Part 1: The Success of Imperfection

Whenever a fellow Christian gets tied up in arguing about God’s law and seems to salivate every time You broke it just now and I caught you! Ha! the first thing that comes to my mind is that that Christian probably has zero non-Christian friends. For my part, when I’m actively involved in evangelism, I don’t have time to sit there and worry about how many other Christians might be offended by my appearance of rule-breaking. Maybe I’m breaking some of the rules they would like me to observe. Oh well, I suppose.

Evangelism should not contain a demonstration to “the lost” how good “the found” are at following every commandment in the Bible. Scripture says that when people see our good deeds, they should praise their Father in heaven. I can certainly say that isn’t my main motivation when I’m trying to appear holy. With that attitude, my main motivation is the thought that people will notice how holy I appear and will be impressed.

Neither is it important to base your evangelistic strategies on the weak consciences (weak faith) of fellow Christians (in most cases). The most important thing in your witness is to bear in mind “We love each other because He loved us first (1 John 4:19).” I don’t mean we forgo accountability in our relationships with people who are Christians or not. It is vital to have a support base of fellow Christians to offer prayer, moral support and guidance in your attempts to befriend someone and present the gospel of Jesus Christ. What I’m talking about is the fear of perception versus reality.

It is wrong to base your friendships, evangelistic tactics, and strategies on some kind of thinking that goes along this line: “I cannot build a friendship with this unsaved person because I might be put in a situation where I would end up needing to explain my behavior to a fellow Christian.” Sometimes your behavior might require an explanation, a defense, a justification or whatever but I’m talking about merely being friends– doing things friends do- with your pagan buddies- can put you right in the hot seat with your church friends. And with that kind of threat looming in the background, a lot of evangelism isn’t even attempted. People choose to rely on evangelism which has little to no relational context whatsoever.

Me vs. Everyone Else

“Well, I can’t hang out with that person regularly,” you think. “But the next time I see them I’ll be sure to give them a lecture about how I can’t believe they do the things they do.” That’s nice. You go ahead and do that and see how successful you are. You go ahead thinking that everyone should have the same conservative, boring opinions and prudish outlook that you do. It works for you, right? Wrong. There’s nothing wrong with being conservative, unless it keeps you from reaching the lost. There’s nothing wrong with being liberal, unless it keeps you from reaching the lost. Just remember that you wouldn’t even be a Christian if someone hadn’t reached out to you, maybe even against their better judgement. Jesus broke a long list of rules when He reached out to us. It got Him killed. Our attempts will, at worst, probably result in a few cold shoulders. I wonder if we can manage such a huge burden for the sake of people who are headed to hell.

Any damn thing you can think of that is somehow related to evangelism, Jesus did first. He loved us first, encouraged us first, sacrificed for us first, was persecuted first, was hated first, reached out first, was bold first, tolerated awkwardness first, broke the religious rules first, crossed social barriers first, was compassionate first…

I could go on but the word “first” already looks like it isn’t a word anymore, so I’ll stop.

Back to that idea about the consciences of Christians- isn’t it absurd to hear that conscience thing out loud? Imagine telling some pagan, unsaved dude:

Sorry, but my church friends would be too scandalized if I was your friend. You don’t have nice enough clothes. You don’t have a nice enough job. You don’t have the right sense of humor. You’re socially awkward. You talk about inappropriate things. You think we’re close friends when we’re really not. You make me feel embarrassed. You have too dark of a past and I don’t know how to have empathy for the guilt that results from sins like yours. You don’t know how to talk about the pop-culture things I like to talk about. You always talk about yourself. I don’t know how to spend time with people so unlike myself. I imagine us getting involved in drugs, sex and violence. Since I’m afraid of you, my friends will wonder what I’m even doing with you. They’ll assume we’re up to no good. I have to be separated from the world. I have to be separated from you.

Do you do that? Fucking shame on you if you do, because it all comes back to how we’re afraid a friendship with someone could be perceived by people at church. Repent, asshole, if you do that. Be their friend. You’ll change as much as they will. You might learn compassion, empathy, patience, long-suffering, and sacrifice, for starters.

My wife took a kind of satirical look at it when she read that imaginary conversation above. In the deep voice of a radio announcer she said, “The Slogan of Anti-Evangelism Christians Everywhere- ‘Who is really changing whom’?” That sums up the fear I’m talking about pretty concisely. There’s this vague fear that attempts to evangelize in a relational context will result in the Christian being changed for the worse. Those vague fears really result in zero evangelism. I’m not saying that a Christian can’t change for the worse. That definitely happens. What I’m saying is that we can’t let that fear keep us from our role in proclaiming the gospel to the lost.

I’m So Sensitive I Can Feel Your Heart Beating From Across The Room…And It’s Bugging Me. Stop.

Can a fear of offending the weak consciences of other Christians become an impediment to the Great Commission? (Answer: Fucking Yes) It is hard enough at times to help someone understand the idea of God’s grace without that bullshit. That’s what that is. It is meaningless bullshit that fearful, conservative, churchy types make up to keep their environment sterilized and safe. I know, because I used to be one of those conservative churchy types. I probably still am, in some ways. For example, I don’t like “toilet humor.” Since my wife does, this causes me a slight discomfort. Everyone has a cross to bear. Mine happens to be made of toilets. That doesn’t sound right.

I grew up at church with a group of people who I thought were very close to me.  I cherish quite a few memories of times I shared with those people. I remember summers which in retrospect seem almost dream like. Spending time with those people was something I absolutely loved to do. We had a huge supply of inside jokes, funny stories and memories which we all shared and no one grew tired of re-telling. We rarely had new people around and if we did, they invariably fit the mold we had already set for keeping our company.

I remember thinking at times that everyone here right now will never change. We will always be just as we are right now. We will always be as close as we are right now. Obviously that was the wish of a teenager. Things change. People change and move on in life. When I fall into a mood of reminiscing, I wonder if more people changed for the worse than for the better. What I mean is “Did more of the people I grew up at church with mature in their faith or did more of those people fall away from their faith?” It’s a hard question, especially since merely putting a number on it doesn’t really tell anyone much of anything.

What Matters?

I’m not so concerned where people are in some social hierarchy or career ladder. I don’t really care whether people make a lot of money or a little; whether they moved on to higher education or not- that’s for the birds. It’s all here and gone anyway, although it has its place. What I care about is that a number of those people have completely walked away from any kind of relationship with God. Granted, I don’t know most of those people very well anymore. My assumption is based on the information I do have- things I hear, updates I get through social media, etc. I wonder if some of them ever even had a relationship with God in the first place, so serious is their seeming betrayal. But I console myself with the thought that, if they never had that relationship, they can’t really betray the having of the relationship. If they never knew how to love people in the first place, they can’t very well be bad at it now– they’ve always been bad at it. Just like me. On the other hand, it isn’t much of a consolation to think that people I thought were saved from hell might actually be headed there.

For those who did walk away from their faith, I can’t say I blame them for leaving church. Following high school, church no longer held the excitement it did during those younger years. There wasn’t anything to keep me there. Although my roots were nearly a generation deep, they were weak for lack of nourishment through my own inability and unwillingness to serve others (which I’ll explain below). I consider that the only person I cared about in terms of “churchiness” was myself. Why would they be any different?

My Own Weirdness Reflected Back At Me

A few years ago, I met up with one of my compatriots from the old days. I was telling this person how great this new church I found was. I was telling him how different the emphasis was than what we grew up with. I went on at length about the joy and relationships I had found. He took it all in stride, with a sideways glance at my neighbor’s driveway and said these unforgettable words: “You and I agree- the most important thing is that you don’t take the Lord’s name in vain.”

What the fucking what?

I was totally flabbergasted! The most important thing about what is that you don’t take the Lord’s name in vain? Was he telling me that’s the real message of the Bible? The reason God became flesh? The reason we go to church? The purpose of life? What is so damn important about not taking the Lord’s name in vain that he’s calling it “the most important”?

I wanted to scream. Was that the legacy I had in his mind? More than twenty years of friendship with this person and he distilled my understanding of the Christian faith down to that very idiotic sound bite. I would never in a million years agree that not taking the Lord’s name in vain is the “most important” part of anything.

My Wife Says I Don’t Sugar Coat This.

Funny enough, having a view of Christianity like that is all too common: “As long as I avoid [x] behavior, I can still call myself a true Christian.” It doesn’t even matter what that behavior is because you can make that your highest priority and exclude everything else from your line of sight. It isn’t so much being unable to see the forest for the trees as it is picking out one particular tree in the forest and staring at only that tree. I don’t know which is worse, focusing on all the rules contained in the Bible or focusing on one rule. Both methods rob the believer of the joy which is meant to be inherent in the race Paul tells us to press on and win. Maybe the people who do those things don’t realize they do them. If they do, maybe they don’t know how confused it makes everyone. If they realize that as well, maybe they’re just retarded.

It seems like some people never really realize that there isn’t any joy to be had in rules alone. Joy comes when you realize your own inability to measure up to the One who created those rules, say “I’m too fucked up to do this on my own” and put your trust in Him (not the rules). The joy comes as a concomitant of trying to love other people the way God loved you.

The weird thing is that that guy and I attended the exact same church- the same exact youth group- with the same exact leaders- at the same exact summer camp- with the same exact friends- for years– because we were one month apart in age. And at the age we were the night when he made this offhanded comment to me, I was coming out of a very dark time of wrestling with thoughts that, though I believed it to be true, I could not reconcile the idea of living my faith as “something possible to do.” I never experienced the abundant life Jesus talks about in John 10:10 where he says “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, andhave it abundantly.”

“Jesus is Perfect and You Suck.” Now Shake Hands With Everyone and Smile.

Abundant life? We sang songs- old, boring songs- every single week. Abundant life? Most of our time was spent inside the building which, I might add, gobbled up most of our money with its upkeep. Abundant life? I didn’t understand the purpose of the sermons. They didn’t seem to have much to do with anything specific to my life, or the lives of my friends at work or school. That message you’re preaching doesn’t really offer anything to me other than some high-sounding academic ideas and how imperfect I am compared to Jesus. Abundant life? No one but me appeared to struggle with anything. What was I doing wrong? I started to think that I must be the problem. If all those things were meant to be demonstrative of the life we are meant to experience within the Body of Christ (the church) I thought, “I’m not good enough for this.”

In any case, those are things that troubled me. The friend I mentioned up there? Yeah, he apparently never got around to asking any of those questions because he had it all figured out once he realized that the most important thing in the Christian faith was following the third commandment. After hearing that, I didn’t wonder so much about his walking away from a relationship with God. In fact, it made sense. His relationship with God got a hell of a lot easier: all he had to do was make sure he never took the Lord’s name in vain. He could rob a bank, live with his girlfriend, smoke weed, go to strip joints and all this damaging shit (I don’t know if he actually did any of that) but as long as he never took the Lord’s name in vain, his relationship with God was great.

Wait…Smiling Isn’t A Sign of A Healthy Spiritual Life? I DEMAND RECOMPENSE.

I’ve talked about how, when I first started coming around to Xenos (the name of my current church), I was extremely put-off by the bad habits a lot of people seemed to have. A good number of my new friends were Christians, yet they smoked cigarettes, drank alcohol, and swore like sailors. They didn’t sing songs or have a church building. Bars weren’t forbidden. There were no arguments using the word “technically.”

Since my entire “religious” upbringing to that point involved such things, I had absolutely no idea how to interact with these new people because all of my external reference points were gone. I had formerly looked at conversations of a spiritual nature as an opportunity to argue people into my way of thinking. I absolutely saw interaction of that kind as a debate- me (or my ideas) versus them (or their ideas). I had no patience for incorrect theology, even on minor points. I had no stomach for differing views. I had no discerning ability to tell whether the person was making their argument up on the fly or whether they were presenting ideas which deeply convicted them. Nor did I care because deep down, I wanted to be right and I wanted them to know how right I was. Somehow I never learned- and maybe- just maybe I was never taught- that people matter more than my argument. I seem to recall something in the Bible mentioning love and how, if you don’t have it…something about a gong. Yadda yadda, love, schmove. Let’s debate! I’m a master! Debater!

People at the meetings in my new church appeared to be genuinely enjoying themselves. That in itself took me completely by surprise. I hadn’t really enjoyed being at church since I had left the vigor of youth group, where in my old church we had played games and had fun. Candidly speaking, what fun is there in a traditional church? Everything is scheduled, programmed and looked after with an almost anal retentive fear of newness. “Oh, we can’t try that! What would people say? How many people would leave?”

Meetings were really exciting at that new church. Conversations after the meetings were deeply spiritual without being trite or under the category of useless speculations. And right off the bat, people were interested in my life. In spite of all these no-no’s this church group was experiencing conversion growth the likes of which I had never seen.  And what’s more is these new Christians were being mentored in their new faith and becoming baptized.

In the next part of this blog I’ll examine the role I think the rules do play. I hope to make it clear that I don’t think ignoring God’s law saves people but neither do I think strictly enforcing/ observing it does any good either.

 

About Jeremiah

My name is Jeremiah. I was born at a young age to parents who were older than me.
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