Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Jesus, yes. Church, no?

"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."
- from Ann Rice's Facebook page -

I read recently of this recent announcement of well known author, Ann Rice. Only ten years ago, she announced her embrace of Christ and the church. Now she has decided that although she still loves Jesus and considers herself his follower, she's just had it with the church.

I know how she feels. In fact, I would venture to say that I can relate to her sentiment in my own experience better than she can. Here's what I mean. She claims that her decision to leave the church and subsequent announcement has nothing to do with her personal experience with a particular congregation. It's about the "public face" of Christianity and the shortcomings she sees there, the way Christians in general behave. I, on the other hand, as one who has served as a local church pastor for three decades, have had personal experience up close with how disillusioning the church can be. I've seen a good deal of ugliness among church folks, and have on occasion been on the receiving end of it myself. In contrast to Ms. Rice, I find myself loving the idea of church in general, but sometimes find some of my personal experience with real church people more difficult. As one pastor said, "I love the church - it's just the people I have trouble with!" There have been quite a number of times over the years I have found myself very disillusioned and frustrated with the church and wanting to get out myself. Rice goes on to say that she's going to follow Jesus individually. She says, "Christ reaches out to us individually. He's saying 'Come follow me; I am the way, the truth, and the life.' These are beautiful things. I read Scripture every day, I study it every day, I'm mindful of it every day. I don't claim to have the right interpretation of every passage, but I wrestle with it, and that's what I think he wants us to do."

Sounds great. The only problem is, the Scripture doesn't know anything about Christianity without church. As John Wesley said, "Christianity is a social religion. To make it a solitary thing is to destroy it." (I believe I'm quoting that accurately). Following Jesus can't be done except in community. The problem with the church is it's made up of humans. But I'm human, too. The reason why I surrendered to Jesus as Savior and Lord in the first place is because of my broken humanity, and my need for transformation. And an essential way in which Jesus transforms us all is through relating to other followers of Jesus. If I'm going to be a follower of Jesus, I'm stuck with the church. Like I heard another pastor say, "You choose your friends, but you're stuck with your relatives." And when we begin to call God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we're claiming our brothers and sisters, too, warts and all. But they're also stuck with me. Years ago, a man in a church where I had just become pastor was sharing with me about his coming to be part of that congregation and how he had trouble with this church and that one, etc. before coming to the current one. I jokingly said, "Once you find that perfect church, you're going to ruin it when you get there...because you're not perfect." He didn't seem to think that was funny. Later on, he found fault with our congregation, and me in particular (big surprise).

Let me also say, that although I've witnessed some pretty bad stuff in the church, I've also seen some great things, things that would never be possible with all of us doing our own thing. The church belongs to Jesus. He hasn't rejected it. Neither should we.

Sorry it's taken me so long to post. I'll try to do so more often. I've been too busy dealing with the church!