Reactionary Culture: I’m Not Like Those Other Christians



As he cursed up a storm and lit his next cigar, he says to me, “I’m not like those other Christians.  I actually get it.”

Suddenly I’m nervous.  I didn’t get what he was getting.  He must be talking about me: I’m one of those stupid Christians who is missing it and doing it wrong.  How did I not get it all this time?  This cigar-smoking man had the truth.  Thank God!  Tell me more. 

The man went on about megachurches, how doctrine is not that important, how most sermons suck, how pastors don’t have a clue, how he wanted to teach churches how to be a good church.

I wanted to take notes, but then I thought he would say, “Only those stupid Christians do that.”  I started playing with a napkin.  He noticed, so I stopped.

He continued. I looked up for a second and this huge cloud had opened up.  Right then, I thought of Jesus listening in on us — and I became pretty sad about the whole thing.  Like you know, Jesus went through that cloud and became one of us and died for us, and all we could really say was, “I’m not like this other guy.”

I told the cigar-smoking man I had to go home.  I felt sick.  Some from the cigar, but mostly because of my heart. 

 

Matrix, Methods, McChurch

There’s a pattern.  A group of Christians is really flaming mad at Christianity, so they form their own version of Christianity by doing the opposite of these other Christians, and everyone lives happily ever after.

That’s until a group of Christians inside these Better Christians get mad again, so they reboot like the Matrix and mix some from Column A and some from Exhibit B, and it should totally work out this time.

We’re doing a really great job of standing on the anti-ground of what we stand against.  Over and over.

We form these isolated camps of My Right Methodology, and then presume this must be the only way, and I got it, and you don’t, and you megachurches are evil, and my non-megachurch is really what Jesus had in mind.

I’ve seen pastors who try to blanket-bomb their ideology onto other ministries — but if every church was a carbon-copy of your ministry, without a care for context or people, then that’s a mindless Orwellian dictatorship.  Sort of a McDonald church world.  God has grace for you too: but no one wants that. 

 

Jesus Didn’t Say, “Follow The Opposite of Everyone”

Underneath all this counter-cultural rightness, there’s a smug superiority that destroys any hope of unity.  Even saying, “I’m above all these divisions” is still division. You go left, I go right, you go black, I go white — which lands us in suffocating circles of theology about theology.

We forget that Jesus celebrated uniqueness, that he welcomed a wild diversity of personalities, that he worked with every individual in their contextual corner of the universe.

Jesus did not limit his imagination.  He didn’t just react to provocation.  He somehow managed to originate action while embracing the existing culture without having to brand himself in diametric categories. 

Most of us today are overreacting.  We react solely from our deepest hurts: which is not wrong, but not sustainable.  Our theology is I’m not like those other Christians — and we forgot: we are called to be like Christ.

 

Chronological Prison: You’re a Product of Your Times

When I first attended church, the Seeker Movement was the next big thing.  Little talk of sin, secular songs in service, and lots of welcoming teams. But soon, Christians got tired of watered-down doctrine so they went all Young-Restless-Reformed, with a bunch of Calvinist bloggers demanding tight expository sermons and Gospel Centrality.  Then you got a pushback against the Calvinism from the New Perspective on Paul with a Trinitarian focus of — well, you get it.

I’m wondering what’s next: but then I feel sick again.

Historically, humans tend to react sharply to whatever happened before.  Especially Christians.  We’re not very original.  If someone writes a book saying “There’s no hell” — then guaranteed, you’ll get fifty people declaring, “The liberals are winning!”

Of course we should respond.  Of course there is room for back-and-forth discussion.  But I really want to see a thoughtful conversation that does not condemn the other.

I’m tired of saying “them” and “us.” 

I’m exhausted of xenophobic classist politically-driven doctrine. 

I’m sick of using others camps as a moral standard for my rightness. 

I’m not impressed when people bash megachurches or house churches or emergent churches. 

I get nauseous over the Calvinist-Arminian beef. 

I hate alienating people based on a few points of doctrine that won’t matter when we stand in the face-melting glory of God. 

I’m so jaded with hip evangelicals who satirize the Christian culture to appear relevant.

I pray not to be like the Pharisee who compared himself to the tax collector — and that God would have grace for us both.

I know I could be doing the same thing I’m calling out others on — I am reacting to reaction — but my heart hurts to reach across the divide, to understand the other.

Yes, I love them too, with a broken heart that wants to unite all these people under the roof of Heaven to praise a glorious God who loves us all the same.  I love them so much I can’t stop weeping over our divisiveness.  I grieve for unity.

 

Theology is Jesus

Where we start is how we finish. 

If you think an electric guitar in a full band is too loud and you decide to only do acoustic guitar with a cajon, then cool.  But I hope you talk this out with Jesus and you’re motivated by a heart that looks to him first.  I hope it’s not to be rebellious against big bands and big stages and subwoofers — because no one cares about your statement of rebellion, including you.  

If you despise megachurches that spend too much money on fancy coffee bars and jumbo projection screens and laser light shows, then why don’t you build a relationship with them and inspire them to invest in your charity and justice and homeless ministry and community service.  Maybe this church is dying to do something more, and maybe you’re the guy to help them with that.  You could be the bridge.

We can’t establish ourselves on a counter-theology.  It will collapse.  It always does.  These movements fade.  We can embrace them and be aware of culture: but it’s not your altar. Don’t idolize anti-idolatry.  It never works.

It is not the Way of Christ to dismantle others because you think you’re doing it better.  If you actually are doing it better: show us how. 

And if no one listens, then please don’t be so hyper-critical to look down your nose on Christian culture. No one really cares what you think about it.  People only care if you care about them — and you can only care about them if you are within the love of Christ.

Start with Jesus, finish with Jesus.


— J.S.


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20 thoughts on “Reactionary Culture: I’m Not Like Those Other Christians

  1. This is beautiful. By the way… I belong to this church…

    The [insert any name you like] Church! I joined because we all love Jesus Christ and call Him Lord. He compels me to form the bond of love with all my brothers and sisters.

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  2. very well said! Jesus never criticized the Pharisees for not following the law….he criticized them for following it to closely! I am blessed by your words today!

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  3. I totally get what you’re saying and I agree. The problem I often find myself running into, at least in the past, is that when you belong to a church where leadership is opposed to listening to valid concerns, not over theological differences, but biblical practices within the church or the ministries, I no longer respect them as my leaders. I end up leaving that church because I am slighted, disliked, and ouastracized for speaking the truth in love… especially bc I’m a girl I’m pretty sure. Like who do I think I am to question the powers that be. But they have often been unjust, unbiblical, and lacsidaisical about important issues within the church. Anyway, I certainly don’t think I’m better than anyone, but I do expect the leaders I’m submitting to to act biblically and be concerned for the best interests of their church. So when ppl ask why I’ve left churches, I tell them the truth. Do u think that’s being like cigar man? I would love to be unified… but when leaders aren’t willing to work through situations biblically or be reconciled after I bring up my concerns and they get weirdly insecurely mad and put off (whether they truly are valid or not), how can I be? I’m not the one refusing unity and peace.

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    1. Hey Lori! In your case, it sounds like you really tried and you’re doing it right. I’m sorry it happened that way. The only thing I could say is that we could have grace even when we talk about those who hurt us. Not necessarily grace that absolves their wrongs, but grace that frees us from stirring up more bitterness in ourselves. I believe there’s a way of telling the truth about someone that can still be mature, thoughtful, and wise — even as we completely disagree with them. It’s such a tight balancing act that I don’t think we get right every time, and certainly we should speak up when we must. Plus God has grace for the cigar-smoking man as well.

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      1. I agree. I think I could always improve on how I say things. Part of me thinks that in our culture, though, it doesn’t matter how well you communicate the difficult conversations, people are still apt to be “offended” and put off enough to shun you for the rest of your days. Lol. Pastor says I should be careful about how I “talk about the church” but if I’m asked about the past happenings, I’m not going to sugarcoat things for the sake of saving face for unbiblical churches. If they’re unbiblical, I think people need warned if they’re asking me about going there. I’m not going to pretend all churches are created equal. Besides, the only churches that are true churches are the ones who *are* biblical in leadership and practice. The others are cults, clubs, or compromised counterfeits. Am I wrong? I forgive them. I hope they repent. But apart from true, honest, willing reconciliation (which I’ve all but begged for) with them, I will not forget the kind of show they’re running. Part of me says cigar man has a point. Yes, it’s depressing. It makes me sick, too. I wish every church was a loving, able to be trusted place of security. But for many, it has been anything but. I refuse to stand by and let the people in my community be deceived by false teachers or wolves in sheep’s clothing for the sake of “unity.” Without the truth, there is nothing to unite us. I appreciate your insight. You always make me think through my thick-headed opinionated-ness. Lol

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        1. Right on. My hope is that even when false teachers abound, we don’t primarily build a church movement in response to false teaching, but rather begin foundationally with Christ. A right reaction can still lead to oppositional paradigms that end in superiority and condescension. I didn’t cover false teachers in this post, so I’m very thankful you did.

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  4. Very good post.

    I’m in the middle of a study by John Bevere, entitled “The Bait of Satan.” This study helped me understand that very often my problem with “those Christians” is that I’ve been offended – by leaders, by pastors, by other members of the fellowship. It helped me to recognize the bait for what it was, which helps me in relationships. It’s a good book, worth checking out.
    \o/

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  5. Amen! The time I went into a very legalistic cult (I say that because the leadership controlled people as a cult would) I thought it was the answer because it was sooo different in theology from what I had been to in a very new agey church. But the leadership was just as manipulative and lacking in grace as the other place. My husband was wise enough to say the place felt like the other one but he gave in to my pig headedness. I thought they were completely different. I found myself in scary circumstances.

    Now, I’m in a place that I ran away from when I first became a believer….in a Baptist church. Back in the day I thought I was so much more spiritual than those who didn’t raise their hands. The church isn’t perfect but the leadership doesn’t try to control people and the Bible is preached, people are loved, and missions happen. I’m sure not every Baptist church is this way but I’m blessed to be where I am. I keep my hand raising and dancing til I get home but it’s okay. I can live without certain things as long as Grace and Truth are preached. My heart breaks for those in the cults. I dream about them. They shun those that leave or they try really hard to draw you back. I’ve lost friendships because they constantly tried to bring me back even to the point of manipulating circumstances. I want to talk to them but they’ve got up that wall. I think these people will always haunt me. I don’t think I’m better and I don’t hate them. I cry for them.

    Anywho, another long comment but this is something I’d rather discuss than blog about at this time. The point is…I never thought I’d go to a big church again(it’s not a megachurch though)…with rich people and programs. I never thought I’d see elderly people and others that sit so quietly, crying after a sermon. It really is an inward thing. I’ve learned you can look spiritual on the outside and be full of junk on the inside…and that can go both ways. Some think being spiritual means following rules and others think it means being emotional or opening up to spirits. It’s taken so many crazy years to humble me and still the Lord is humbling me in other areas. I had no idea that I was and am so full of pride…even in small things. I’ve been such a snob and all along thinking everyone else were the snobs.

    So I’m going to try not to make too many long comments this week lol. You just always hit the nail on the head. God bless bro!

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    1. You reminded me of Philippians 3 when Paul says he writes in tears for the “enemies of the cross.” I used to be so angry at these big churches: but if any of them are really headed for wrath, I do grieve for them.

      I have a friend who hardly sings out loud during worship songs, instead gazing at the lyrics and taking it in slowly. He’s one of the smartest, most heartfelt Christians I know. We’re all so uniquely weirdly different, and as you said, I sometimes get snobby when I think others are snobs. Here’s hoping we can close that gap of quick-judgment and really extend grace.

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  6. Yes, excellent post. Exactly why I don’t formally “belong” to any organized version of church, but neither do I want to form one – I am painfully aware that reactionary groups inevitably become exactly like the group they are reacting against. There’s something in our psyche, our DNA that makes us do this. It’s maddening! 🙂

    I remember a couple of years ago we almost visited a church that met in a theater. At that time (not now) they advertised themselves as being unlike any other church you’ve ever been to (or some such nonsense). We watched a service streaming online and saw with our eyes what we already knew in our hearts: there is nothing new under the sun, especially when it comes to churches. Because, people are people and that will never change (in this age, at any rate).

    God bless, JS!

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    1. Thank you. I appreciate your testimony too, I remember reading it when you shared here and there. I would add too that “cliques” are usually okay with me, because different communities form around different ideas. So long as their core is Jesus, I love seeing diversity. It’s when cliques form as an anti-reaction that I get a bit leary; usually those communities are not as welcoming and always get paranoid when change happens.

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