Linus Knows Best

I just finished a large end-of-the-semester-type paper for one of my classes.  I attend a Southern Baptist seminary, and the paper was, more or less, attempting to take down a piece of their theology.  I didn’t do this with malice or anything; I just really do disagree with them on this issue.  However, it wasn’t always like that.

(And before anyone asks, no.  I will not tell you what this particular piece of theology is.  I don’t want to offend half of everyone.  Yet.)

I spent half of my childhood actively in the church.  I picked up bits and pieces of theology here and there, and it was fine.  I had no framework of reference, so if a pastor told me that the Bible says ____, I believed them.  Why would I not believe them?  I viewed their word as the gospel truth, and everything was great.

I then went to college.  I attended a Christian university, and majored in ministry.  Within my first semester there, everything was shattered.  The things I had believed for so long were slowly getting demolished by an actual study of the Bible.  I then tried to defend my beliefs like any good Christian would do, but I couldn’t.  Things weren’t going my way, and I had nothing to back me up.  I quickly discovered that saying, “My pastor said _____,” or “my church taught me ______,” did not hold up in an academic setting.

I did not know where to turn or what to do.  I wasn’t mad at my church or pastor; I was mad at myself.  I was mad that I could be wrong about certain areas of theology.  I had built this belief system (that, looking back now, was not biblical at all) that could be shoved down by a quick few sentences from someone.

There’s debates and taking sides of issues in theology.  What I was experiencing was just me being wrong.  I did not have biblical beliefs.  I had “churched” beliefs.

“Churched” beliefs got me in trouble.  I might have been able to throw a verse or two that were utterly ripped out of context, but that’s it.  I was experience part humiliation, part anger, and part helplessness.  The professors and students I had been talking to weren’t mean at all.  This was all on me.

I had two responses here, which may sound familiar: fight or flight.  I could fight, meaning that I had to go back to the Bible and actually read it for myself, studying and talking to people along the way, to see what I really believe.  Or, I could leave my college.  Transfer and get new friends.  Even just drop out, altogether.

Guess which one I chose?

I’m glad I chose to fight.  It made me a better follower of Jesus.  I experienced an earth-shattering thing in college and everything I believed was torn down.  With God’s help, we rebuilt it.  I still do that today.

One of the thoughts I kept coming back to in my paper for my class mentioned above was about the problems we have in the church of 2014.  Could it be that we simply have not thought for ourselves for the past 50 years and just went with what the pastor said?

Don’t get me wrong.  Usually, pastors are educated and very informed.  They make great conclusions and hypotheses, and can teach you about theology with little preparation.  However, if we just take a statement as is, without knowing any background information on it, then what is it worth?

Nothing.  It’s worth nothing.

I still say that one of the best things that’s happened within the past few decades for the church is Rob Bell.  He shook things up with a few of his books, associations, and videos.  He said things that made the church mad, and when they went to tell him how he was wrong…

…they couldn’t do it.  We couldn’t do it.  So, we had to think.  We had to read the Bible for ourselves, and actually view it through the lens of context.

I’m not bashing Bell.  I love the guy.  I don’t agree with some of his statements, but I don’t 100% agree with any popular church leader’s theology (even Andy Stanley).  And that’s a good thing.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we should start thinking.  Actually, we should resume thinking.  We, as a church, did it for 2,000 years.  We just stopped at one point.  Let’s pick that habit back up.

And if you’re going through that earth-shattering and life-changing event that has broken down everything you thought was true about church, God, and Jesus: good.  It sounds harsh, but you’re going to be a better follower of Jesus because of it.

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A Church Waiting to Die

church inside

I spent most of my teenage years submerged in a Christian subculture.  Every teen is submerged into one subculture or the other, and I’m beginning to think that every adult is, too.  It’s not a bad thing.  It’s just something we do as humans.  Regardless, I was in the thick of the popular Christian subculture in my teenage years.  I had it all: Christian shirts, music, wristbands, bumper stickers,…

You get the picture.

I was crazed.  I still have that tendency today, as a matter of fact.  By immersing myself in the Christian subculture, I was able to avoid one thing that seemed to cause a lot of trouble in my church.

The world.

That may sound weird, and it is weird.  But it happened.  In some way, I thought that if I could just become a Christian, not deal with people, sin, etc., anymore, then that’d be great.  So, I set out to do that.  In the name of all that was holy, I rebuked the world.  I set out to separate myself from it, because that’s what good Christians do, right?

I don’t think that’s necessarily correct.  In fact, I know it’s not right.

I struggled in college.  My faith, which was about as deep as what the preacher said last Sunday, was met with a startling reality: I live in the world.  Sounds dumb, right?  It is.  I tried to reject it all, from secular music to secular TV.  Then, in college, I met Christians who were way stronger than I was.  And guess what they were listening to?  It wasn’t Third Day.

Thankfully, I decided to search the Bible for what to do.  I vividly remember reading parts of Luke and John, and being alarmed.  This Jesus that I had concocted in my mind, the one who would have nothing to do with the world, was embracing the world.  Not just embracing the world, but going as far as to die for the world.  Then he sent this rag-tag group of guys to do what he did; love the world without conditions.  They did, and they made more followers of Jesus.  Then those followers made more followers who made more followers who made more followers.

Then there’s me.  I’m part of that group that Jesus sent out.  I’m a member of the church, the hope of the world, that was started at the news of the resurrection of Jesus.  I have a defined mission to love the world.

That’s the part that makes some followers of Jesus uncomfortable.  If we love the world, then we are saying that the world is without sin, right?

Absolutely wrong.  I’m not sure where that thought came from, but it’s poisonous to the church.  Jesus was the full measure of truth (the thing that says you’re wrong) and grace (the thing that says you’re loved anyway).  Andy Stanley gives a great explanation of it here.  So, in Jesus, we find this tension between grace and truth.  We are to love the same way Jesus did.  You, me, and the rest of the church.

There’s a problem.  I’ve been in too many churches that complain about the world, just as I did (and have the urge to still do sometimes).  When I read the Jesus of the gospels and see how he treated the world, then walk into a church and hear how they talk about the world, there’s a huge disconnect.  To be honest, if I weren’t a follower of Jesus and walked into the church to hear that, I’d turn around and walk back out.  It hurts, and it needs to stop.

You’ve probably heard it before, too:

“If we don’t watch out, the world is going to get us.”

“Our society is so sinful, I just don’t know what to do.”

“We can’t ____.  The world won’t let us!”

Why are we lying to ourselves?  People today don’t have a problem with the Jesus of the gospels.  But they have a huge problem with the church.  It sounds like that we have temporarily lost our way.  Thank God that we have the same grace that we were met with when we first became followers.  Or, if you’re reading this and aren’t a follower, the same grace that is extended to you right now.

Remember my rejection of the world during my teenage years?  This is classic in churches.  The only difference is that we wrap it up in the grandeur of heaven.  We sit in our chairs or pews, disgusted with “the worldly ways,” so we are content to sit back and wait for heaven.  All the while ignoring the mission God has given us now, through Jesus Christ.

This is the exact reason why there are so many churches just waiting to die.  Literally.  And, I guess, even figuratively.

Do you want to know why church planting has skyrocketed in the past decade and a half?  Christians have caught on to the mission that was given to them.  We want to get to heaven, and we’ll get there.  In the meantime, we have some work to do, so let’s do it.

And, for the future of the church, why don’t we stop with the bashing of the world within our church walls?  To paraphrase an old quote, everyone already knows what we’re against.  They don’t know what we are for.

Let me leave you with this question that a wise man of God once asked me: “What do we do when the hope of the world has lost hope for the world?”

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