and practices is expected; and successful completion of these will lead to customer satisfaction and a profitable enterprise--not to mention positive performance evaluations and pay raises. It is assumed that faithful application of company principles will stand the manager (and employees) in good stead, especially should the CEO or board members pay them a surprise visit! Regular communication with company executives--mostly through email--is expected and meant to insure close connection and quality control. To date, no personal, on-site visits by higher-ups have occurred. But you never know. Best be diligent...and ever vigilant.
From time to time, as I've reflected on my Christian life, I've wondered if I run it much like the franchise manager of a McDonald's. I take a sober approach to Christian company policy; I try to live my life in line with the corporate manual. I try to stay in touch with headquarters by communicating prayerfully. But at the end of the day, to be honest, I wonder if I'm pretty much running things on my own--consciously or unconsciously operating at a distance from the CEO. He's more than likely too busy to show up at my franchise. But I'll try to keep things decent and in order, just in case. My job is to be diligent and dedicated, disciplined and dutiful, assiduously preparing for the annual review and ready, just in case, the CEO might show up.
What's wrong with this picture? Well, many things! First of all, it's a portrait of barren religion, concerned with practices and policies set by a distant leader. It focuses much too much on my performance--and frankly, my autonomy. Granted, these are meant to be aligned with company policy; however, in this approach, there's little dynamism, little warmth, and too little loving relationship.
Set in stark contrast is biblical Christianity in which, miracle of miracles, God in Jesus Christ promises to indwell, inhabit, and share life with, in the most intimate way possible, those who trust in him. To put it in our analogy above, the CEO becomes our most cherished friend who lives within us moment by moment, sharing our lives and directing our activities. The new life and its practices come not by our diligent application of company policies set in some manual; rather, they flow from a love for the friend who lives within, the friend who is also our Lord and God. And the interesting thing is that the life we live as a result, aligns perfectly with the policies we read about earlier!
Christianity as franchise operation is barren religion, an insipid substitute for the dynamic vital union with God given in Jesus Christ. God grant us the grace to avoid this all too common fast food!