Sunday, April 7, 2013

Christian baggage. . .

A member forwarded me this little article entitled "It's OK to call yourself a Christian."  It is a nice little foray into the somewhat murky waters of Christians who like certain aspects of the faith (they like Jesus) but look down on doctrine and structure and, well, Christian people.  Read it for yourself.  I was struck by some powerful words near the end.

In a culture of narcissism, the easiest way to follow Jesus is from a distance on a solo stroll to the beat of the same drummer you have listened to your whole life: your own personal preferences and already held beliefs. From a distance, you are safe from the assault of community.

People will explain to me that without the Church, they are traveling light, without all that Christian baggage. But what exactly is this baggage? It’s people—who might actually be some of the best road companions there are.

The strange thing is that there are certain similarities between the most conservative of Christians and these cultural Christians who are wary of the "baggage" that comes from being too close to Jesus.  Both sides have a common dislike:  people.  Though they dislike people for different reasons.

I know some folks who feel more comfortable with a smaller church.  I do not mean congregation.  I mean church as in the total number of Christians.  They grumble about nuance of doctrinal agreement and argue with ferocity even with folks about 99% in agreement with them.  They are suspicious of other Christians and seem to have forgotten Luther's call to charity.  They prefer a 99.44% pure church over one that might allow someone to slip in who does not know, cannot articulate, and who cannot argue for the genus maiestaticum without skipping a beat.  They would feel more comfortable if there were no visitors on Sunday morning and that new members stayed away until they got their doctrinal Ps and Qs down to a T.  They do not trust other Pastors and are skeptical of every aspect of church that is larger than or different from their own little corner of the vineyard.

Okay.  I exaggerate.  But you know what I mean.  In short, they seem to think that the biggest problem in the Church is people.  It is true.  People are messy.  People are hard to deal with and harder even to love.  They are weak and oversensitive.  They are stubborn and head strung.  They are lazy and complacent.  They are bulls who charge when a little caution is needed.  They are people.  Sinful people.  Sinful by nature and unclean.  Sinners in thoughts, words, and deeds.  Sinners by act and by failure to act.  But our Lord loves these sinners and welcomes them and has died for them.  They are not optional in the Church -- no matter how uncomfortable they are to us.

On the other hand, there are those such as this article pointed out.  They do not like the Church because of its "baggage."  Yes, the Church has baggage.  A history of dealing with people, with heresies, with conflicts, with flaws, with failings, with schism, with division, with immorality, etc...  We all know it.  It is painful to us and so painful that some would prefer a Jesus who came with church optional.  But that is not how Jesus comes.  No matter how much these folks dislike or even hate the baggage of sinful leaders who fail them and sinful disciples who screw things up, the Church comes with baggage and the Church is not optional (just because you want it to be).

Everyone wants a religion that is one person deep and one person wide -- no conflict there.  Unless you actually look in a mirror and see yourself honestly.  Then even a one person church might just be too big.  If you hate the baggage of doctrine, troubled history, and flawed people, you better do your church a favor and NOT join so that you will not taint it any more.  Frankly, those folks who skip church because they do not like the "baggage" that comes with it are wimps and wusses.  They are afraid of everything.  They have not heard the promise of Christ repeated ad nauseum in Old and New Testament.  "Fear not.  I am with you."

We care about truth BECAUSE we care about people.  We welcome sinners because the people of God are sinners for whom Christ has died and in whom the Spirit has worked faith and repentance.  But they are still not perfect and so restoration is as much the business of the Church as is conversion of the unbeliever.  Christ teaches us love for God that is displayed in love for neighbor -- messy, dirty, stinky, troublesome, unloving, and unlovable neighbors.  Like you.  Like me.  Christ is our Good Samaritan who loved and loves us even with our wounds and weakness but, thankfully, does not leave us bleeding and dying.  He saves us at the cost of His own blood.

We contend for truth and pure doctrine BECAUSE this is the truth that saves the people for whom Christ died -- not because there is anything special about purity for purity sake.  Our holiness is not some lofty and dusty virtue that sits on a shelf.  It is the holiness of life and service, loving God by loving neighbor.  Yeah, there is a ton of baggage in the Church and YOU, everyone of YOU, as well as ME are weight in that baggage.  If we ditch the baggage we ditch the reason why Christ suffered and died.

In the end, it is fear that moves us to disdain the baggage.  Christ casts out fear.  If we fear the baggage, it must be because we do not trust Christ.  That is the baggage we ought to be concerned about -- at least as much as our fear of Christian sins aired in public, doctrinal conflict, the threat of heterodoxy, and impurity.

Sure, we have problems


Rich Kauzlarich said...

Pr. Peters: The cartoon is priceless -- but your message even better. Thank you so much for sharing.

Andrew Grams said...

Christ is our good Samaritan, the big brother who goes after the little brother. He does not leave us bleeding and dying and He most certainly does not leave us in the gutter or the streets, but calls us to a better way, a way of holiness. One of the things that struck me about the main article is the notion that my faith is a private thing to me. Many who are in the church believe this and will hold opinions in the public square that are completely incompatible with Christian doctrine and practice. Many also simply want their itching ears scratched and want to remain in the gutter, left there by a Jesus who just helps them up and dusts them off. The rest, of course, is up to them. What's missing for these folks? A repentance and turning around that comes from constant doses of truth and pure doctrine. And that truth and pure doctrine, as you point out, are rejected by fear -- a fear of running up against a Holy, Righteous God as He really and truly is -- as revealed to us in His Word.