Home > Uncategorized > things that trouble me about Christians 1

things that trouble me about Christians 1

I hesitate to wade into this because it is such a touchy subject and I barely trust myself not to get on a high horse here, but here goes. I think if I had to boil down the things that trouble me about Christians (corporately and individually as I actually see them, rather than the models I read about in books) I think I’d limit myself to two or three:

  1. Despite Pauline promises to the contrary, Christians are rarely actually transformed in any discernible way.
  2. Conservative Christians of slightly different traditions hate each other and secretly suspect that the others are not really Christians.

At church this past Sunday I was out in the foyer walking the baby during the sermon, but I overheard the preacher saying, essentially, that recovery groups are often “more like the Church than the Church is,” by which I think he meant that they are more like real communities, care more for one another, treat each other in a context of shared humility, or something like that. My ears always prick up when people make comparisons like this because I know how much some people I knew at the Calvary Chapel I attended several years ago hated Alcoholics Anonymous, and because of Christine Wicker’s claims that the effectiveness of recovery groups represent something of a crisis for Christianity generally and evangelical churches in particular.

I think the basic tension between the two groups is this: doctrinally conservative Christians (want to) take Paul’s description of the Christian as a “new creature” seriously, while recovery groups describe people in recovery as always recovering, never recovered. I’m deeply troubled by the fact that older people who have been Christians a long time rarely get more holy with age; they mostly just get older. It’s almost as if Paul’s new creature were as big a jerk as the old creature.

And a big chunk of being a new jerk apparently involves hating and slandering other Christians. When I was in fundamentalist churches we were pretty sure the Southern Baptists were all going to Hell, as was anyone who harbored the “strange fire” of the Amplified Bible and all other aberrant translations. In fact we weren’t entirely sure about other Independent Baptist churches, even the ones who joined us at summer church camp. At Thomas Road Baptist Church in the early Seventies we were pretty sure everyone who went to the more socially acceptable churches in town were going to Hell. I have it on good authority that some of them returned the favor. At Liberty we were pretty sure anyone who voted for a Democrat was going to Hell; at Calvary Chapel ditto people from The Potter’s House. And of course one of the ugly things the Ergun Caner situation has uncovered yet again is that Calvinists have their suspicions about everyone else, and conservative evangelicals, Arminian per se or not, at best have their doubts about Calvinists. I’ve even heard Todd Wilken and one of his Reformed guests (Michael Horton? I don’t recall) agree that one of them wouldn’t offer the other Communion, and the other agree that he wouldn’t take the offer if it were made.

And of course the few people who are dedicated to their tradition who bother to notice the “Mere Christianity” people hate them too.

I suppose these two problems are interrelated, or the latter is a byproduct of the former. I’m not sure.

  1. July 5, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Hi Mike… I can relate.

    A former pastor of one of our local mega-churches recently resigned. He felt the church, the largest congregation in probably 250 mile radius, had become a corporation more than a fellowship of growing believers.

    He told me privately that he wondered why it was that one could attend AA, NA, or Al-Anon meeting every hour on the hour most days of the week with little to no budget, paid staff, advertisement, or promotion. While Mega Church was launching costly ad campaigns and manipulating congregation continually for “tithes” and donations to supports its “programs” and staff of then 50 or so and millions of dollars in real estate and facility maintenance expenses.

    Recovery groups are more typically run by the people they serve for free. And any of the “A” groups tend only to have a thinly-staffed central office with many volounteers. Yet they are accessible most hours of the day.

    I have observed and wondered about the same thing as you. Is there an “arrival” mentality that sets in with context we tend to give the notion of “new creature”? Versus the ever-recovering, never cured outlook of the alcoholic, addict, or codependent of the “A” fellowships?

    I also wonder about the use of rank, titles, and authority that is traditionally built into the church. And the pedestaling and showcasing of trophy-converts. If the biggest, baddest, bad-ass in town gets saved, do our churches not tend to promote and feature this event?

    While “A” fellowships practice attraction rather than promotion, much like Jesus did. Jesus did not have an ad budget, a promo department, a PR agent. Jesus just did the doing. He even often told people to keep it to themselves when he performed a miracle. Probably knowing that word would get out anyway. He was so sought out, that the most famous sermon of all, the sermon on the mount, was so titled apparently due to Jesus having to climb the side of a hill to address the size of the crowd.

    And another instance, Jesus had to be launched out on a boat to avoid being swarmed on the shore. Why? Could it be because Jesus just had the goods? Could it be that his solutions attracted people because they were genuine and real? Not hyped and promoted?

    Do “A” and other recovery fellowships not practice more the simple doing of recovery. And we who need what they offer for our very survival and existence seek them out because we want what they have. And that everyone is still on a constant journey rather than having arrived at safe sainthood?

    We as Christians seem to get so wrapped up in our theology that we subdivide into contentious sub-divisions otherwise known as denominations. Claiming to have knowledge of the truths of the universe and behaving like Jesus, yet we often are judgmental, adversarial, petty, prideful, jealous, and condescending to those we feel are the unenlightened. Is this representative of the Jesus we read about in the Bible? I don’t think so.

    Fellowships of people recovering, probably not unlike the early church or the church in persecuted parts of the world, are fighting for their survival. They dont have the luxury of doctrinal disputes and self-rightousness. Not that they can’t and don’t eventually become corrupt in these ways when complacency sets in. I have seen it in mature “A”s of all types.

    Humility, gratitude and love are indespensible qualities in avoiding corruption in any endeavor in life. In my experience, many churches have lost sight of these yet don’t feel the immediate consequence. If someone in recovery loses sight of these, a relapse, pain, and death are usually near on the horizon. Which tends to keep us more cohesive and grounded.

    My experience anyway.



    • July 6, 2010 at 11:29 am

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment Chaz.

      I don’t have a lot of experience with twelve-step-variety recovery groups, and I don’t know anyone who is a mature observer and participant in both worlds, so I don’t even know where I’d go to get a well-informed comparative perspective on the two.

      I’d be interested to know which pastor/megachurch you’re talking about, and I’d encourage you to share any off-the-record/deep-background information you’d be comfortable sharing at halfabridge at gmail. I’m surprised that your local megachurch pastor is surprised that his church is a corporation in disguise; as I understand it the megachurch movement is founded on that premise: that big churches are better than smaller churches, that the term “executive pastor” is something other than a contradiction in terms, etc.

      I’m inclined to describe the megachurch in mass communications/mass media terms, too.

      I don’t know how to fix this; I suspect that churches become less like a community and more like a corporation necessarily as they grow. It’s just not possible for people to be well-connected to one another when there are too many of them. And I don’t just mean the transmission of propositional truth, which is what the church has been mostly doing for the last five hundred years; I mean the modeling of behavior, meeting other people’s needs, etc.

  2. July 7, 2010 at 8:53 am

    Hi Mike… I will give serious consideration to a more candid dialogue privately via email. I do not want to trash any particular group so let me give it some thought.

    Let me however share one point that may be helpful in drawing a distinction between AA and a Mega Church. With the qualifying statement that I do not for a second feel AA is perfect or the standard by which all should be measured. It is simply to me, an organization that has continued to be simple and effective for many of us.

    One of our traditions states (the 6th of 12):

    An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.

    Think about that for a second in contrast to many churches, especially megas. How many of them have diverted from their primary purpose? How many of them have got involved in politics and every issue imaginable such that they have become so broad, and diverse, that they require a mega structure if hierarchy and beauraucracy that becomes a temptation for the invidividuals involved to get caught up in money, property, and prestige?

    How many once humble, simple, ministers of the gospel have become egotistical celebrities? And how many people really can remain non-corrupt when they receive money, property and prestige? Frankly, very few. Pro atheletes and celebrities have proven to us time and again that this is near-impossible. And ministers are no exception. Not that I have seen. Sure, some are. Billy Graham appears to have been one exception. But many are not.

    Then the snowball gets rolling so fast. And the dollars and responsibilities are so big. That few have the power to yell loudly enough, “We are out of control!” and the machine keeps rolling down the road.

    12 step groups have no paid staff at any of the hundreds of meetings in any urban area that meet weekly. No titles, no salaries, limited egos. Little temptation to grandstand self. Whereas Churches often set up leaders to be worshipped. Some hand out titles like pez candies. And we think that the average person can handle this? Not that I have seen. And then of course there is the money. Which so often brings out the worst in us. Who deserves what? How do we spend it? And all under the guise of “supporting the work of the gospel”? Really?

    AA is strictly self-supporting. Only AA members may contribute. And bequests are capped at I believe $2,000. We do not accept corporate donations. Why? We cannot afford to be swayed or influenced by any outside source. Our purpose and individual survival would be threatened.

    Anyway… off to work. Will dialogue more privately.



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