I love my friend, Larry Shallenberger’s paragraph in this post, about the danger of “Christian Church Culture”. He likens God’s transforming process to that of a mechanic restoring an old motorcycle, believing that the old rusted bike has its best years ahead of it. We religious people, meanwhile, tend to handle each other like airport luggage handlers. This leads to the false belief that its better to lower our heads and fit in.
Lower our heads and fit in. Covertly demand that, as a precondition for fellowship, outsiders think the way you think (or at least pretend to think the way you pretend to think), about all things, as a precondition for finding your place at the table. And of course, there’s behavior too, and at our worst, clothes – all covertly held up as preconditions for belonging This, I think, is what Larry means by “lower your heads and fit in”.
The trouble with this, if I can switch analogies, is that this kind of Christianity feels more like an audition on American idol, or for a sports team, than an invitation to “come as you are”. If you don’t have the moral cache, on the front end, to fit in, you’re stuffed. As a result, many people learn to play the church game, creating a sort of Sunday “game face” that might be far, far from reality. “Lower your head and fit in”.
I can’t begin to articulate how damaging this culture is. It’s a petri dish for hypocrisy, and hence one of the major reasons the church is failing to reach young generations according to this research. It mangles the gospel, making it less about good news, and more about fear, control, and conformity. As I wrote in my first book, “every Sunday in America, people will walk out of a worship service never to return” for these exact reasons. I don’t blame them for leaving, if all I’m part of is a performance modification program.
THE GOOD NEWS (the gospel) is wholly other than this.
After all, we serve the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That’s how God refers to Himself. It’s God’s way of saying, “I’m for these three guys. They’re in my family. I identify with them. I love them. I’ll stay with them every step of their transformative journey” And… just off the top of my head, here are some bits of their lives, AFTER they said yes to God:
1. one lies about the identity of his wife, handing her off as his sister to a king in order to save his own skin.
2. the same one sleeps with the maid because his wife, tired of waiting for God to miraculously get her old womb impregnated with his old seed, asks him to do so.
3. one exudes unabashed favoritism to one of his twin sons, going to great efforts to thwart God’s plan to choose and bless the other son.
4. one of the twins lies, cheats, and steals in an attempt to secure blessing and affirmation from his father.
5. one them, on the run, and in fear of his life, settles in a land where he marries four women and father’s 12 sons.
6. those twelve sons will, over the course of their days, display themselves to be jealous, petty, vengeful, thieves, murderers, liars, proud, hard-hearted, and violent, even towards their own family members. They’ll sell one brother as a slave. One of them will sleep with his daughter-in-law, thinking her to be a prostitute, and impregnate her. Oh, and they’ll become known by this title: “The Patriarchs”.
Let’s put it this way. None of them would be welcome in church, or invited to do marriage seminars, or speak for Focus on the Family, especially when I remind you that all these things occurred after they’d said yes to God.
Somehow, though, God still found room for them, stayed with them, loved them, and walked with them relentlessly, shepherding them towards a transformation that would better represent God’s heart. I wish we, who are the church, would take a cue from God on this.
Oh, and that daughter-in-law with whom Judah (one of the twelve dysfunctional sons) slept? Her name is Tamar, and she fathered Perez out of that union. She nearly lost him, because when Judah’s servant tells him that (the Message translation)… “your daughter-in-law has been playing the whore – and now she’s a pregnant whore”, Judah get’s all self-righteous and calls for her execution. When she reveals, though, who the father is, he changes his mind, and Perez is born. He becomes the patriarch in the line of David, who establishes the kingly line through whom Christ comes.
And we think people need to clean up their act before coming to Christ? It should be enough that they want to know God and follow Him. How about giving God a little room to work, on both others and ourselves? How about ending the game of pretend and acknowledging that none of us, None. Of. Us… have arrived yet, that we all have issues under our issues, things to be transformed that we can’t even yet see. That would make the church a little more humble, and a little more patient with flaws, and a lot more like Jesus.
I welcome your thoughts.