McDonalds is not my favorite place to eat and in fact I may have spoiled my kids from even gracing the doors of Ronald’s place because of all the times we stopped there on road trips. It was simply one of the cheapest and quickest ways to get food to go while on long vacation drives. And although not my favorite place to eat, there is one thing about McDonalds I do really appreciate – if you go to a Mickey Ds in Tulsa, San Diego, Hawaii or DC you know exactly what is on the menu and how it is going to taste, in other words, consistency. Just this week I had a double quarter pounder w/cheese for the first time in several years and it was exactly as I remember it from years previous.
This is where I believe the church could learn a lesson. This blog will not be so much about which is right or wrong, but rather exposing some of the inconsistencies Barbie and I have witnessed over the years. Some have not impacted our lives very much and others more so.
I will start with a short caveat about our time in Israel in the late 70’s and early 80’s. We were part of an organization made up of Christians from all denominational backgrounds and many different countries. Some were conservative dispensationalist, some more liberal Europeans still others were looser independent charismatics. This variety made little difference in our fellowship as we were focused on a bigger, God given, goal of service to the Jewish people. Our unity of purpose made those theological issues pale in comparison. This common goal allowed us to be very consistent in the expression of our commitment and love.
Some years after returning to the states, we felt it necessary to switch churches when one of the elders at the church we were attending decried what became known as the Toronto blessing or renewal movement as being from Satan. And although I might have agreed that some of what was exhibited early on was pretty weird and not exactly in scripture, I was not ready to throw the whole movement under the bus because of a few bad passengers. A few years later we were applying to be part of a Christian organization which ministers to the military. We had nearly completed the application process when presented with a form indicating we must not practice glossolalia – or speaking in tongues. Now I personally don’t get bent out of shape if someone speaks in tongues or not, but I do know there is a scripture rebuking anyone who tries to forbid it (1 Cor.14:39) This one seemed like déjà vu from when I was 11 and our family was kicked out of the Baptist church for speaking in tongues.
This next one might seem a bit odd as we now attend an AG church (which traditionally prohibits alcohol), but what is the deal with trying to dictate abstention from any alcohol? Some places respectfully address it up front, such as ORU and others. One organization I was in training with over the course of almost 3 years did it a bit differently and frankly deceptively. I was taking these courses towards the goal of becoming a credentialed chaplain. In addition to the cost of the courses, I even had to travel to the DC area twice involving plane flights and hotels. After I had successfully compleated the course I was handed the final application packet in which there was a “Personal Conduct” agreement I had to sign. Most of the items listed were scripturally addressed moral issues. But then at the end was listed no alcohol consumption even for communion. I made an appeal regarding the alcohol prohibition based on the scripturally founded acceptance of alcohol which included Jesus and the disciples (as long as it did not involve drunkenness). The reply was dismissive and condescending expressing that they never indicated their conduct agreement was based on scripture. I guess one makes certain assumptions when the name “Christ” is in the title of their organization. Mind you the director and the person rejecting my appeal is morbidly obese and seems to ignore the fact scripture speaks as much about gluttony as drunkenness. Even more disturbing is the fact that even after exhorting them several times they still withhold that conduct agreement and spring it on applicants at the very end???
Another similar situation happened a couple of years ago when a prominent Christian organization canceled a speaking engagement by Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty when they found out the family had invested in a California winery. And again, as the previous illustration, the head of the organization who made the decision probably weighed at least 400 lbs. Phil was slated to share his testimony to a large gathering of young people as to how drugs, sex and alcohol almost destroyed his marriage and came close to killing him and how his walk of faith with Jesus saved his life and marriage. Do these people who “strain at a gnat” and swallow way too much camel, hamburgers, bacon and soft drinks really believe their hypocrisy is somehow lost on those young people not to mention the scrutiny of the un-churched. And consider the irony that Jesus and the 12 might not be welcome to share with those young people or lecture at some Christian universities because of their reputation of drinking and even making wine.
When it comes to worship it would come as little surprise to those of you who know us that we lean far to the side of quieter more reflective types of worship and less to the orchestrated big production worship. This dividing line has been a deal breaker for many. But truth be told, we are primarily speaking of preferences on these subjects and not issues of spirituality – Seriously ……
Then there are the immersion vs. sprinkling groups, the instrument vs. no instruments churches, the Saturday vs. Sunday crowds, the transubstantiation vs. bread and grape juice people etc. etc. etc. I could go on and on listing areas where the Church is inconsistent or hypocritical on many issues that are simply not really that important to our salvation. Of course baptism and communion are vitally important, but not the precise method. The sad truth is that when we do argue or make big deals over these kinds of things, what we have done is to give the world ample fodder for their justification to reject Christ. Not because of Christ, but because of us and our stupid pet peeves or trivial issues. We do this while at the same time ignoring issues which have proven to be far more devastating to the character of the church such as porn, gossip, divorce, greed as so on. And just for the record, this is not a new issue; Paul had to addressed stuff like this in his letter to the Colossians when he mocked those trying to dictate diet going so far as to charge that we not to put up with or be bullied by people who try and control what we eat or drink. He further described these kinds of people as arrogant and resorting to worldly ways of manipulation.
Having it your way cannot be some cute advertising slogan as it serves only you and your preferences. Our goal must be to have it God’s way. In the church our consistency is not looking and tasting the same but rather showing the world the unity of calling and fellowship we have in the midst of our diversity, much like those groups in Israel. We must embrace the vast array of practices in the worldwide church (not having to do with foundational issues of salvation) as the infinitely creative nature of God and not some battle line because “Whose side are you on anyway?”