The church doesn’t fare well in popular fiction.
Think about cultural stereotypes of the church: Church is typically portrayed as hopelessly out of touch and naive—here I call Ned Flanders to the stand—or as an evil regime oppressing the rights and freedoms of hapless citizens crying out for deliverance from its soul-less clutches. In fact, the easiest way to depict an evil regime is to slap a Christian-religious sticker on it.
I’m not saying these caricatures are entirely true, but neither am I claiming they are totally unfair. Because they are, in fact, caricatures. Which means many cultural stereotypes of the church are based on more than mere traces of fact.
And no one—and here I mean, not a single, solitary soul who knew Jesus Christ personally in first century Palestine would ever have branded him cold, oppressive, abusive, or soul-less.
And no one—and here I mean, not a single, solitary soul who knew Jesus Christ personally in first century Palestine could ever have fathomed the movement he founded would become what it is today. They could not have imagined that what he began would ever be capable of being called out of touch. Or naive. Or oppressive. Or domineering. That it would become a cultural symbol of systemic oppression.
Just the opposite.
Jesus himself—and his early movement, too—was uncomfortably in touch with exactly what was going on in his world. His kingdom, centred in the human heart, directly challenged and overthrew the religious structures that oppressed the people of his day. His message was, “Come with me if you want to live,” not “Wear yourself out on my do’s and don’ts or I’ll send you to hell. Big brother is watching.”
Don’t get me wrong, there is absolute truth. There is such thing as right and wrong. It matters how we behave. Heaven and hell are quite real. The Bible is the word of God. But Jesus came to give us life, life to the full (John 10:10). It’s satan that came to steal, kill and destroy, remember? How is it that Christ’s church has been more often identified with the latter? That priests, clerics, and pastors are now depicted as the worst of offenders?
Believers and churches to embody Christ’s revolutionary spirit defy the cultural stereotypes of the church we’ve been slapped with. They incarnate grace and truth in such a way that even people who want to dismiss them can’t do it with honesty. Churches filled with the risen Jesus Christ are communities of freedom, transformation, personal growth, joy, peace, victory, beauty, honesty, and transparency. They are gospel movements, not grounded institutions. I happen to be part of a community like this.
On the other hand, churches that suck life instead of giving it are not gospel churches. They are things and places Jesus is trying to set people free from. Just like he did in the first century.
I’m praying for a new set of cultural stereotypes of the church based on a resurgence of biblical Christianity.
And just in case you’re a believer who’s now tempted to hate on their local church because of what I’ve written, remember this: The church is the people. That includes you and me.