For those of you that are Evangelical, you might see the title and think to yourself, this author is heretical. And that may very well be true. I probably deserve to burn at the stake according to the early church reformers. Church discipline may be on the horizon per my contemporaries. I certainly would not be asked to preach again at any of the churches that I have served at in the past.
In my early days of legalistic thinking and admonishing of others to do the same, I taught this principle of Jesus being exclusive, exclusively.
He was the only way to heaven. Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus was the only option, there was no other option. If someone believed in Jesus plus something else, they were obviously not going to heaven. In fact, they could have been dubbed a ‘wolf’ that would do more damage to the ‘sheep’. They were to be feared and disposed of. Then I met Jesus.
I had lived a paid professional career in the pulpit, teaching others the deep theological truths that scripture taught. I earned degrees, honors, and awards for theological exactness. Studying daily, I found a way to navigate through coming up with new ways to teach our community of faith spiritual realities that made sense and were ‘right.’ Our church was well thought of, as a bible believing and teaching church. But inside, I was dying. I had very little faith or belief in the things that I would teach. The foundation that was supposed to be under me had long since crumbled away, and I found myself in desolation and despair.
This season of my life, I went through the motions for years. I said the right things, acted the correct way, and was very “Pastoral” in my duties. But there was obviously something not right with me. The passion that I had once had for leading people toward Jesus had all but disappeared, leaving me to my daily academic exercise of faking it.
Pastor in Crisis
Identity crisis is a psychological term used by Erik Erikson in his psychology theory writings. He is articulate around the subject and says that “An identity crisis is a developmental event that involves a person questioning their sense of self or place in the world.” I certainly was there. I let not one person understand the crisis that I was living, or the nightmare that my life had become. Instead, I found ways to cope with the deep despair that I found myself in. I drank. Alcohol did for me what no other person, place, or thing had ever done. It numbed the feeling of emptiness.
At first, I drank so that I could relax and enjoy an evening with my family. This quickly evolved into drinking heavily and finding myself blacking out, trying to pass the time of loneliness and emptiness. As noted in other blogs posts, I found myself at the edge of life itself, with only alcohol, to turn to.
The Exclusive Jesus is a Sham.
In out patient treatment, I began to learn the human tendencies toward addiction. I clearly hit all of the benchmarks to consider myself an alcoholic. I could answer all of the questions that the treatment center asked with a clear ‘yes’ as it related to my usage of the drug. It was in these days, when my outside world began to look like my internal world, desolate and in a place of despair, that I finally found Jesus.
Surprisingly, he wasn’t much different than the Jesus that I had been describing to people all of my paid professional career. In fact, he was very much the same. The difference was that I was receptive to who he was. Jesus was loving. I began to accept his love. He was directive. Again, I accepted his direction. He was good. But for me, it wasn’t just an academic goodness, I began to experience his goodness on a daily basis. My gratefulness increased dramatically as did my internal state of being. But one thing that Jesus was not was exclusive. Jesus was the most inclusive person that I had ever met.
He didn’t care where I had been or what I had become under the guise of ‘ministry leadership.’ He didn’t have any preconceptions that I needed to be a certain way to be with him. His inclusivity was clear as he accepted me for who I was, where I was at, and my human accolades mattered very little to him. Jesus wanted the best for me, and I began to trust this truth about who he was.
Cleaning Up to go to Church
I have attempted and have continued to attempt to attend church in my post recovery days. What I find is that if a person is not ‘cleaned up’ and ‘dressed up’ the local church is not reflective of the inclusive Jesus that I met. The community of faith does not represent the qualities of Jesus that I found to be true in my darkest moments. This has led me toward disengagement from a local church. I also know that Jesus cares about his church, academically, at least. Does he really care for a church that doesn’t know him as an inclusive God who accepts people where they are at?
If the local church can find a way to accept those that are very different from them, this may begin to allay the concerns that we have in society. How would racism be addressed in a local church if we reflected the ways of Jesus? Alcoholism and addiction might be seen as normal and help may become available through a local church instead of a myriad of other strategies that are disconnected from the church. The teen that is pregnant would no longer have to ‘go away’ to have a baby in an effort to help her ‘recover’ from her sinful lifestyle. Instead, these issues could be accepted by the local church as reality, and the inclusivity of Jesus could shine through his church.
There may be heretical statements in my writing and in my heart. I know for sure that not everything that I write lines up with my legalistic training. Knowing this, that Jesus is inclusive and deeply cares for people where they are at, I have found life, love, forgiveness, and happiness in a God who was an academic exercise for years. I’m grateful to be here today, and thankful for another day.