Transient American Culture
When I was a kid, pop came in glass bottles which could be returned to the store for a nickel, and lighters were refilled with lighter fluid. I remember when disposable plastic pop bottles and disposable “bic” lighters were introduced. It was a strange feeling to just throw pop bottles and lighters away! But we learned the convenience of disposable things.
I have a friend, we’ll call Bob. Bob moved over a dozen times growing up. At first when Bob moved on to the next place, it felt strange to just leave his home and friends. Bob learned to not get attached to people, because he knew he would be moving on before long. Eventually, Bob began relating to people superficially and learned the convenience of disposable relationships.
We live amazingly transient lives, especially in terms of relationships. We divorce, move, change jobs, and churches with little thought or care of how it may affect others. In short, we live for ourselves, and if others are negatively affected by our transitions, too bad for them.
American churches are filled with transient people accustomed to disposable lighters and disposable relationships. People so accustomed to transient living that they no longer know how to genuinely relate to others. These transient people come to church, engage in superficial, personally convenient relationships that will soon be discarded, so they can move along to another church where the cycle will be repeated again and again. Welcome, my friend, to the disposable church. Use it for a while, then throw it away and get a new one!
The disposable church has advantages. There is little accountability, no relational vulnerability, no commitment, and no sticky submission to the spiritual authority of elders. This is personally convenient, “me-centered” Christianity– just do as YOU please. Live for yourself, have it your way– oh, and be sure to tell everyone that all of your transient behavior is God’s will for you.
Authentic Christian Community
By huge contrast, the Biblical vision in Acts (see especially 2:42-47; 4:32-37; 5:1-11; 5:42-6:7; etc.), calls for us to live under the lordship of Jesus in authentic Christian community. I believe real Christianity is best lived in a given context over an extended period of time. When we live, work, worship, and relate to people in a given context over decades, we learn; (1) how to relate vulnerably to others, (2) how to grow through adversity, (3) how to practice real submission to God and to spiritual authority, and (4) how to truly love God. Let’s look at each one a little closer.
1. How to relate vulnerably over time to others. Many people in the Christian Church talk about community, but few stay anywhere long enough to experience it. Transient, selfish living cauterizes our relational vulnerability. Because we know we’re going to pack our bags shortly, we do not allow ourselves to be vulnerable and experience real Christian fellowship. Here is what happens all too often in the Body of Christ. Two women, we’ll say Joan and Lori, meet at church and become friends. Joan tries to relate openly and vulnerably with Lori, desiring a growing, long-term relationship that produces real fruit and maturity. Lori relates superficially because she has moved so many times, and will likely move again soon. Time passes and the friendship develops. Predictably, Lori moves away. Tragically, Joan is devastated and feels betrayed by her friend leaving. Joan thought she mattered to her friend and was deeply wounded that Lori just up and left. Round two. Joan and Lori, each meet new friends in their respective churches a year later. How will each approach their new friendship? With vulnerability? Hardly! This is the modern tragedy of Christian fellowship– our relational vulnerabilities are all but dead by constant transitions in life. However, if we invest decades in long-term vulnerable relationships, we will drink deeply from the joyful springs of real Christian community.
2. How to practice real submission to God and to spiritual authority. One of the great tragedies today is individualized Christianity. We have perverted the glorious truth of the priesthood of every believer to mean that every believer is a “church” to themselves, accountable and submitting only to themselves. But submission to oneself is nonsensical. Submission is real, and only real, when our desires and lives are yielded toanother. In Scripture, we are called to submit to the Lordship of Jesus and to those He has placed in spiritual leadership in our lives (Hebrews 13:7, 17; 1 Peter 5:1-7). This, of course, runs counter to transient, selfish living. At the first hint of trouble, people run from church to church, instead of iron sharpening iron, and growing mature through challenges. When people hop from one church to another– can we seriously describe them as submitted to the Lordship of Christ? No, they are submitted to their own lordship and to the modern debacle of the disposable church.
3. How to truly love God. My faith in Jesus is like my love for my wife in one significant way– feelings are nice, but they come and go, and I cannot base my faith or love on feelings. My love for my wife grows as I am in vital relationship with her over time. When my “feelings” for my wife are at a low level, I do not claim that I am no longer in love with her and seek a divorce. I persevere through those times and my love deepens and matures for my wife. Emotional ebbs and flows, and conflicts, are inevitable in every relationship. True love, true faith, perseveres through adversity and matures (Rom.5:3-5; Jam. 2:2-4). Our love for Christ grows best in the context of close relationships in the Body of Christ over a long period of time (Rom. 12:5-16; Eph. 4:11-16; Col. 3:12-15; Phil. 4:2-3; 1 Thess. 3:12; 4:9; 1 Peter 3:8; etc.). If we transition out at the first hint of conflict, or before, then we fail to truly grow in our love for each other, and ultimately, our love for God. People who live transient and selfish lives miss out on experiencing the true love of God in meaningful relationships over the years.
Some may object, “Doesn’t God call us to change churches sometimes?” While this is an interesting question to explore in the New Testament, my answer is an emphatic, yes! There are times when for the sake of some core theological issue, we should leave a church and find a new Church home where we can grow and serve. Yet, beloved, if this is happening every few years we are probably changing churches in accordance with transient, selfish living more than for real theological matters. Someone else may object, “Didn’t the apostle Paul travel live a transient life?” Yes, he was a missionary church planter! If God has called you to be a missionary church planter, wonderful– then plant churches! Another may object, “Weren’t the Israelites nomadic and always on the move?” Not really. Wandering in the wilderness was a punishment for disobedience and lack of faith. Settling down in the promised-land was God’s blessing. Being uprooted from the promised-land was a punishment. Transient behavior is so much a part of our lives, that some of us grow restless anywhere after a few years, and need to move because of our unhealthy past drives us to transition rather than grow in community. Someone else may protest, “Doesn’t everyone transition from their parent’s home to their own?” Of course! There is a natural season of transition from one’s parents (late teens) to establishing one’s own home (early twenties). There is a difference between this transition and transient American living.
Why am I writing this article?
To encourage the family at Eagan Hills to embrace real Christianity! I want all of us to experience the transforming power of maturing relationships in the body of Christ. I want you to know the wonder of real submission to the Lordship of Jesus and His church, and to drink deeply of God’s love through the Body. It’s amazing to be sharpened by each other over decades. To help each other raise children to impact this world. To watch our kids come to genuine faith, be baptized, married, and raise families in the context of Christ’s family here at Eagan Hills. Go ahead, call me a dreamer– but I want you to know something– I am personally devoted to living this dream! I invite you to join me. Beloved, with all my heart I desire you to experience authentic Christian community in the body of Christ over the long haul, and not the disposable church.