Okay, before you freak out and drop to your knees to pray for my soul, read on. It’s funny this journey we are on as believers. Sometimes, God brings you through things so you can see things more clearly. I’ve been on that type of journey.
Since the Gospel was first preached in Antioch, disciples have been called Christians. It’s been a useful term over the centuries – however, it’s been so sullied with the acts of those who call themselves Christians that it has developed a bad reputation.
I don’t ever remember a time I didn’t love Jesus. I don’t ever remember a time I didn’t pray. I don’t ever remember a time that I was an “unbeliever.” Oh there was the two weeks in High School when I wondered if there really was a God. In Biology we learned about the reproduction, and the development of a fetus – that did it for me… There had to be a God. That couldn’t just happen by chance. I was sure that some intelligent Creator devised that plan.
Recently, I’ve been church-less. A lamentable situation for sure… There are plenty of churches, so I really have no excuse. When I was in South Dakota, I sort of had an excuse. We traveled and we were gone over the weekend. Whether that was a reason or an excuse, it eased any guilt I had.
Since coming back to Tennessee, my exploration for a new church home has opened my eyes to what it’s like to be an outsider. Several times, I’ve been in churches, like the ones I’ve spent most of my life in. They like altar calls. They want to make sure you’re saved. You know, come to the altar, say the words, and receive Jesus. Okay, I’m not knocking that all together but when you sit there and you know that you are the reason they are making that altar call exceptionally long – don’t want you to leave there, have a car accident, die, and go to Hell… I am sure they are well intentioned, but it’s offensive. Even if I were a heathen, it’s still offensive. It makes you feel like an outsider.
I’ve gone a very few times to the Roman Catholic church with my daughter. They don’t do altar calls. It’s a very predictable, orderly, and solemn experience. However, at my granddaughter's baptism, I was looked at with disdain by a Knight who wanted to know ARE YOU CATHOLIC? I respect that they don’t want me to receive Eucharist but somehow, it seems so exclusionary. They file past me and stare... It makes you feel like an outsider.
I’ve visited a few other places. Some worth a retry, some not… Most didn’t make me feel really welcome. Most made me feel like an outsider.
In these outsider experiences, there is one constant. All of these folks love Jesus just like I do. Yet they set up barriers for me to feel welcome. This seems to be a problem with being a Christian. We have our rules. We have our subsets of rules and we just like things the way we like them. We are very good at keeping the outsider out. My daughter said it well, "can't we go to church and hear what's right instead of what we are against?" Somehow, Christianity and exclusion, self-righteousness, and elitism have become synonymous. I don't want that label - I want to be seen more like Jesus - loving, open, caring, full of grace and mercy.
Now that God has let me see what it is to be an outsider, I’ve decided that I don’t want to be called a Christian – it just smacks of all the Pharisaical self-righteousness I have experienced of late. The Gospel doesn’t create barriers. It says “whosoever.” Jesus went to the sinners and outsiders with love, acceptance, grace, and mercy. I’m following Jesus.
I’m not opposed to the organized church. I’ll find one – soon too! I know I need to be in fellowship and have repented of my laziness. But a Christian and all that represents to those on the outside?
No, I’d rather just be known as a Jesus follower.