Why would anyone ever want to be a Christian?

q(This is the reflection I wrote at the Midwest Summer Bible Conference 2015)

Luke 9: 25

“What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?”

Desmond Tutu once said: “The church is meant to be a failing community”

“Follow me” are the most repeated words that Jesus ever said. It’s worth noting that Jesus’ most repeated command was not an imperative to a specific action (pray 5 times a day or recite a mantra) but an invitation to a relationship, “Follow me” means “come to me.” In this article my purpose is to answer the question: why would anyone ever want to be a Christian?

In order to answer that we must first define “Christian.” A Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ, someone who lives as Jesus Christ lived. How did Jesus Christ lived? He lived radically counter-culturally. My least favorite Bible verse is the one where it says, “But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” And a close second is, “Forgive us as we have forgiven our debtors.” Jesus’ life was a life of tears. On his way to Jerusalem in Luke he weeps bitterly for the people saying, “If only you knew.” Jesus Christ lived a life of love that ultimately got him killed. The Beatitudes talk about the blessing of meekness and persecution. In Jesus’ economy those are valued. Jesus lived the life of a vagabond with out any earthly treasures. He often went without food or sleep and not only that, but he did not claim any ownership on His own life. He only did what his Father told him. Christianity can be summed up in 3 words: humility, humility and humility. Jesus promises a life of persecution, isolation, poverty and hunger, so I reiterate my question why would anyone ever want to be a Christian? And another question quite similar is, “why would anyone ever want to have kids?”

In order to answer this question fully we must consider the alternatives. If Jesus is not my Christ then who is? What hit me in the message by Dan Bokenfield was his question: have you ever lied? We are all liars and we are all untrustworthy. Am I a better Christ than Jesus could be?

I am not a better Christ. I cannot be my own savior. Looking back on my life I find many reasons why I am the way I am. First, when I was 14 my family and I were uprooted from the US and replanted in Ukraine, a developing country. I learned from an early age that friends forget you and are not there for you. Living as an expat, I’ve had to say goodbye to so many friends that my heart has been hardened by it. Secondly, when I was 18, I was literally shipped off to Turkey. My family took a cruise from Ukraine to Turkey and left me in a country where I only knew 4 people and not a word of the language. I remember begging them not to leave me; I was only 18. And thirdly, after that I was part of church that was not very healthy and was in a couple of abusive relationships. Basically, in my life I’ve learned that everyone lets me down, my friends and even my loving family who are limited by time and distance. Even the authors and philosophers that I read turn out to be crazy and racist. Growing up and realizing this early on has caused me to depend on myself and trust no one. This often seeps into my relationship with Christ.

Words like “submission” and “self-denial” are very unpleasant for me. I am afraid of losing my identity. I fear losing control over my plans. My plans to travel the world, spreading light and love and focusing solely on my own comfort and enjoyment. I am afraid of submitting my future into God’s hands because I don’t want my life to be boring and lackluster. So why would I ever desire to be a Christian?

The only possible answer is love. I am madly in love with Jesus Christ. I have never met anyone like him. All the other men I’ve met have been proud and arrogant and let me down, but Jesus has never let me down and never will. I love him to the point where I will reconcile myself with someone I despise because I don’t want that argument to get in the way of my relationship with Jesus. Jesus is the only one who has never let me down these past 26 years and he’s the only one that’s been by my side. He is the only one who puts up with my tears and complaints and fears and ingratitude.

This quote from Dorothy Sayers describes Jesus pretty well:

“Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronised; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as “The women, God help us!” or “The ladies, God bless them!”; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unselfconscious.” 

From Steve Stasinos message the examples of John Newton and Nate Saint showed that following Jesus is not a one time thing; it is iterative. Also, in this passage Luke 9, it says to pick up one’s cross daily. This means it is a life long decision for these next possible 80 or 54 years left on earth. This is really hard. The Lord knows how I struggle with anger, bitterness and unforgiveness. I constantly pray for God to give me sweetness so that instead of seeking revenge I seek to bless those who have slapped me (metaphorically).

My prayer this summer has been not to put anything on my plate that God has not put there. I am a planner and on the Martha/Mary scale I am a Martha, super type A and dictorial because I don’t want to miss out on anything in life. I feel like I have to prove that I’m smart and justify my existence (I think this stems from some bullying/insecurities in grade school).

But chasing after my own glory is tiring and consuming and ultimately futile because I am only one person and honestly my sphere of influence is so small. And as one member in our group Bible study aptly noted we are probably never ever going to be as famous as Taylor Swift. So why am I seeking world fame?

I really am coming to grips with reality that my plans for my life are so petty. This life I have is a gift and I don’t know what to do with it. They say you don’t really own something until you are willing to lose it. I love my life and that is the exact reason why I want to put it in JC’s hands because I love and trust him and know that life is too precious a thing to waste.

To conclude, after looking at the evidence and seeing that I’m only 26 and make a lot of stupid mistakes and say a lot of stupid things that hurt people. It would be best to give up any claim on my life. I don’t have any plans for my life, but JC can take dirty water and make it into sweet wine. He can take a demon-possessed man and adulterous woman and change them into his messengers. My idea to make a name for myself is so small and petty and doesn’t even benefit anyone. So in light of the argument I would ask another question: why would anyone ever not be a Christian? What is the better alternative? To hold on to my bitterness and live a life seeking revenge? Or is it to live a life to please the 5 senses? Do I want to focus on money so I can eat better food or pleasure so that my body can feel good. Or just find a nice guy and move out to suburbia and raise some kids? What else is out there?

Why are you a Christian? Why are you not a Christian? What do Jesus’ words ‘follow me’ mean to you? Do you agree with my definitions of ‘Christian’ and ‘follow me’? Did you go to MSBC 2015? If so, what did you learn?

 

46 comments

  1. I’ll overlook the “Lifton red flags” that are causing me panic attacks and respond with a few thoughts.

    My 3rd book, Unexpected Christianity, is all about following Jesus and what that meant to me in various parts of my journey of faith. I followed Jesus out of the cultic ubf lifestyle: “At one point in my life, I thought I had Christianity all figured out. I felt the twinge of pride as I “kept the faith” while people around me seemed to abandon their mission from God. I did everything I could to “present myself to God as one approved”. I went to Russia as a short-term missionary. I amassed over fifteen thousand hours of bible reading. I missed only three Sunday services in twenty four years. And then it all fell apart. The fabric of my faith unraveled. The spirit of my mission decomposed. And the walls of our community collapsed. What follows are the stories of how I came to realize that Christianity is more powerful than believing something, more grand than doing something, and far deeper than being something. Christianity is about following someone. And that Someone will lead us to some very unexpected places.” pg 6

    I also followed Jesus outside the gates of Christendom. I am not part of the visible church.

    Why am I a Christian? I only call myself a Christian because a gay man welcomed me, listened to me and worshipped with me. Matthew Vines and the Reformation Project people restored my identity as a Christian. If there is anything Christ-like in me, it is only because you may be seeing a glimpse of the Holy Spirit in my life.

    Why am I not a Christian? Many have told me I am not a Christian because I fully welcome LGBTQIA people, I support samessex marriage, and because I do not go to church, I do not have daily prayer or mediation times, I do not believe the church is the Bride of Christ, I do not make any effort to obey God’s laws, and because I never tell people I am a Christian.

    Finally, MJ, you mentioned “Words like “submission” and “self-denial” are very unpleasant for me. I am afraid of losing my identity.” I love those words. I love submission and self-denial. And I will never again lose my identity. I am “me”. I love learning to submit to Jesus my Lord. I eagerly seek to deny myself in order to follow Him to the unknown, to the marginalized and to the great adventure of my life!

    • Pirate J

      You could be as famous as Taylor swift. People too often confuse God speaking to you and those speaking for God. Too many years of my life were lived following what “god wanted me to do” which essentially was what UBF wanted me to do or convinced me I should do. I love Jesus and follow him but I will not be told how to follow him or pressured to believe that 1:1 bible study, SWS, and bible conferences are the only ways to follow Jesus.
      I pray for you MJ. Live your life. You have but one. Follow Jesus. Follow your heart because Jesus is there. Travel the world. Be a light to others. Don’t limit your life to the pressures and demands of an establishment. God

    • Pirate J

      God bless you

    • Good advice PirateJ. I recently asked our ubf recovery group this question: “What ways have you found best to recover from ubf?” The answers were similar to what you wrote here.

    • MJ Peace

      “I love learning to submit to Jesus my Lord. I eagerly seek to deny myself in order to follow Him to the unknown, to the marginalized and to the great adventure of my life” This is the conundrum of Luke 9. It is only when we lose our life that we find it. It is only when we submit ourselves to Christ that we find our identity. This is what makes Christianity so unique and difficult hence my title, “why would anyone ever want to be a Christian.” The words of Jesus Christ set him apart from any other religious leader. Jesus never stated that he is one of the ways to God; he stated he is the way to God. Therefore He is in a category of His own. This is a great and crazy adventure. Christians are crazy.

    • MJ Peace

      @Pirate J, thank you for your kind words. They are encouraging and uplifting. I don’t know who you are, but your advice is sound. There is a distinction between “God speaking through people and people speaking for God.” Some people have spoken to me and it was God speaking because it was an answer to specific prayer topics only the Lord knew. And other times I knew the words were from a different source. And this could be from the same person. As Christians, we follow a person, Jesus Christ, not an ideology or method. And Jesus’ way is the most counter cultural of all.

  2. forestsfailyou
    forestsfailyou

    There is a persistent inner call in us all that this is not our country. To not be a Christian is to be nothing, because only in God do we find reality itself. Walking out on God is to walk from what is into what is not. Your testimony was good! And the pineapple fellowship is something that should be made into a tradition. :)

    • what is pineapple fellowship?

    • MJ Peace

      You had to have been there, Dr. B;) jk. At GBS forrests brought dried mangoes and a tiny tin of canned pineapples that was very difficult to open. Once, we got it opened, however, it managed to be enough for 8 grown adults:).

    • MJ Peace

      @forests This is not a “testimony.” (I had “testimony” written here earlier, but I edited it.)You can call it essay, article, reflection, response, anything, but “testimony.”

    • forestsfailyou
      forestsfailyou

      Oh ye of little faith, did you not know if you have faith 3 pineapple slices can feed 8 adults?

  3. Forests, would you explain further what you mean by this? “To not be a Christian is to be nothing…” I find this extremely difficult to understand what you mean.

    • I probably would not make such a statement, since non-Christians might misunderstand and be highly offended by the statement, and understandably so.

      Forests can answer for himself, but what I think is that in Christ, his followers have been promised an abundant, overflowing life to the full (Jn 10:10b). Therefore, without Christ, by extrapolation, life would ultimately be experienced in reverse.

    • forestsfailyou
      forestsfailyou

      LET A MAN THINK AND CARE ever so little about God, he does not therefore exist without God. God is here with him, upholding, warming, delighting, teaching him—making life a good thing to him. God gives him himself, though the man knows it not.–George MacDonald

      Outside of God, we are nothing because only in God do we have meaning. To walk out on God is to walk into nothingness.

      I don’t mean to say non Christians have no value, because Jesus died for them too. More concretely I say that any person not following Christ is moving away from what is into what is not, and in that nothing they become something less than human- not in dignity but in the sense they are not what they were made to be. Those who follow Jesus gain God, and with Him truth, they become as intended and go beyond man.

    • Sorry forests, but I think MacDonald scribed it a little better than you did. :)

  4. Joe Schafer

    To those of you who attended the conference: What was your impression of the lecture by Steve Lutz? What were the take-away points? How did people react?

    • forestsfailyou
      forestsfailyou

      I heard that someone asked him about fishing, and he said it didn’t work because Americans need trust before meeting with someone privately.

    • Joe Schafer

      What does he know? He’s only 38 years old, very inexperienced. And he never studied the deep heritage and principles of ubf ministry which came from God. Must go fishing according to world mission command, otherwise lazy and disobedient. Steve Lutz’s ministry never grew, because he only read books and ignored fishing and 1:1.

    • Joe Schafer

      OK, his ministry tripled in size.

      http://stephenlutz.net/2015/05/27/the-three-words-that-will-help-students-become-more-committed/

      But he still shouldn’t say that fishing doesn’t work. He ought to show more respect to God’s servants. He needs humbleness training.

    • Wow, Joe, you’re asking for it! :)

      Short and sweet post – http://stephenlutz.net/2015/07/06/this-is-why-we-read-preach-and-teach-the-whole-bible/ Why it is wise to teach/preach from the WHOLE Bible and not just from the SAME select parts/verses/passages repeatedly: “The Spirit guides the preacher who wants to be a vessel for his work. He takes seemingly LESS RELEVANT PASSAGES and applies them directly to those who need to hear them.” (CAPS mine.)

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, would you bet that some conference attendees were thinking and saying things just like this?

    • MJ Peace

      My take-away points were:
      1.) “Be in the culture, but not of the culture.” I loved his example of the parties he hosts that have music and are enjoyable and done together as a community. God created music, art and dancing and sometimes Christians forbid those things.
      2.) “There are no student leaders, just leaders.” When he talked about young people taking leadership it really encouraged me. I felt like this is a a guy I can talk to and trust. He is approachable and he understands the importance of empowering new leaders.

      The audience seemed very receptive, but also tired. Later I will write a critique of the conference, but I think Lutz’s words weren’t able to be processed fully because there was so much going on. Basically from 7am-10 pm, there were early morning messages, GBS, testimony writing, lectures, life testimonies, mission reports, etc. I felt as though there was never a moment to process what we were learning. If the focus is campus ministry focus on that, if it is world mission, focus on that. There were 10 different directions the conference could have gone and they were all bundled in one. Only 160 of the 600 attendants were students. There were babies and middle school and high school. It basically was a conf for anyone and everyone.

      Another point about Lutz was I felt there was a lot of marketing for his book. Like he was just there to sell his book. I don’t know him personally and I never got to talk to him one-to-one, so maybe I’m making an unfair judgement, but that was something I noticed. I personally wish he had led a workshop so that we could have a more dynamic Q and A session. But that’s my personality, I prefer interacting with the information instead of being lectured at.

    • Charles Wilson
      Charles Wilson

      re: Lutz’s comment on fishing. Would UBF listen to that? No way! How else would they recruit except through the hope of the missionaries’ children? His comment immediately brought to mind David Kim’s lecture on fishing. Despite the known statistics that fishing isn’t a method worth investing in as it is currently done by UBF at the campuses, you keep doing and encouraging the rest of the organization to do so as well. Why? Because that’s what UBF does. Because Jesus fished Peter by the sea. Lutz may have tripled his ministry’s size, but can he compare to say the stars of UBF-land, such as the El Camino chapter? I’ve noticed over the last several years how the rise in reported #’s leads to a rise in stage time for certain directors. I asked in vain, but has anyone investigated what such people are actually doing at the ground level, and not just analyzing spreadsheets?

    • Charles Wilson
      Charles Wilson

      Joe: “Ben, would you bet that some conference attendees were thinking and saying things just like this? – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2015/07/22/why-would-anyone-ever-want-to-be-a-christian/#comment-18929

      Surely, without a doubt. It’s what I saw staff members do ever since guest speakers were invited to staff meetings. Without fail they were ready to shut all of them down as people who didn’t know any better because they hadn’t been through UBF, that is, unless they said something good or affirming about UBF.

    • There was a glimmer of hope when Dr. JA was invited to be UBF’s senior advisor. But the moment the “powers that be” caught a sniff of this, JA was gone because “he doesn’t know anything about UBF.” That was a very sad day for me.

    • Charles Wilson
      Charles Wilson

      Another point about Lutz was I felt there was a lot of marketing for his book. Like he was just there to sell his book. – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2015/07/22/why-would-anyone-ever-want-to-be-a-christian/#comment-18933

      This sounds like UBF Press at the Staff Conferences. I think the pushed subscription amount was something wonky like $500 / year. And this is for materials that many people have in other formats. But I can understand what Lutz may have been doing. His presentation was relatively short, to a new audience, and in a very limited capacity. It’s a taster of sorts since he isn’t a regular speaker for UBF. If you want to go further with his work, he’s directing you to his book.

    • Joe Schafer

      Steve L. has written three books on campus ministry (one of which you can download for free). http://stephenlutz.net/book/

      There is a big difference between Steve’s books and the material published by UBF Press. Steve’s work has been read and appreciated by lots of people from many churches and campus ministries. As far as I can tell, material produced by UBF Press has been read and used by no one outside of UBF, and (except for Daily Bread) by very few within UBF for that matter.

    • Charles Wilson
      Charles Wilson

      Right. That’s why I think it’s perfectly reasonable for him to direct the audience to his book(s) for further study. And that’s also why, in part, the pushing for money for UBF Press was so bothersome and I hope others would call them out for it: selling back to UBF people materials that they largely already have, putting certain people on even higher pedestals, overpricing, regurgitating the same UBF teachings, and not being beneficial to the greater church body.

  5. Charles Wilson
    Charles Wilson

    MJ, your posts always give me a lot to think about! To start with the title, I think it’s a good question. It’s one that I have been asking myself. Much of the ugliness I see at the forefront of American news is tainted with so-called Christians, the violence, the bigotry, the hatred, the greed, the power-mongering, the manipulation and hurt–all justified in the name of the Lord. This is related to the definition of being a Christian, in some ways.

    I can’t define being a Christian as just being a follower of Christ. That is, it has to involve being about the Christ’s body, the church. To define it just at the individual level I think falls short of the greater work of Christ, past, present and future, and the narrative of the Bible story of God’s people and their king. But getting involved with churches is among my biggest regrets. I felt compelled to be Christian a few times, and I got burned bad.

    UBF pushes the follow Jesus messages a lot. But they’re really used to bring people into the mold of a UBF shepherd. And that’s exactly what came to mind when you described the messages at this conference. It happened to me too. I thought that living as a UBF shepherd was what God wanted and had designed my life to do. And the more I think about it, the more I get angry and filled with regret for having been duped and manipulated, and to make it worse to have done it to others too. How did it happen? I wonder. But it happened when I felt compelled to be a Christian. Now, I don’t see much good about the church at large. There are a few good things that are compelling, such as the work of the reformation project that Brian’s posted about, the handful of writers from patheos that Joe references from time and time (and I see a lot of writings from them about the church body and disillusionment and so on), the work Pope Francis is doing. And even these people, as much as they attempt to honestly look at the current state of the church they are bombarded with hateful messages mostly by people calling themselves Christians. So if I tell people I’m a Christian, the first question is, “What church do you go to?” Followed by, “You have to go to a church to be fed.” My replies is always, “Actually, I don’t. Church isn’t a restaurant.” I don’t want to be associated with churches today. I don’t want to be part of a place where the pastor’s first message is just explain that he’s not hating people, he’s really loving them. If there is that kind of confusion regarding your actions, it might not be love and might really be hate. How many people in the gospel stories did Jesus have to give such an explanation to?

    Your article also prompted me to think about whether this message of “Follow me” is apostolic. Honestly, I can’t find it in the apostles’ writings. UBF teaches about Jesus’ cross so that you can take up your cross–it’s really about your cross. The apostles teach Jesus’ cross. Christian teaching just seems out of control and far away from being apostolic–in the name of being biblical, ironically.

    Once, a messenger in the LA chapter said that young people today are committing suicide because they don’t obey Moses’s Law. (This was said in reference to Luke 4, Jesus’ temptation.) That’s ridiculous!

  6. MJ Peace

    Hi Charles!

    I’m glad my posts get you thinking. My lit prof in uni always taught us to make titles that pop. I purposely give provocative titles just to get people to read my stuff.

    I have one question. I don’t understand your comment: “I can’t define being a Christian as just being a follower of Christ. That is, it has to involve being about the Christ’s body, the church.”

    But later you say, “So if I tell people I’m a Christian, the first question is, “What church do you go to?” Followed by, “You have to go to a church to be fed.” My replies is always, “Actually, I don’t. Church isn’t a restaurant.” I don’t want to be associated with churches today.”

    Initially you say that a Christian is not an individual, but a part of a body, but later you say you don’t have to go to a church to be a Christian.

    About the cross. I agree with you that the apostles teach Jesus’ cross. I am not pretending to be Jesus and take up his cross. That is not my place. He is the only one who can take up the cross. My job is to follow him. I interpret follow as: trust Him, keep my eyes on Him, as the bronze snake brought salvation to the Israelites when they looked to it. In Hebrew following/walking had the connotation of relationship, going through life together.

    Another question the title of this article brings up is: How can one will themselves to be a Christian whether they want to or not? One’s faith is subjective. Trying to define a Christian is to big of a task for me, but I like posing questions.

    • Charles Wilson
      Charles Wilson

      MJ, I’ll clarify what I meant by those church comments. Firstly, in calling myself a Christian, I did so at first (and still at times) simply for a lack of another word to use. If I say just, “follower of Christ,” it’ll sound strange I think. Maybe, “A follower of the Way”? :) Secondly, yes, I think that being a Christian has its deeper and truer meaning not just at the individual but at the community / body level. It is part of the body of Christ, and no part is by itself. It is also part of the community of his kingdom. Who can be a church unto themselves?

      That being said, my replies to people about going (or not) to church was meant to show how how the concept of church and being a Christian is very skewed, in my opinion. My impression from talking with people about my situation after leaving UBF was that a Christian means going to church every Sunday without fail, and that church is the place where you have a pastor who is your weekly teacher and somehow more connected to God than you, and it is there you are “fed.” I may be interpreting things too strictly and seeing UBF in them where they are not, but I think I am not too far from most of what I have seen in other churches. Note that these are mostly evangelical “non-denominational” churches. They all seem to have this similar air to them. Being a Christian is being involved with the church. But I believe this to be in the greater sense of Church, as the body of Christ in the world. It does involve worshiping and praying with other believers. It does involve loving and caring for the community, each other, and our enemies. It involves the witness of Jesus Christ. But I don’t think it involves the other baggage that many Christian assume come with it, such as the legalism and being against gays and pro guns, having a leader/pastor, mandatory tithing, etc. Christ is a living being, and where his body gathers is not a restaurant, though at times people may be fed, with real food and drink, and also with his presence and Spirit. So the church is his active, living body, moving in the world, not a place where its members get in a line or sit in chairs just to feed themselves with their own food over and over again.

      Maybe I have formed an ideal vision of the Christian and Church that’s hindering me or maybe I’m just bitter and angry, but I’m severely disappointed and don’t want to get caught up in something very unpleasant again. I’m sorry that I spent my youth, years I can’t get back, in UBF. I’m sorry that I gave up what I did. And it’s troublesome at times because I did it with a clear conscience and a desire to be a Christian and seek God. But what I see from the church right now is not how I would define church or be reflective of the body of Christ (I am speaking very generally here and don’t want to dismiss the good out there). They don’t show Jesus that I read about in the Bible and, yes, I don’t want to be associated with them. What does that make me? A heathen, I guess! :) I’m now tired of thinking about and searching for church. Others have said that they hope I find the right church for me. I get the sentiment, but I think now that it should be more than just this local ministry or that organization.

    • Charles Wilson
      Charles Wilson

      About the cross. I agree with you that the apostles teach Jesus’ cross. I am not pretending to be Jesus and take up his cross. That is not my place. – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2015/07/22/why-would-anyone-ever-want-to-be-a-christian/#comment-18959

      A common question asked in UBF Bible studies on the cross and the follow me passages is: What is your cross? Some people said things like, children, work, hardships. Ultimately, it was about getting rid of everything that gets in the way of being a campus shepherd or marrying by faith. But the teaching lacked Christ and it lacked context. I wonder if any who attended this conference were asked this question in the Bible study and how they were led after answering.

      So in this way UBF uses the words “follow me” and “take up your cross” to take on a whole other meaning that works to manipulate people do the UBF activities and give up all for the UBF cause for world campus mission. Again, I don’t find the apostles teaching “Follow me” or “Take up your cross” messages as we find at UBF conferences. They didn’t use the gospel stories where Jesus says, “Follow me,” the way UBF does. It keeps happening because of the trust people put into their teachers and shepherds so that they think it’s perfectly normal and biblical, when in fact it should be questioned.

      It is interesting that you mention about the Hebrew meaning of following and relationship. I think a good discussion would start in trying to understand that in the context of the cross, the tool of death by extreme pain and humiliation. Surely, if someone took up a cross in Jesus’ day, they weren’t going to be putting it down and going home at the end of the day.

      So, trying to define and follow Christ makes me think back to the article on defining the gospel, going back to understand just who the Christ is and what his message was: http://www.ubfriends.org/2015/05/08/what-is-your-gospel/

  7. Hi Charles, my comment here will definitely not do justice to how much I appreciate you last two comments. Joe and I are experiencing so much of the same sentiment. I can’t find a home in an evangelical church right now, and don’t seem to fit either in the Episcopalian or Catholic Church, or old school Reformed, or Pentacostal. I know that people say I need to find a church, but honestly, I cannot. For now, I am happy to worship with the Episcopalians because I am being fed deeply through the liturgy, and I’m happy to engage in all kinds of Christian fellowship with my evangelical, reformed, mainline, pentacostal, etc. friends. But I cannot BE any of these. I too am tired of trying and I am sensing that God is OK with that for now.

    • Charles Wilson
      Charles Wilson

      Hi Sharon, thanks for your comment. Im glad that you also mentioned Joe. The dynamics of having a family complicate things that much more.

  8. “Not all those who wander are lost.” J.R. Tolkien

  9. MJ Peace

    Some thoughts about the Tolkien quote:
    What does it mean to be lost?
    Aren’t we all wanderers? Who doesn’t wander?

    “Whoever loses their life for me will save it”- Luke 9:24
    “The highest form of morality is not to feel at home in one’s home”- Theodor W. Adorno.

    Thanks for the clarification Charles!
    I think this means I need to make some clarification too.
    I agree with you when you talk about the global living body of Christ Church. That is the Church I mean when I talk about Church. I talk about the big “C.”

    Yes, I go to WL, which is part of UBF, but that does not mean my ultimate affiliation is with UBF. I bet if you ask any Catholic, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, etc. certain questions about their theologies, they will not agree with every little thing. Our man made theologies are lacking; they cannot contain God. They are flawed and filled with holes, but that does not mean we don’t stop trying and throw theology out the window. Theology is a language we use to communicate and learn more about God. God wants us to seek after him, though ultimately He is the one seeking after us.

    There is always a sense of disorientation. But in the end we all are part of the same Church (big C) even though we don’t go to the same church/any church (little c) on Sunday, even if we didn’t live in the same language or live in the same country or agree about pre millennialism or amillennialism or whether women can be part of the liturgy or not.

    Anyway, I don’t want to start preaching. So I’ll just stop here;)

    • Joe Schafer

      In theory, it’s easy to say that all Christians belong to the same big-C church and that the Body of Christ is one, because Christ is one.

      But in real life, it’s very hard to enact and experience this. Christian community happens through relationships in local small-c churches and denominations. Divisions and tribalism make it hard to get deeply involved in a local community while retaining a firm commitment and openness to big-C church.

      Let me give you some examples from real life.

      Sharon and I were deeply involved UBF for decades and were regarded as leaders within the organization. Yet when we began to learn from non-UBF sources and tried to apply what we were learning within the UBF context, we were treated with suspicion, labeled as proud/immature/bad influence etc. and the relationships we had with most people in UBF quickly went sour. The official UBF statement of Faith says: “10.We believe that the church is the body of Christ and that all Christians are members of it.” In theory, UBF leaders believe in the unity of the big-C church. But in fact, if you are not seen as upholding the ubf heritage and strongly promoting ubf-centric practices and values, you are going to be treated badly. And because West Loop and a few other chapters have this culture of openness, people from those chapters are regarded with suspicion and their opinions no longer matter in the organization.

      As our relationships to ubf disintegrated, we began to participate in another local church that can be described as evangelical, Bible-oriented and conservative. At first, it seemed to go pretty well. But as they got to know us better, and they found out some of our views didn’t match up with theirs, our relationships got strained. For example: When Rob Bell was labeled as a false teacher and heretic because he had the “wrong” views on hell, we pushed back and said no, it’s unfair to say that Rob Bell is a heretic, and whether or not one ultimately agrees with him, he deserves to be listened to. That didn’t go over well. When we said that one can be a faithful Christian without reading Genesis chapter 1 literally, and that the scientific evidence for an old earth and for evolution are quite strong, that stirred up more trouble. Some (not all) people in the church began to look at us very suspiciously, as though we were not really part of their tribe, as though we were unsafe, because of the views that we expressed. It became harder and harder to stay with them, because it’s hard to have fellowship with people when you feel that you are being looked at with suspicious eyes.

      Sharon and I have a great respect and fondness for the Roman Catholic Church, and we learn a lot from Catholic sources. (That alone causes some evangelicals to treat us with suspicion.) But it’s not possible to fully worship at an RC church and take communion there without becoming a Catholic in good standing, which involves committing yourself to accepting all sorts of other teachings (things we don’t necessarily believe) as dogma. And once you commit to Catholicism, you can’t really worship freely or take communion in non-Catholic settings.

      I could go on and on with many more examples. My point is this. In theory, one can say that all Christians are part of the same big-C church. But in our actual experience of church, in our relationships with real people in real small-c churches, tribalism and sectarianism and divisions and ideological boundaries always seem to be present, and these things really do inhibit those relationships.

    • Couldn’t have said it better myself. The Jesus that I am familiar with in Scripture seems eagerly willing to fellowship with those who dwell within the margins of society, whose views and lifestyle often do not fit the common consensus. The Apostles followed this Jesus’ prototypical stance into gentile territory and thus bent common perceptions regarding the interpretation of Scripture and who God’s people were. Today, I don’t see the church at large engaging in this kind of thoughtful outreach. More so, I see church leaders, and the members who follow suit, developing a doctrine of Jesus which ultimately excludes many.

    • All good questions MJ. I like the quote because I think that things are often not what they seem. Sometimes, God is at work in unlikely, unconventional places. That’s all.

  10. “But in fact, if you are not seen as upholding the ubf heritage and strongly promoting ubf-centric practices and values, you are going to be treated badly. And because West Loop and a few other chapters have this culture of openness, people from those chapters are regarded with suspicion and their opinions no longer matter in the organization.” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2015/07/22/why-would-anyone-ever-want-to-be-a-christian/#comment-18964

    This is likely going to sound “relativistic” and “not absolute” to some UBFers, but I desire that my expression of Christ be inclusive instead of exclusive and elitist, which was how I lived as a Christian for my first 25 years in UBF (1980-2005).

    Though I likely fail far more often than I succeed, my quest for inclusivity is in my mind more gentle, gracious and generous than being exclusive, which invariably often involves being condescending toward others and judging others as being worse than you. It “feels” so much better to be poor in spirit (Mt 5:3), one who deserves nothing good, yet receiving “one blessing after another” (1984 NIV), or “grace in place of grace already given” (Jn 1:16; 2011 NIV) free of charge!

  11. MJ Peace

    @Joe Now, I see why you suggested “The Fellowship of Differents” for the ubfriends book club. I’m reading it now and McKnight keeps emphasizing the importance of local small “c” churches. He keeps saying that all we know is what we learn from the local church and I agree with him. Have you read “What we believe and why”? This is the book that we are reading for our WL/HP book club and there the author presents a way for us to be unified in all our diversity in the big C church. He suggests focusing on the essentials and not the non-essentials. When the essentials are few unity is actually possible. This doesn’t mean that we dilute our denominational differences, it means that our denominational difference are secondary. One guy who gave a lecture at wL called it a “confessional hermeneutic.” Basically you come to the Bible, life and community knowing you are flawed. I personally think a Christian is a lover of Jesus Christ. He is the door. It’s not the theological doctrine or liturgical practice or sexual orientation.

    I agree with what you say, “In theory, one can say that all Christians are part of the same big-C church. But in our actual experience of church, in our relationships with real people in real small-c churches, tribalism and sectarianism and divisions and ideological boundaries always seem to be present, and these things really do inhibit those relationships.” It’s so true local churches let us down real bad. I still haven’t finish McKnight’s book, but I hope he offers some advice on that.

    • Joe Schafer

      Hi MJ. Yes, I read Koch’s book a few years ago and thought it was brilliant. The parts that impacted me most were

      * his description of heresy as an overemphasis on certain per ideas that, even if they are true, wreaks havoc in relationships

      * his explanation of love, and how love transcends law

      * that brilliant part of chapter 22 where he imagines two doors, one labeled “The Way to God” and the other labeled “Lectures About God”

      * his examples of local churches that, even though they had very different views on issues that they thought were important (e.g. the role of women in ministry), supported and loved each other in the midst of disagreement

      I look forward to reading and discussing A Fellowship of Differents on this website. I hope we can start soon.

    • “Have you read “What we believe and why”?”

      Yes George Koch is awesome :) Check out the “What readers are saying” on George’s blog for a ubfriends shout-out! What We Believe and Why

      George was in the ACT3 cohort I participated in. His thinking is astounding. AS and SS from ubf were in the class (as well as Ben and JY). George caused AS much trouble when George said he thought you could be a Christian and not believe the resurrection. That was unacceptable to AS (as it would be to those adhering to evangelicalism). But George’s point as that being a Christian is not about our correct doctrine–our essentials circle needs to be rather small in his opinion. I agree.

    • Joe, I can start on an intro article and post some time this weekend or early next week. From there, we can see who wants to volunteer to post short articles on the chapters for discussion.

  12. MJ Peace

    @Sharon I agree with you absolutely. I think anyone who thinks that they are not lost is in an illusion. As Dr. B quotes,

    “Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, and scared, even the people who seem to have it more or less together. They are much more like you than you would believe. So try not to compare your insides to their outsides. Also, you can’t save, fix or rescue any of them, or get any of them sober. “- Anne Lamott

  13. MJ Peace

    @Dr. B

    “It “feels” so much better to be poor in spirit (Mt 5:3), one who deserves nothing good, yet receiving “one blessing after another” (1984 NIV), or “grace in place of grace already given” (Jn 1:16; 2011 NIV) free of charge!”

    I agree with you completely. I like the way Danny Vineyard states it in “American History X,”

    “Life is too short to be pissed off all the time.”