Breaking free from Christian tradition
Tradition has Believers purchasing buildings, taking up funding and filling seats for what we call a local church.
For those that know my work from UpNorth Kingdom it’s probably no surprise that the discipline of Christian apologetics is something I’m pretty familiar with. In fact it’s one of the chief reasons I got into ministry work. I wanted to help people work through their doubts, misconceptions and objections to the Faith. I desire for people to know the truth so unlike me in my early days, they would never get hoodwinked by false teachers. And over the last 15 years I’ve thoroughly enjoyed coming up with new projects and ways to teach people how to think and work through their doubts. But to be perfectly honest it never felt like I was doing enough. It always seemed like something was missing. More specifically, it’s always felt like there was a massive disconnect between the Faith and those who practice it here in the west. I’m going to try my best and break some of this down a bit. Bare with me, I’m kind of free flowing here.
Why are you a Christian?
Year after year I read reports of “Believers” leaving the Faith. As someone who’s loved apologetics you learn to always get an annual lay of the land. One of the biggest questions I’ve continued to ask myself is, why are Christians doubting the very thing they signed up for ? Let’s be real here, the way my mind works is this; if I’m going to adopt a belief system that is literally going to become the foundation for my entire worldview, I should learn as much as I can before accepting such a belief. But what I’ve found over the years are countless Christians teetering on the edge of their own faith, having to be convinced that their belief in Jesus Christ is sound, right and objectively true. What on earth? Why are you a Christian then !?
Around 2012 I started a ministry - JeticsLeague - that was solely focused on apologetics, helping people to defend the Faith. Bring the non-Believers into the light by answering their 1 million objections! Don’t get me wrong. Apologetics is an absolute necessity and it’s unfortunate that many Believers sleep on the need to be able to articulate to someone why on earth they’ve chosen to follow a man claimed to have died and arose from the grave, later to ascend into the sky. More on this another time. But what I had started to realize is that so many “Believers” were whiffing on the fundamentals of the Faith. I mean, basic 2 + 2 maths! Was Jesus real? Was He married? Is He God? Why isn’t the word “Trinity” in the Bible? What are the Commandments? Is eating pork a sin? Should we celebrate the sabbath? Is the sabbath Sunday or really Saturday? On and on it goes. This is akin to claiming to be a meteorologist yet doubting all of the science that’s enabled humanity to predict the weather. The way it’s supposed to work, is you learn about a given field, you embrace what you’ve learned and then you act upon this knowledge. Well, that’s the way my mind works. But obviously this isn’t how everyone’s mind works and I’ve learned to not heap these kinds of expectations on people. However, I believe there is a reason for this type of atmospheric doubt and uncertainty within Christianity. Tradition. Yes, tradition.
Hello Christian tradition
See, there is a traditional way people come into the Faith. And this can get dicey because really there are multiple traditional ways people enter into the Faith. There’s the God will make your life better if you accept way.
There’s the God has something in store for you way. And last but not least, there’s the God’s wrath is upon you and you must repent and Believe to be saved way. That’s actually my personal favorite because, well it’s true. The others? Not so much. Now, after someone gets “saved”, there’s usually a euphoric moment for the new Believer and excitement for those who helped bring this new Believer to the Faith. And then do you know what traditionally happens next? Absolutely not-a-thing! That’s right, nothing. At least nothing that solidifies the Faith of the new Believer. This person may or may not have someone from the church reach out to them post salvation in hopes to lead them into becoming members. But no real discipleship or training.
If luck has its way, this new Believer will desire to become a member of the local church they were saved in. If we’re really lucky, this new member will be ushered through a two day crash course about the local church, its values, its mission and vision. This isn’t necessarily bad. In fact I think it’s good. What I think is even better, is the opportunity to learn about the local church before becoming a member. I’ve seen this play out and I think it’s a wonderful practice. People should know what they’re signing up for before they actually sign up. There’s nothing like waking up one day with an M16 in your hand locked and loaded only to realize you never actually signed up for the military. The problem I’ve seen, because of the traditional way we as a Church do things, is there is a lot of emphasis on ensuring Believers know about the local church they’re apart of, while they’re still struggling to know about the Church. What I mean by that, is they are struggling with the basics of the Faith. Personally, I believe the priorities within today’s Church are often backwards. I think one should not be struggling with the basic foundation of Faith while accepting the accountability and responsibility of the local church. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that a Christian should know all there is to know concerning Christianity, or that they should never have a single doubt about anything, or that they need to be a theological wizard. I’m simply stating, I think we often put the cart before the horse, focusing more on building up the local Church membership, instead of building up the local Believer. Don’t get me wrong, I get the play to bring people into a community with the hopes of being able to then build them up. It’s just often times this doesn’t actually happen as I’ll explain.
If luck continues to have its way, this new member will find their way into some sort of community group within their church in hopes of spurring their curiosity about their new found Faith, while establishing new relationships. It’s an attempt at discipleship with no real established teacher to actually disciple. I’ve seen this play out countless times across different churches with Believers (myself included). You sign up for a community group, you’re welcomed in, maybe you make some friends, maybe you don’t. Often, you’re trying to find a group of people that fit your demographic, or are simply in the same place in life as you. The idea of discipleship fades away, and in its place arises a group of like-minded friends. Friends aren’t necessarily bad, but this traditional way of bringing people into community gives the impression that Christian relationships are built on agreeable, like-minded pillars. The moment there is disagreement, you leave to find another group of Believers who will agree with you. Once you can no longer find people to agree with you, it becomes time to find another church, and so you leave the high school campus. Oops, I mean church! But do you know what is missing? The Paul and Timothy connection.
Discipleship is something that is supposed to be very intentional. Paul intentionally selected Timothy to build him up. If anyone were to ask Timothy who discipled Him, he could confidently say Paul. If anyone were to ask Paul who he was discipling, he could confidently say, look, here’s Timothy a new member of the Faith. See the words of Paul:
To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. - 1 Timothy 1:2
The Bible has shown us how discipleship works. In fact we see it initiated by Christ who hand picked those He was going to grow. However, we’ve replaced the intentionality of discipleship with something less structured, I believe out of fear that structure will run people away. Christianity is supposed to be about fellowship, community, friends and love right? Who wants intentional discipleship, accountability, teaching and responsibility? The latter may drive people away once they learn entering the Faith is a serious affair. But I believe those who really desire to know God, to know the Faith, really want this type of discipleship. It is precisely why those that Jesus called, responded. They weren’t responding to a church membership, or a community group of friends. No, they were responding to an entirely new life and whatever came with that life they were willing to accept it. Sure, they took some bruises along the way as they matured like we all do but they stayed the course. Well, except for that Judas fella. But those who don’t desire accountability, responsibility, and to be intentionally discipled, in my opinion, are simply not ready for the Faith. But tradition has ruled the day so we follow it. Then we act surprised when Believers who’ve been surrounded by a multitude of Christians within a local church community for years, decide Christianity is no longer for them. Perhaps we should stop focusing on the quantity of relationships and instead focus on their quality.
It gets worse
There are many things that I’ve questioned over the years as it relates to things I’ve seen practiced within the Christian Faith. Here’s another example. Why do we entertain alter calls? Charles Finney popularized it in the 19th century but the very idea of it is bizarre. I’ve sat in numerous churches watching Pastors play psychological games to get people to walk down the aisle before the church and make a profession of faith. Why? This can be done in one’s own bedroom at 4 A.M. after a night of heathening. Trust me, if God has selected five people to give their life to Christ then no amount of pastoral prompting from the pulpit is going to turn God’s hand left or right. Neither can the selected turn God’s hand. Once God has someone destined for salvation it’s a wrap. None of this makes any sense yet many churches add this wild pressure to congregants for tradition sake. And a bit of show I might add.
How about the existence of local churches in general as another example? Brace yourself as this may hurt a bit.
Tradition has Believers purchasing buildings, taking up funding and filling seats for what we call a local church. Many of these churches would simply struggle to exist if it wasn’t for the non-profit status allocated by the state. Yet Christianity seems to thrive in other countries where it’s a death sentence to congregate in one place for worship in a building slated as a church. Here recently in America, I’ve heard and read many stories of local churches being shut down due to the drop in attendance as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. I don’t understand. Is the local church only as strong as the building? In the days of the early Church, Believers worshipped together in homes. One could argue times were different and that persecution of the early Church may have been a factor, however my point is that the Church still thrived. And it thrived in the worst times of the Church. What I’m getting at, is that without a local building it seems there isn’t a model for how the movement of the Faith should flourish. Something seems off here. For decades I’ve heard people proclaim that the Church is not a building. I agree with that statement. But for some reason we continue to act as if it is. Sadly, this very topic is also divisive. Many Christians believe the model should evolve to 100% house churches while many disagree and think house churches should not be entertained. When Francis Chan dropped the bomb on people to leave his megachurchpeople thought he was crazy. Some still do. Not only did he leave his church, he left the country. Chan and his wife visited some really hard areas like India and China to see how they do church, and came back with a new model which operates more like a network than a headquarters. Whether you agree or disagree with his style of preaching isn’t the point. The point is he saw some very obvious flaws in the way we traditionally do church and went after a solution. Many churches today would rather fail than to try something different. God forbid we rock the proverbial boat of tradition. How would God ever save people?
If you have a bible with you…
Let me leave you with one more example which I will most likely expound upon some other time. Why does the standard way of reading the Bible consists of mulling through loads of noise? Noise such as chapters, verses, annotations, notes and symbols. The Bible wasn’t written this way nor was it meant to be read this way. Now, I’m not ignorant to the fact much has been added to help the reader navigate scripture for the purpose of studying. I understand the utility of these things which I think are awesome and absolutely necessary in a certain context. But are they needed as a default? In my opinion, absolutely not. I believe they are a hindrance and instead make the Bible much more difficult to read. Why? Because reading the Bible with all of this noise turns a simple but deeply rich story into an academic exercise of epic proportions. It causes the reader to sift through scripture, skip over verses, attempt verse memorization, and analyze the Bible instead of actually focusing on the text. Whatever did the early church do without all of the added noise? Was the Bible misunderstood? Were people not saved? Again, I’m not advocating that Bibles such as this should not exist. In fact, I’m arguing the very opposite. They should exist, but within the right context. Unfortunately the common Bible has become a study Bible. Whenever I mention the existence of Reader’s Bibles to people they are blown away. They have no clue you can actually obtain a Bible without all of the noise! The odd thing is, as a church we think all of this noise is good. Yet, can you imagine having symbols, notes, annotations and verse numbers peppered throughout everything else you read in life? Your bills, your books, magazines, instruction manuals, online articles and blogs. It would be distracting. An annoyance. Yet we’ve settled for this type of reading experience with the most important book in all of human existence. It has become normalized. Read your Bible has been replaced with study the text. This mantra has bred countless theologians who don’t know God. With that...check one, check two! I’d like to give a big shout out to tradition. Thank you.
Courage to break the mold
Where am I going with all of this? Well, to be honest (and honesty is a good character trait we Believers should always strive for) I’m seeking God’s will. But in order to do that it means I must deal with the pressing on my own soul which has existed for well over a decade. It means I can’t just ignore the things that don’t make sense in the context of our Faith. During my journey as a Christian, one of the real challenges I’ve had to wrestle with is trusting my instincts when it comes to disagreeing with how we do things in the Faith. God has gifted me with the ability to teach, to break down large ideas into smaller ones and to think logically and rationally about everything. It drives my wife crazy at times. But God’s gift is what has enabled me over the years to engage in healthy debates as an apologist. It has enabled me to produce work that has really helped people reason through their roadblocks as they seek God. But when it has come to the Faith itself I’ve often avoided the very necessary criticism which is owed to the Church. The wisdom God has given me and the ability to see problems in a different light, well, I simply just turn it off...for the mission. Because...souls! Because I don’t want to be divisive. Because I trust everyone else in a leadership position instead of first trusting God. Because nobody wants to be considered a heretic simply for disagreeing with non-essentials. But deep down I’ve known for many years the reason the Church is falling short in many areas is because we refuse to truly trust God and instead we’ve created models to improve our chances of building successful churches. But this doesn’t necessarily build disciples.
I’m now at a place where I must shed all of the traditional baggage that comes with how we do Church in the west. I want to be clear though. I’m not saying Christianity in the west is wrong, or that Jesus isn’t God, or that it’s a white man’s religion or any of that other foolish nonsense. I’m simply saying I believe we as a Body are failing souls due to our adherence to tradition. I’m simply saying we should and can improve on how we do Church. I’m saying we should ask if the work we’re doing, the decisions we’re making truly add value to the Faith. And if for some reason you don’t believe a word I’ve said thus far, then ask yourself what is the backup plan if one day local churches become outlawed in the west? Or if you’re a pastor; at a minimum, your church loses its 501 (c)(3) status.
That gap you’re now seeing...yeah that’s really an elephant. And its name is Tradition.