Let Me Tell You Why You’re Wrong

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For a while now, I’ve tossed around the idea of writing a book entitled, “Let Me Tell You Why You’re Wrong: A Plea for Church Unity.” But, as I have said previously in my blog, I cannot justify writing books that should remain blogs. So, perhaps this theme will just be a series of blog posts.

“I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” – John 17.23 (ESV)

This verse, by far, has impacted my view of ministry. For those of you that know me, I’m a little stubborn. I have my opinions. I voice my opinions. And many times, if you do not agree with my opinions, I am quick to tell you why you are wrong. I know this mindset is wrong. I hate this about myself. I think that we tend to divide ourselves into teams; and we want the most people on our team (or maybe I’m the only one who thinks this way…and if that’s the case, you can quite reading). 

Many of us are trying to cross the lines in the denominational world. However, our beliefs or theologies are stopping us from doing so. Our beliefs about God have gotten in the way of our call from God. Now before you begin to say “your beliefs about God determine your call from God,” let me ask you this: why is it that there are so many people passionately pursuing God and His Kingdom and still doing things that “you wouldn’t necessarily do?” This boils down to methodology. We agree on core beliefs, but not on practice. But churches still split over methodology. Or we publicly mock another church’s methodology (and I am as guilty of this as anyone).

I think we sometimes confuse doctrine, theology, and methodology. Follow me for a moment: Theology shapes our methodology, but theology is not doctrine. But when theology moves in the doctrine category, methodology then becomes doctrine. Now there are probably many intelligent people out there who will tell me why I’m wrong on this, or why this doesn’t add up. But can we entertain, for a bit, the thought that perhaps we hold our theologies/beliefs/practices so close, that we are willing to fight until everyone agrees with us?

I fear that we have become too content with saying things like:

“that’s fine, you should go to that church.” or

it works for them, but we would never do that.” or

“I don’t agree with them, but that’s not my church.”

I’ve said these things. In fact, yep, I’ve said all of these things. So I know that I fail at this daily. 

But can we begin to see that it’s never “another church?” It’s “our church.” It’s “the church.” We move as a body. We do things as one. 

We have become far too content with chopping off body parts. An arm here, a hand there, a leg a little bit later. Anytime we disagree, let’s split on it. And we justify it by saying “they’re still part of the body, they are just doing something that we don’t agree with.” We’re content with that? We’re content with not striving for church unity?

I remember reading the verse from John when I was a junior in college. It struck me. It was so simple and so profound. “Become perfectly one.” It became something that drove me. It became something that reshaped how I saw ministry.

Now I’m not close to achieving this. I still cling tightly to what I believe. But slowly, I see myself beginning to loosen my grip on things that I once thought extremely important (that really weren’t). Can we begin to live like Jesus prayed for us to live? As perfectly one? Are we willing to try this? Can we stop saying “that church” or “their church” or “my church” and instead say, “the church?” I know that I’m going to begin trying again.

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Come Clean, Church

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I go back and forth with Bill Hybels. Sometimes I really like him and am completely engaged in everything he says. And at other times, not so much. However, I think the reason I have so much respect for him is because of his honesty.

Back in 2007-2008, Willow admitted to making some mistakes along the way. They discussed several strategies that they were going to implement to help them become the church they felt God wanted them to be. I remember hearing this and being shocked. Willow admitted to that?! Bill Hybels admitted to that?! But from that shock, came respect.

There is a fear within the church of admitting mistakes. I’m not talking about personal mistakes (although, there is a fear in that as well), but church leadership mistakes. The funny thing about this, though, is that we are taught all throughout life that admitting mistakes shows courage and makes you a bigger person…but not when it comes to the church. We fear that if the church admitted they took a wrong stance, made a wrong decision, implemented a bad practice, etc., then people would have less respect for her. Instead of admitting mistakes, we say something along the lines of, “God is leading us a different direction.” We immediately shift over the blame to God (which is why we need to be careful when we say things like, “God is leading me to do this…” – don’t associate God with how you are feeling and don’t tie His name to everything you feel “led” to do).

The church has made mistakes in the past and will continue to make mistakes in the future. It is inevitable. The church is run by fallible people, who, granted, are trying to do their best with what they have. Many of these people have the purest intentions, but they will still make mistakes. What we need to do as a church, is admit those mistakes.

In “Blue Like Jazz,” Donald Miller writes a powerful chapter on confession. If you haven’t read the chapter, click on the link. It’s a powerful chapter because of what takes place. Instead of students confessing their sins to the Christians on campus, the Christians confess their sins and the sins of the church. It’s a beautiful chapter. And it is exactly what we need to be doing.

I have a feeling that many churches have this idea that they will fail if they admit to mistakes they are making. But people would rather go to a place that admitted mistakes than to a place that seemed too perfect.

It’s time for the church to stop covering things up.

It’s time for us to begin admitting when we are wrong.

It’s time for us to be open about errors.

It’s time for us to embrace the messiness of humans, including the leaders in the church.

This is the kind of church the world needs. It doesn’t need a church that refuses to admit error. How do we expect people in the church to admit when they are wrong when the church can’t? What would it look like if the church said:

We don’t feed the homeless as much as we should.

We spend way too much money on new carpet and not enough money on the community.

We were judgmental.

We’ve never taken care of the widows and orphans.

We have only supported missions within our denominational branch, and we have to stop doing that.

We have taken a wrong stance on a doctrinal issue.

We spend far too much money on marketing and not enough money on things that really matter.

The list can go on and on. It is filled with things that I think many of us would like to see the church admit. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if it did? It would seem like a place where I could admit my errors and not feel judged for it. It would seem like a place where forgiveness really was offered.

The church is filled and led by fallible humans. It’s time we embraced that and admitted our errors.

My drinking, smoking, divorced, pro-gay marriage, democrat, no hell believing, postmodern, environmentalist, vegan, tongue speaking, Christian brother or sister

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If you are a Christian, is it wrong to eat unhealthy foods?

If you are a Christian, is it wrong to be gay?

If you are a Christian, is it wrong to drink or smoke?

If you are a Christian, is it wrong to laugh at inappropriate jokes?

If you are a Christian, should you watch rated-R films or listen to secular music or read secular books?

If you are a Christian, should you be seen in a bar even if you are not drinking?

If you are a Christian, is it wrong not to attend church every Sunday?

If you are a Christian, is it wrong to have more possessions than the poorest person in your community?

If you are a Christian and commit suicide, will you go to hell?

If you are a Christian, is it wrong to believe differently than another Christian?

If you were raised in a traditional Christian home, you have probably asked some of these questions. If you have been a Christian in a traditional church for enough time, you have probably asked some of these questions.

I have asked most of these questions. I have been asked most of these questions. My answers have changed dramatically in a 10 year span. Am I now certain about my answers? No. Will I ever be? Probably not.

In the Christian world, we like to put things in 2 categories: wrong and right. This has proven beneficial for many things. For example:

It is wrong to do drugs.
But it is okay to take prescription pain pills as prescribed by a doctor.

Before you call me a heretic, I do believe some things are black and white. One cannot read the Bible and not come to that conclusion. However, there are more things that I wish were black and white.

The Bible is as messy as it is neat. There are moments that God is very clear and then there are other moments that there is uncertainty. There are moments when all of Christendom can unite on a topic and then there are moments that we divide because of different views. I read on Church Relevance that in 2008, there was an estimated 39,000 Christian denominations worldwide. By 2025, it is estimated that there will be 55,000 Christian denominations worldwide. Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary estimated that there was a new Christian denomination formed every 12 hours.

If it is all black and white, why is a new denomination forming every 12 hours? Within the (my estimate) 40,000 denominations that exist today, there are probably still divisions among what to believe about certain issues. And of course, you have the sneaky non-denominational churches that exist under the “non-denominational” branch but each non-denominational church probably believes something different than the other non-denominational church. Christendom is a mess. And we don’t make it better when we write books called “Doctrine” that dictate what you should and should not believe. Instead, we draw another line. We have made finding Christ the most impossible maze.

Many times I pray that God would come down and straighten us all out so we move forward. But sure enough, someone would say, “I think God meant this and if you disagree with me, I’m going to start a different denomination where I can surround myself with people who agree with me because I am insecure about my beliefs and I cannot take someone disagreeing with me because I might be wrong but I’m not going to admit it because that would show weakness.” Okay…so they might not say all of that…but they would probably say most of it.

One thing is certain: we are one screwed up family. Most of us don’t even speak to one another. Many times I think, “What happens if I am wrong? What happens if I am wrong and God is so just that He damns me to hell? What happens if grace doesn’t exist for my beliefs? What happens if I messed up my whole life because I believed something I shouldn’t have believed?” If you haven’t thought those things, you’re better off. There have been many dark days where I have thought those things.

I hope grace works. I hope that it covers what we get wrong. Even more, I hope that grace covers what we thought we got right. Because if it doesn’t, we’re all screwed. Life would be better if we stopped saying “I’m right.” Life would be better if we stopped saying, “God told me this is the way it should be,” or “from my studies, this is what I think we should believe on this issue.” Because what happens if we are wrong? What happens if the person who believes opposite of us is right? Maybe we are the ones that need to be changed and God is trying to use them to change us? Perhaps we are the Babylonians instead of the Israelites. Stop trying to martyr yourself on something that may not be right.

So what do you say to your drinking, smoking, divorced, pro-gay marriage, democrat, no hell believing, postmodern, environmentalist, vegan, tongue speaking, Christian brother or sister? “You may be a crazy uncle, but you’re still family.”