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.