Does Nationalism Inform Your Christianity?

Without question, our country is in a tense place right now. And while I would love to speak to our nation as a whole, I think trying to do that will cause it to get lost in all the noise. And really I feel like I am more qualified to talk to Christians about what that means during these times. I have written about a similar topic before (HERE), but with all the stuff that recently happened in Charlottesville, I think it bears repeating.

I want to talk about nationalism and how we might be letting that affect how we follow Jesus. First, a couple caveats. Right from the start, nationalism is not bad. You can love your country; I do. I love being an American and spent two decades serving and defending it. So be a nationalist. This is not about that. Second, this is not strictly about Charlottesville. Instead, it is about how we respond to this type of situation. So even though it is not specifically about it, I think Charlottesville is a good barometer for measuring if we are letting something other than Christ influence how we follow Him.

With that said, I have seen a number of articles, from Christians and Christian media outlets, that muddy the issue even more. Most of it revolves around how the media is lying to us and making Charlottesville worse than it seems. While that may be true, it does not undo the truth of what occurred there and how some Christians have responded to it. Another point these Christian writers/media are pushing is how violent both sides are, specifically BLM and ANTIFA being the other side of the “racist coin” as White Supremacist and Neo-Nazi. Maybe that is also true, but it still misses the bigger picture of how a Christian should respond. It is a big enough deal that I think it deserves its own section, so I will address that later in the post.

Here are four ways you can know if your Christianity is informed by nationalism, rather than Jesus.

If you think Charlottesville was just an expression of free speech.

I am all for free speech. And, as abhorrent as hate speech is, it is permissible. Like I mentioned, I spent 20 years defending people’s right to say whatever hateful and vile thing they want. But, if your response to hate speech is, “It’s freedom of speech, so get over it” and you disregard the hurt it inflicts your fellow human, something besides Christ is influencing you.

My biggest difficulty with the free speech excuse for hate speech is that it ignores the very real oppression that it intends to inflict. Whether you agree with the speaker being able to say it is not the point. What is more important is how you respond to the people who feel those words and hate cut into them. Unfortunately we can easily let the “free speech” thing override our call for compassion for the oppressed. And, many of those words are aimed at are your brothers and sisters in Christ. That alone should break your heart. Our response ought to be condemnation of the speech and compassion toward the target of it. It is not about necessarily trying to silence the speaker, but rather standing with the person who was the target. That is Jesus influence.

If your expression of hate for the ideology extends to the people.

There is really no way to get around Jesus saying, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44-45) If your response is I hate BLM or White Supremacists, then likely you are missing the point of what Jesus said. You can hate the ideology all day long, and many times you should because it is incompatible with following Jesus. But, when you cross the line to hating the people in it, you leave Jesus’ camp. God is a people-ist. For God loved the world, right?

If you feel a need to point out how violent the other side is also.

This issue here is not about who is more violent. If violence or hateful speech exists on both sides, then you condemn it. But, if your response to hate or violence on one side is to point out the hate or violence on the other, you are missing the point. Our attention should focus on the hundreds of armed (with real guns) white supremacists and neo-Nazis who showed up in Charlottesville. They did not show up to peaceable assemble (see previous “armed” comment), but instead were ready to do violence. And, their language and rhetoric was intended to insight violence and fear, rather than bring attention to a broken system.

The issue at hand was not violence that occurred in Baltimore. The issue at hand has to do with what was and did happen in Charlottesville. To argue violence with others violence is to ignore and condone the present violence. In that we “bypass justice and love for God.” (Luke 11:22).

If you are mostly concerned with your rights or liberties.

This one is hard because we are taught to fight for our rights, especially the one to party. But, at the end of the day, if your rights and liberties are your main focus, maybe you are missing the point of Christianity a little. Literally every part of following Christ has to do with you being about other people. Even in Romans 12:3 the Apostle Paul is telling Christians that they ought not consider themselves more highly than others. And, every one of the Apostles, not to mention countless other Christians throughout history, have died to ensure others could have freedom in Christ. So, if your biggest concern is, “What about my rights?” then you missed the whole, “take up your cross and losing your life” thing Jesus mentions in Matthew 16:24-26.

We should be continually evaluating whether it is our love of country or love of Jesus that informs our Christianity.

 

photo: Flickr/Paul Wiethorn

Francis Chan, Facebook and Being a Shepherd

Shepherd

I know I am a little late on this, but I want to talk about Francis Chan speaking to employees at Facebook Headquarter. If you’re not familiar with whom Chan is, he was previously the Lead Pastor of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, CA and has authored numerous books (Crazy Love, Forgotten God, and Erasing Hell). When I initially heard about his talk, I really did not think much, except, “Awesome. Good for him.”

Then on July 25th, I shared an unrelated video of him that Verge Network put out. In it he talks about doing church and asks, “What if we opened the bible, read it, and tried to do what it says?” Later, a friend commented, asking if Chan was the guy that abandoned his church. The direction of the question intrigued me, so we started talking about it. My friend admitted he unfamiliar with what happened surrounding Chan leaving his church in early 2010. He said most of what he knew came from a podcast that talked about it after Chan spoke at FB.

The 7 Minute Critique

The podcast he referenced is called CrossPolitic. To be clear, I do not listen to their show and only know what I read on their website. But, I did listen to the part of the episode that they talked about Chan speaking at FB. The conversation involved the three hosts and their guest, Ben Shapiro, and took up 7 minutes of the one-hour episode. It was pretty clear none of them were fans of him speaking at FB. At the time I listened to their podcast, I had not yet listened to Chan’s talk. It seemed that the hosts' biggest issue revolved around, as they saw it, Chan "abandoning" his church in Simi Valley.  And in doing so, he was somehow violating his call to shepherd the flock God gave him. That, in their view, is sin and requires him to repent and seek the forgiveness of the congregation.

A few minutes later, one of the hosts invited some reason back into the conversation. He acknowledged it was possible that Chan had taken the steps and time necessary to leave in a “healthy” way. Then they became angry that he “aired” the Church’s “dirty laundry” to Facebook, or as they called them, the “wolf”. They moved their issue with his talk away from him failing at being a shepherd and into the realm of… I don’t actually know. Being too open about church issues with non-church people, I think.

The Facebook Talk

Before I started writing this post I figured I should probably listen to Chan’s FB talk. So I did. It was classic Francis Chan. By that I mean, he preached the Gospel and told them that they needed Jesus. And what of his bashing of The Church and airing the dirty laundry? The speech was 48 minutes long. In those 48 minutes, he spoke about it for 2 minutes and 20 seconds. During those minutes, he was actually answering a question about how he got to the point of doing “We Are Church.” It was comical that the podcast even spent 7 minutes talking about his talk. All that, and that’s not even what I want to talk about.

Church Leaders as Shepherd

I want to talk about the stuff they said having to do with him not shepherding his church well. The reason is that most of us misunderstand what it means to call someone, Pastor (or shepherd). We want the pastor that teaches on Sunday mornings to be the guy at our bedside when we’re sick. We want to think of him or her as a shepherd who lovingly tends to the needs of his flock. At the same time, we really just want that person to stay on the platform, teach what the bible says and never really getting into our lives. Then we can pick and choose what we take from the sermon.

I get frustrated that the church has (and the pastor) has allowed that to be how we define shepherd and then gets mad when he doesn’t something like leave because he really isn’t shepherding. So I want to talk about that. I think the best way to do that is just post my reply to my friend’s comments. When he posted the link to the podcast, he said that this was what he mostly knew about Chan leaving and he thought they made some good points about shepherding.

My Response

They do make some good arguments about being a shepherd. But, they kind of misapply it. Like with Paul. They talk about how he never left the churches he was a part of. But, that couldn't be farther from the truth. There are churches he planted, stayed with for three years and then never was able to go back to. He did write them, but that isn't the same as being there to shepherd them. The best part is that these guys tried to put Paul into a shepherd role and he was clearly an Apostle/Teacher. In Chan’s case, maybe he was given to the Church as the gift of shepherd.

Unfortunately, most pastors today, especially in mega-churches, don't get to be shepherds, even if they are gifted as one. Because institutional church focuses on the weekly gathering, pastors are shoved into Teacher/Preacher roles. Some who have a genuine heart to add small groups to their church model (and not from a place of, "that's just the model") are more along the lines of Apostle. But shepherd? Based on what a shepherd should be doing, most pastors are not. If Chan is gifted as a shepherd, he's likely getting to live out that gifting better, in his current setting, than he was able to with a 5,000 person congregation.

Obviously I wasn't there when Chan left, but while it was happening I tried to follow it as closely as possible. From what I understood, there were years of conversations with elders and leaders and sermons pleading with the congregation, all to little or no avail. My hope is that he wasn't the only pastor on staff that was capable of leading that church. A congregation that size has to have more than one shepherd. Whether they realized it or not, is another thing altogether. At the end of the day, if he was trying to be obedient to God's call (whether it was to leave or simply work in his gifting), we can't know that.

As for him airing the church's "dirty laundry" to the "wolf". Maybe he did. Maybe he shouldn't have told the employees of FB. I haven't heard the speech so I don't know. But, I understood it to be about leadership and that is the context that Chan lead in. One of the things that frustrates me is the way we, in the church, aren't permitted to talk about where we miss the mark and that somehow there are topics and people (celebrity pastors) who are off limits. Lest we forget that the whole first section of Revelation is Jesus publically proclaiming the shortcomings and failures of the Church, His bride. I'd rather have that conversation and fix it, in front of the world, than hear Jesus say it.

In fact, I think it can work in the favor of the church if we, the body, are honest about where we fail and how we're trying to live that out in following Christ better. It's more honest and gets rid of the "perfect Christian" persona that pushes people away from Christ, lest they be the same hypocrites. And I'm not saying that we can't be "perfect", but that we can be more honest about our progression toward perfection involving a really messy process. I don't think he was airing dirty laundry to the wolf, more than he was just sharing where they failed to live in their calling as the bride.

Anyway, I feel like maybe the guys on the podcast tried to boil down a process that took years into a 7-minute conversation and that's difficult to do.

Stop Obsessing Over your Call from God

Call

Like many Christians, I used to worry a lot about my “calling”. Most of the worry has to do with the pressure leaders place on the importance of finding and fulfilling that “one thing” we are supposed to do for God. These leaders never intend that to be the case. Most, if not all, simply want us to realize and accept the invitation that God extends to us to join Him in His work. Unfortunately, it can often come off in a way that it is the most important thing we need to figure out. Almost as if not figuring it out makes us ineffective in God’s kingdom.

So we wrestle with it and pray about it. Then we seek counsel on it and listen real hard to hear God call us. And we get frustrated because we do not hear it as clearly as Moses did with the burning bush thing. But the thing is, I think it is a lot easier than all that.

The Clarity of Our Call

In fact, I think He has pretty clearly outlined our calling in the bible. For the last few years I’ve had this conversation with people: lots of young adults, my kids, newly married couples, my middle-aged friends. After awhile I started to become more frustrated with how none of us realize how simple God has made it. So I decided to write a book about it. Well, the book is actually about how Jesus only gave us three specific commands and how one of them, I think, is the key to obeying the others. But, the undertone of the book deals with our calling as followers of Jesus. I’m hoping to have the book done by the end of August and ready for release by early spring 2018, but until then, I wanted to share this secret. Ready?

As Christians, we all have one calling. Yep, you read that correctly. We are all called to one singular thing and it is the same for all of us. Actually, to be fair, our calling is truly made up of a few different elements. Specifically it is made up of three commands and one commission. That is our calling, obedience to three commands and one commissioning. So what are they?

Three Commands and a Commission 

I know this seems too easy to be true, but it really is not. I am confident that God was clear about two things: 1) how to get to Him (spoiler, Jesus) and 2) what we are supposed to do after we confess Jesus, so others can get to Him. Number two is our calling. It is THE thing that God is calling us all into. We, as Christians, all share in the exact same call of Christ. Here they are:

He commands us to:

  • Love God – Matthew 22:37
  • Love Our Neighbor – Matthew 22:39
  • Love Other Christians – John 13:3

He commissions us to:

  • Be my Witness and Make Disciples – Matthew 28:19 & Acts 1:8

Jesus was pretty clear at the end of Matthew 22, after he acknowledged the two most important commands. In verse 40 He said, “All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” He was saying that our obedience to everything in the Old Testament depends on our understanding of and obedience to these two commands. Then He gave His followers the new command to love each other. I think there is a lot in that, but you will need to get the book to read my thoughts on that. In the big picture those commands are not always easy to follow, but I think they are pretty simple to understand.

After identifying the commands that we ought to be obeying, He commissioned us to be His witnesses to an unbelieving world and teach others to obey those commands. That’s our calling. Simple, right? I know some of you are saying, “But, I know my calling is to youth ministry.” So let’s talk about that.

Your Call to Youth Ministry

Really it can be any call, youth, any other vocational pastorate, para-church ministry, or even Taco Bell. I am not suggesting that God is not calling you to any of those things; there is a high likelihood you are, again I am not arguing that. But, the context & setting in which we do “ministry” is inconsequential if we do not accept loving & going as our call. More and more, I am certain that when you understand and accept that this is what God is calling us to, He will direct that call toward a specific group or cause. Chances are you probably already care about the thing you feel “called” to; you just need to align it with what God has already commanded and commissioned us to do.

My hope is that this frees someone who feels like they are not doing something “impactful” for the Kingdom. Here is the truth, the most important thing you can do for God, and other people, is whatever you are doing for them right now, as long as it is done with a lovingness that introduces people to Jesus. If you are not doing anything right now, just pick something. What you do and where you do it is often of little concern. So, just do something that puts the love of Jesus on display for others to see and feel. That is your call.

photo: Flickr/Sean MacEntee
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