Thursday, August 26, 2010

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.


patrick voo said...

i tend to think of the church as a 'community in motion' (or as some others might describe it, 'on mission') - and it's because we were designed for relationship that people who are on the spiritual journey with Jesus will band together. our lives in the world at large are no different - we depend on teachers to instruct us, police officers to protect us, farmers to feed us, garbage collectors to take care of us. coming together to be the church affords us (vital) opportunities that are simply not available to us as isolated individuals - apart from benefiting from one another's learned wisdom, and offering ourselves to help others, the momentum of a community opens doors to new experiences that would not be singly achievable/meaningful.

i'm not always happy with the logistics that 'govern' the church, but i will still choose to be the church.

Joseph said...

Patrick, I couldn't have said it any better myself. Thanks for weighing in on this conversation. I can hardly wait to hug your neck at the Human Experience in October. :)

Olatubosun said...

I have enjoyed the flow of the two parts of your article.
I must also say that I read Anne's statement on CNN but not any of the comments on her FB page.
I wonder, why is it necessary to separate a follower of Christ from a christian? The fact that some say or do things contrary to what Christ enjoins us to live by does not mean that all are tarnished by the same brush. On the day of judgement the wheat will be separated from the chaff. God bless

Joseph said...

Olatubosun, thanks for joining the conversation. It is probably redundant to say, but I'll say it anyway: not every one who professes to be a Christian is a Christ-follower, and there are Christ-followers who don't profess to be Christians.

In the Scriptures, before people were ever referred to as Christians (first in Antioch in Acts 11) they were known by many other monikers such as "Followers of The Way." This is still the case today.