Antisemitism and the Church

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Antisemitism has always been a uniquely Christian problem. Our history of persecuting Jews long predates the creation of the Jewish state in Palestine, the root of so much anti-Jewish sentiment in the Muslim world today. That’s a whole other thing for a whole other time.

Antisemitism among Christians has systemic religious roots. It’s paradoxically a result of Christ’s passion and a radical indictment of our collective participation in and guilt for it.

The problem is the Church has often identified Jews as Christ-killers while denying our collective responsibility. We’ve forgotten that we also participate in Jesus’ death, not in some abstract he-bore-our-sins way but in a very direct, very active involvement in the sacrificial system that caused Jesus’ death in the first place.

We can’t deny that the passion was a good/bad thing. It brought about salvation for all but through a grisly process of injustice leading to the grave. The Jews and the Romans sacrifice Christ to keep the peace. After all is it not better for one man to die for the people than the whole nation perish? Pilate hand-waves away his complicity, but sacrifices Jesus anyway.

Jesus becomes the ultimate sacrifice to end sacrifice, doing what the sacrificial system and all proto-sacrificial systems could not do — instead of simply dying a victim, driven out of the camp and off a cliff, the sins of the people laid on him to break the cycle of retributive violence, he inverts the whole thing and rises again. He becomes not just another scapegoat, but a living, breathing victim, one that lays bare our crass self-interested perpetuation of a cycle of religious violence against the weak and disenfranchised, the foreigner and outcast. Jesus identifies with those who are most likely sacrificed to the mob by himself being sacrificed by the mob. And by identifying with Jesus, we identify with those likely to be sacrificed to the mob as well.

This is how we deconstruct the mob, how we break the cycle of religious violence, and why the scapegoating and persecution of Jews is such an endemic feature of Christian societies.

I think the problem is that we’ve embraced philosophies of Christ’s death that enable us to do this. Substitutionary atonement (not nearly as unanimous a theory as our modern fundamentalism would suggest) allows us to divorce the benefits of the cross from participation in it. We identify with Jesus in his death, but as the sacrifice, not as the mob. We have a third party for that — the Jews (and the Romans to a lesser extent). Even the disciples are complicit as they turn their backs on him and deny him for fear of dying with him.

Divorcing ourselves from our participation in the system of sacrifice that indicts us as well as the Jews allows us to do exactly what the death of Jesus was meant to prevent: Neurotically persecute the visible minority in our midst under obviously false pretenses.

There’s nothing wrong with identifying with Christ in his death and rising again, after all that’s what baptism is for, right? But it’s important to remember what Jesus death saves us from. And when we scapegoat and victimize and marginalize and persecute Jews, we are in practice identifying with Jesus’ killers. Not with Jesus. In these acts of communal violence against the visible outsider, we have perverted and inverted the meaning of the cross. We’ve absolutely failed to understand the meaning of the passion.

The thing to remember here is that the cycle of religious violence, of mobs rising up against the visible minority, of a burst of collective violence against a sacrificial victim that heaps our collective retributive violence on his or her head… this is the human condition. This our default setting. This is Sin with a capital S. This is what Jesus comes to end by exposing the cycle of religious violence for what it is.

It’s a hard lesson, one that we often fail to learn. Look at the US, a nominally Christian nation, turning against the sojourner or minority in its midst (the Muslim, the black person). It’s not a coincidence that these effects are most strong amongst fundamentalists who don’t understand their own symbols.

What’s odd is that fundamentalists in the US, which seems to have most of them, by and large almost reverence Jews and the Holy Land today. This is the result of some really oddball eschatology, not of really understanding what the cross is about and what it means to identify with and follow Christ. It almost feels like a kind of diagnostic over-reaction to the problem of antisemitism.

In any case it’s important for the church to come to grips with what it means to follow Christ. When we identify with him, we identify with his death. We remember that Jesus’ passion was an act of injustice, a grossly wrong and evil sacrifice of a victim who had done no wrong. We identify with his resurrection, an act of power over death that exposes the principalities and powers of this world, that exposes them and triumphs over their violent sacrificial systems by demythologizing them and laying their crassness bare. We no longer participate in systems of ritual purity designed to separate the sheep from the goats; we no longer say do not touch and do not eat and do not handle, because we are the goats.

We die with Christ to this elemental spiritual force of the world, how can we still participate in it? How can we neurotically scapegoat the Jew, the Muslim, the poor, the disenfranchised? How can we identify as Christ-killers, subject to the mythology of the sacrificial victim, purposely averting our eyes from the lies and false pretenses of our sacrificial system, when we have been raised with him?

Not servants, but sons

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The son comes back from squandering his portion of the estate on hookers and booze. He says to himself, There’s no way my father will take me back as a son, but perhaps he will take me back as a servant.

He’s wrong of course, and this is the Christian story’s difference. You aren’t asked to approach as a beggar, as a servant, but as a child.

The Spirit we receive does not make us slaves, but heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. Or to put it another way, not servants, but sons.

The Persecution-Industrial Complex

American Christianity (to paint with a wide brush, and I include Canadians in this category too) has a strange relationship with nuance.

Consider persecution.

Scripture says that Christ’s followers will be persecuted. If you’re a “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” type, this is sort of a problem. Isn’t it? When you live a nation founded on Christian principles (which I won’t dispute; it was birthed out of the Enlightenment, which you don’t really get to understand except as an extension of Christian thought), where the vast majority identify as Christian, it’s hard to imagine why you’d be persecuted.

A slightly more nuanced reading would seek to understand the context into which “you will be persecuted” was written, but suppose for a moment you don’t care about that, and you just want carte blanche to be a Bible Believing Christian who takes all the stuff at face value.

Then it’s a problem. A big problem.

There’s lots of persecution in the world. There are lots of places in the world where being a Christian can get you killed. This is terrible. The world is full of injustice and wrongdoing still, and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it.

The problem is when you start using persecution as evidence of faith. That logic train is easy.

Sometimes I think you’d have to be a crazy person to think that there’s any real systemic persecution in the USA and Canada. Yet there are all kinds of evangelical Christians who truly believe that the persecution has begun. Or if it hasn’t begun, we’re just on the cusp of Christian churches being burned down and Christians being forced to convert to… something. Liberalism? I dunno.

Despite evangelicals being a vastly powerful group with their own political party and lobby groups and mountains of cash, the church seems beset upon on all sides. And there’s a cottage industry of authors and (lately, unfortunately, and just barely) filmmakers who peddle this message to make a quick buck.

It’s bonkers.

But you understand why this has to be, right? It’s the equivalent of First World Problems. Once your basic needs have been met, as they have in the West, twice over, the animal part of your brain doesn’t shut off the predator/problem-seeking part of your brain. That’s all still in there. And so, when you lose your remote, or the internet goes down, or your dishsoap no longer contains phosphorous, or you can’t find the right craft beer, or your car doesn’t connect to Bluetooth quite quickly enough, you bitch and moan like someone just added an extra 10 pounds to your daily cotton quota.

Exacerbating that, American Christians also have the Bible saying that they should be persecuted! So we get out our first-world-problems magnifying glass, tape over the logo with persecution-finder and scour the land for injustices that must surely be happening at the hands of those (invisible, imaginary) oppressors of the Church. With typical conspiracy-enthusiast enthusiasm, when we don’t find much we take that as evidence that the devil is doing just a devilishly good job at hiding it from us.

Along comes some thrice-married county clerk deciding to take a stand for the sanctity of marriage. At last our martyr has arrived!

The persecution-industrial complex kicks into high gear, a temple is erected (complete with an altar to the media), and the money changers assemble at the gates. Out roll the vans with the signs and all around the country our megachurches denounce, and our political candidates froth, and our news channel rages. The persecution has finally and truly begun! The end is near! We’re good Christians, look how we’re being persecuted!

The 0.9% of Americans who identify as Muslims, and who can actually claim to be systemically persecuted there, must think American Christians are absolutely insane.

The Christian Worldview

I keep having to remind myself that a Christian Worldview isn’t something we find in the Bible.

You can kind of extract it from the pages if you try hard enough, but it’s not there in so many words. It’s one of those things we made up and then didn’t think too much about why we made it up.

It makes sense, because different people look at different things in different ways, and if we’re going to be followers of Christ then we should probably get our Christovision goggles on, right?

I suppose. It’s kind of elementary that if you’re a Christian you experience the world in Christian terms.

But that’s a whole lot different from what a lot of people mean when the say “Christian Worldview”. It means lots of different things to different people. All the way from the idea that non-Christians are unable to interact fully with the fundamental reality of the world, to voting for conservative politicians and holding the line on gay marriage.

The Christian Worldview has become a kind of shorthand. We take it for granted. It insists upon itself. So much so that we don’t even take time to think about its validity as an idea or about any negative effects believing in it might have.

I’ve thought about it for a while today. I’m not sure what I think about this whole worldview thing yet. But I can see where it goes wrong. I can see some ways in which an unquestioning belief in a Christian Worldview can have a set of deleterious effects.

Let me start off by saying that I used to be a big fan of presuppositional apologetics. I feel like this was self-serving of me, giving myself a pat on the back for being able to fully comprehend the fabric of reality. (I know, as a Calvinist I shouldn’t have felt that way, but I did.) It’s a seductive philosophy. It allows for the worst sort of us/them dynamic, where “they” are so benighted that they can’t even think rationally! But “we”… ah, “we” have been redeemed, not only from sin and death, but also from bad logic.

The presuppositionalist thing ended when I realised that it begged just about every question that could be begged. And it wasn’t really a convincing apologetic, or even really an apologetic at all. And it removed any chance for meaningful dialogue. But that’s another thing for another time.

This Christian Worldview thing get us really mixed up, I think, because we conflate “thinking like a Christian” with the biblical idea of being in but not of the world.

So we get all these ideas about what it means to be in and not of. We bundle them together and call them a Christian Worldview, and march forward as Christian soldiers to fight the good fight. This means that we’re supposed to look at the world a certain way, and that certain way just so happens to align with a political interest — but we seem, culturally, to be blind to that.

It seems like our Christian Worldview doesn’t function like we think. It’s not a pair of X-Ray spectacles. It doesn’t reveal to us the true fabric of reality. Instead, it just blinds us to a different set of things.

If our morality has been co-opted and misdirected to serve the interests of the world (after all, what can be more worldly than politics?), and if we get to that morality by way of our Christian Worldview, perhaps we need to stop and think a bit. Maybe the Christian Worldview is another of those ways that we worship in vain, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.

Perhaps our Christian Worldview is nothing more than a tradition. The sort of tradition where God commanded “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy”, but we say “trickle down economics”. Or where God has said “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation”, but we say nothing when our megachurch leaders build mansions. Or where God commands “Turn away from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it”, but we seek preemptive strikes and build a war machine.

Or whatever. Maybe for you it’s something else. For me it is. For me it’s an inability to do business with science I don’t like, or uncomfortable facts I don’t want to have to think about. My Christian Worldview keeps me from looking critically at certain parts of my own Christian life.

I’m not sure what to replace it with. If anything. We all live our lives at the intersection of history, the Spirit, the church, scripture, and so many other things. Maybe the answer isn’t as easy as “Christian Worldview”.

This is the true posture

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This is the true posture of Christianity.

It is a powerful photo. I saw it last night… and I feel a bit like I can imagine Jesus a bit better now.

Say what you will about the Catholic church and about the pope and whatnot, but a million jabbering culture warriors trying to erect their Christian fence around America through politics will never have the effect this single photo has had. And is having.

Too convenient to be true?

I haven’t come up with a good apologetic for this one yet. I don’t think one exists.

We’ve been focused on fighting the “is it true” fight for a long time, but the ground has shifted under us hasn’t it? Sure, some people still care about whether Christianity is true. They care if Jesus was fact or fiction. But most people, especially most casual atheists and agnostics, seem to have come to their belief via being convinced that Jesus is just too damn convenient.

And I don’t know how to respond to that. It’s kind of true.

I have this terror of death. It’s baked into me. I can’t shake it off. I can’t stare into the abyss of not being and walk away happy.

Then Jesus comes and tells me that he will raise me from the dead. He will be victorious over death. I will not go quietly into the dark. There is a glorious future, etc, etc, and it’s all invisible and after death and the proof will be in the pudding some time in the indefinite future.

The critique is that Jesus is just another bit of existential placebo. My faith is essentially a nicotine patch — it soothes that nagging voice in the back of my head that tells me I’m going to die and there’s nothing I can do about the nothing that comes after.

Again, I’m not sure what to say to that. I believe in the afterlife, I believe in the resurrection, I believe all that stuff… but you have to admit, Jesus and the cross and eternal life and all that stuff is pretty convenient. I mean, there’s this huge gaping scary hole in the future and Jesus just so happens to fill it. It’s meet-cute. Just a little bit too Hollywood.

If my faith is just an existential placebo, if it’s too useful and too convenient to be true, it’s suddenly highly suspect. Not suspect in the traditional way, where we all get together and mash our presuppositions and propositions together until someone is declared the most intellectually cohesive. But suspect instead on what I think is a deeper level.

In the end it’s about motives. How do you convince someone that what you believe is true when they’re convinced you only believe because your beliefs do something for you? They look at your religious convictions as a mirage. They look at their own lack of belief as more brave, more noble, and therefore more true.

I still don’t know what to say to that, exactly.

Guilt Factories

I used to think there was a sort of tension between “faith” and “works”. It’s in the pages of scripture. It’s expressed by Paul and then differently by James. The arguments roil out from there.

A while ago, I came to the (still work in progress, beware!) conclusion that both concepts are two sides of the same coin. One doesn’t flow out of the other. They are the same thing.

This is a hard thing to live out. Especially when you’ve still got those old categories rolling around in your head.

But there’s something worse. There’s this philosophy that says grace is all you need, or faith is all you need (depending on what sort of works you have in mind), and then denies it in practice.

To me, this is how you build a Guilt Factory.

First you say that grace/faith is all that matters. Then you say that works flow out of grace. Then, as a result of that, you say that what God really cares about is your “heart”. Because if you heart is in the right place, your works are going to be in the right place too.

Then finish it off with a dollop of strictly enforced cultural norms, traditions, and piety. The piety is were it really gets intense, because the grace/faith you’ve been given is supposed to end up in works that are supposed to end up looking exactly like the received norms, the traditions, and the piety.

If you don’t have that piety, you don’t have the works. If you don’t have the works, you don’t have the faith. Either you (at best) have a “hard heart” or (at worst) are plain wolf among sheep.

That’s a Guilt Factory right there.

It’s an amazing way of turning something free and unlimited — forgiveness, for instance — into something limited, and most importantly, definable. There’s no way that it won’t make you feel bad. You can preach your perseverance of the saints till you’re blue in the face, but you’re going to have a congregation full of people doubting their own salvation.

The only way out is to remember this: Piety is horseshit.

Or filthy rags. Either way.

Piety is Phariseeism. That’s not a hard call. You take scripture and wrap it up in a cocoon of your own stuff, you’ve got a Pharisee. Whether that be eating meat offered to idols, or voting for a particular political party, or following God’s will for your life (more on that in a later post)… Basically anything that binds a Christian’s conscience to something that isn’t in scripture.

So what do we say to this? Is it okay to just keep sinning because forgiveness is free?

Well, no. But isn’t it strange that this is where our brains go first? We’ve found a loophole! “Well, doesn’t that mean I can do whatever I want?” Kind of skipped over the amazing grace part. This seems to be a recurring theme in this human experiment.

Either way, when you weld piety onto the side of grace, you get a Guilt Factory. Your sin in a heart condition, and your heart condition is what God really cares about… so what then? How do you change your heart? Certainly not by working at it — after all, works are bad right? Do you ask God? What if he says “no”? What if this is a Jacob-have-I-loved, Esau-have-I-hated situation? Doubt, insecurity, and guilt.

As an added bonus, you can’t help create rankings. Everyone is equal under grace (it’s a binary state, you either have it or you don’t), but piety allows you to out some people above other people. The more holy above the less holy. The more extreme above the less extreme.

I’ve seen this work out. It always ends up that the people with the most extreme positions on something (Let’s wear only dresses! Let’s not listen to rock and roll music! Let’s wear head coverings! Let’s not date! Let’s not kiss! Let’s not dance! Let’s not have worship instruments in the service!) Which, I mean, as things you might do personally, without binding any other consciences, these may all be fine… but as soon as you start looking down on other people who don’t agree with your weird-o stance, there’s a problem. If your faith community is doing this collectively… it’s time to get the heck (Let’s not curse!) out of dodge.

Small is beautiful – Church edition

There are very few large animals left on earth. I don’t mean elk large, I mean elephant large. Once there were many. Blame whatever you like for the decline, but the facts are clear. Being large is difficult.

Being small is easy or at least easier. Small things are more easily swapped in and out. Small things are more easily changed. We often talk about how much time it takes to turn a large ship around. We don’t often talk about how to design a more easily turned ship.

The answer of course is in what you want to do with your ship. If you want to go from Vancouver to Beijing turning isn’t an issue. Efficiency is. On the other hand if you want to go fishing in different spots every day turning becomes a big deal.

So how many things are like big ships these days? I can think of a few but not many. In an information age where organizations need to pivot on a nearly constant basis to keep ahead of the curve, the ability to turn becomes a big deal.

This isn’t the only concern. Large organisations inevitably grow power structures. Not the sort of power structure that small business owner has. A small business owner affects the lives of a few people and has skin (and soul) in the game. Large corporations affect thousands of people and are run by people who often don’t have any skin in the game at all. Think of the high-profile CEO who goes from company to company effectively gutting each one and earning a huge paycheque and bonuses along the way. In the worst case scenario, these executives are actively defrauding their stakeholders. Think of Enron.

This isn’t just a problem in the corporate world. It’s a problem in every organisation. The power problem doesn’t stop at companies. It infects governments, nonprofits, and even churches. Washington, DC is an example of an entire city build around power structures. Tell me if that town is sane, let alone getting its job done.

The power problem isn’t just about skin the game. It’s also about the structures that grow to support the powerful. Structures the powerful themselves create. They may not even know they’re doing it and yet it happens.

Take for instance the church. I want to pick on the church because I have skin in that game — I attend one and care about the wellbeing of the church in general.

Leave aside the Catholic church for a moment, which has a very obvious and historically problematic structure (let’s just say the child abuse scandal is not exactly an aberration). Let’s even leave aside the very structured Orthodox and Anglican churches. Let’s instead focus on the problems of the modern Anabaptist Protestant church.

On first blush the Protestant problem would seem to be not enough structure. Some of my Catholic friends are eager to point out that we’d have a lot fewer odd cousins in the Protestant family if we were allowed to take them out behind the barn and shoot them. This is not to say that the power structure isn’t there. It’s just not as obvious. Instead of being centred around the Pope or synods or classes (etc, etc), the power structure often centred around a single local church which expands outward to a movement which forms and organisation and on it goes.

This happens constantly. A single pastor rises above the rest, his church grows, he forms a church organisation, it grows, and eventually the whole thing collapses. This sometime happens under the auspices of existing denomination structures, other times outside of them, and other times organisations form vague associations.

No matter how it happens, the concentration and creation of power happens alongside. Then comes the books, the teaching tours, the conferences, the radio sermons, the ministries, the money, the salaries, the whole deal.

Again and again this leads to corruption in the church. The simple reason is that power insists upon itself. Even without realising it. There’s an entire cottage industry that exists solely to funnel money into these various organisations and therefore influence to their founders. When we talk about the rise of the CEO pastor, this is what we’re talking about. The rise of pastors who look and sound like businessmen, churches that are concerned about cash flow and market share, and organisations whose reasons for existence are dubious at best and essentially money laundering at worst.

I think of these things in terms of mission. What is the mission of the church? Does your church do that? Does your organisation do that?

For instance, you’re a CEO pastor. You have a church of 1000 people. You want to reach 1000 more people. What do you do? Well, a satellite church with a video feed from the main church of course! Ah, technology. Then another, then another, then another.

At what point did it seem to you that a video feed to a satellite gathering is better than setting up a new church with a new pastor? The point was when you realised that you were the main attraction. Call it what you want. Think of yourself as an excellent teacher. Whatever you need to justify your face being on that screen. Think of it as easier, cheaper, better, whatever. Either way, there you are.

Then you write a book. After all, the people in your extended congregations need to increase their personal piety, don’t they? So you write a book and sell it. Suddenly you have this money and this exposure you maybe didn’t have before, especially if the book becomes popular outside the limited audience of the screens your face reaches.

Then you start taking your face on the road. Conferences, teaching tours, a radio show, maybe even a TV show.

Then the real money starts to roll in. None of this is bad, none of this is evil. You’re reaching thousands, millions, even tens of millions of people!

You probably thank God for all this exposure, but you start pulling down a salary that says you really thank yourself. Then you meet some opposition in your organisation. Maybe someone objects to the CEO mentality you have. Maybe the situation starts to snowball.

Or maybe you find yourself signing into a hotel with a hooker and some blow, because (paradoxically because the demands of being a CEO pastor mean you have less free time in aggregate but more unaccountable free time in strange places).

Maybe your church is accused of actively covering up a child abuse scandal.

I don’t know. Either way, here you are, the CEO, the only thing holding this machine together. Maybe you fall apart, maybe you don’t. Either way, the damage begins. Or maybe you just die one day. Either way, things start to change.

What if, instead, we did things differently?

What if we had no CEO pastors with star power and teaching organisations and radio shows and book tours? What if we just cut all that stuff out?

I’m sure the personal piety of the average Christian would remain the same (pretty low in my case; you can be your own arbiter). I’m sure the impact of your book and your radio show and your array of satellite churches would be replaced by something else.

What if we decided that small was beautiful? Churches of, say, 200 – 300 people. What would that look like?

If I had to pick the most successful type of organism in the world, I’d have to say bacteria. Prokaryotes reproduce mainly by asexual binary reproduction. That is to say they grow, then they split. And they do this incredibly fast.

What if, instead of trying to be some mythical multi-headed beast, churches just got too big to be churches anymore and split off into two new churches?

I’ll tell you one thing that’s for certain: There would be a much better ecosystem of small churches. Instead of one church failing and orphaning thousands of people, a church could be gracefully shut down and folded into the (hopefully) myriad of small, local churches.

True, our “reach” might not be as great, but I think our impact would be. Instead of concentrating on a million people or 10 million people in our state or province or city, we could concentrate on the thousands of people in our communities, in the places we actually live and work. We could take ourselves out of national politics (and so very many people would heave a sigh of absolute relief) and put ourselves back into the realm of service on a local level. We’d be a much more welcome and less offensive group of people if we did that, I can assure you.

We’d also avoid all the problems associated with celebrity pastors and their seemingly inevitable downfalls.

It seems to me this is the better path: Smaller, nimbler, less visible, and more effective churches.

Consumed

I am more than a consumer.

Or am I? I keep acting like a consumer everywhere I go. I consume goods and services, I consume entertainment, I consume and consume.

This becomes a problem when I start treating relationships like goods or services. It happens far too often. I look at other people as if they are providing me with some sort of emotional or physical product, which I take and take and never have to give anything back.

I’m sorry if I’ve done this to you. You deserve better.

You’re not innocent in all this, though. You do it too. I know, because it’s ingrained in all of us. It’s the culture we live in, the worldview we inherit. You don’t notice until you go looking for it.

I’ve been on the other end of this. I have opportunistic friends who take but never give. I don’t much enjoy being around them. The reciprocity of a relationship pretty much defines its boundaries. The more two people give, the more it grows.

All this consuming has some consequences. I’ve come to expect that I will consume, and that others will consume. I need to be a certain way so people will stick around. My friends need to be a certain way or I’ll casually toss them aside and find better ones.

Another consequence is when our institutions start treating us like consumers. It’s bad enough when corporations stop thinking of me as a customer, a person with whom they are in some sort of (ever so tenuous) relationship.

It’s worse when it’s the church.

God’s standard-bearers on earth, just giving in. It’s easy to do. You stop thinking in terms of congregations, in terms of relationships, in terms of bringing people out of darkness and into light. You start thinking instead in terms of market share, in terms of audience, in terms of attracting people from there to here.

You start talking about benefits without talking about sacrifice. You start talking about Jesus as primarily a provider of good things. You start de-emphasising the bits of scripture that talk about difficulty. You don’t want to preach that, because sacrifice doesn’t sell.

Of course, Jesus does bring good things. He promises a lot of really great stuff. But that’s only half the message. It’s a soft prosperity gospel. It’s all pie filling and no crust, if you will (I hope you won’t; pie filling is terrible, awful stuff).

This might seem like splitting hairs, or not a big deal. Does it really matter, as long as you’re preaching about Jesus?

I think it does. I think it’s the difference between a fake plastic Christianity and the authentic Way of the early church. (Who, by the way, understood much better the idea of sacrifice.) One version of Jesus is attractive and incomplete; you can feel that when you’re around him. He doesn’t move like he’s real. He’s in the uncanny valley, somehow. The other Jesus is a complete Jesus. He comes not only to gather his saints under his wings, but also treading the winepress of the wrath of the Father. He is victory over sin and death, for now and forever, not simply spackle to spread over your cracking facades or salve to rub into your wounds.

I’ve experienced both of these Jesus’ (and more) in my wanderings through the landscape of our modern church. This is just me talking here, but I think the difference between a church that gathers to consume and a church that gather to be consumed can be sensed in the language you use.

Language is a big deal (too big to get into here); the way you talk reflects on the way you think. What is in your heart comes out of your mouth, after all. And it works the other way around, too. You eventually come to believe the things that you say.

When you talk about Jesus, what sort of language do you use? Are you talking the way scripture talks about him? When you go to talk about Jesus, are your descriptions of him freakishly close to some passage by default?

Or are you talking about him the way you might talk about your latest gadget, a company you really like, or a service you feel you can’t do without?

Are you coming to Jesus to consume, or to be consumed?

A point about denominations

  • You should ask the question, “Why do we have denominations? Why can’t we all just be Christians?” Then wait until someone asks, “What does ‘just be Christians’ look like?” As soon as you’ve started describing that, BOOM, you’ve started your own denomination. Then you should ask yourself the question, “Is it even possible to not have denominations?” That’s a much better question, and much harder to answer.