Christ Follower: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
I stood at the side of the stage talking to a young musician in his late twenties. He was telling me how he had been brought up in an evangelical household and had even played in the church’s praise band. When I asked him if he still went to church, he became slightly uncomfortable and replied, “No, I’m a Christ follower, but I’ve had enough of the Church”. We chatted for a few more minutes and I wished him well as he got on the stage to play.
It was not an unusual conversation these days. I’ve had the same discussion with people in their teens and people in their sixties.
Yet, there is a problem with the lack of resolution in these conversations. To acknowledge Christ and his work, does not stop at the Cross, or the empty tomb, or even at his ascension into heaven. The death, resurrection and ascension of Christ was the manner in which God chose to engage the human race in a way that was to continue and grow until the end of the age. In some sense, it was the beginning, not the end, of God’s work among us. If we had to try and define what Christianity is all about, or to define its purpose, it is to bring that grace, power, love and truth to each succeeding generation. Yet, this does not happen in isolation. We remain, in each succeeding generation, dependent upon those who make Christ known by what they say, or by what they write, or even by their mere influence upon us. While we might try to live a Christian life in isolation, we enter the Christian life, in almost every case, owing to another. Moreover, that “other” who influences or speaks to us, is likewise connected to others of like mind, in our own time or in the time of those who came before us stretching across the generations. In that process of “connection” we see, even if in a simple or rudimentary form, a society or institution that we identify as the Church.
From the earliest times, to be a follower of Christ involved at least three points of identification. Firstly, one acknowledged that “Jesus is Lord”. Secondly, one lived one’s life with an ethic based upon the teachings of Christ in the Gospels and informed by those letters of the Apostles which one may have been able to read or hear. Lastly, one belonged to a society. This society provided for a manner, or rite, of initiation which was baptism. Once a member of this society, the central act of worship and fellowship was the corporate participation in the death and resurrection of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, also known as Holy Communion or the Eucharist. Through the centuries, these three simple points of identification would become increasingly elaborate and often weighed down with theological propositions. Nevertheless, although the simplicity of these points of identification may have become obscured through time, they remain valid as to what defines a follower of Christ some 2000 years later.
Moreover, we must confess that through the centuries more than “theological propositions” or elaborate ceremonial obscured the simplicity of these points of identification. Often, the society which was to share Christ with others actually prevented Christ from being seen owing to scandals, moral compromises, quarrels, divisions, intellectual distortions, and much more that was shameful. As a result, we are left with a puzzle. There is a society, the Church, the chief purpose of which is to have knowledge of Christ, to teach about Christ, to bring people into fellowship with Christ; yet, at the same time, this very same society conceals Christ and misrepresents Christ owing to human weakness, moral failures or intellectual dishonesty.
Like Christ, this society is both human and divine. Ours, however, is a fallen humanity. We are human in our scandals, in our moral failures, in our crude partisanship, in our lack of love. Nevertheless, within this society there is something divine, because within it is the risen Christ and the life of the Holy Spirit. I think that it is owing to this “dual nature” that this society, the Church, seems to stumble though the pages of history going from disasters to revivals and back again, yet always, so it seems, with a remnant who take it forward to the next generation.
I have often wondered, however, how that remnant remains? Additionally, how do we reach out to those who have “had enough with Church”. In both cases, I think it is a return to those three points of identification and, perhaps more importantly, what those points of identification signify – that of being a servant in the Church and the world.
To acknowledge that “Jesus is Lord” may mean many things, but chief among them is to be a servant. This is the practical service indicated by the word diakonos (deacon) and it is also the servitude expressed by the word doulos, which is not about the practical matters of “what we do”, but of a relationship – that of being owned by another. It is about “who we are” in that relationship. In being owned by another we give up our rights, our claims of preeminence. Yet, it is not mere servitude, for in baptism we become a part of his family – sons and daughters – given over to a Christ-possessed existence where we serve together. It is in that Christ-possessed existence that Christ himself comes to us as we worship together and partake of his Supper. As we serve him, he gives himself to us – all of us. This is where we hear the good news that enables us, however falteringly, to live the lives that we are called to live in the Gospels as others walk beside us. This is uniquely the life of the society that we call the Church. It is how the remnant remains and it is what we call others to share with us. This is the essence of who we are.
Outside of this society, one might seek to be a solitary “Christ follower”, but, in reality, it is a contradiction in terms. Christ has already shown us the way to follow… and it is not in isolation, but in the society of others who follow him.
“There is a society, the Church, the chief purpose of which is to have knowledge of Christ, to teach about Christ, to bring people into fellowship with Christ; yet, at the same time, this very same society conceals Christ and misrepresents Christ owing to human weakness, moral failures or intellectual dishonesty.”
I have no idea how to overcome this…other than being what I want others to see about the church.
It remains a monumental problem…
Maybe we pew sitters need a few sermons on how to spot and overcome the toxic gate keepers that have become too common in churches today…. Perhaps, a fruit of prosperity gospel preached to evangelicals today? Perhaps, the advice given in the last third of the 20th century in our seminaries to build your church with homogenous members in order to have harmony ? Dunno… But, from down here in the pews i can tell you too many churches do have self appointed (and, perhaps, hypocritical ) gate keepers … at least they do in this part of the world… It’s not your soul, it is your dress that gives you entrance… Maybe only evangelicals do this? Maybe, but i wouldn’t be surprised to find some other pews for sale, too ?
The only way, in my thinking, is to deal with ourselves (as you say). Additionally, perhaps in some gatherings our expectations should be higher…
“Toxic gate keepers” seem to arise in every iteration of the Church…
“….. other than, being what I want others to see about the church.”
Michael, I think you nailed it.
Although, not just what we want others to see about church, but about the God we love and serve.
Great article Duane, and I think you articulated this distinction between those who claim to follow Christ and have left the church, and those who are faithful in their local church community.
First, I am sympathetic to those who have left the church. I’m a pastor and I want to leave the church most days. I also realize that if I left the church and reclassified myself as a “Christ follower,” I risk becoming like a man I know who reads the Bible, listens to Christian radio (which I think should be banned in most cases), and then develops his own theology without the assistance of living a life within a Christian community. As is often the case, such an existence is a hotbed for the construction of both bad orthodoxy and orthopraxy. The many facets of church community involvement tempers our hermeneutic and keeps it from becoming tainted by the self.
The Christian who attempts to stand alone without the engagement of Christian community not only lessens the effectiveness to serve others, but they also miss out on opportunities for personal growth, but not being in situations that challenge them.
I think there is the necessity of private devotional practice for deep spiritual growth to happen. Anthony understood this well, but even he left his monastic practice at some point to engage with the rest of society. It is a delicate balance, one that is often missed by the church, particularly evangelicals, who stress the extreme of community, where people are overly stimulated with a combination of mid-week studies, sermon based home groups( which I see as a control mechanism), regular outreach activities, and service to the church community at their meeting place. We need both solitude and societal engagement to construct a healthy spirituality.
Dr. Duane, today i’m wondering if we, the pew sitters, should take more responsibility for policing these folk… Have we gone overboard on tolerance ?
Many thanks, and I very much agree with you. Additionally, the solitary “Christ follower” usually constructs a “platonic ideal” of what the Church should be that no body of believers can ever achieve. Thus, their separation from a community of faith becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy…
Rather than policing such people, I think that the aim should be for a healthy community of faith in which such gatekeepers are simply “out of place”!
I find that most who are fed up with the church are those who think church is about themselves. They are selfish and ignore their role to others.
I think there is more than enough blame to go around…
MLD, hmmm…. I suspect your observation is predominate in leadership… ? while it may apply here and there, IMV it is an easy and dismissive answer
Duane, I think the abusive “gatekeeper” or whatever we are calling the bad pastor or system is why people leave “a” church – not “the” church.
How many time did we see in the hot rockin’ days of this blog where people went from one bad / abusive church to another – and each time it was to the exact same “me” centered church. After a while it turned into I get nothing out of church, or they abused me and wouldn’t give me my way.
People need to know that church is not about them but how they serve their neighbor (the person in the Pew with them).
I would agree…
There is a lot of truth to what MLD is saying. One major, pervasive issue with he modern church is the consumer culture.
Also loved all that PatorMike wrote.
As I said above, there is enough blame to go round. I think as well, it is a matter of expectations – on the part of individuals and on the part of local churches – we can expect too much or too little of both.
MLD @ 11:53…
I don’t think the pastors are very often the “gate keepers” – at least not the folk guilty of chasing off serious Christians….
Although, come to think of it, i have been corrected twice in my life for my social skills, both times by Lutheran pastors… Once in a wedding rehearsal for making a quick, pertinent comment to a fellow bridesmaid and years later when i prepared a lunch for a traveling pastor and i had not supplied any beer LOL
Em, but do those kinds of things rise to the level of reasons to leave the church altogether?
No, MLD, they don’t…
I was simply pondering how much shepherding i’ve seen among pastors i’ve known… what kind… not much…. Presbyterian, So. Baptist, United Bretheren, CMA, Baptist…. well i know one of them that would not have hesitated to call you out, if necessary….
It does seem to me that a congregation should have no tolerance for those who think their job is to keep out people that they just don’t like…
I don’t think their litmus is spirituality… dunno, but i don’t think it is… ?. should it be?
Articles similar to this, on the need for Christians to participate in the Church, come up regularly at places like TGC. I agree with the thesis but I’m often (at least for TGC-like ones) annoyed by the subtext. In my imagining (which may be wrong), the writer is a pastor at a conventional church. He rightly argues that Christians need Christian community, but he wants these unconnected believers to join his church and fit in with how that church operates and give financially (paying his salary).
(except He set it up to entrust us to be His ambassadors to the world
…because we humans fail miserably at being His representatives
…because we humans fail miserably at being His representatives
Is there a hashtag character limit? Asking for a friend?
I get that.
Duane is retired and I have a home church..so we are in a unique position to be able to address these issues without that baggage…
Oh my, take a break for a drink and dinner and look what happens!
The lack of pastoral care in many churches is real. If we want scandals, just look on the news blogs. Regardless, there is still a world to reach for the sake of Christ. Making excuses or saying we’ll wait for God to do it, really does not address the issue. Some would rather ignore or simply say “nothing we can do”. Sorry, I don’t believe that. We each have limited opportunities in the places that we serve, but they are opportunities, nonetheless. Shouldn’t we put our energy into the work of the kingdom? Then again, it’s easier to simply comment from the sidelines.
Duane, no one said just let God do it. Perhaps you read the blog posts too soon after the drinks. 🙂
But I must say I am sorry that your church experience is so lacking. My church is all about pastoral care. We are just finishing up the 6 month season where our church body doubles as we provide a church home for those who need temporary spiritual care. ***and it is not just my church, but all 50 in town serve the same role. The same for the 6 weeks of spring break going on currently as thousands of college students have descended upon us. Churches provide free breakfast and waters all along the London Bridge and channel.***
I wonder, does anyone here belong to a church that runs from pastoral or community care?
Sorry, I should have remembered that I must exclude the “perfection of your tribe” when making any critical comments…
That is the issue. You speak in terms of perfection – if it is not all perfect, tied up in a nice bow it is then worthy of a critical article. I am telling you that by far the great majority of churches are busting a gut to serve in community and contrary to what G said, Jesus does not need new PR.
It’s not my “tribe” as you conveniently skipped over the part where I gave credit to all 50 churches in my town – but that doesn’t work in you narrative.
I will not let the experience of your disgruntled guitar playing friend who is fed up with church at 20 color what I have experienced in over 30 yrs of church work.
But as I said, I guess we come from different experiences.
“You speak in terms of perfection…”
Where? When? Or just made up… again?
I must exclude the “perfection of your tribe.”
So you go to work in your article and comments on those who are “less than perfect.”
“So you go to work in your article and comments on those who are ‘less than perfect.'”
Quote marks should be reserved for actual quotes… not what you’ve just made up… again.
Nice deflection from your animosity towards the local church. Go ahead correct my grammar.
“Nice deflection from your animosity towards the local church…”
Yet one more false statement… seems to be your specialty.
The continual drumbeat of “the church is not doing it right” grows old. The generalities based mostly on internet reports and very little first hand knowledge is a weak account.
We could look at the church in the Bible and draw the same conclusions of abuse by pastors and lack of involvement of the congregation if you just read my report.
1.) Acts 6 the problem of the widows. The pastors said to the effect ‘we don’t have time for this B.S. – we have books to read – handle it yourself.’
2.) Mark when he did not live up to the demands of Paul was expelled from the school of ministry. When Silas tried to lobby for his reinstatement he was told by the Senior Pastor Paul that if he did not like it, he too could leave and join Mark in his expulsion.
3.) 1 John 2 we see people leaving the church, but we do not see John and the leaders pondering what they did wrong or what they could have done better to keep these poor souls from leaving the church. No! they declared that those parishioners were unbelievers and anti Christ. Yikes, don’t piss of Senior Pastor John!
4.) and what about Hymenaeus and Alexander? Boy, get on senior Pastor Paul’s bad side, not only will you get tossed out of the church but handed over to Satan.
5.) and Jesus, when his followers disagree with him, does he form a study group to figure out why they are losing followers? Nope, just a ‘don’t let the door hit you in the butt on your way out.’
Yep, bullies in the church since the beginning – or at least that is the way it appears on the surface. This is what the internet tales look like when they are not thought over or investigated. In the mean time, the work of 99% of all churches is overlooked.
There are some churches that are doing what the church is called to do.
That is true.
It is also true that many of them are not…the numbers don’t lie…there are more going out the back door than the front, more going in the ground than the waters of baptism.
The internet is simply giving voice to those who have been silenced and there are many voices in the new choir.
We can ignore them, write them off as Christ haters, and watch the destruction or we can try to see where we can do better.
This blog will always try to do better…
This is my point – it is not good enough to say “some” churches are doing good and to then compare that to the “many” that are doing bad.
It’s not “some” – it is the vast majority. and the “many” are not many, they are the vast minority.
I give it the empirical test and watch to see what is happening in my community. Much good work done by the great 99% – the internet accounts to me are foreign and the minute exception — but they make the news.
I cannot argue against your experience, nor you mine…I know what the numbers and almost two decades of writing on the subject tell me.
The point of the article is the last paragraph which, at least in my reading, has nothing whatsoever to do with your observations…
Michael – I look elsewhere for the reason so many leave through the back door. I see it in the parable of the the sower and the wheat and tares. By far the reason is that the church attracts false believers and they leave. The 1 John 2 passage I used above states just that.
I put the backdoor at the feet of the altar call and crusade evangelism.
Yes, some churches / pastors chase away people – but again, that is why people leave “a” church – not why people leave “the” church. But we obviously differ. 🙂
I think it is a combination of factors:
1. As you’ve said… “Wheat and Tares”, etc.
2. As Michael has said… personality based churches, pastoral practice (or the lack thereof) etc.
3. Many institutions – including some churches (and denominations) – are simply deemed irrelevant. Private clubs are closing in most cities. Service organizations (Rotary and the like) find it harder to attract members. Chambers of Commerce are filled with “old white men” as people find other ways to “network”. It is not just the churches.
4. We have fewer children, fewer life-long marriages and we are much more mobile. At 20+ years in our home, we are considered “old timers” in our neighborhood.
5. Our evangelical emphasis on a “personal relationship with Christ”, by its very nature, discounted the importance of Church, the sacramental life, and much that was normative for centuries.
6. Our society values individualism and the “Do It Yourself” ethos while concurrently devaluing expertise and corporate efforts.
I don’t think we can say it is any “one thing”. It may be more like a “perfect storm” as all this has converged in recent years…
Duane – hold on – I agree 100%.
I said a couple of years ago, Angie’s List dropped membership and fees because millennials do not commit or join anything.
I always loved the evangelical selling point – get saved and have a personal relationship with Jesus. Such a fake and non christian selling point – all people in the world already have a personal relationship with Jesus … either as savior of judge.
That’s a good list. If I could add to it, I would add a #7: Bad theology, which burns out the faith for some people, or which creates dissonance between what is taught and is experienced for other people. Or put another way, this bad theology promises what it can’t deliver in the lives of folks, and many of these folks conclude it is a fraud after a period of time.
I’m increasingly concerned not simply about “bad theology” but also about those (pastors and people) who are “atheological”. It’s not that it is “bad”, it is essentially non-existent. Once again, when you sideline education (formal seminary education and adult Christian education) and expertise (more and more seminaries no longer require biblical languages and offer only a single course in Church History) you are left with a “fill in the blank” theology of “How do you feel about ________” We see this fill in the blank theology in sermons, worship, social concerns and much more. Again, we seem to be in the age of “do it yourself” whether it’s putting together a piece of furniture from IKEA or doing theology.
Duane, what you just described is true, and has been a hallmark of mainline Protestantism for some time. It’s hard to find a spiritual anchor in that environment.
I think what you are describing regarding history and languages is a disconnect from the past. I spoke to a seminary student who is attending a catholic seminary and most of their curriculum in the first year is philosophy. They are teaching their students the basis for how Western culture thinks.
Our popular culture moved away from serious academics years ago, and as it is often the case, the church followed suit. For years now we have church plants who start by going door-to-door inquiring of “felt needs,” along with a simplistic form of biblical teaching that “simply teaches the Bible simply.” What I have found is that many people are either biblically illiterate, have only been taught one construct of theology, or both. Those folks who come to our church from that type of teaching ministry either have an adjustment phase they go through, or they end up leaving.
I’m curious Jean, what “bad theology” is, and who is in the place to make such determinations? Every systematic theology, when pushed to the edges will eventually fall short in answering all the questions, but that in itself does not necessarily make it bad.
“I’m curious Jean, what “bad theology” is, and who is in the place to make such determinations?”
In the context of my comment to Duane, I was talking about theologies in the following categories:
(1) prosperity theologies, which promise adherents health, wealth and/or happy marriages and families.
(2) pentecostal theologies, which promise adherents confirmation of God’s grace and access to God through charasmatic experiences, such as tongues or praise music.
(3) moralistic theologies, which promise God’s favor and tangible rewards through righteous living.
This is what I was driving at. These theologies promise tangible results here and now, appealing to people’s fleshly desires. The proponents of these theologies (particularly 1 & 2) are under constant pressure to reinvent themselves, to repackage their messages and programs, to keep things fresh and new, to give people new (exciting, interesting, entertaining) experiences and programs. Like a drug addiction, what was new yesterday becomes dull tomorrow, and so the church must innovate to stay relevant, or some people will look elsewhere or just drop out.
They neglect (or worse) the theologies of sin, the cross, the tangible means of grace, faith in the external promises of God, suffering, and a right understanding of holiness.
By contrast, biblical Christianity proclaims the way things actually are between God and mankind, what God has done about our pitiful plight, and what he is doing for his entire creation in and through Jesus Christ.
Imagine the harm that has been done to individuals, families and the reputation of the church by theologies that spawned conversion therapy. Instead of conversion therapy, God promises the forgiveness of sins and new creation! I could give more examples, but I would urge church leaders to hand over to people the actual goods, and not a counterfeit which seems relevant or attractive to unbelievers, but fails in the long run. God’s gifts in the the Gospel are real, do deliver, and can be received by people today through the call and sanctification of the Holy Spirit.
Personal relationship with Jesus? Hmmm Churches forming deputation teams to go out and do good deeds? Hmmm
Well, if Jesus Christ isn’t real and personal, a church goer hasn’t joined The Church family yet – IMO. ?
Team good deeds put the church reputation right up there with the Masonic Lodge… But that is not to say that such deeds shouldn’t be part of a church’s activities… IMO again
You can hand out sandwiches and clean socks Friday night, but do you stick your nose in the air and ignore those poor souls the rest of the week? I’m not saying one should risk bodily harm from a desperate drug addict. Common sense and kindness go hand in hand. God give us strength and wisdom…
G-man has one thing right when he promotes individual, one on one Christ-like living (probably he has other things right, but i don’t track the man that closely ? )
Yes, it is a disconnect from the past and it is so unfortunate. I’ve watched the decline. It really started in earnest (or so it seems to me) in the mid 1980s. The mainline seminaries, I believe, felt threatened by the rise of evangelicalism in the 60s and 70s, both here and in the UK. The curriculum began to shift from the academic to the practicalities of “church growth” (read this as evangelicalism without the work of the Holy Spirit or even the need to be Bible based). So, it became the building, the parking lot, locations in growing suburbs, sermons addressing “felt needs”, and all the rest. With this shift, biblical languages became truncated or abandoned. Church history classes were reduced from four (the standard) to one (now somewhat normative). This created a “split” in ministerial training with academically inclined clergy going on to higher degrees and hoping for an academic post (which often did not materialize) and parish clergy interested only in numbers and marketing. By 2010 numerous seminaries had begun to shrink, close, move online or come up with some mode of survival with fewer and fewer attending.
Now, those ordained before the mid 80s are now reaching retirement age or have, in fact, retired. There are few to take their place and those there are have received what can only be described as a “lackluster theological education”. To put it bluntly, “the chickens are coming home to roost”.
On my 10:23 – sorry to paint with such a “broad brush” (there are exceptions, of course) but I was trying to describe the trend…
I think it is MLD who likes to point out that today we live in the most comfortable times in the history of mankind…..
I wonder if that peace and safety focus skews our thinking? We don’t need a deity for anything other than a reminder to be nice… smile, say please and thank you? … maybe we don’t even need that …?….
Em, it’s not me – I think it may be Michael.
I am the one who says we live as deep in sin as mankind always has.
I pronounce no peace and safety as they very next step on the prophetic timeline is the return of Jesus for final judgement.
But we do have pretty good technology, medicine and toilet paper, so things are pretty good. 🙂
MLD, sorry ?
Toilet paper must beat catalog pages, but i thank God for our indoor plumbing and sewer systems
Sin is sin, but….
depravity does have degrees … or so it seems to me
This reminds me of the parody commercial series made by ‘Community Christian Church’ over a decade ago.
“I’m a Christ Follower”
Yes I agree with the sentiment about church organizations, but to reject the organization, call oneself a “Christ Follower” and then to live no different than the world around us seems a bit wrong.
In my opinion we model who our teachers /heroes are. That could be the organization, a person, philosophy, band or what ever we find value in. The young man’s statement contradicts itself and while I understand the frustration with church, I don’t think it is possible to separate from all the other people who “follow Christ” if one is truely His student.
I might also ask the question, how can we become “Christ Followers” if we don’t know who He is? Which follow with the next question, how do we learn who He is?
Just my thoughts.
Good reflection. I think many today, such as the young man, can say things with absolute sincerity… but miss the point. No one has taken the time to explain that following Christ involves the society of other believers…