I’ve encountered a lot of stuff in church that’s really gotten on my nerves. Every one of these could make up a blog post on it’s own, but I don’t want to moan one post at a time. So I’ll just let rip and get it over with.
Obviously these aren’t the only issues that give me gag reflexes, but the ones that have come up recently in some way or another. Let the moan fest begin.
One Issue Christianity
I think this often happens when people start reading the bible earnestly for the first time. People look for God in the bible, which obviously is a good thing, but so often we then try to find the one answer to all our questions. So we find a verse or a collection of verses that “speak to us” and proclaim those as the answer to Christianity. I’ve seen various forms of this. Some people have focused only on the book of revelations and, consequently, on the second coming. It’s all they talk and write about. There are probably as many variations of this as there’ve been sermons. Poverty, money, outreach, music styles, going out on mission, tolerance, purity, abstinence… Everything Jesus spoke about or addressed has the potential to replace him as our focus. And when that happens, Christianity becomes pretty sad.
This one ties in with the previous one. It’s when we focus on one issue that we very easily become principle oriented. Don’t get me wrong, principles do serve a purpose and can help to guide people. Jesus shared a few himself. But when all you see in people (specifically the church) is their principles, they become shallow and sometimes just weird. Principles should support a purpose, not replace it. Every part of church can become principle driven – how we worship, how we talk, how we help other people, if and how we welcome them, how we talk. If it’s all only based on “because it says so in the bible”, I can’t help wondering what it’s doing to people, those who act out of these principles and those on the receiving end. It doesn’t sound like a fulfilling life and it doesn’t sound much like Jesus either.
If you don’t know what I mean with human-centered Christianity, just walk into any christian book store. You’ll find hundreds of how to books that focus on what a “christian life” is supposed to look like. Many of them promise break throughs in finances, career and marriage. I’m not against all how-to books, some of them are very helpful. I was just under the impression that the Christian life was about Jesus and his glory. The church can become so desperate to be relevant and attractive, that we advertise what we think people want. The other day I heard a radio ad for a local church that ended with, “signs and wonders await you”. Yes, we think you want signs and wonders so that’s what we’ll promise. Please come. I didn’t hear “Jesus” or “God” once in that ad. The bible teaches that we are to pursue God with everything that we have and are, and leave the rest up to Him. He doesn’t owe us any favours, great careers or pots of money.
What also happens when we focus on ourselves is that we have a need to understand God. If we don’t, we accuse or defend Him. Most people know the conservative, judgmental church. The other extreme is when we dumb down the gospel because we want people to accept it. We make excuses for God when people question his love and authority. Let’s face it, sometimes it’s hard to believe that God is good. We don’t always understand what he’s busy with. But as his followers we should accept his word for what it is. We’re not here to defend him, we’re here to represent him. John Piper once said, “Your generation will sacrifice the truth in favour of relationship”. I don’t want that.
The “Christian” Label
Oh my goodness, don’t get me started. Again, there are two extremes that we seem to jump between. The one is when we don’t adopt the term “Christian” because of its many negative connotations amongst non-believers. The extreme I’m talking about is when we become so holy, that we turn”Christian” into an adjective and slap it on everything we have and do. We want to separate ourselves from the world and so we differentiate between the “christian” and the “secular” worlds. Christian music, christian values, christian business, christian stores… Oh my soul it makes me tired. I’m a Christian because Jesus is my saviour and Lord of my life. How does a business get saved? How is a T-shirt a disciple? No no, I think instead of showing the world our label, we should show them our hearts and as corny as that may sound, it’s the only way to show who Jesus is. Check out the Carlos Whittaker’s blog post “5 Steps to popping your christian bubble“. And looking at the comments makes it even clearer how sick people are of being stuck with labels.
I, Markus Hagedorn
Yes, that’s right. I make myself sick. By writing this post I’ve become a hypocrite, because I’ve been guilty of every one of these tendencies in some form or another. And no one likes hypocrites. So I’m really happy that Jesus came for the messy hypocrites that we are and saved us, instead of just telling us to get a grip.
I guess you can’t go through life without finding stuff that turns your stomach. As Jon Foreman from Switchfoot put it, “Church is messy stuff because people are messy stuff”. I’d rather show people that I’m a mess, a real mess. Sounds better than preaching an issue to death, chaining myself to principles, defending God because I don’t trust him, and slapping a sticker on my forehead that says “Christian values reside here” .