Disclaimer: This all may sound like a long angry and bitter rant, and maybe some of it is, but more than how I feel, I strongly believe there is a grave danger the modern Western church faces, and that is what non-Christians have been saying for years. It is the idea of being fake. And I, as a long time Christian who has gotten lost in that world for too long agree.
The Church’s World
I grew up in church. Never went to a high school football game because Friday nights were reserved for youth group. Which was a big deal because growing up in the midwest, high school football was THE thing to do Friday nights. So believe me when I say, I know all about the Christian lingo, the Christian lifestyle, and the Christian beliefs. I blindly followed what every pastor, leader, Christian blogger wrote and said. So everything said from this point on, I have done and honestly may continue to unknowingly do. But after many difficult periods of my life these past few years I have finally come to terms with the situation. I started this post two years ago when I began to take a step back and really examine what it is that I believe. I started questioning every single Bible verse that I was told to memorize, I decided to rediscover why I do or don’t do certain things.
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
As I reflect on this passage, one thing jumped out to me, what is considered unfruitful works of darkness? What is this darkness that is spoken of? Could the things that we supposedly do in Jesus’ name be considered darkness, especially if they do not produce fruit? This led me to another passage:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Here’s an absurd thought, what if the idea of being “conformed to this world” could also mean being conformed to the “Christian” world. The church wants us to think that this “darkness” is anything of “the world”, meaning anything that is not remotely Christian is pure evil and that is what we are to combat. However, we fail to see that the problem lies within us. That we Christians can also be the darkness and we are conforming to our own world. We act like it’s us against them, but that’s not what Jesus preached.
I, like many Christians, for so long took everything at face value. If a Christian leader said to do something, I would do it simply because I believed they heard clearly from God. I wouldn’t question things because I trusted that God had placed them in authority for a reason. It was almost as if I replaced the leader for God. If something was unsettling to me, I would blame my sinful heart for why I didn’t agree with something rather than try to discover the truth. After all I have been part of discussions where the ultimate answer was Romans 13.
But here’s my question, when did Christians stop thinking for themselves? Just as the Romans 12 passage says, we must use our minds, we must discern, we must test what is spoken to us, and we must act. Like the church in Berea, they were praised for examining the Scriptures and testing everything that was told to them. God did not create us to be lemmings who blindly follow, eventually jumping off cliffs. Contrary to popular Christian belief, there isn’t a passage in the Bible that tells you what sweater you should wear today. In actuality, we are individuals created by God who have given us this great and unique thing called a brain. It sure would be a shame not to use it.
The Church’s Lie
The biggest lie of the modern church is they claim to be this community:
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
1 Corinthians 12:21-26
When confessing struggles to a Christian community, why does it feel patronizing and condescending? Last time I checked, condescending isn’t a replacement for truly bearing one another’s burdens. I’m not saying every Christian community lies about this, but having been in many different churches around America (and even churches for Western expats around the world) I have yet to experience a community like this. Sure I have friends who try to live this out, but as a collective whole it is hard to find, and honestly we may never find it in this lifetime. We have to admit that we all have a threshold when we say “your burden is too much for me to carry”. So maybe check twice when we go around preaching that we’re going to be there for one another no matter what, don’t go and say “we are God’s provision for you”, and please don’t say “we want to hurt with you” in order to get people to confess their struggles. The body of Christ in Western culture has strayed so far from what was described in Acts & 1 Timothy.
The Christian form of gossip is hidden in the seemingly “good intentioned” prayer request. Because asking others to pray for Sally’s marital problems without her knowing is the “right” thing to do. As much as I appreciate your prayers, they aren’t going to get me from point A to B. I remember talking to a non-profit executive and she shared a story of Japanese-American internment camps in America during WWII. She said a small group of Christians went in regularly to the concentration camps to pray and have Bible studies with the internees. At the end of it, she told me that as much as the internees appreciated the prayers and scripture, that wasn’t going to change their situation. They were still trapped and suffering. What truly helped were the voices lobbying and protesting, the ones influencing Congress. So my question is, when did Christians become so scared to act? When did Christians synonymously link justice with “I’ll be sure to pray for that”? Jesus didn’t bring justice by praying, he did so by dying on the cross. I’m not saying prayer is useless, after all it is our way of communicating with God, but more often than not, God is asking us to stand up and rise, to wake up. God is a god of justice before he is a god of mercy. Mercy cannot happen without justice. So we must demand it, we must do something. God has given us a mind, one created in his image. He has given us his Spirit and he has given many of us the gifts of wisdom and discernment. “Leaving it up to God” many times acts as an excuse for Christian apathy and laziness. After all, the first book after the gospels is named “Acts”.
The Church’s Agenda
Don’t get me wrong, I do believe the purpose and mission behind the church is inherently good natured, but we have twisted the system to the point where I don’t think the ends justify the means. When I worked in full-time ministry, I had a difficult time fathoming some of the things we were doing in “God’s name”. It felt like a cult of personality, groupthink, do whatever the leader says and don’t question it otherwise you’re sinning because God placed them in charge for a reason. So I brought my woes before some people and a coworker of mine uttered the words “[full-time ministry] really is a higher calling.” But is it though? A calling, yes. Is it easy? No, of course not. But if justifying using other people’s money to impose a belief that one is only selling half-truth to unsuspecting “friends” helps one sleep at night, if saying it is a “higher calling” covers up the hypocrisy and deceit of one’s “mission” gives you an ego boost, go ahead and use it. Is it so shocking that there are other ways to serve God other than making a monetary career out of “sharing the gospel”? I’m not calling all full-time ministers egomaniacs, in fact, I believe the majority love the Lord and want to give Him their all. But it’s not a valid excuse for the sin of ignorance and mindlessness; it points to a deeper heart and mind issue. Sure the gospel at its core is a simple beautiful message, but it’s a message with a lot of footnotes and too often we never dig into them.
We’d be lying to ourselves if we try to cover up the fact that the American church is a system. Frankly it’s a business. It has an agenda, and the more we take things surface level, the more we are being blinded and fooled into believing we are saving lives and going to heaven. As an advertising professional, the church may have created the greatest advertising campaign. Now, I don’t think the original intent was to become a mega business, but I do think that it has become one without us realizing it. I don’t think there’s someone in the back playing puppeteer, but I think we have been deceived to believe that what we’re giving and doing is for God’s work. It’s a problem that our churches look like state of the art concert halls when we have people right next door struggling to feed their families. Mark Driscoll is not a one time thing, it’s only a matter of time before the next one. As conspiracy theory sounding as this is, could it be, that we are falling into what Jesus says in Matthew?
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
What irks me the most is when Christians defend their unrighteous actions or those of other Christians and say, “oh most Christians are not like that” or “Christians are still human and we still sin” almost as if that is an acceptable defense for ignorance, hatred, discrimination, hypocrisy, the list goes on. It makes Christians feel better when they say “they will never understand us because they do not have Jesus.” But I think if the majority of the world has a vendetta against Christians, maybe we should listen to what they have to say and stop projecting our “difference of belief” as their “sin” problem. After all my studies in psychology, this defense mechanism, projection, is the primitive form of paranoia. The Christian church may even suffer from a case of reaction formation, a neurotic defense mechanism. For example, the ridiculous agenda against the LGBT community. Why pick this battle when the church has a hidden yet very wide-spread problem of youth pastors committing statutory rape, priests molesting young boys, or deacons having affairs? Sometimes the American church only sees the speck of dust in the rest of the world without realizing the massive log in their own eyes.
I’m not saying that everyone who works for the institution we call church is a “worker of lawlessness” or even know that they are spreading these lies, but I do believe we have bought into a system, all from new Christians to head pastors of mega churches, and made ourselves believe if we act a certain way, if we read our Bible a certain way, or if we murmur out Christian buzz words we are truly a Christian. The scary thing is, we don’t even realize it. God forbid if our faith looked different from others because then we’d be put into the category of “heretic” or get the judging eyes of “I don’t think he/she is truly saved”. I don’t know, maybe it says it somewhere in Romans, but I don’t remember reading in the Bible that in order to spend time with God, you need to journal your feelings over a cup of Starbucks coffee otherwise you didn’t do your “quiet time”. Quiet time isn’t even in the Bible! What I do know is God calls us to abide in his love, which looks different for everyone. I think Dr. A.W. Tozer said it best, “If the Holy Spirit was withdrawn from the church today, 95% of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95% of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.”
We foolishly give into a tradition without realizing that it’s not actually what God asks us to do. We are conditioned to believe and act a certain way and trust that it is solely from God, in other words, we have been manipulated by a system that pulls the God card. For example, we continue to give 10% of our income to the church so our elders and deacons can approve the budget for a fancy fountain and we justify it by twisting Scripture to say this is what tithing looks like, it is a commandment from God, and if we do not do it cheerfully God will not love us. I find it ironic that one of the few times Jesus got angry was when the temple was turned into a house of trade yet here we are today in 2016 selling t-shirts, CDs, books, etc. under the name of God. So I just want to remind you, the next time you’re listening to your “Christian” music or reading your “Christian” books, remember that a song or words cannot pray to receive Christ. Only you can be Christian. We are so quick to naively stop wearing yoga pants because one Christian blogger defended victim blaming in Christian sexism (also, why is this even a huge issue? Hello, there is widespread poverty and hunger! Jesus didn’t say “thou shall burn all leggings so our men don’t rape women with their eyes” but he did say whatever we do for the least of these, we did to him.) As a friend once said, “I feel like sometimes Christians use the Bible as an excuse to be sexist.” The Christian agenda is packaged up with a pretty bow that promises eternal joy and ultimately sold to us as a “get into heaven” ticket all at the low price of giving up our individuality and ability to think for ourselves. Break away from a culture that has been more focused on what a Christian should look like rather than what a Christian should believe.
The Same Old Message
Last time I checked, Jesus didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword. I want to expect the unexpected from Christians, but if we continue showing up to church on Sunday more concerned with what the worship leader is wearing, if we passive aggressively gossip through prayer for our “brothers and sisters”, and if we keep excluding people from being prayed for or being in community because of their difference of opinion in infant baptism or total depravation, we will never stop conforming to this world. And by this world, I mean the Christian world. The more we blindly get into this routine that follows this mindset of a “Christian only looks a certain way”. We are at risk for forgetting our true love and an even bigger risk of Christ “spitting us out.” Christian books on kissing dating goodbye, music about how you’re a friend of God, after-church Chipotle “fellowship” time is not going to save you. If the word is really the living word of God, why is it then there’s nothing new coming out of Christian’s mouths? I don’t need to be told for the 10,000th time “Christianity isn’t a religion but a relationship” or “God has a plan for your life”. And like I’ve said over and over again, the mind is a gift from God; we were made in His image and He sure has a great mind. So why don’t Christians use it? The Holy Spirit will reveal himself to us through our minds. Gain a fresh perspective. It’s our duty to God.
I am tired of being spoon-fed cookie cutter responses, I’m sick of cliché Christian jargon, and I’m done with knowing exactly how Christians are going to respond. I hear Jesus is your everything, prove it. Be like Christ, not like Christians. And please don’t be a buffet Christian, picking and choosing what you want to hear and leaving when you’re full. The gospel has never been about us. It’s always been about Him. The Bible isn’t a self-help book. God’s redemptive plan is bigger than saving our souls, it is giving glory to Him. I guess 3000+ words later, what I’m trying to say is, my dear brothers and sisters, think bigger.