Question: The Bizarre Weirdness of the Church Culture

shatterrealm asked:

As a new Christian, what elements of church culture were baffling to you? What elements are still baffling to you?

[Edit: Shortly after writing this post, I realized it was a bit harsh.  I want to apologize for the tone. It was not how I wanted to present my opinion, and if I could rephrase things, I definitely would.  I was planning on editing or deleting the post, but I’ll leave it as a public record of my shortcomings.  My goal is always to be gracious and inclusive and to build bridges, and I definitely failed on all that here. I’m not saying this out of reverse-humility; I really do repent and hope you can forgive me. Thanks for being an awesome community and always challenging me towards better. Love y’all!]

Hey my friend: first of all, I love both your blogs and I’m a huge fan of your work.  I believe you’re also Gothic Christian.  You wrote this, which is still one of my favorites.  I highly urge everyone to follow.

So this question — I feel like a little kid with a baseball bat and a pinata and you totally took the blindfold off and said, “Get after it.”  The beast has been unleashed, so I want to be careful to be fair.  Whining is easy; nuance is not.

As a former atheist, I still feel like the church culture is absolutely bizarre.  I really do love the church.  But since you asked, here are things that bothered me or still do — and I’ll try for some solutions moving forward.

Disclaimer: I have no major issues with church culture, but whenever Christians isolate themselves into a closed-doors tower, it becomes a subculture.  I sometimes use the terms “culture” and “subculture” interchangeably, but there is a distinction.

1) Tithes and Offering, Creeper Style

I understand we’re called to support our local church and that the offering has biblical precedence.  I just think the church culture overemphasizes this way too hard.  While I do tithe, I think the “ten percent” is completely arbitrary, and all the manipulation to open up wallets makes the church look like a big scam.

Solution: We need to teach this one differently, with more Gospel-grace and less creeper-ness.

2) Spiritual Gifts Frenzy

I am not against speaking in tongues.  But Apostle Paul is super-clear in 1 Corinthians 14 that 1) we don’t speak in tongues if there are non-believers present, 2) we speak in tongues in order, one at a time, and 3) an interpreter must be present.  Any local church that exercises tongues is already breaking at least two of these rules.

To be brutally honest, I think probably 95% of people who say they speak in tongues are just deluding themselves.  Seriously.  I hate to be the jerk who says it, but we’re all thinking it.  I’m already a highly skeptical person, but there’s no way I’m going to believe that everyone who speaks in tongues is doing anything substantial.  It’s mostly to point at themselves, or because they’re conforming, or because people enjoy getting into a frenzy.  The same goes for prophetic dreams, visions, holy laughter, and whatever other fad that’s twisted out of Scripture.

Solution: I know I’m being a bit harsh and ungracious here, but I’m plain tired of seeing these gifts abused in the church.  I think we need to read 1 Corinthians 14 and you know, maybe do what the dang Bible says.

**Edit: I’m being too hard on this topic, but I do believe the validity of spiritual gifts despite my skepticism.  It can be a wonderful blessing that directly connects us with God.  Also, 1 Corinthians 14 has such a specific context that it requires a deep prayerful investigation to both its history and Apostle Paul’s character.  Disagreements are welcome.

3) All the conflict and division and poopheads

Most Christians are caught in the middle of a reactionary culture, in which the underlying motive is: I’m not like those other Christians.  Some Christians get hurt, so they plant another church to react against their hurts, and we’re all born out of some angry reflex against another group of people.  Hello, Protestants and Reformation.

I get it that people are diverse and we have a need for uniqueness.  What I don’t get is when church-people define themselves over their differences.  So many churches are at each other’s throats over doctrine or methodology, and really, it makes me sick enough to leave the church altogether.

Most Christian bloggers write with the same formula: Here’s what’s wrong with the church, here’s what you’ve been taught wrong, now a snarky Christianese catchphrase, maybe a cuss word to sound legit, and here’s the right stuff (and you can support me by clicking here).  All of this is just snobby penis-waving arrogance.  I’m probably defeating my own point here, but my heart really does hurt for unity.

Solution: I don’t think this will ever end.  Humans are too competitive and petty to get over themselves, especially most Christians.  But we have one God, one Bible, one Spirit over all and through all.  So maybe a day will come when we celebrate the One who unites us.  Maybe.  I’ve seen it happen sometimes.  And I’m still a learning Reformed Calvinist, so I’m open to hearing other Christians who manifest faith differently than me.

4) The Christian Version of Stuff

The mentality for Christian art seems to go: “Let’s do the same thing the mainstream is doing, minus cursing and creativity and references to sex or alcohol or real life.”

I think it’s okay to have a Christian version of Bruno Mars or Beyonce or Jay-Z, but when it creeps into our worship service with the dull thud of “We’re cool too” — I just feel icky about the whole thing.  Like DC Talk said, “If it’s Christian, it oughta be better.”

To quote myself here:

I’m totally not against safe Christian media — some of it’s not bad. But I’m more Switchfoot than Jeremy Camp. I’m more Brooke Fraser than Hillsong. More Terry Crews than Kirk Cameron. More Les Miserables than Fireproof. I’m slightly more Lord of the Rings than Chronicles of Narnia. Heck, I’m more Tangled than Veggie Tales.

When we so obviously pander to the weird, isolated, overly political, socially awkward, neo-conservative Bible belt, we really do a disservice to the beauty of the Gospel. We end up looking like a deleted scene from The Village.

5) Christian Dating, aka Keep Your Pants On Or You Die

The subculture on Christian dating is pretty much insane, but I totally understand this one.  A group of Christians freaked out that young people were having sex, so they went to the other extreme and started guilt-tripping everyone into self-punishing flagellation. This isn’t about following Christ as much it is physical boundaries — but any time rules go first, you lose Christ and get suffocated by the rules.

Some of the wisdom is good here, but I would caution tons of discernment with this one.  No one has all the correct advice on dating, and if they claim it’s biblical, it is not (because the Bible hardly talks about it).  Christians also forget that their heroes like Tim Keller was pursued by his wife and Elisabeth Eliot fantasized about Jim touching her elbow, so there’s really no consistent principle here.

Solution: I would look into the Bible verses on friendship and discipleship before making any kind of systematic claim on dating.

6) The Forced False Dichotomy of For and Against

Jesus meant for us to find a new way to talk about the tough issues like politics, abortion, homosexuality, gun control, and human rights.  But most Christians have simply fallen into the same “for” and “against” categories, and we use issues for platforms while forgetting the people inside those issues.  I’ve never once had a rational nuanced conversation on any of these things, because people love their own voices more than the ones they’re supposedly fighting for.

This is the hardest thing I’ve ever written on, so I’ll just point you to this post.  I’ll end with this:

What our world does is what it has always done: takes a human issue, forces two sides against each other, comes up with all kinds of pseudo-articulate arguments, and ratchets up the volume.

… Declaring a “side” will take up arms against another human being, as if ideas trump people.

Maybe this idea began to help someone: but the way of propositional politics in the hands of fallen men always crushes the people it was meant to restore. It weaponizes an idea into picket signs, angry rants, loud bloggers, hapless trolls, and mob mentality.

Without the same compassion of Christ for the people he loves, all our bravado and chest-beating is absolutely pointless. We will be buried with our picket signs without having known a single human life. We will have succeeded at minor skirmishes and stomped on human stories. We will win at social reform but still be spiritually deformed. We will legislate laws on disagreeable issues but lose the human heart — on both sides.

— J.S.

6 thoughts on “Question: The Bizarre Weirdness of the Church Culture

  1. Hi JS,

    It’s nice that you felt you had to put an apology for your strong views but I frankly don’t think you needed to. Your passion speaks for itself and I agree with some of your points but not others.

    Does that mean that you and I now have to have a “throw down” because we don’t agree? No, of course not! And this is the point you were making in a number of instances.

    Why oh why do we feel compelled to get snarky with one another if there is no agreement on certain things? Surely it’s more important to agree on the key things like 1) Is Jesus Christ real? 2) Is He God’s Son 3) Do we believe in Him for salvation?
    Boom! That’s the core, right there. All else is garnish.

    I get your frustration with “Christian” media. I haven’t yet seen a Christian movie that meets the standards of what we laughingly call “secular”. Similarly with music. It’s why I love Brooke Fraser, Delirious and U2.

    A Christian should be able to enter any church of any denomination and feel at home, whether it’s the usual type of service they attend or not. Basically, it’s like visiting family, or should be, but frequently, one finds oneself at odd with the splits and comments made from the pulpit that is basically just Christian bitching against other family members.
    It saddens me a great deal.

    I think it’s amazing that anyone remains a Christian and its usually inspite of the church rather than because. The fact that the worldwide church is growing is a testament to God’s grace, certainly nothing to do with us.

    A great post JS. It’s why I love to follow your posts. Passion, honesty and openness.


    1. Bunny, your comment to J.S.’s post adds much to the discussion. I too agree that there is no need for apology, but I know him well enough to know that he is a caring man with a heart for truth couched in grace. I tend to just want truth and sometimes forget grace. So it’s good that both of us are in the family!

      I was having a conversation with another pastor a couple of weeks ago at which time we discovered that we differed on some minor things. We discussed them, cited our own supports and reasons for what we believed, and left as closer friends than we were before we arrived. Oh, and by the way, neither of us convinced the other to change his views.

      My only regret to this post is that more church members won’t see it (though I am sharing this on FB as I often do) because there is a wise perspective here that should be a discussion had with every church in America. It saddens me how many of us are far better at making church members than we are at making Christ followers…


      1. Hi RPM Life Coach,

        Oh I pray that there will be more meetings like yours where differences can be discussed calmly without leading to an argument or name-calling or worse. It warms my heart that you left closer than when you arrived and that you didn’t change your stances but that it made no difference to your friendship.

        Division in the church has frequently been sited by non-believers as a factor in them not wanting to pursue faith. One has sympathy.
        Let’s face it, didn’t Jesus emphasis that his believers should be one and that they’d be known by their LOVE, not their solid doctrine!

        Great stuff my friend.


    2. Hey there bunnyb1802:
      Thank you for sharing your insight; I also agree that disagreement doesn’t have to mean division. I don’t always agree with my family, but we’re still family. On top of that, I also want to have grace for those who are divisive too. It can be easy to lose subtlety on the whole issue (like I thought I did with this post) and then start a rant-club against Christians who are against Christians (how complicated). So here’s to grace for those who lack grace.


  2. Your suggestion that 95% of tongue talkers are probably deluding themselves made me lol. But then I stopped laughing when I wondered what % of we who claim to be disciples of Christ are deluding ourselves. Thought-provoking post, pastor. Not too harsh at all. Just real.


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