Tonight, my wife and I were talking about going to church. We were reflecting on the fact that we’ve been “members” of churches in four countries. By far, our preferred church setting is one in the international context! We fit just right. It’s a lot of fun.
My favorite scripture is Revelation 7:9 which talks about worshipers around God’s throne from every nation, tribe, people and tongue. It’s a powerful image, the miniature version of which we’ve gotten to take part in over the last 11 years – and we love it! It made us reflect on the cross-cultural church dynamic in so many contexts – not to mention within the US where we’ve been “members" of a dozen churches between the two of us.
Church is not just “church” wherever you go. There are a hundred flavors, and a hundred different sets of rules; in fact, thousands. Every congregation has its own flavor- and its own rules. I just recently had a conversation with my six year old daughter - my wife and I. My daughter asked why she couldn’t wear a perfectly nice looking but casual outfit for church. My wife answered with the blah blah blah answer about God and looking our best blah blah blah. I looked at my wife puzzled. Looked at our daughter - looked back at my wife and said, "Can we just be the honest kind of Christian parents?" She kind of paused and looked back at me puzzled and said "yes" with resolve in her voice; like saying, "of course!" So I told our daughter, "We dress up so that other people at church won’t get all freaked out. They would get all worked up if we showed up wearing comfortable clothes. It's weird, but it’s what we do."
I just want my kids to actually LOVE Jesus, and not be victim to this kind of cultural stuff that can choke faith by the time they're teens. I want to talk so openly about every aspect of faith (even the goofy or perfunctory parts) that they actually believe in JESUS and not in just in church - only to be disappointed and then walk away from Jesus. You know?
Paul’s words in Romans 14 about not offending a “weaker” brother are the measure by which we find ourselves evaluating this scenario. But when does that measure not apply? If there are no “weaker” brothers around, are we “free to be me”? Another friend just wrote a post on her blog today that spoke directly to this.
The same problems exist with alcohol (which I don't drink) and cigarettes (which I don't smoke) and tattoos (which I don't have) - actually, none of these even interest me. But let's say they did. Playing cards and dancing too - what about these?
I mentioned this prisoner mentality to my dad and he agreed, and brought it one step further – it’s not just Christians. It’s any group that you want to be part of. You give up a bit of the real you in order to fit inside the parameters set by the group. You have to behave or you won’t be welcome to stay. It’s very interesting- he’s right. It’s any group. The strictness of the rules are based upon how important the reason for gathering is perceived to be. Of course, this is nothing new – even the conversation I mean.
Every college student talks about this stuff in a Psych 101 course, but its not until a decade later that I’ve started to experience this struggle in my own mind, in my own life – in my own heart. Another friend posted on Facebook recently, “I'd like to think that God is giving us props for driving in this weather just to go to Bible study, but probably He's actually thinking ‘You idiots.’” I thought this was a profound observation – on many levels.
I think there must be an overwhelming percentage of things that we do in our spiritual/religious pursuits thinking we’re heroes which are actually just moronic self-indulgence which build up our own opinions of ourselves in response to false constructs that we have submitted to within our group setting - namely, church. To be honest, there are a lot of things that I’d like to be allowed to enjoy that are socially taboo among Christians, but not reasonably certain to be expressly in contradiction to Scripture. I can't be honest, though. A good Christian isn't.
“…I can’t be honest. A good Christian isn’t.” Surely this isn’t supposed to be this way.
I almost deleted that before continuing – but then I thought we could all handle it.
So I wonder, when will I ever get to be allowed to be honest?
My mom always used to tell me that she thought I’d be a good senior pastor – in fact I often wonder if she had some sneak-peak into the future and just wasn’t saying so. If I was ever a senior pastor, it’d have to be in one of those post-modern churches where everyone has a mocha-latte in the pew, and the pastor is allowed to say “crap” from the pulpit and talk about how moronic Christians can be (that’s a moronic “us” not a moronic “them” [smile]).
When I finished seminary I was less impressed with our little subculture, not more impressed - which is funny, because I studied Religion, a field of study which includes other religions not just ours.
I’m not settled on this at all – nowhere near – and I may never be. It’s just a conversation I’ve been having with a few friends over the last few weeks, and I thought I’d share it here.
I love the Revelation 7:9 church, and I’ve gotten to go to a mini one every Sunday throughout the last 15 years in ministry. I’m blessed beyond measure - but I am going to be honest with (at the very least) my own kids. I hope it all turns out alright in the end! (Get it? The end? Rev 7:9? Ha! No pun intended).
And as for membership in churches in four countries: I'll always think of myself as a member of the Revelation 7:9 church, which is found in every country, and at the same time, is only a foretaste of the real deal!