Thursday, March 15, 2018

How to Be Miserable in Your Christian Life: Churches to Avoid

(Please note: the following is not entirely serious--it is written in the style of a satirical self-help book, somewhat in the tradition of C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters, that offers insight and encouragement in the life of Christian holiness by having my fictional narrator, who wants to adhere to the most popular form of Christian practice, advise the opposite.)

How to Be Miserable in Your Christian Life

Chapter Three: Avoid the Institutional Church
(Section Three: Kinds of Churches to Avoid)

         Above all, avoid churches that hold onto a denominational identity that goes back more than a decade or two. Such churches, whether they are Baptists or Orthodox or Lutherans or whatever, are all beholden to patterns of institutional church life that come from the moldy coffers of worthless old tradition. If you think getting along with people of other generations is hard, then try to get along with a whole tradition that is many generations older than you! Go to one of those churches, and you’ll end up having to connect not just to the people in the pews around you, but to the whole vast and varied array of the Church of the living God, the saints of his Kingdom, many of whom died and became irrelevant long ago. So avoid any hint of a rich denominational life, because this is simply a further complicating factor that will likely steal from you the necessary narrowness that you need to live your life the way you want to.
            While we’re at it, avoid small and medium-sized churches too. You should definitely listen to the current mythology in Christian circles, the advertising and marketing metrics that magnify big churches and megachurch pastors as the pinnacle of what churches and pastors should be. Big churches are a whole lot easier to remain anonymous in, and so they are far better places to avoid being stretched out of your comfort zone than are small churches. Now, a lot of big churches will still go out of their way to ferret you out and make you plug in to some kind of smaller and more intimate ministry—don’t be tricked, though: “small groups” are just small churches in disguise. With a little polite and persistent deflection, it’s easy enough to sidestep that particular big-church tactic.
            It should be obvious why big churches are better anyway. After all, we live in a culture that is at least partially based on the principle that “bigger is better,” so it ought to be clear that God loves big churches best of all. The mere fact that the vast majority of churches in the world are small doesn’t count for anything; it just means that they’re bad at doing their job. And unless you can make the case that the Holy Spirit’s work is evident in such trivial things as mutual love and growth in godliness, then it’s clear that the Spirit does not work through small churches in anything comparable to the way He works through big churches. So stay away from small and medium-sized churches—you’re more likely to be noticed, more likely to be loved, and more likely to have to learn to love others in return. And we know what dangers that can lead to.
Of course, that’s not to say that attending a big church is an easy road to Christian misery, either—many of them are frighteningly good at subverting that most popular of Christian lifestyles. Thankfully, as we’ll see a bit later on, there are a few non-church options that are altogether safer than either big or small churches.