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post 2: what's wrong with me and my religion

[reading time: 5 mins]

I was a church planter in a church that funnily enough, ended up as eclectic as my lumber jacking, helicopter-piloting, crazy mixed up life (It’s God’s sense of humour, He does have one - reference the giraffe and the platypus). We had ex-catholics, ex-presbyterians (can you be ex?), ex brethren, ex-baptist doctors, pilots, pastors, engineers, social workers, teachers etc etc… 

I and some other Jesus keensters helped start the church with prayer, some words from an ancient bible-book called Ezekiel, a concern for the scattering/scattered sheep and a desire to make Jesus famous in the new baby church. That was the theory anyway...

In a strange departure from modern church growth techniques we deliberately 'aimed' at Christians who were 'in between' churches and seemed to be there for lengthy periods of time (for a variety of reasons not all bad). 

It was probably asking for trouble going for ragtag, diverse Christians with often significant doctrinal differences. 

Not probably...it really was a crazy, mixed up idea. What? Christians actually christianing together...

But the idea of the dispossessed, the disenfranchised, the unsatisifed, messed up Christians coming together (despite themselves) and being united under one King - Jesus - was really compelling. It seemed so unlikely to succeed, so ‘against the grain’ and so un-templated that it had to be a God thing. 

So there I was: a piloting pastor wannabe, dad, husband, burning heart for the fame of Jesus. Ah yes, Jesus…probably should start with the starter of starts… 

Jesus... who, in our culture, is more swear-word than deity, more curse-word then cool had become pretty special to me by this point. Hero is definitely the word because if the heroics of God on-the-cross and God out-of-the-tomb aren’t heroics than flowers aren't pretty and galaxies aren't spectacular. And if a fave footy star deserves a stadium sized roar and fist-punch to the air...

More on the failed church plant thing in a moment. For now I just gotta say this whole Jesus and Christian thing ain't just an emotional, mystical ‘well if it works for you’ thing. It just couldn't be. It’s not authorised to be that alone. I just couldn't check my head at the door of the church for some happy hand clapping if it was just clapping Jesus in my heart and not Jesus cosmic creator/crucified criminal/conquerer of death. For me this whole thing has to have rationality. As I’ve read history, philosophy, theology - by Christians and not-Christians - I have found there is as much evidence for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as any event in antiquity - there are just as many reasons to believe this stuff as there is to believe in electricity. Go the fist pump… the cosmic roar, fist pump… 

Having said all that, facts and reasonable evidence for Jesus - something the academics call 'propositional truth’ - has the problem of being propositional truth. Facts have the problem of being facts. Certain factual propositions may be made about a beautiful wildflower but if I gave it to you because I love you, not just ‘ fact’ you, you will be feeling something not just thinking factually 'oh what nice mito chondria, what a superb specimen, I really must get this under a microscope’. 

The flower is an expression, an emotion and a feeling as well as an objectively petalled truth. I'm not saying one or the other is more important I'm just saying, and will say many times, feeling AND thinking are important, especially important when dealing with a superbly divine being who says 'these people love me with their mouths (i.e. their spoken facts) but their hearts are far from me' and gets upset about it. Any Being worthy of worship is worthy of love AND reason.

The living presence of God in Jesus in us and with us, and our consequent heart, soul and mind response to that is the captial C Christian in Christian - the living Christ perceived and felt - which sounds freaky, but is actually how people like me think-feel. This can't be reduced, successfully anyway, to mere creeds and faith statements anymore than a movie can be reduced to it's title, trailer and credits. It is everything in between that counts, it's the perceived and felt story in between that makes us understand, feel and live the movie. 

Which leads me onto something that is wrong with me and my religion. 

Before we go there a quick test on yourself to work out whether you are a true believer - a true ‘Christian’ - or merely a true copier: ask yourself not whether you are going to church, or whether you gave money to the poor, or whether you try not to cheat on your wife or partner, but ask yourself what you think-feel about Jesus. If it’s anything less than affection, which implies, by default, faith, hope and love IN Jesus, then you ain’t a ‘Christ-one’. You might be christian (and I use the little c deliberately) by ‘culture', but by soul-deep, wisdom-in-the-heart understanding and affection you are, by biblical definition, not a Christian. Being a Christian is being in love with God which, mystery of mysteries, is according to the old writings, being devoted to God whose ultimate advertisement for himself was his own self in the form of a Judean man, THE man, Jesus Christ (this is something theologians coolly call the 'incarnation'). 

All genuine, authentic Christians are devotees to Christ. This should lead to good deeds, or love-deeds, as so amazingly demonstrated and lived and advertised in the first three hundred years of the church. This bunch of super charged devotees should then form an amazing community - called the church - infused with super natural life and brimming over with super good, super loving words and deeds. 

Again, that’s the theory. 

I must sadly confess, all too often, if one is to assess the church purely on her love for Jesus and her love in His name, (as a genuine expression of their Jesus centred feelings and thoughts) one would be forced to conclude that there is something terribly, badly wrong. Now, if I put this to a crowd - there is something badly wrong with the Christian Church -  in some public space, be it virtual or otherwise, I suspect I would NOT be shouted down or ran out of town.

If you don't believe me try the following google search which some blog smartie came up with  ‘Christian are so’ or ‘Why are Christians so’. The prescriptive text, based on the most frequent searches (just in case you didn't know), is what comes up in the drop down box. (Try other searches for fun, why are bloggers so..., why are websites so... it's hours of fun). 

Most I suspect, at the mention of 'there's something wrong with Christianity', would simply go with the flush of general opinion which sometimes mythologises all christians as hypocritical, intolerant, unloving and (worst of all) irrelevant. They might even, before returning to youtube, xbox, the shopping or an update on facebook, recall popular imagery of Christians as generally uncool and, again, hypocritical, intolerant, unloving and irrelevant, personified in any number of holly (not holy) images - my personal favourite being Ned Flanders. 

Such is life. I’m not about to join the chorus of complaints - some more hysterical than others - against the church. Some are legit and others not (one good book provides balance). Instead I just want to express in my own experience, something I can speak on with greater authority than anyone else (my own experiences that is), what I have found to be terribly, awfully, faith crushingly wrong with the church. 

And then I want to seek to re-Form it - with all my heart...

All this ‘reform' stuff started, or at least was restarted, when I read a prayer Jesus prayed in John 17 was struck by a massive truth: Jesus the son of God, prays to his Father, that we (those who have believed in the testimony of the first Christians i.e. all true Christians today) have the same one-ness that God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit have (which by all accounts is a pretty tight bond). 

Jesus prays ‘that they [us Christians] will be one just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you’ and  'that they may be completely one, so that the world will know that you sent me, and you have loved them just as you have loved me.'

The living hyperlink to God’s reality, to his fame, to his heroics, to his glory, to the authenticity of His son is meant to be the love of the church. 

Paul, in the quintessential verses on ‘the church’ tells us in in his writings to the ancient city of Ephesus, that the goal of the church, with all its pastors and teachers (amongst others), was to build up the church to… the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature Eph 4:13. The endstate is oneness (the unity of the faith) in the knowledge of the Son of God. 

An immature Church is therefore not one merely lacking in knowledge and needing more lecturers, more seminaries and more good books, but one which is wanting in its deep relational knowing of Jesus and in its deep relational untiy with others that are one in Jesus. No wonder again that at the beginning of this section, Paul says, 

Eph 4: 1-6 ’Live worthily of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.'

I, like many other Christians, have read this stuff many times. In fact there are numerous references to oneness but now, I would really like to get serious about listening to Jesus’ last prayer.

And here is where this confession really ends up (remember, this blog is titled 'what’s wrong with me and my religion’): in all my time involved in churches, have I ‘made every effort’ to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’? Have I made every effort? 

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The true answer is... (between me and my God but it probably aint church-building pretty) 

So…in our failed church plant I confess our John 17 failure ( and our failure to honor the last prayer of Jesus) and our ephesians 4 failure. We should have made every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit. We did not. 

But now I hope to make it better. I hope to do better. Maybe we can, as the Church and in this new church plant (now three and half years old) be something better, something a little more shiny for Him…and as I said, why not start with a series of blogs half confessional, half theological and all (I hope) with a restorational, irenic emphasis on ‘please’. Why the ‘please’? Cause even if we end up unreconciled at least we’ll have been polite...

Here goes...

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