I am irritated. Irritated at myself. Irritated at Christians. Irritated at “the church.” And it has been a growing frustration.
Where are the Christ followers? How often can I call myself one?
I don’t usually start a post with such a sort of blatant negative tone but you have to understand this whole dilemma has been burning on me for some time now. And who knows where this will go. Most of my writing starts because I need to find the way out of whatever is taking up my mental space. This is the big one. And perhaps the solution is always the most obvious one but I need this.
To paint a picture: Over the last several years I like many others have become a great fan of the music of Mumford & Sons. Aside from the occasional F-bomb a vast amount of the lyrics are seemingly very Christian. And I played into the sort of arrogant Christian trait where a celebrity talks about Christ and we all go YEE-HAW! Someone famous in our camp out there preaching the good news and I just leave it at that without knowing anything about their story or what it is they actually believe.
About a year ago Rolling Stone published a cover story on the Band and finally asked this question. Marcus Mumford’s parents lead one of the largest evangelical churches in England so he is quite familiar with the comings and goings of Christ. But the question asked was “Do you still consider yourself a Christian?” This was his reply:
“I don’t really like that word,” he says. “It comes with so much baggage. So, no, I wouldn’t call myself a Christian. I think the word just conjures up all these religious images that I don’t really like. I have my personal views about the person of Jesus and who he was….I’ve kind of separated myself from the culture of Christianity.” His spiritual journey is a “work in progress,” but he’s clear on one thing: He’s never doubted the existence of God.”
Rollingstone, Brian Hiatt
Has it come to that? God believing, Christ loving people, don’t even want to be associated with the word Christian because of the ugly things it conjures up?
It’s a fairly popular stance. Being a college student I hear it all the time. And maybe it is just a sign of the youth in our culture today but IT IS present and IT IS something to worry about because the word Christian for many is a near equivalent to the word Christ.
It’s not a word Christ put out there and it’s not a word “Christians” put out there. Yet it has come to define us. And most believers accept it as a title. It’s a bit of an easy word to take on really. I believe in Jesus: therefore I am a Christian. It’s actually quite as simple as that these days. A Christian is someone who believes in Jesus Christ.
Every year we spend BILLIONS of dollars trying to get more people to own this title. We make BIGGER buildings to fit all these people who take on this title. We send child and child and child to camp just to get that affirmation that they agree with the news we have been spilling and then we leave them be. We got them where we wanted. Now let’s go and repeat this cycle. Say your prayer and go figure the rest out.
So let’s get going with a very important bullet point.
Christ did not call us to make Christians.
Christ called us to make disciples.
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
What was the job of these disciples? To go and make more and to teach the more to obey EVERYTHING God commanded.
Cut to 2000 years of that process and today this is what things have become: It is exclusively the PASTORS job to do this. “Nah…I’m not going to teach others I’ll just invite them to my church and I’ll let my pastor do all the work.”
Friends. That AIN’T the call.
So now to drive everyone crazy I’m shifting this to the people who ARE living out this call.
I have met a variety of Christian personalities with a variety of well…different beliefs.
I’ve met the hell-fire and brimstone disciples. I’ve met the God is Love disciples. I’ve met the Calvinist. I’ve met the Arminians. I’ve met the let’s baptize children and I’ve met the YOU BETTER NOT. I’ve met the theology on tap disciples and the alcohol is poison disciples. I’ve met the same-sex marriage opposers and the same-sex marriage supporters. I’ve met the conservative and I’ve met the liberal and all of these people will tell you they are followers of their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
I’m laughing about this and banging my head all at the same time. The truth is from my point of view it is something I both love and detest about Christianity. I LOVE that I can read the scriptures and see things a certain way and that someone can bring something completely different or almost opposite out of it. And you know what I also can’t stand it. I mean dadgum I wish sometimes it was just THIS IS IT. Theology is certainly not a clear-cut thing in today’s day and age and well really since the pen hit the page. I sit back some days and think well dang why don’t we all just be Catholic. (I’m not Catholic by the way.)
Whenever I really sit and think about the abundance of denominations I think there is NO WAY this is what Christ intended. His message for the church was unity.
Paul never shut up about this word unity. He was constantly writing about it.
Paul addressed what the church has become today. You know what he said….DON’T DO IT.
I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. -1 Corinthians 1:10
Where has this unity gone?
It’s a heart breaking thing. I mean it. Absolutely heartbreaking.
There are two types of division in the church today (I mean there’s more but for the sake of topic TWO) There is the literal division Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Anglican, Episcopalian etc. And there is the theological division which is what ultimately led to this “literal division.” To name the most recent example that I myself have experienced:
I was raised Episcopalian. Several years ago the Episcopal church ordained a gay bishop. A man openly living a homosexual lifestyle. Outrage grew from within and ultimately a huge portion of congregation and pastors left the church, many joined the Anglican church. In essence it was decided that the denomination as a whole had left biblical grounding and were allowing sin to disgrace the church.
We are right they are wrong.
I use this example because well it hits close to home for me as in many ways I do believe we should cut ourselves off from sin. And that I sided with this split. To not delve too deeply in my biblical understandings it made sense to me.
When I read many of Paul’s letters it was him correcting the straying of the church. Usually when their life styles were straying away from the gospel or when the church was taking on practices he taught against. “YOU FOOLISH GALATIANS!” Paul sent most of these letters to reconcile straying in the church. And used very clear language that if you taught anything other than the Gospel- let that person be under a curse! Now I know that there was much dialogue and hard conversations during the split of this church but when I think of things going all the way back to the protestant reformation it was always my perspective is more biblically grounded than yours so I’m going over here to start the right way to follow Christ and so on and so forth. It starts with big issues and then starts to become very gray issues. You baptize children!? We want nothing to do with you! You support same-sex marriage!? Then you are not a Christian or well one day you will understand things as I have.
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
We’ve got some pretty big waves don’t we?
So the question that must be asked is where do we begin.
There are so many different answers to this question but I’m going to give mine because if you made it this far you have been listening to my opinion for a long enough time to deserve a response hahaha.
I’ll ask this question then in another way.
Where can we find unity in the diversity of the church today?
Let’s start with the bold.
One God. One body. One Church. One ministry.
There is one God and Father of all who is OVER all and THROUGH all and IN ALL.
When you truly take on the fact that God is in all it makes you see things differently. See PEOPLE differently every negative action you take against something or someone is literally a negative action against God. It makes this “whatever you have done for them you have done for me” imagery much clearer. It adds to the Greatest commandment “and the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.” God is the unity of ALL THINGS. And let’s talk about these other gods we as Christians worship. When we preach Hell as our main message Hell becomes a God. Same with Heaven. We can make gods out of the issues we so passionately support. Or a teaching we have chosen to affirm despite maybe seeing things that go against it. One God. Unity of All things.
Every “member of Christ” has its own function. Every disciple of God has been created to do good works that God prepared in advance for them to do. In the midst of all of this diversity even the people you disagree with have been given a purpose. I think of Gamaliel in Acts 5:33-40. In an argument on whether or not to kill the disciples and stop their ministry he says this: “Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” Isaiah 55:11 states: “so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but it will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” God’s word when spoken goes out and achieves what it meant to achieve. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. from wherever the word comes from. Let that sink in.
To give life to this Paul when he is in prison he hears word of people stirring things up outside of his jail cell he writes this in Philippians 1:
15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.”
Christ is preached and I rejoice because he knows it is the life to all people who are being saved and death to all who reject it.
Every single member whether you like it or not. Argue with it or not. Criticize it or not has its function. You may find yourself fighting against God.
This mirrors the previous point as we often forget the church is not a building it is the body of Christ. The buildings hold a variety of people. The church holds the disciples of God. Do not let the multitude of denominations change the fact that we are one church. In God there is no Baptist or Methodist. No Greek Orthodox or Catholic. No Anglican or Episcopalian. There are his disciples. They are called to gather and learn and most importantly GO OUT. Teaching others. Living out the faith. Live in community with each other. A church without community is no church at all. Even if they have 10,000 in attendance every Sunday. Because church is the community of believers. It is Christ’s bride.
How much does this bride love her groom?
Does this bride even enjoy being with her groom or does she think her relationship is strong by spending an hour with him a week….if that?
What kind of married couple spends one hour a week together? Marriage is two have become one. Church is not about how pretty your building is. How many people show up. How good the service was. If you connected with the message or not. Or if you like that speaker better. It is about worshiping your groom. Give him your loudest joyful praise. Listen to his every word. And share as we disciples are called to do.
Here is one that personally is always stepping on me. There are multiple types of ministries. Many different services. Campus ministries, Youth Groups, Overseas, Third World countries, Revival gatherings, Small groups, Organizations and yet so many of them feel like their’s is the most important.
I work for parachurch organization. We focus on living life with teenagers and sharing the message of Christ and encouraging in the walk towards Him. We primarily work to introduce kids to Christ who in many ways would not step in to a church building. We are non-denominational. Which means we aren’t backed by a church. We meet in kids homes and throw these crazy ridiculous clubs with a gospel lesson at the end that teaches and tells of Christ. I have often run in to criticism from Pastors about how kid’s are always coming to our events and not coming to theirs. As if they are telling a different story. It seriously drives me crazy. I’ve honestly received the impression that certain churches don’t like our……MINISTRY. This is not to move past the fact that many churches support us and love the work being done but still. There are many groups who would much rather you come to their events because they think they do it better instead of oh my gosh that kid is going somewhere to hear about Christ! Rejoice! My reply is the church is a place where…Christians go.
When we criticize a ministry that is going out and telling people about Christ we are speaking falsely against the work of the Holy Spirit. There’s a word for that. Why would we ever try to get in the way of that? Or be upset about it? It is ONE ministry. Not mine and yours, his or hers, but God’s. One. It’s not a their’s is better type of thing. It’s a God is finding that person there. He is using these members of the body there. To do that. and there are MANY members but ONE body. One Hope. One Ministry.
“There are different kinds of services but one Lord.”
So to end with a another bullet. And this is the point I believe is revolving around it all. We will call this point:
The Box is the most divisive thing in Christianity. We live in a world where it is hard to think that anyone has all of this figured out and yet some act as though they do. My way or the highway. Turn or burn. In or out. I’m right your wrong. When I look to the news or to featured Christian articles or books or churches I often see The Box. A box to me is the ways in which people contain God to make him easier to explain. This is God and this is all that can be God. This can be God THAT can’t be God. It is what led to churches splitting. It is what leads to communities dying. It is what leads to hatred. It is what leads to people turning away. And it is a very very very very tricky thing. Because standing firm in your faith is of the utmost importance as a disciple of Christ.
If you do not stand firm in the faith, you will not stand at all.
As such a diverse Christian culture we all have our own perspective and we stand for them and defend them. I, author of this post, am writing my perspective with its own criticism’s and likely its own faults. Everyone’s perspectives have been influenced by others it is how we learn. We maybe take some here and leave some there. But we have our things that we know firmly. And stand for and tackle in discussions. I’ve met two pastors one of them legitimately believes all Calvinist will go to Hell. The other believes all Catholics will go to Hell. Or I’ve heard people speak that if you support same-sex marriage then you are not a Christian. Or either you take the bible literally or you aren’t a follower of Christ. Or women can’t teach in the church. We hear of people who won’t even associate with each other over these issues. We, Christians, who are supposed to represent love above all other traits will hate and cut off people for seeing things differently.
Think of this hot topic same-sex marriage. It’s on the news it’s in our churches it is a very relevant thing. And divorce….isn’t. Adultery…..isn’t. We’ve in essence made the Christian message about same-sex marriage. Christianity is about a stance on same-sex marriage. That’s what we are communicating. That this issue is the MOST important issue of Christianity. That if you believe otherwise then well you aren’t a full Christian. Everybody and their views get this label of Liberal Christian. Or Reformed Christian. Progressive Christian. I mean no wonder people don’t want to associate with the word Christian and all the baggage the word conjures up.
THERE IS ONE BODY. ONE CHURCH. ONE HOPE. ONE GOD.
If a person’s Christianity is in question because they see the issue differently than you do. This ultimately states this issue is what Christianity is completely about. The issue at hand. Questions become impossible.
On the back of the book Velvet Elvis there are some wonderful words.
“We have to test everything.
I thank God for anybody anywhere who is pointing people to the mysteries of God. But those people would all tell you to think long and hard about what they are saying and doing and creating.
Test it. Probe it. Do that to this book.
Don’t swallow it uncritically. Think about it. Wrestle with it.
Just because I’m a Christian and I’m trying to articulate a Christian worldview doesn’t mean I’ve got it nailed. I’m contributing to the discussion.
God has spoken, and the rest is commentary, right?”
We are all trying to figure out and know God more. But the second we figure out God, He stops being God. The Bible says we CANNOT fully understand God because we DO NOT think the way that God thinks. We are fighting a gigantic, divisive, battle that we CANNOT win.
So WHERE do we find our unity?
For the past 6 years I have travelled thousands of miles following the Dave Matthews Band. I have found this Christian unity in the fans of this band. Yes, the people stereotyped as potheads, drunks, frat boys. These people have shown me Christ.
At EVERY SINGLE show (I’ve been to 18) I make new friends. We gather together and share stories of shows we have been to. They invite me, a complete stranger, to join their tailgate. Have some food or a beer. Strangers offer me FREE TICKETS to concerts. We talk about our favorite songs, what songs we would like to open, what songs we’ve been lucky enough to see, which band members we have met. We share our lives with each other. It doesn’t matter who we are. We may be atheist, we may be Christian, we may be gay, we may be straight, we may be Republican, we may be Democrat. But we all love each other because we share a common UNITY. We love the music of The Dave Matthews Band. This love breaks all diversity and unites us. It overcomes every class we could be included in, every difference we may have. And we get along, gather, and we celebrate TOGETHER.
Have we forgotten our unity?
When all these questions were rattling my head my mother told me “Just remember, No theology ever saved anybody.”
Jesus said “Come and see.” Come and experience what Jesus is offering.
“Be still and know that I am God.”
We are God’s children. When we gather we celebrate that we have a God who loves us. Who has rescued us.
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
So may we focus on this unity. So people can say about Christians that “We gather together and share stories of how Christ has worked in my life. They invite me, a complete stranger, to join their meals. Have some bread and wine. We share our lives with each other. It doesn’t matter who we are. We may be Protestant, we may be Catholic, we may be gay, we may be straight, we may be Republican, we may be Democrat. But we all love each other because we share a common UNITY. We love Jesus Christ. This love breaks all diversity and unites us. It overcomes every class we could be included in, every difference we may have. And we get along and we celebrate TOGETHER.
A BRIDE UNITED TO IT’S GROOM.
ONE FAMILY UNITED BY LOVE.
ONE SACRIFICE UNITING ALL.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.