I had dinner with a pastor here in DC recently who came over from Ireland a few years ago. I loved he and his wife. I felt like I was having dinner with one of the real disciples, that is a guy who follows behind Jesus like a pet dog, routinely getting distracted by the smells of the neighborhood, looking up every thirty seconds to search for the quick feet of his master. He was open, honest, self aware and came off like a fellow pilgrim. I’m not a regular attender of church, but the dinner reminded me the overwhelming population of the extended family of God is sincere, kind, humble and loving.
When I read the book of Acts, I see a bunch of guys who hardly knew what they were doing, routinely having their work rescued by the Holy Spirit.
If the Christian family were made up of only people like this, I’d be much more happy.
But then again, if it were, it wouldn’t be a real family. Real families are messy.
The harder family members to deal with are the emotionally and psychologically narrow uncles and cousins. I’m talking about the twenty-year old guys in Bible college who just read John Calvin and think they know everything or the forty-year old guys with the personalities of bitter old men who are always ranting about how much they hate the President.
I don’t like the Christian leaders who go around like territorial dogs peeing circles around everything. To me, that just makes everything smell like pee.
Have you ever wondered if some of the people who are bringing the most people to Jesus are the same people who are pushing the most people away from Him? I’ve wondered that sometimes. Somebody ought to do a study about that.
Nevertheless, this is our absurd Christian family. I won’t pretend to like everybody and God knows they don’t pretend to like me. But we will spend an eternity with most of them.
So what do we do about the crazy uncles and cousins? How do we stay in the family of God when all our instincts tell us to leave?
Here are some paradigm shifts that helped me stick around:
- 1. I realized not all Christian leaders know Jesus. Jesus warned us about this. He said there would be very serious leaders who use His name and build His kingdom and even heal people who do not know Him at all. If somebody knows the Bible inside and out, pastors a mega church, writes bestselling books and so on but is consistently known as an arrogant person, chances are they don’t know Jesus. They are certainly influencing the family, but they aren’t in the family. I find that sad and comforting. I find it sad because it would be awful to think you know Jesus when really you’re just a religious guy who has the Bible memorized and uses it to build your own empire. How in the world would you ever figure out you really don’t know Jesus at all when you can debate just about anybody on the Bible? But I also find it relieving, because those guys make me, and anybody else who won’t submit to them, feel like garbage. And I don’t want to spend an eternity feeling like garbage. I hope they can figure it out and repent and come to know Christ.
2. I realized the family of God isn’t represented by a denomination. No denomination is completely right. Calvinism isn’t completely right. It’s just not. No human being has crammed all the right theology into their head. I stay away from people who claim they have. It just makes life easier. The truth is God’s church, as seen by God, is mixed and mingled with the church as man sees it, but is very, very different. I consider myself part of God’s church, not man’s church. And while I certainly believe right theology is important, I don’t believe God will conduct an entrance exam to get into heaven. I think He’s just going to say, hey, you, I know you!
3. I realized I’m a leader in the church, and so are you. While I do consider pastors and elders leaders, I see them more as guides and, not unlike the church in Acts, I report directly to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit spoke directly to the people then and He does the same now. Man has set up a kind of trickle-down system through which God’s word descends to the idiot masses, but you can bypass all that and drink from the source. God speaks directly to you and I because He considers us leaders. You and I don’t need anybody’s permission to serve God.
4. I no longer fear the judgment of men. I do not believe God will ever, ever, lean over and ask any other human being whether or not I should be let into heaven. It isn’t going to happen.
5. I stopped letting people control me. There’s a wonderful book by Harriet Braiker called Who’s Puling Your Strings that I recommend to anybody who grew up in a controlling religious system. If you work for a controlling personality, just read the book. Braiker shows you all the tricks controlling people use. And when controlling personalities are Christian leaders, they’ll compound all those tricks (mostly fear, shame and guilt) by stating their will and God’s will are the same. If you want to save your faith, you’ve got to get away from folks like that. They’ll destroy your soul.
There are many more reasons I stay in the family of God. But once I understood these true but harsh facts, I was able to turn around and see it for what it was, a flawed, beautiful collection of people who are stuck with each other. And as cynical and judgmental as this post may seem, it was important for me to draw a very clear line between how God saw the church and the man-made construct that is so repellent to so many. These paradigm shifts, and many more, have kept me in the family of God. I consider them truths God gave me to, in part, keep me around.
I hope they’re helpful to you. And I hope you don’t walk away from your family. Whether we like each other or not, we’re all we’ve got. Let’s stick it out.