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.
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.