Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Followers and Converts

When it comes to church background, I'm a mutt.

I was baptized into the Catholic church as an infant.
But when I was three, my parents decided to become Protestant.

Next up?
Here's where it gets interesting.
'Holy' laughter.

Proclaiming. Rebuking. Opening and closing doors. As in:
"I proclaim a spirit of good grades this year," or
"I rebuke that spirit of sneezing in Jesus' name," or
"You know, if you put your knee behind your neck like that, you're gonna open a door to a demon."

But wait. There's more.
By the time I was in college, I was in a charismatic denomination that preached signs and wonders and 'power' evangelism.
And in order to achieve signs and wonders, we (Yes. We. Not He.) would go to classes on the gifts of the Spirit. Get a load of this true story from my past:
I attended a seminar on words of knowledge. And to wrap it up, we had to practice them.
Practice a gift of the Spirit. And I did it. (Oh goodness, I am still so embarrassed to admit it now. I look back on this and shudder and wonder, "What the HECK was I thinking?")
Brett and I met and married in that church.

We left that church for more tambourines and flags. Don't ask. Just don't.

Somewhere around Year Twelve of our marriage, we decided to try home church.
Nifty little idea, that.
No elders.
No oversight.
No discipleship.
No communion.
But we did get to make all the decisions unilaterally.
No protection.
No wisdom.
No good.

Fortunately, that didn't last too long. And we dragged our emaciated little souls back to a corporate body, where we were nourished for a time.
Of course, that was about the time our children were getting old enough for the beast called Youth idea to which we both said, "OVER OUR DEAD BODIES."
At that point, we began to look a bit freakish.
I mean, it's one thing to look like a freak to the world.
We're supposed to, to a certain extent.
But when your family of (then) eight takes up a whole row and all the kids get out their little notebooks to listen to the pastor while all the other kids are dismissed to children's church, bunny stickers, and Pin-the-hair-on-the-Samson...
well, not every member takes kindly to the idea...especially not the children's church director.

Children's church. That's in the same part of the Bible with baby dedications and building committees.
Just sayin'.

We briefly visited a Presbyterian church. But I didn't know any hymns. And these were old hymns. Very old.

Today, after lots of flopping around, I think we've finally landed.
We're Calvinist. We're family-integrated. We're non-cessationist.
We're home.
Still, I'm sure we've had believers who have tried us for a time and said, "Hmm. Weird. I don't think so."

But the lesson I'm learning is that, despite my differences with my other church experiences, and my preferences for my own church, no one has a corner on the Truth. And every Christian, every single one, has something valuable to contribute to the big picture called the universal Church. And I've got great, godly friends in all of these places.

Charismatics: we disagree on gold dust and angel feathers. But they have an exuberant worship that other churches don't yet get. And I think they're correct to affirm spiritual gifts.
Baptists: we disagree on baptism, dancing, alcohol, and lots of rules. But Baptists care about holiness in a way we should all want to imitate.
Presbyterians: they have a more formal, staid approach to Sunday mornings. But their high church liturgy has an emphasis on the majesty and beauty of God that I haven't found anywhere else.

In short, every church has weaknesses...
and every church has strengths.
Every church has wheat...
and every church has tares.

I just finished Jonathan Leeman's Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus...Fantastic book on the importance of church membership. It's kind of the abbreviated version of his much thicker and meatier The Church and the Surprising Offense of God's Love. But they both address the same concern: church membership.

The Church is bursting at the seams with followers. But being a 'follower' is not the same as being a 'convert,'  writes David Wells in Turning to God. Good point. Followers are interested in this person called Jesus and in this book called the Bible. But converts are submitted to the authority of the King and His Word.

Followers think of Jesus having a Twitter account. Intriguing persona. Makes some good points.
Converts think of Jesus as Lord. King. Master. Creator. Redeemer.
Followers subscribe.
Converts submit.

The Church has failed to distinguish between the two. And her membership rolls are filled with people who are interested, curious, and perhaps even Biblically articulate. Yet they lack the one thing that marks them as belonging to God: repentance. In other words, the visible Church today is filled with...non-Christians...people who are not saved, not going to Heaven.

And why is that so important?
Because membership is the stamp of approval that says to the watching world, "This person is a citizen of the Christian nation and a subject of the King."
When a local church confers membership on a follower--instead of on a convert--the world is left with the idea that people who are merely intrigued by Jesus are the same people who serve Him.
And that paints a false picture of what it means to be redeemed...
which belittles and demeans the work of the Cross.

While Charismatic, Baptist, and Presbyterian converts can disagree on youth group, liturgy, and baptism, they can never disagree on the Gospel.
Followers of every stripe think Jesus is cool.

Converts of every stripe know Jesus is King.

There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, "This is mine! This belongs to me!" (Abraham Kuyper)

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