I’m amazed at what passes for Christianity these days. In so many ways, we’ve made Christianity really small and insignificant. I’m not sure if that has been done on purpose, or by accident.
There’s a whole lot of junk that passes off as Christianity and I’m not sure why. Have we become theologically lazy? Maybe we’re just mixing things that don’t really belong together. Small Christianity is certainly not inspirational. It’s not really Good News. It’s not even nice news. It’s usually pretty crappy news, just like what the world offers. At the very least, it’s just something that gives a person a quick high and then lets them down just as fast.
The vocal fits that have been thrown about canceling some debt for people (most of whom still owe more than they initially borrowed and have been paying for years – you might want to look up predatory lending practices), is a great example. Scripture is literally loaded with references to God being about canceling debts. Don’t take my word for it. But you’d think that cancelling debt is somehow satanic. Makes me wonder what we really believe in – God’s message about cancelling debts, or capitalism? What is our faith rooted in after all? Where do we put our trust in – Our money declares “In God we Trust,” but our shouting declares something different.
Spinning what Jesus said so that it’s not what Jesus said is a common thing these days. “Welcome the Stranger” is something Jesus said. It’s throughout the Old Testament too. You can look it up. Yet, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people spin it away while still claiming to follow Jesus. Interesting. But not really. Why claim to follow Jesus if we aren’t going to actually follow what he told followers to do? I don’t understand that. Maybe someone can explain that to me. But then again, I’m making a bad assumption – I’ve been assuming that the junk that passes for Christianity has some kind of consistent logic to it. It doesn’t.
I’m also making another bad assumption – that we all agree what Christianity actually is. We don’t. And that’s very clear. We don’t even agree on who Jesus is or what it means to follow him. That’s also very clear. Maybe we need to just start with some basics and strip all the assumptions we have about Christianity away.
We love the idea of setting people free, until we try to put it in actual practice. Then all bets are off. See, we like the idea, but we don’t actually want to do it. That might be because we don’t agree on what it means to set people free. Who does this apply to? What are we setting people free from? If these things aren’t spoken, then we’re making assumptions.
On Monday I went with a couple of people to a growing church just to check it out – see what all the talk is about, what draws people in, etc. I was curious to learn what this church offered and what was so attractive.
It was in a large building. They had invested in lots of great stuff. It looked fresh. It was clean. It was new. There were lots of people. Lots of smiles and greetings (from people who clearly have a job of greeting people and welcoming them in). Did I mention there were lots of people. There is nothing wrong with any of that. In fact, It’s great that there are people who are glad to be at church. Kudos to this church for having people who want to be there and participate and contribute to the life of the church. That’s a real blessing.
The feel of the service was pretty typical from what I’ve seen in other big box churches – a concert at the beginning, a plea for the offering, a message, and a semi-altar call, and on your way you go. Most of it in the dark – as in the lights were often very low.
Let’s just say the obvious – this isn’t my type of service. But then again, I’m not the target audience.
There were some great things that I took away. They were expecting families and children to be there. You could see it through a variety of aspects – all very authentic. They clearly care about making sure that families feel welcome. That’s a great thing to see.
They use the latest technology to enhance so many aspects of the church – again, it didn’t seem forced, but rather a natural part of the church. I think there are lots of things other churches could learn about using technology to enhance ministry.
I want to be really careful in my critique of this church – I think churches have a hard enough time as it is. We’re all struggling. And we don’t need other people ripping a church apart. And yet, I feel there are some core things that I observed that I don’t see as very positive.
Here’s what I will say by way of criticism – again, I’m not the target audience for this church, so I imagine some of this is because of that.
Everything was big – the building, the crowd, and more. And yet in the midst of that bigness, the Christianity was small. It was all about me and Jesus. No connection to the larger world, to the body of Christ, to the challenges in the world (except for what you are personally facing). No one could see anyone else (expect for outlines because we were literally in the dark for most of the service), and they didn’t have to interact with anyone if they didn’t want to. They didn’t have to look at their own brokenness.
I walked away saying “That’s American Christianity in a nut shell – you have a concert to get things warmed up, have some announcements, a YouTube video message, and an altar call” It’s about the individual. No need to acknowledge your brokenness. And in many ways, it’s all about who is in control. You can’t get a Christianity that is much smaller than that.
But here’s the thing – you won’t offend anyone with that kind of Christianity. People won’t get upset about that message. You’ll pull in lots of money. And you’ll speak to the culture through the cultural language it knows best – individualism.
The world is in the midst of a major societal shift. A Small Christianity doesn’t really have enough energy or voice to speak to this – not in any type of deep lasting way. Small Christianity is fine when everything is going well, or we want a distraction from the chaos of the world (especially when it feels overwhelming). But Small Christianity makes Jesus awfully small and insignificant. It makes all the members of the Trinity into something so very small. What the world needs right now is a big God. A God who is larger than everything going on. A God who does amazing things and transforms the world in amazing ways. We don’t need small change in our lives, we need major transformation in the world.
A Small Jesus is your friend who will listen to you and give you an inspirational quote to make you feel better. Big Jesus though is the God who takes on flesh, picks up his cross, takes the worst the world has to offer, is killed, and then in spite of it all, is resurrected. That’s not supposed to happen. But only a Big God does resurrection – transformation on a scale that can’t be contained by the world. I don’t want Small Jesus. I need Big Jesus and so does the world.
I wonder if the church prefers Small Jesus. A contained Jesus. A Jesus who doesn’t really mess with the status quo. A Jesus who doesn’t mess with finances. A Jesus who doesn’t say anything controversial. A Jesus who has no opinions about Justice in the world. A Jesus who allows us to stay away from “those” people. A Jesus who doesn’t mess with our lives. A Jesus who is just fine to keep us comfortable. That’s the Jesus we get to dictate what his role is and what impact he has on the world. A Jesus that protects the institution. A Jesus that doesn’t question policies or economics. A Jesus that supports our way of doing things and never asks us to change. That’s not just a Small Jesus. That’s a junk Jesus that no one really needs.
I’ll take Big Jesus any day. Big Jesus is the opposite of all of that. And Big Jesus messes with things. He messes with our lives. With our churches. With our systems. With our institutions. With our politics and policies. With our culture and attitudes. With our money. With everything. Because nothing can get in the way of Big Jesus. That’s where transformation actually happens.
The church has been in the way of this Jesus for far too long. And now it is beginning to see that it can’t keep it up. But boy will it keep trying. Jesus will not be contained any longer. And there are pastors and the faithful who are no longer willing to put up with the walls around Jesus. We aren’t willing to shut up about it either. We’re willing to put it all out there, speak the truth regardless of the consequence, to be all in. Because that’s the type of Jesus we need – he is all in and calls on followers to be all in too.
Transformation happens when we are all in. We are changed and so is the world. The time for hesitation is over. The time for softening the message of transformation and grace and mercy and love is over. The time for comfortable Christianity is over. The time for maintaining the status quo is over. The time for transformation is now. The time for life, death, and resurrection is now. That’s a message of hope. That’s Good News. That’s what God is all about. And that’s what the church is going to be about, even if it has to be brought kicking and screaming along the way because the church is changing whether anyone wants it to or not. Jesus is reclaiming the church and it’s not Small Jesus. There is no containing Jesus any longer. Thanks be to God.