5 Church-Types to Probably Avoid

For the past several years I’ve been wrestling with my vision of church. Often, pessimism wins out. And, although I still believe that the church is the hope of the world – when it is in Christ – I still struggle to see the beauty of the kingdom throughout the greater church at times.

I need to be careful here, because the temptation would be to act as though my church has it all figured out. In other words, it would be easy to talk up how “we are finally doing it the way Jesus wanted it done,” when in fact all churches are flawed all churches need additional grace.

Yet, because we have not entered the new age of the kingdom when Christ comes back to sit on the throne as king for all eternity [wow, that felt intense to read], it makes sense to discern which sort of community is best going to create space for people who are passionate about bringing the reality of God to their neighborhoods and world.

These days, although I am more interested in reconstruction than deconstruction, I find myself wanting to say a few things about the sorts of churches I personally would avoid (if I were searching for a new faith community). It is also important to know that I in no way promote the idea of “church hopping.” I think this reflects the unfortunate values of individualism in so many Christians today. It’s essential for followers of Jesus to in fact commit somewhere and invest their lives into something bigger than themselves.

With all of those caveats aside, I want to share 5 different sorts of churches that I personally would avoid if I were moving to a new city and were not a pastor of a church.

1) A church in which “Truth” is the most common word in the vocabulary. 

When a church focuses on “Truth” with a capital T, it gives us a hint about their priorities. Such communities run the risk of prioritizing what they perceive as “right teaching” over “right practice.” One problem with the Truth Thumper approach is that often the truth they are defending is in fact a culturally conditioned set of beliefs (many of which are disputable if not outright proven wrong by prudent scholarship). I’m certainly not saying that knowing the truth doesn’t matter, but I’ve become convinced that Truth is a person – Jesus the Messiah – and not a set of propositions.

Convictions matter – but most of what we believe ought to be held with an open hand – trusting that God can in fact lead us into something deeper than truth: a relational connection with the Divine. Everything we say about God is always insufficient as our words are incapable of fully capturing the truth. Truth (Jesus) transcends our capacity for knowing and yet chooses to elusively meet us through the Spirit.

Interestingly, most churches that thump the “truth” usually have two underlying assumptions: objectivity and literalism. This combination yields a posture within culture that often appears combative as a defensive move against perceived persecution. Defending the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, the young age of the earth, the impending end times, and other common conservative/fundamentalist perspectives become the “main thing.” Churches do well when they create space for ambiguity, mystery, and innovative scholarship (as opposed to old school evidential apologetics). A church touting “truth” is a church that runs the risk of christening their perception of truth as being true as the Gospel itself.

2) A church that is driven by a strong personality… and nothing else.

These sorts of churches have a great show. The “bells and whistle” are the main thing, reinforced by the personality of the main speaker. Although many focused programs might exist to complement the “show,” the reality often is that these all aim to get people in the building. The bigger the personality on the stage, the more butts will fill the seats.

I’m not saying that churches with leaders who have strong personalities are all bad. A strong teaching pastor(s) can be a great gift to a church, for instance. When this situation goes wrong is when the “event” becomes more important than justice, community, and peacemaking. Many churches that fell into the personality trap have actually refocused around serving in the community and growing in Christ. When this happens, we should affirm such churches.

3) A church that feels more like a social action club and less like a committed worshiping community of Jesus followers.

I’ve been to some churches that feel like they are a club for doing great things in the world. They serve the poor, they include everyone, and they worship the goodness of the human spirit. Wait… the human spirit or the Holy Spirit? Therein lies the dilemma.

Worship and action go together, a partnership which often yields deeper outcomes. This is the fruit of the Spirit that Paul talks about in Galatians. Paul argues that as we come to a place of worship and communion with the resurrected Christ that the natural outcome will be fruit – or good works. In this way, as our character is formed internally (mysteriously by God) our external actions start to look more like Christ.

When worship/discipleship is divorced from social action – the temptation is individualism. When social action is divorced from worship/discipleship – the temptation is to center our lives on what we do and not who we are in Christ. A church that invites folks to become certain types of people (those formed into Christlikeness) is a church that will have incredible social action.

4) A church that speaks of the “end times” in almost every worship service.

These churches often drive themselves on fear and priveledge. Fear in that we all must behave a certain way so not to be “left behind” (etc.). Privilege in that we assume that we are the fulfillment of God’s eschatological plans and that the rest of the world will go to hell. Of course, these assumptions are dependent on fundamentalist modes of reading the Scriptures (which, by the way, in light of history are themselves quite “innovative”). In this setting, you will hear words such as: “Magog,” “Armageddon,” “false prophet,” “666,” “Obama” (did I just say that? yep!), “AntiChrist,” “Tribulation,” and “millennium.” The hope of the Christian life in this schema is eventual eternal bliss in a place called heaven rather than the bringing of heaven to earth. The problem is, friends, that when Christ comes back, it will be Good News not tribulation. [On a related note, check out these posts on Revelation if you are interested].

I’m not going to get into too much more detail, but if you walk into a church and the pastor pulls out a complex timetable with a bunch of cryptic images and events: run, run, run!

5) A church where the flag is prominently placed in a central location in the sanctuary and where on the Fourth of July they often sing “God bless America.”

So many American churches have fallen into the trap of believing that the United States is unique in God’s plan. America then becomes something that originally was “Christian” and can once again become “Christian” if only we will turn it back around for God. Regular references to conservative politics, muslims, and supporting our troops cultivates a vision of the Kingdom that often fails to truly love our global neighbors. Whether it be the glorification of unregulated markets, low taxation, tougher immigration policies, or the need to kill terrorists, these congregations literally see the American flag as (basically) a Christian symbol.

I once was on staff at a church that increasingly exemplified all of these things, so I’m not pulling these examples out of thin air. As followers of Jesus, we are invited into a Kingdom that transcends borders – not one that reinforces them. I personally would run away from any church that does the flag salute or sings “God bless America” near July 4th. This isn’t because we are “anti-America” but that we don’t glorify our country as exemplifying God’s dream for humanity.

Bonus) A church that talks more about the necessity of a submissive woman than looking at modeling our lives after the submissive Christ.

I’d love to hear from you – Which types of churches didn’t make my list that you try to avoid? Also, which sorts of churches bring you hope? Of course, please be kind in your description of such places. 

  • Josh Kelley

    How about a personality-driven church built more upon protecting gun rights than the proclamation of the gospel because of necessity of defending the Constitution as God’s revealed Truth against the godless, unsubmissive socialist women? I think I saw a Youtube video from that church once.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems
    • ccws

      Because nothing says faith in the Prince of Peace like a fuly stocked arsenal… :-P

      • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

        You wouldn’t own any real property without the power of a gun.

        Jesus didn’t teach non-violence. He taught non-violence AND absolute renunciation of property, along the lines of modern anarcho-primitivism. Real property and unequal wealth requires defending it with weapons. You’re just delegating the violence necessary for your lifestyle to another person.

        Meanwhile, you are anti-egalitarian. Realize the 2nd Amendment is a perfect example of Egalitarian Power Sharing. Unsaid, but implied, is your penchant for power to be concentrated in higher, tighter hands.

        That’s something Jesus was against.

        • Call no man your patre/patron/pastor/boss on the Earth. ~Jesus
        • Rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. ~Jesus

        • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

          This argument sounds vaguely familiar :)

          • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

            Well, rebut it then.

            You hold a contradiction, summarized as follows:

            • Non-violence, because Jesus.
            • Delegated violence, because Paul. (esp. Rom. 13)

            It’s not pacifism, its pacifist-aggressive.

            And it creates a caste system in your “Kingdom.” One caste, the holy lotus-eating pacifists above the fray, not dirtying their hands with what maintains their lifestyle, and a lower class of sinners who must do your dirty work for you of defending your real property.

            Even worse is if you advocate State violence against your neighbors to establish your Reich (Kingdom) wing politics on earth, by supporting Philistine policy of disarmament found in 1 Samuel 13:19.

          • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

            Brian, you’ve trotted out your arguments before. You’ve also seen Kurt’s rebuttals, which you have ignored. I note that your supposed “Biblical” defense of self-defense is rooted largely in the Old Testament, pre-Jesus. A couple points, though I know they’ve been said before:

            1) You yourself have acknowledged that Jesus preached nonviolence, but you haven’t accepted the implicit second step, that to whatever extent one espouses violence, one rejects Jesus’ standard on that point. I, for example, do consider the possibility of violently defending myself or my family, but as I do so, I admit that to such an extent I fail to have really assimilated Jesus’ way.

            2) You appeal to Rom. 13. That’s a passage that may be used to defend state violence, but it also absolutely forbids rebellion against the state of the sort the 2nd Amendment is used to promote. It is impossible to take up arms to defend oneself against a totalitarian state without explicitly violating Rom. 13:1-2. And don’t defend it by saying an oppressive state violates 13:3, because 1-2 are not conditional, and the Roman state in which Paul was writing was far more oppressive than any modern state.

            3) You also fail to acknowledge that the Rom. 13 passage is bracketed on one side by Rom. 12: 14-21 and on the other by Rom. 13:8-10. You can’t square those without coming to the conclusion that whatever the state’s rights regarding the use of coercive power, Paul also considered it unacceptable for the Jesus-follower.

            4) Your point above about Jesus repudiating all property is nonsense. He instructed certain people to repudiate their property; he clearly taught giving and not being tied to property, but he also routinely came to the homes of friends with property (e.g. Lazarus, Mary & Martha) and did not teach them to divest. He was also supported by quite a number of women with means (see Luk 8:3).

            5) You seem to have accepted without question that because our nation depends on/conducts its business in violence, that we could not live another way. Evidence around the world suggests otherwise; not that others are wholly peaceful, but that freedom is not strictly tied to an armed populace (cf. most of western Europe, Australia). There are no “pure” examples, but if firearm possession were that much of an equalizer, even with the regulations and limitations we do have we ought to be the freest, most egalitarian society on earth. You can’t possibly be suggesting that’s true?

          • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

            Kurt’s rebuttals? Where?

            And didn’t you see me quote Jesus twice before I mentioned the Second Amendment? Good grief, man!

            1. Jesus did preach non-violence, alot. He also said buy a sword. Self-defense is a human right. Most gun owners, like Jesus, have been non-violent their whole life, just like Jesus taught, while having the sword handy for self defense, in the gravest extreme.

            Thus, having a firearm is not inconsistent with being non-violent.

            2. I do NOT appeal Rom. 13. (My Bible is the highly redacted Jefferson Bible, I hold Paul & Co. in low regard.) Pacifists do, in their defense of the State, being involved in State politics, and owning State-issued Land Title, which needs defended with guns, usually by LEOs, which is what I was pointing out.

            3. I don’t give a hoot about what Paul wrote. “Of this band of dupes and impostors, Paul was the great Corypheus, and first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus.” ~Thomas Jefferson (Jefferson’s Works, Vol. ii., p. 217)

            4. Jesus said to sell all. Jesus said to consider the ravens, who neither so nor reap. Jesus was against building barns. Jesus stole (it would be a crime today) grain off private property. Jesus espoused what today is called anarcho-primitivist, who are against the surface of the earth being divided up into property. Theologian Ched Myers does a good job of explaining in detail.

            Ched Myers (2005) The Fall & Anarcho-Primitivism and the Bible. Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature. Edited by Bron Taylor. NY: Continuum.
            chedmyers.org/articles/ecology-faith/%E2%80%9C-fall%E2%80%9D-and-%E2%80%9Canarcho-primitivism-and-bible

            5. No “pure” examples? Thanks for pointing that out.

          • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

            Re your #1: When Jesus said buy a sword, his excuse was so he would be “numbered with the transgressors.” Shortly thereafter he chastized Peter for using the sword. Lamest defense of personal armament ever.
            2. If your “authority” is the Jefferson Bible, we have little in common upon which to base a discussion about Jesus. Gotta start with a common foundation, I’m afraid, and this ain’t it. Jefferson was a great man, but no authority about Jesus or faith.
            3. I didn’t bring up Romans, you did. I *don’t* hold to the “delegated violence” theory you claim. If Paul’s not an authority to you, fine. Don’t quote him, and I won’t quote him to you. I’m OK with that.
            4. Your characterization of Jesus is simplistic and ahistorical, and may be based partly on your #2 (I’m guessing?). Your references to his teaching and behavior are completely devoid of context. For example, what you characterize as Jesus “stealing” grain was actually a legal provision in Mosaic law, not only that a stranger could grab a handful of grain, but that the farmer was required by law to leave gleanable grain in a field. So it would *not* have been a crime.
            5. Switzerland also has compulsory military service, rather restrictive immigration laws, universal health care and insurance. You sure you want to hold them up as a “pure” example of your libertarian utopia?

          • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

            More to the point, however, Brian, I think it’s time you come clean on what you are FOR. It’s obvious you’re hostile to Mennonites and Anabaptism (at least the pacifist portion), and at least in part, it appears this may be due to your reaction to your own Mennonite/Amish heritage which you are actively rejecting. If you’ve gone to the Jefferson Bible for your authority you’re probably against typical Evangelical Christianity. Your quotation of Heinlein’s “Job” (a great story BTW; I pointed to it on my own blog once: http://nailtothedoor.com/the-gospel-according-to-heinlein-or-why-christians-are-sometimes-gods-worst-enemies/) may indicate you’ve chosen atheism, or more accurately anti-theism. But these are all things to be against.

            You’re for the 2nd Amendment. OK. You’re for freedom, unless it’s freedom to believe in and practice pacifism. But other than take down people you think are full of crap, what do you want? I’d honestly like to know.

          • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

            “More to the point…” always ends up being ol’ Brian. Especially when arguments are lost on ideas.

            And yes, the Platonists were always accusing Thomas Jefferson of being an atheist too. Funny how history repeats.

            “…I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel, and themselves Christians and preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what it’s Author never said nor saw. they have compounded from the heathen mysteries a system beyond the comprehension of man…” ~Thomas Jefferson, letter to Charles Thomson, January 9, 1816

            “The euthanasia of platonic christianity: Thomas Jefferson, Plato, religion and human freedom.” Gregory Lawrence Knittel, San Jose State University 1993. scholarworks.sjsu.edu/etd_theses/689/

          • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

            But enough about Jefferson. What about you? What does Brian believe, except that everyone else is wrong? I really would like to know. Not to argue … it’s probable we don’t agree on much, but I’d love to know what you want. ‘Cause all I’ve seen so far is what you despise (all the rest of us).

          • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

            Aaaaand, it’s about all about ol’ Brian again, after the self-righteous Pharisees cannot intellectually defend their frequent Two Minute Hates against their gun-owning neighbors.

          • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

            Once again, you have clearly mistaken me for someone else. I do not hate gun owners, I am one, and I enjoy recreational shooting with others.

            I’m just trying to understand your perspective, because other than despising pacifists generally and Mennonites in particular, I have yet to understand what your goals/intentions are.

          • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

            I’m confronting bigotry, and its faulty theology, expressed against gun owners. Example:

            ccws: “Because nothing says faith in the Prince of Peace like a fuly stocked arsenal… :-P”

            If you’re not an anti-gun owner bigot, then that’s good.

            I don’t despise pacifists or Mennonites. I still call myself Mennonite, often “gun-toting Mennonite” for a laugh. My Mennonite neighbor has a great gun shop. And I still call myself a pacifist,* in the footsteps of Thomas Jefferson.

            At Camp Perry last summer, where I shot 216-7x (highest bullseye score that day) during the Pistol Small Arms Firing School & M9 Pistol EIC Match, the U.S. Army Marksmanship Team officer who was training me asked, “Do you shoot competition?”

            I answered, “No, I’m a pacifist Mennonite farmer. Haven’t shot more than 10 rounds in 13 years of buying a farm, building a house for my family, and trying to convert Monsanto-raped soil into fertile pasture.”

            He raised his eyebrows, “So what are you doing here?”

            I said, “Voters for Obama wanted change, right? With their hatred of gun owners expressed this spring, I am the change they’ve got.”

            He got a big grin on his face and said, “You need to consider shooting competition. You’re dead on your first shots, and then your arms lose form in the last half of your game. I want to see you here next year.”

            _____________
            Reginald C. Stuart (1978) The Half-Way Pacifist: Thomas Jefferson’s View of War. University of Toronto Press.

          • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

            Would love to know more of Jeffersonian pacifism; the concept intrigues me.

            But here we may have a point of genuine disagreement, in that, though a shooter and not a fearer of guns, I have a real problem with anyone trying to make a Christian argument either for firearm freedom or self-defense. I hold it cannot be done without delusion or dishonesty. The objective and legal arguments that exist, however rational, are not Christian.

            Still, if we lived near each other I’d love to get together and shoot, talk, and maybe share a good beverage after we were done shooting.

          • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

            I don’t see any problem with having a sword, firearm, or defending oneself, but I will add that Jesus was single, and had no children. He had only himself to protect, no wife, no children. (And he asked people to leave their families. I ain’t doing that either.)

            Women and children come first, and I’m fully willing to die to protect mine. And my wife would die to protect our children.

            “But all moral problems can be illustrated by one misquotation: ‘Greater love hath no man than a mother cat dying to defend her kittens.’ Once you understand the problem facing that cat and how she solved it, you will then be ready to examine yourself and learn how high up the moral ladder you are capable of climbing.” ~Robert Heinlein

            If Jesus, you, and I were sitting down together talking, and he took your side, I’d argue with him, use his own words (above) against him, and disagree if necessary.

            None of us Sons of God* are infallible.

            * youtube.com/watch?v=N1qui6pC54A

          • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

            You’re for freedom, unless it’s freedom to believe in and practice pacifism.

            Wrong. You’re free to be pacifist, like many of my relatives. Some of ‘em are still in broad-rimmed hats and barn-door trousers.

            But can you defend it intellectually? Probably not, since you had to make such an unfounded accusation.

          • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

            1. The purchased sword negates “perfect disarmament,” being the lamest interpretation of Jesus’ teachings ever. And, having a weapon makes you no more violent than having fists on your hands. You’re already armed, Dan.

            2. Jesus I have no problem with, (and basically Jefferson only cut out the magical stuff.) But you didn’t mention the imposter Paul, the “mythmaker,” whom I do have a problem with.

            3. I don’t bring up Romans as an excuse for the State. Pacifists do.

            4. I don’t think Mennonite theologian Ched Myers is simplistic, and he’s certainly not basing his theology on Jefferson.

            5. Me libertarian? Are you kidding? Frankly, you’re the one who reminds me of the Libertarians and their wooden adherence to the NAP, or Non-Aggression Principle, and refusal to consider the contradictions their philosophy brings up. You differ little with them. You both imagine owning real property requires no violence. You’re both seeking utopias.

          • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

            You clearly have me confused with someone else. I never advocated for disarmament and, in the USA, I don’t think it’s practical/possible.

            Not sure what to do with your comment about the “imposter Paul.” I haven’t based any of my philosophy on him.

            I do believe that property and violence aren’t inextricably linked. But I don’t know a libertarian that’ll give me the time of day.

          • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

            While progressives often do advocate for a wide national disarmament, I wasn’t referring to that. I was referring to Jesus teachings by which you interpret a personal disarmament, where you have no weapon to defend yourself.

            Even if you don’t buy the sword Jesus mentioned, you’re always armed. Your fists are weapons. Swords and firearms are merely supplementary.

            You’re armed with the primary weapon humans have used to fight for eons. But even so armed, you can be non-violent your whole life. (And good for you.)

            So too can gun (or sword) owners be non-violent their whole life, even while armed. Just like you.

    • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

      Those not adequately prepared to protect their women properly may well leave them widows.

      Goshen professor’s murder still unsolved, two years later
      wndu.com/home/headlines/Wednesday-marks-two-years-since-Goshen-professors-death-227039831.html

      P.S. Unless you’re an unempathetic bed-wetter, you will fight in that situation to protect your woman from harm in as similar situation. Biology demands it. I applaud the professor for finally eschewing his obtuse theology to react how God created him (or how he evolved, either way) to behave. But being conflicted, his decision was too late to affect the outcome. So what is wrong with the right tool and the right mindset to succeed in your duty as a husband to a woman?

      • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe Jim Miller was murdered in his bed. Unless he had been a paranoid who slept with a loaded weapon under his pillow, he wouldn’t have had a chance …

        • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

          I can understand why such self-serving tall tales are circulating in the pacifist community, but the fact is that Miller died by his mailbox. I doubt he slept on the street.

          “James was found outside lying on the ground in the street near the mailbox. His injuries were fatal.”
          Goshen News | October 5, 2013
          goshennews.com/local/x703131163/State-police-aiding-in-2011-case

          Would you like to reconsider your faulty conclusion based on a false premise?

          • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

            Previously in the same article “The attack on the Millers took place around 1 a.m. Linda was the first to be attacked by the intruder, Chief Branson said during a press conference a few days after the crime. James moved in to help his wife.”
            But I withdraw the (obviously incorrect) statement that he was shot in his bed.

          • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

            >” James moved in to help his wife.”

            “Her husband stopped to help her. [...] the husband was mortally injured and died later [...] The husband’s behavior was heroic [...] THIS is how a man dies. This is how a MAN—lives!” ~Robert Heinlein, The Pragmatics of Patriotism (5 April 1973, James Forrestal Memorial Lecture, United States Naval Academy)

            At least James made the right moral decision. A man is always armed. Even with his fists. Fists evolved to fight. You, right now, are armed, and dangerously so, Dan. A tool would only enhance your innate fighting equipment.

            Human Hands Evolved for Fighting, Study Suggests
            livescience.com/25688-human-hands-evolved-fighting.html

            Hopefully you’d be as moral as James. And with better tools, you’d have a better chance of hugging your wife after the fight.

          • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

            Please point out where ihave suggested otherwise. My posts about nonviolence have always allowed for the forcible defense of self and innocents.

          • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

            Outstanding, Dan. Then I misunderstood you for one of those who are “non-resistant” in the extreme. I’ve been called “Satanic” and “evil” for simply owning a gun by Obama voting, disarmament-advocating progressive Anabaptists. I do apologize for lumping you in with them.

          • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

            This Obama voting anabaptist who left the Menno church because he felt (and still feels) like Mennos abandoned the gospel for left-wing politics in the same way Evangelicals did for the right wing, accepts your apology. ;{)

            it’s easy to make assumptions in online discussions. I did too. Would truly love to know more of your story sometime. Quite sure we wouldn’t completely agree, but I bet it’d be fun!

            Pax

          • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

            Oh, I’ve made more than one friend after a tussle. ;)

            We were married in a Conservative Mennonite church. We tried a liberal church for a little while, but they just worship Reich-wing* politics. Because Sojourners, John Yoder, and Rom 13.

            *Dein Reich Komme (Thy Kingdom Come) basically trying to immanentize the eschaton via the State.

    • Andrea

      I just left a church like that. They were really into my-fatherland-right-or-wrong and ratcheted up the alarm that Congress had sold America out to the U.N. to take their guns. That, coupled with the apocalyptic view that Revelation is about to be fulfilled at any moment makes for a disquieting mix. I grew up under such teaching and find this article extremely helpful and one I will refer to again and again.

  • Sideline Theology

    Great article. The only thing I might say in response is that I would encourage people not to immediately dismiss a church based upon #’s 3 and 5. I would suggest getting to know the church a bit first. You don’t fully know from square one where a church has been or where it is going. As a pastor of a church in the rural Midwest, we struggle with #5 because it is strongly engrained in the culture of the church. Yet if you look at the way this church has grown in faith and wisdom over the past 6 years, you can see that God is doing some mighty things.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      I certainly understand where you’re coming from. I think we need to have a lot of grace when discerning these sorts of issues. However, I personally would not gravitate towards those sorts of situations if there were other communities in the same area that didn’t have these red flags. With that said, God is still at work in these communities at times, to be sure. But, if someone is in a brand-new place without any background on the churches, I still would suggest that these sorts of things should be jumping all over their “caution radar.” And although number five is part of your church, since you are the pastor, it seems as though it’s heading a good direction. I’m more concerned when these sorts of issues are raised from the pulpit.
      Peace.

      KURT WILLEMS
      http://kurtwillems.com
      http://facebook.com/kurtwillems
      http://twitter.com/kurtwillems

  • Barry Friesen

    Perhaps you should add to the list a caution towards a fellowship that has something “new” to teach or that they’ve discovered something that no one else has ever heard. A tendency to teach on what “fancies” or “tickles” the ears is a fleshly temptation and many assemblies cave to this, which Paul warns Timothy about. Having said that, sometimes those are the places that God calls us! :)

  • April M. Perry

    You forgot about the Elitist church where everyone who makes a 6-figure income is “blessed and highly favored of the Lord,” and anyone who didn’t get that memo is isolated and basically treated like they are invisible or even worse told that God is angry with them, and that is why they didn’t get “a piece of that pie.” This is health, wealth and prosperity, and is basically scripture taken out of context to support the personal agendas of those who treat God like He is a Santa Claus figure. You’re seeing nothing but counterfeit images and emotionless, repressed blocks of wood, instead of real personalities, because these people live in such fear of losing God’s favor, which is perceived as money to buy a comfortable life, that they will ultimately become slaves to those desires. It must truly be miserable life, because a true blessing of God would not bring that kind of bondage or sorrow.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      This is an important addition to the list… For sure.

      Peace.

      KURT WILLEMS
      http://kurtwillems.com
      http://facebook.com/kurtwillems
      http://twitter.com/kurtwillems

    • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

      > treat God like He is a Santa Claus figure

      That’s exactly what I think of the whole theology of afterlife and Heaven. Tammy Faye Edition mansions in a pearly gated community with gold-plated streets. Who is even attracted to that sort of ostentatious garbage?

      > slaves to those desires. It must truly be miserable life

      Thou hast said it.

      Robert Heinlein parodied brilliantly the whole Heaven schtick, in his novel Job: A Comedy of Justice.

      I would not want to be a saint in Heaven if Margrethe was not with me; I wouldn’t fear going to Hell if she was there — not that I believe in Hell or ever stood a chance of being a saint in Heaven. Samuel Clemens put it: “Where she was, there was Eden.” Omar phrased it: “thou beside me in the wilderness, ah wilderness were paradise enow.” Browning termed it: Summum Bonum. All were asserting the same great truth, which is for me: Heaven is where Margrethe is.

      wikiquote.org/wiki/Job:_A_Comedy_of_Justice

      • Robert Bob Wilson

        When one has decided on a belief, it is very easy to take a statement or belief and ridicule it. By finding the weaknesses, you have done a fabulous job of validating the strengths. For one school of philosophy, phenomenological, holds that if a belief cannot be falsified, it cannot be true. You done many a great service.
        Another counter point: many who do not believe in God have committed the most horrendous crimes. How about Hitler, Mao, Stalin?
        It is easy to find the wrong to make a point, how about the good to learn from the opposite? Christians have done marvelous things for other countries, helped the poor, with who giving praise and recognition? Probably not you.

        • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

          > many who do not believe in God

          Easy there, preacherboy. I’m no atheist. I’m a Christian.

          “To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other.” ~Thomas Jefferson, letter to Benjamin Rush, May 21, 1803

          > Hitler

          Hitler, say you? Anabaptists, Catholics, and Lutherans supported him!

          • Mennonite Nazis ephrataministries.org/remnant-2012-11-mennonite-nazis.a5w

          • Saving a Nazi Church: Aryans on the Altar; Swastikas on the Church Bells spiegel.de/international/saving-a-nazi-church-aryans-on-the-altar-swastikas-on-the-church-bells-a-405922.html

          > Probably not you.

          Liars aren’t much into obeying that Ninth Commandment, are ye? So why don’t you come say that to my face? I’ve got 3 Mennonite churches within 5 miles of my house.
          West Fulton Dunkard Brethren is within 5. We’ll make it public. Alright?

          • Robert Bob Wilson

            I think I missed something in the last post, so rather than compound error upon misunderstanding, upon confusion, I withdraw. We may agree to disagree, or vent feelings, thoughts and ideas. So to that onward!

  • Erik Merksamer

    #5 Patriotism is hard to escape. I’m glad you mentioned it, as it seems like an indicator of how a community views the Kingdom of God.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      That is so true.

    • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

      “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…” ~Jesus
      “Blessed is the nation…” ~Psalmist

  • Ryan Hite

    So…. basically every single conservatively based church… Sounds about right. But there are some of those aspects that are iffy, expecially 3 and 5 to a lesser extent.

  • Jason

    Shouldn’t we as Pastors be concerned with #1? We have been given a call to bring God’s Word to His people and to the world at large. If we are not zealously seeking the Truth in the Word “rightly dividing it (2Tim.2)” don’t we stand the risk of preaching heresy? If Truth is preached and lived by a congregation will there not be growth and evangelism? I understand the we’re right and everyone else is wrong attitude but shouldn’t truth be a priority in all preaching/teaching?

  • http://nailtothedoor.com/ Dan Martin

    Without discounting anything on your list, Kurt, I think your list fails to recognize that there are similar culture-before-gospel markers on the left wing of (American) Cristianity as well. For me, they would include a church with a rainbow flag on the sign, or any of the various phrases that suggest being “open and affirming” may have more emphasis in their gospel than Jesus; also any church where “worship” is barely distinguishable from a concert (from baroque to alternative rock) or a rave; or where “missional” is more a predictor of hipster looks and funky vibe than beinf Jesus to people.

  • http://carlygelsinger.com/ Carly Gelsinger

    #1 and #2 is together is a truly toxic combination. All led by one powerful personality and committed to absolute truth (AKA, one man’s interpretation of it).

  • http://sipech.wordpress.com/ Sipech

    I would caution against running too far in the opposite direction. If we take #1 for example, I would be very cautious about going to a church that placed no value on truth. One church I was a part of dealt with this very well. The first sermon I heard there ended with the preacher saying, “Well, that’s my understanding. Of course, I might be wrong. If you think so, come and speak to me afterwards.” If a church is wholly uninterested in truth, it opens the door to all sorts of heterodox ideas (including some of those mentioned in #4). I think there is such a thing as faithfulness to the gospel which we are called to without being dogmatic (in the modern, negative-connoted meaning of the word) that our understanding is perfect.

    If I were to add anything to the list, it would be a church that is obsessed with “signs and wonders”. I’ve been a part of (and left) such a church. The idea seemed to be that the aim of christianity was to bring about supernatural miracles, to make them everyday. As such, I thought they missed the point that a sign is something which points to that which is not itself. They would pray for healing and then be perplexed when someone died. It’s a sort of escapism, really. Instead of being a part of a new creation, it was fuelled by a desire to be rid of this life, thus negating any responsibility we might have here and now.

    • ccws

      I’ve never understood the brand of “faith” that relies on “signs and wonders.” Snake handlers, faith healers, speaking in tongues, so much wasted energy on the supernatural and miraculous that could be better directed toward the real-world things God requires: doing justice, loving kindness, walking humbly…

      Likewise, I could never understand the replacement of the Greatest Commandment (and the second, which is like unto it) by the Great Commission, which diverts so much of the energy of the Evangelical movement…

      (File under “Why Church Drives Me Insane.”)

  • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

    I totally agree, especially with no 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 :)

    Glad you mentioned patriotism. A year ago I decided that I wasn’t again going to preach on a stage that had an American flag on it because it just feels too idolatrous to me.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      That’s a radical stance to take… One, that of course, I fully affirm :-) i’m not sure that I would hold to that dogmatically (their may be exceptions depending on context…. at least for me), but, I definitely agree with it in principal. You and I, my friend, are scarily similar!
      Peace.

      KURT WILLEMS
      http://kurtwillems.com
      http://facebook.com/kurtwillems
      http://twitter.com/kurtwillems

      • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

        Agreed. I don’t hold it dogmatically for the most part. When I’m a guest speaker, I treat it like any other missiological situation- I’m a guest in their culture and so, I don’t critique their culture (i.e, such as when I’m working in India). However, when it’s been situations where I’ve been a regular speaker or in leadership at a church, I’ve pushed harder on it. At my last church they still had one, but I preached from a podium on the floor instead of on stage where they put the flag. So, context definitely is key.

    • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

      I discovered last year how far gone to the Left is Anabaptist pacifism these days. MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) is actually banging the drums for gunowners to be taken down with the violent imagery of “one shot…to the forehead” in their MCC>Fear Not>David&Goliath online diatribe against their neighbors. Reading that, I wrote to several church leaders. They all answered, in summary: Non-violence, because Jesus. But support violent Leftist politics, because Rom 13. And John Howard. And Obama. Even the Chicago Tribune finds such “Mania” rather odd.

      Many rural Mennonites around here are saying Hell with ‘em. My one neighbor, a member in a Mennonite church, opened a gun shop, and does great business in a heavily Mennonite community. I know some Mennonite church members who have got their carry permits from the Sheriff. (I’ve visited several Mennonite churches this summer, researching.) Myself, I joined the NRA (so I could honestly say I was one of MCC “one shot…to the forehead” targets) and I put up a tall flagpole with a 4′x6′ US flag.

      If you want to go back to the Anabaptist ways of my long-bearded broadrim hatted grandfather, and even my father, and father-in-law, I can respect that. They didn’t sue, didn’t vote, didn’t get involved in State politics. They understood that politics is violence. But if you’re going to get involved in Leftist politics, expect pushback. And you found that out last year, right?

      • JT

        I’m Anabaptist. No violence for me. I stay out of politics too. Not sure why I then have to grow a beard and get a hat?

        • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

          Good for you for staying out of politics, not voting, not suing, etc. (traditional Anabaptist values) if you’re going to profess being absolutely against violence.

          But if thou dost will to be perfectly non-violent, first consider the ravens who neither sow nor reap, and then go away, sell what real property title from the State thou hast, and never shalt thou eat agricultural food again, for it requireth violence, as anthropology and history evidenceths:

          “…agriculture creates government.” ~Richard Manning (2005) Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization, p. 73

          “The emergence of systematic warfare, fortifications, and weapons of destruction follows the path of agriculture.” ~Violent Origins (Stanford University Press, 1987)

          “…we chose the latter [agriculture] and ended up with starvation, warfare, and tyranny.” ~Jared Diamond (May 1987) Agriculture: The Worst Mistake In The History Of The Human Race. Discover Magazine. pp. 64-66. http://discovermagazine.com/1987/may/02-the-worst-mistake-in-the-history-of-the-human-race

          • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

            P.S. If you don’t sell all your real property title and unequal wealth, then you are violent, not directly, but by delegating violence to the State.

            I’ve told Libertarians and Non-Resisters alike:

            Holding real property—Monopoly use of Land—requires State aggression.

            170 years ago, the State forced Indians off my land with guns into privation, then redistributed the earth’s wealth via an entitlement program, Land Title. We privileged owners pay support via property tax to the State for its aggression. If anybody treads on my private real property, I call a State officer to perform the exact same armed aggression done to Indians 170 years ago.

            State Might Makes Real Property Right!

            [note the same etymological root of private, privation, and privilege]

          • JT

            I’m sorry Brian, I can’t agree with all your assumptions.

            #1 – I do not require the use of violence in order to own property. Just as you say one can be a lifelong gun owner without using violence against another human being (and I agree with that), I say I can be a property owner without using violence to hold onto that property.

            #2 – Yes, you can take your argument out to the realm where everything is connected in some way and because I pay taxes or live in a town with a police force I am participating in violence, but I still must disagree. I function as a citizen, but my allegiance is to Christ, and wherever I face a choice where one must take priority over the other, I will choose Christ. That DOES include in a situation where one might think of calling the police, for example. I’m not sure if you’ve ever had someone come to your home and act in a threatening way toward your family. I have, and no violence was used, and no police were called, and we are fine.

            #3 – I do not feel it is my privilege or right to own property, or anything I have. The things I have are just things, and if I lose them, I will be fine. I have lost things in the past (job loss required selloff of some assets; I’ve also had things stolen) and I accept that.

            #4 – Human life is valuable. ALL human life. My family is no more or less valuable than any other person or group. I will model for my children an example of love and reconciliation, and if I lose my life in the process, so be it. If one of them is hurt or killed, it will be difficult, but we will heal and continue to love and forgive. To choose to hurt another person instead is an act of selfishness and I can find no Scripture where Jesus would condone it.

            I UNDERSTAND we don’t agree. That is fine. You can assign whatever names to me you wish, this is how I feel called to live.

          • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

            #1 – I do not require the use of violence

            You do indirectly, delegating the violence necessary to defend real property to the State. Try not paying property taxes, and see how that goes. Or try not paying rent. You’ll get treated like an Indian, driven off the property, killed if necessary. Violence is the very foundation of creating real property borders on the surface of the earth.

            #2 – I function as a citizen

            Indeed. Which requires hefty doses of violence.

            “Civilization originates in conquest abroad and repression at home.” ~Stanley Diamond (1981) In Search of the Primitive: A Critique of Civilization, p.1

            #3 – I lose them, I will be fine.

            Sell them all, like Jesus said. Be homeless like Jesus, no pillow to lay his head. What are you waiting for? Perfect property renunciation is required for perfect non-violence in Jesus’ teachings.

            #4 – Human life is valuable. ALL human life.

            That’s why we defend life from attack by those who don’t think so.

          • JT

            So it’s all or nothing to you Brian? You must own property and support violence or you must sell all property in order to renounce it? That’s not what Jesus taught, and it’s a misunderstanding to say that it is. Jesus did not tell every person He encountered to do the same thing – He spoke to the needs of that person in order to eliminate what kept each one from God. For the rich young ruler, it was his wealth. For the woman at the well, it was her religious legalism at odds with her personal life. For the woman caught in adultery, it was her unfaithfulness (but He also SAVED her from the attacks of others). For the ten lepers, it was their disease.

            I read this today and it speaks well to what we are discussing.

            “The simple truth is this: the world exists, and I get to live in it for a while. My place of birth, my opportunities, and my good fortune are not a result of God’s choosing. It’s dumb luck. And if I continue to get lucky, and take advantage of the opportunities, a comfortable life may come my way. It’s not guaranteed. But if this does happen, Jesus won’t call me blessed.

            He will call me “burdened.”

            He will ask,

            “What will you do with it?”

            “Will you use it for yourself?”

            “Will you use it to help?”

            “Will you hold it close for comfort?”

            “Will you share it?”

            So many hard choices. So few easy answers.”

          • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

            It is what Jesus taught. Sell all you have. What won’t fit through the eye of a needle. Not even a place to lay your head.

            > Jesus did not tell every person He encountered to do the same thing

            Oh, right! Those words were recorded only for our voyeuristic pleasures, to see a rich man get humiliated.

            And being born again….is only for Nicodemus. All of Paul’s writings….are only applicable to those he addressed. Gotcha. Now, apply what you just told me, and toss out most of the Bible.

          • JT

            No, that would be the all or nothing interpretation again. Faith and life are more complex than that, Brian. You seem to forget that the question is not WHAT you have, but what you DO with what you have. Does it own you or is it submitted to Christ?

            You seem to want to argue your point but cannot reconcile it with the fact Jesus did not tell every person whose home He visited that they must sell that property. If that was a basic tenet of His teaching, why would He not mention it when confronted with the reality that these people owned property? The answer is because He addressed the issues that mattered in a person’s spiritual relationship with God and that simply wasn’t on the list. Ownership is not evil, materialism is.

            I’m sure you will argue again, but believe me when I say that my point here isn’t to make you see yourself as WRONG – that seems to be what you are doing when you respond to me. I’m okay with disagreeing, I can tell you are heavily set on your view, I would however encourage you to look at more of the picture than you are.

          • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

            You’re just trying to retread the prosperity gospel. Same Creflo Dollar talking points. “My mega-yacht doesn’t own me, it’s submitted to Christ!” “Jesus hung with the rich!”

            Well, he didn’t tell everybody he met that they should _______, correct? Let’s apply your logic: I don’t need to ________. Q.E.D.

          • JT

            I am 100% opposed to the prosperity gospel and those who teach it.

            I am 100% committed to doing what God wants me to do. His methods in my life have taught and are teaching me how to love people with the time, money, and talents He has given me. How are you doing that, Brian? That’s the question each of us who follows Christ needs to be most concerned about – how will people know HIM through knowing me?

    • BT

      Thanks for that last sentence. I feel like a bit of a weirdo sometimes for having similar thoughts.

  • Gracie

    How about a church where sin or repentance is never mentioned, but only love and inclusivity and being “Jesus’ PR” is priority. That’s what my church has turned into the last two years.

  • RustbeltRick

    The pastor doesn’t directly tell you who to vote for, but if you read between the lines it’s pretty easy to figure out who he’s telling you who to vote for. These dog-whistle sermons are kind of creepy. I once read about one presidential candidate’s “suggested messaging” for churches prior to election day, and darn if our pastor didn’t preach that exact sermon. He was saying Vote for X without actually saying it.

    • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

      > The pastor

      Therein lies the problem.

      Call no man your patre/patron/pastor/boss on the Earth. ~Jesus

  • scribble73

    Your #3 might cover my addition, but I can’t tell.

    I’ve looked at a dozen Churches in the Bay Area over the last six years. I keep finding Congregations that are run by a closed group of ten or fifteen members, who simply do not share the work of the Church with anyone. They are social cliques.

    Clique members rotate through working committees year by year, but the same people serve on all committees. Their committees are closed — they report only the bare minimum about their activities. Only certain members are informally allowed to run for open positions.

    These committee members view all activity in the Church as a measure of their informal authority within their congregation. These congregations often shrink in size over time, as newer members find no way to contribute, and drift away. I think this rejection has as much to do with the collapse of organized worship in the United States as any other single factor that I’ve seen identified over the years. As you know, the second largest group of Christians in the United States is now “unaffiliated.” That’s a lot of rejection on the part of clique-driven congregations.

    I see this happening in Fundamentalist Churches as often as I see this happening in Mainline and Progressive Churches.

  • http://johnmaxwellgroup.com/jackdavis Jack Davis

    I have a few ideas:

    1. A church that only focuses on what the other churches are “doing wrong” vs. what they are “doing right.” Call it the Fault Finder church. I’m not finding fault with these churches (or people), but simply raising awareness. As the body, we are called to do what we should be doing for the kingdom and not “policing” what others are doing. Raising awareness is one thing, condemning others is not.

    2. A church that doesn’t preach about grace and revelation. Did you know that the two are tied so closely together that they are basically inseparable? (The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Grace and the Spirit of Knowledge – which is better translated as revelation.) No revelation, no grace, which also = no Holy Spirit (I generalize).

    3. A church that has no dealings with the ministry of the Apostle or Prophet. They are part of the 5 fold ministry, but are mostly ignored. How can the body ever be perfected for the working of the ministry if 40% of the 5 fold ministry is missing from their spiritual diet? (See Ephesians 4)

    I’ll stop there for the sake of time and space. It’s easy to point out what the other guy is not doing. But what am I doing for the kingdom?

    I reiterate my previous point. The thing for us to do is focus on what we should be doing and doing it as well as we can. If we are doing that well, then we are strategically helping the kingdom move forward – possibly even speeding it up to the point where we are building tremendous momentum. The world will notice if we do this with laser like focus. I don’t want to simply be used. I want to be used strategically for greatest effect.

    • Robert Bob Wilson

      I like that. We as the local church choose to ________ because this passage gives us direction here. Not they sin because ______ .

      From you above: “But what am I doing for the kingdom” RIGHT ON!

      • http://johnmaxwellgroup.com/jackdavis Jack Davis

        Thank you Robert.

  • Brian P.

    So easy to fix. Follow the humble, those who live a cruciform life in service to the in vulnerable need, with no ability to reciprocate. We can fix much ourselves just by this.

  • Robert Bob Wilson

    The lack of commitment, while a social value, in your fifth point is offensive to me. You have the rights that you have because of the country that you live in and that is very solidly proven. A true story, while anecdotal, is frequently occuring. The pastor speaks on Sunday morning and calls a sin exactly what it is SIN. Within a few days some government official arrives and announces that the church is under investigation for “hate speech.” This is in Europe, and happens often.
    The First Amendment is a right in this country ONLY! These freedoms are not so readily available in other countries.

    To quote someone who posted here “A year ago I decided that I wasn’t again going to preach on a stage that
    had an American flag on it because it just feels too idolatrous to me.”

    Idolatry is putting something between you and God. If you have done that then, that is what it is. But those who have sacrificed some if not all to guarantee your right to post something so odd, well, please thank them. If one as a Christian cannot separate symbol from concept – that is to worship the country, or flag, rather than the one true God, that is for you and God to deal with.

    God HAS blessed this country as long as we followed His principles, but alas, some wish to believe that we have outgrown that crucial aspect of life. Why should God bless those who do not believe in Him and what He has done?

    Please honor those in the military, those who have served, and especially the military Chaplains, who may likewise be puzzled or offended by this one strange comment.

    Point #5 is flawed, and is but one reason why.

    • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

      Just FYI, that “one strange comment” was posted by a retired member of the Armed Forces.

      But I would encourage you to reconsider the concept that God has blessed America as long as “we followed his principles”. We’ve actually never done that as a nation, ever.

      • Robert Bob Wilson

        When you see the movies, when you read the historical accounts, when you see how our forefathers, ancestors, even grand-parents had a respect for others, please tell me those are God’s principles. When someone wishes to respect the “man uptainrs,” it is NOT the grandparent in upper bedroom.
        Following the principles does NOT (ever!) mean believing the source. Two different ideas, one flows for the other, not from each other.
        I feel for the one who lets the flag of any country get between them and the one true God. I have preached in other countires and see the flag of that country in the host church, hardly the same, but a recognition of where the church is on planet earth.
        I still remain hurt by statement #5.
        Should the writer have stated putting these ________ before the gospel, it would take the sting out. Just reread that section, nothing about out of balance, just choosing to forget where we are and why we have these rights, including disagreeing and personal understanding of history.

        • http://www.formerlyfundie.com/ Benjamin L. Corey

          I think I hear what you’re trying to say (at least I’m trying to understand), but I just have a different perspective. When I was in seminary I took a course where all we did was study the religious views of the founding fathers– and, turns out, they wouldn’t be considered “Christians” today, at least not by a typical, Evangelical definition. When I look at their behavior, I fail to see God as well. Instead, I see land taken by killing its inhabitants, and then a wealthy country built on the backs of stolen image bearers. Throughout the rest of history, I see this stolen land, and ill gotten wealth, protected through war and violence. I just don’t see God in any of that. It certainly doesn’t look like the Jesus I find in the Gospel accounts.

          Like Kurt said, I appreciate living here and the rights of my citizenship. I’ve also spent a career in the military including time in hostile fire zones, prior to making the decision to follow Jesus.

          For me, I have an aversion to the flag in church not because it represents where we are on the planet, but because it is a symbol directly linked to 200+ years of un-Christian behavior. Instead, I want to invite people to reject the behavior of empire and instead embrace the subversive, backwards behavior of the Kingdom.

          • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

            The behavior of empire is quite simply described in one word: Farming. Agriculture requires defending land, and procuring more as populating goes up, and soil fertility goes down.

            Know any Anabaptist farmers?

            They’re as deeply involved in the violence of Empire as you can get. (Division-of-Labor allows one to make the excuse they’re not involved directly, but then, neither is a Mafia don in his plush office directly involved in violence, right?)

            “[Agricultural] Civilization originates in conquest abroad and repression at home.” ~Stanley Diamond (1981) In Search of the Primitive: A Critique of Civilization, p. 1, first sentence

            “Agriculture creates government.” ~Richard Manning (2005) Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization, p. 73

            “The emergence of systematic warfare, fortifications, and weapons of destruction follows the path of agriculture.” ~Violent Origins (Stanford University Press, 1987)

            “…we chose the latter [agriculture] and ended up with starvation, warfare, and tyranny.” ~Jared Diamond (May 1987) Agriculture: The Worst Mistake In The History Of The Human Race. Discover Magazine. pp. 64-66. discovermagazine.com/1987/may/02-the-worst-mistake-in-the-history-of-the-human-race

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      I respect where you are coming from, but greatly disagree with you. God also mourns over this country: greed, national idolotry, preemptive violence, gun violence, social inequality, drones, genocide of native people, years of slavery, etc…. this nation has never been “christian”. And, as much as I respect those in the military at an earthly level (quite a bit actually… bravery is a great virtue)… such service is a secular vocation… not a Christian one. Our freedom, just like that of the early church under the Roman Empire, comes not from a sword but from a Crucifixion. My freedom is in Christ, not a government.

      Sure, living in the USA has some wonderful perks… and I’m glad that I live here, but just because the “ends” are comfortable for those of us with privilege, that doesn’t justify the violent “means” through which this situation was created. Many other countries thrive in the world with much less violence and patriotism. Matthew 5 gives us some great insight on where we put our value:

      “33 Again you have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago: Don’t make a false solemn pledge, but you should follow through on what you have pledged to the Lord. 34 But I say to you that you must not pledge at all. You must not pledge by heaven, because it’s God’s throne. 35 You must not pledge by the earth, because it’s God’s footstool. You must not pledge by Jerusalem, because it’s the city of the great king.36 And you must not pledge by your head, because you can’t turn one hair white or black.37 Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one.”

      • Robert Bob Wilson

        I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…. Can NEVER supplant honoring or worshipping God. If it does, one has the right and responsibility to question the one who does, especially who is Jesus Christ in your life.

        I took an oath a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ to defend the gospel unto my own death if need be, That means I will never renounce that. Should I move to another country, I would then support that country, and not give up Jesus Christ.
        Welcome to America, we are free to believe what we choose as individuals, and with the freedom to interpret scripture, and with the different and no doubt accurate interpretations possible (the correct ones) we are again free to choose, as long as Jesus is #1, let us respect the differences we are allowed to have.

      • http://youtube.com/user/BowmanFarm Brian Bowman

        Does God also mourn over farmers’ real property for agricultural use? Obtaining and defending it is the cause of violence. Ask any anthropologist. Or the Indians.

        “…agriculture creates government.” ~Richard Manning (2005) Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization, p. 73

        “The emergence of systematic warfare, fortifications, and weapons of destruction follows the path of agriculture.” ~Violent Origins (Stanford University Press, 1987)

        “…we chose the latter [agriculture] and ended up with starvation, warfare, and tyranny.” ~Jared Diamond (May 1987) The Worst Mistake In The History Of The Human Race. Discover Magazine. pp. 64-66. discovermagazine.com/1987/may/02-the-worst-mistake-in-the-history-of-the-human-race

        And at least one Mennonite theologians has finally figured it out.

        Agriculture inexorably gave rise to concentrated populations and increasingly centralized and hierarchical societies in built urban environments. These in turn developed into oppressive city-states, an aggressively colonizing civilization that exerted a powerful centripetal force upon the hinterlands. Thus agriculture is portrayed in Genesis not as a gift of the gods—as in otherAncient Near Eastern myths—but as a curse, the result of human rejection of the old symbiotic lifeways of the “Garden” (Gen 3:17-19).

        Ched Myers (2005) The Fall & Anarcho-Primitivism and the Bible. Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature. Edited by Bron Taylor. NY: Continuum.
        chedmyers.org/articles/ecology-faith/%E2%80%9C-fall%E2%80%9D-and-%E2%80%9Canarcho-primitivism-and-bible

  • b_s_lynn

    A church where the leadership says a member is coming against the leadership, if the member disagrees with something that is not specifically spoken of in the Bible.

  • Scott Uselman

    Good post ;)

  • http://www.firstcoastmissional.org Jesse Alexander

    “When worship/discipleship is divorced from social action – the temptation is individualism. When social action is divorced from worship/discipleship – the temptation is to center our lives on what we do and not who we are in Christ.” You nailed it!

  • Lon Marshall

    What if not only you have the flag front and center, but someone reads an emotional retelling of the events that led to the writing of the National Anthem with music playing? Then, you have veterans from each branch of the military stand while the congregation sings that branch’s fight song, while the logo from that branch is shown on the powerpoint screen. You also get God Bless America, and all this in a Christian church worship service?… Run as fast as you can :)

  • Skazen Raken

    I am so glad that other Christians feel the flag is idolatrous. I thought I and my wife were the only ones. Raised Baptist, it’s all I ever saw up there by the pastor. Well, along with the spurious “Christian Flag.” http://jasonberggren.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/christian_flag2.jpg

  • Victor

    I once was part of a church that seemed to have it all together. Sure, a majority of the people were against evolution and Obama, but the pastor himself never discussed his view of politics or science. In fact, when he discussed science, he used it to prove God’s existence.

    This church displayed the flags of the countries in which they had missionaries. The United States flag was not on stage. This, I find quite noble. Followers of Christ come from many diverse cultural backgrounds. To display the American flag prominently on stage is to imply that the United States is above other nations.

    But over time, following a local natural desastor, the pastor took on the responsibility of running a small nonprofit organization to help those misplaced by the storm. It was the stress of this responsibility and the amount of money it required that caused the pastor to look for ways to make more money. This brought him to a prominent prosperity televangelist.

    The decision to promote the “prosperity gospel” drew large amounts of people who struggled financially. This deception of innocents–along with the teachings of other unbiblical beliefs (zodiac signs and horoscopes) led to my departure.

    Unfortunately no church is perfect. But when we let our culture or society dictate what aspects of Jesus’ example we follow, we open the doors to division.

  • http://cultureconscience.com/ Corey Dorsey

    Hi Kurt,

    I genuinely enjoyed reading this and literally laughed out loud a time or two. As a someone who grew up in Pentecostal churches, I think churches who focus more on the gifts of the Holy Spirit (or at least their version of them) than a more comprehensive view of what a Christian lifestyles looks like could easily make the list. And I’m sure the churches who almost never make it through a sermon without mentioning money are well known to many of us as well as the prosperity gospel movement hasn’t quite been put down for the count yet.

    But I suppose if I were to pull out a deeper example, it would be the churches who provide no meat. The teaching is often very surface level and fails connect scripture with the daily struggles people face in tangible ways. They are places of worship where the teaching hardly ever challenges people or calls out the trivial scrobbles many members can get caught up in when they are more concerned with traditions, preferences and in-house politics than the bigger picture of discipleship and reaching the lost. More mature Christians always feel something is missing there and others who are in early stages of development never know any better because of what they have been missing. Therefore, you have a church which may grow in numbers, but has little spiritual growth.

    Once again, enjoyed the article and hope you can check out my site “http://cultureconscience.com/” some time. I take a different approach to ministry than most Christian blogs in that most of the content is not explicitly religious in hopes that people who come for articles on family, education or race relations, may stumble across the more “Christian” content while they are there.

  • Animal

    Stay away from churches with the word “Grace” in its name. Usually, these churches are a part of the strict and rigid theology of John MacArthur rather than a church that actually exercises grace.

    • Camino1

      My guess is that most churches with “Grace” in the name pre-exist MacArthur. He’s influential but not ubiquitous.

  • Camino1

    + churches that pass out voter guides.

  • Peter Chan

    Good on 1- 5, ESPECIALLY 1 and 4. I would like to add . . .

    (6) A church that points its nose into the privacy of their individual members.
    (7) A church that specifically excludes certain minority groups.
    (8) A church that preaches the hatred/wrath of God more than (or even rather than) His love/grace . . . in other words, a church that motivates people by fear rather than by joy or happiness.

    6 – 8 loosely known as Christian Rights &/or Fundamentalists.

    And I do not quite agree with the Bonus. I think both are equally important and I strongly disagree on biasing on either side.

  • Steve Johnson

    Can we add churches that “protect the people” by keeping the information about certain church-wide decisions confidential?

  • bob+++

    …JESUS… IS THE ONLY WAY… DON’T WATCH MAN -WATCH …JESUS… HE …SAY’S ALL EGYPT SHALL LEAVE

  • bob+++

    KURT WHEN YOU SEE EGYPT LEAVE NAKED AND BAREFOOT / LEAVE /


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