Thursday, August 26, 2010

I Quit Being A Christian! (Part 3 of 3)

So where does this Anne Rice “adventure story” (remember that God is writing her story just as He is yours and mine) leave us? I guess if nothing else, it tells us a lot about people in general and about Christians in particular. It tells us that we love to label. In fact, we have an inordinate desire to label and box everything and everyone we see so that we can relate to them from a position of cognizance based on our perceived label. Recently Pete Wilson of Cross Point Church in Tennessee wrote an insightful blog on this phenomenon. It tells us that we can’t seem to help but judge and criticize things we don’t understand. It tells us that we’re all on a journey and are all at different points along that journey. But maybe most telling of all is that it reveals that no one has a monopoly on wisdom. We must be willing to admit that, because we don’t know it all, there’s room for error. If you are gracious in relating to and responding to other people’s perceived errors, then you will be more likely to receive the same sort of grace when people are responding to yours.

Rather than rail against Anne Rice (who, judging by the public response to her decision to “quit Christianity” is clearly a much more “listened to” voice for our faith than most of us will ever hope to be), what if we stopped to consider her contentions about Christians and Christianity. Is it potentially feasible that there are some really simple things that are easily remedied simply by each one of us making a decision to be more like Christ in our attitudes and responses to others who think differently than we do? Look, I get that you are passionate about your faith and everything, but passion doesn’t always equate to being right or doing right. After all, like Anne, you and I are human and therefore prone to error. I’ve often said that the message of the Gospel has endured for thousands of years so it certainly doesn’t need you and I to defend what we perceive to be it’s efficacy in order to keep it from evanescing over the next few thousand years. We don’t have to battle against others who are on the same side as us, albeit in a different company, while the real enemy sits back and laughs at our self-styled regnant.

All that our infighting and judgment serves to do is to obscure and adumbrate the real message of the gospel from those who really need to hear it. As she has told us quite clearly in her interviews and write-ups, Anne Rice loves Jesus! That needs to be sufficient for us whether we agree with her stand on quitting Christianity or not. We don’t need to label her or her decision, nor do we necessarily need to feel any sort of obligation to defend the Church or the Gospel message. There are a lot of dangerous people who serve as real threats to the furtherance of the message of Christ, and Anne Rice is definitely not one of them.

So now that we’ve had this amiable talk, and just in case you needed a new target for your prayers, consider this: A self-styled Christian Church in Florida wants to burn the Koran on 9/11. They believe that this is God’s will and that Jesus would do the same were he still on earth today because Islam is of the devil and it’s evil. We have severely misplaced our priorities if Anne Rice’s decision to walk away from “Christianity,” is, to our reckoning, more of a front page story and a concern for many Christians than this asinine act of overt bigotry. We should surely focus our attention and prayers on this grossly uncalculated act of foolishness rather than on trying to persuade God to “get Anne.” The repercussions of this clearly barbaric decision, unfortunately will not stop at the front door of these so-called Christians in Florida, but will ricochet and reverberate around the Church in much the same way the loss of innocent lives randomly plunged families into untold mourning on 9/11/2001.

Sadly for those of us who disavow this kind of stupidity, these apparent “Christians” may be opening a can of worms that they won’t be able to reseal especially since the majority of them are probably not willing to be martyred for their cause the way many Jihadists are. Just my two pennies! You have the floor!!!

I Quit Being A Christian! (Part 2 of 3)

Concerning relating to and being a part of the Body of Christ, Anne Rice emphatically states, “For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.” It is on this issue of a wholesale condemnation of “Christians” that Anne and I reach a point of departure.

Before I address the reasons why Anne and I disagree on this latter point, I wanted to categorically state that, following my thoughts yesterday, I’m fully convinced that Anne’s decision to disavow “Christianity” and “organized religion” is one that is becoming increasingly popular. This means that, rather than position ourselves against people like Anne in an attempt to make them see the “error of their ways,” maybe we should be examining our methods and motives instead of unwittingly attempting to make ourselves sole curators of Truth.

Clearly Anne has not backslidden from her faith. Whether or not you contend that she may be misguided in her understanding of “Christianity” and the “Church,” there is no way that you can rationally contend that she has strayed from Christ. We’d do well to remember that, in her own words she declares, “My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me.” No one, and I repeat, no one, is in any position to question or judge the efficacy of her commitment to Christ.

But here’s where Anne and I may find our major sticking point: while I’m all for not conforming to traditional stereotypes, labels, and behavior that seek to “box” the Church into being an esoteric organization, I for one don’t believe that the Church is an organization. No, the Church is an organism. It is a living, breathing, extension of Jesus who is the Head of this Body. No part of the body survives by cutting itself off from the whole. If you severed a torso at the waist, while that person might survive with swift and skilled medical attention (I’m not stating this as an empirical medical fact), the limbs below the waist would not (this is an empirical medical fact). We cannot be separated from the head, but we cannot be separated from the rest of the body either. BTW, for you smart Alecs that would point out that, limbs are often amputated yet people keep living, I would conversely like to point out the fact that the limb that’s severed does not!

Paul, in direct reference to Jesus, declares this profound truth: He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christians in skilled servant work, working within Christ's body, the church, until we're all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God's Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ. No prolonged infancies among us, please. We'll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love - like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love. The Old Way Has to Go [Ephesians 4: 11-16]

Observe the first emboldened portion of the text carefully or you might miss it! “…working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all… fully mature adults…” Right there is the key! There is a process to becoming fully mature adults and in the meantime life occasionally gets messy. A baby’s diaper needs changing from time to time and it’s generally a messy proposition. It would be an entirely different matter if our teenage kids wore diapers, or messed their underwear (not to talk of adults), but it is certainly expected of babies. We tend to forget that, though oftentimes we may be dealing with fully mature adults in the flesh, we may well be dealing with spiritual babes. Clearly though, some Christ-followers are a little further along in their walk as not every Christ-follower fit’s the bill of a “quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious” person. We are all at different points along this journey and some of us need a little more “diaper care” than others. Now look at the second emboldened portion of the text and observe that it is totally contingent on the first being fulfilled. It is only growth in Christ that matures us enough “to know the whole truth and tell it in love…” It is only when we allow God’s “very breathe and blood flow through us” that we are able to “keep in step with each other.”

This truth is further evidenced by the writer of the letter to the Hebrews as he addresses this “new” concept of the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ: “Let's see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching. If we give up and turn our backs on all we've learned, all we've been given, all the truth we now know, we repudiate Christ's sacrifice”[Hebrews 10:24-26]

Here’s something else to remember: The Church (made up primarily of Christ-followers), according to the Scriptures, is the Bride of Christ. If Christ loves His Bride so much, enough that He is willing to extend grace and forgiveness to Her continually, then it is incumbent upon those of us that form this “Bride” to extend the same measure of grace and forgiveness to each other. Scripture further opines, “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”[1 Corinthians 12: 21] There's so much more to this faith journey than anyone of us can comprehend on our own, and so there is no doubt a clear benefit in addition to a biblical mandate to remain in fellowship with each other. I'll post my final thoughts tomorrow. Meanwhile, I've really loved your feedback so please keep it coming.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I Quit Being A Christian! (Part 1 of 3)

I'm somewhat late to the game because I've found it more beneficial to my learning process to listen and observe more than to talk. I'm also patently aware that people a lot more intellectually and spiritually astute than I, have registered their comments, and so one might wonder what I have to add to contribute to an already exhaustive discourse. Having said all that though, I do have a thing or two to contribute so bear with me a while. Recently, popular author and social commentator Anne Rice, made a startling declaration on her Facebook page! Anne boldly declared, “…I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”

Her Facebook page literally garnered thousands of comments (yes you heard right… thousands!) in response to Anne’s honest yet somewhat jarring declaration. Not surprisingly the comments ran the gamut of opinions, from “closet-Christianity-quitters” who were emboldened to take a more public stand following Anne’s bold declaration, to the self-appointed “religious police” whose self-appointed-duty is to monitor and screen every professing Christian who so much as breathes differently from them, in order to determine whether they qualify to use the term Christian.

Anne further explained to her pot-pourri of Facebook followers that: “My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.”

Sadly, the instantaneous yet predictable reaction of many Christians (as evidenced by some of the responses on her FB page) is to do exactly what Anne has come to expect, and that is to raise their hackles, bare their fangs, and devour her for being such a heretic. Such people make no allowance in their world view for even attempting to find out what the root cause of her decision is, nor do they care to understand her position so that they are better able to consider her paradigm. Instead, this self-righteous brigade of brigands unloads their vitriol “in the name of Jesus,” in an attempt to show Anne how sinfully misguided she is. The fact is, even if their contention were true, such an approach would serve only to steel her resolve rather than open a channel for honest, helpful dialog.

Interestingly enough, in part, Anne’s contention about the importance of “Christianity” is somewhat true. I’ve written extensively about this subject here, in which I contended that when people are saved, they are not saved into Christianity but into Christ. To suggest that you cannot be a Christ-follower without being a Christian is a dire misconception. For instance, a Moslem who lives in a country that’s hostile to the Gospel so that there is no access to church or Christians, but who encounters Christ (such as Paul did on the road to Damascus), is not saved into Christianity but into Christ. He becomes a Christ-follower. Someone who is brought to Christ supernaturally by the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit, who continues to build a relationship with Jesus in an environment that is completely heathen and devoid of any “Christian” influence (such as Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian Eunuch on the road from Jerusalem) does not become a Christian but a Christ-follower.

Or take Cornelius, whom the Scriptures declare was a God-fearing, prayerful, Roman soldier who sought God and heard God clearly enough to be able to discern God’s voice giving him specific directions to find Simon Peter at the home of one Simon the Tanner, where he was staying. At his conversion through Peter’s breaking of traditional Jewish taboos, Cornelius neither became a Jew nor a Christian (especially since the word “Christian” hadn’t even been coined yet), but a gentile Christ-follower. This is more than just a semantic difference because, in supposing that the only proof of being saved is in being a Christian, we are liable to exclude the work of God amongst the Cornelius’ of the world in and through whom God is doing a powerful work. I'll pick up this thought tomorrow, in the meantime, join the conversation!