Toxic Christianity

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For whatever reason I have the same discussion multiple times over the past month.   It is asked and approached in multiple ways but it essentially comes down to “who would win: a Hogwarts trained wizard or a Jedi?”  

At this point I have given way too much thought to this question, and I feel fairly firmly the answer is a Jedi.   Now in part this is because I love Star Wars, but I am also over-prepared to make a lot of in-universe arguments as to why this is the case.  “Who would win” match-ups are common geeky conversation fodder, but I have noticed that this particular match up tends to become a bit more personal.   On multiple occasions the person I am discussing this with will eventually stop arguing who would win and instead start arguing why the wizarding world of Harry Potter is better than Star Wars.   Every time this has happened my response was not to argue, but to instead let them know that I am happy they find so much joy in those stories.   I find it fun to debate things like who might win.  However, when it comes to what people like it is my preference to let people enjoy things, and not tell them why there thing is far inferior to my thing. 

I suppose that this is a personal area of growth for me, because this was not always the case.  Many years ago, there was this weird Lord of the Rings vs. Harry Potter thing.  It occurred because the Sorcerer Stone and the Fellowship of the Ring movies were released in the same time frame.  Back then I was squarely team Tolkien, and I was prepared to say why Middle Earth was an infinitely better world than the works of J.K. Rowling.   Looking back now, it was such a silly position to stake out. 

It is not uncommon for someone to love something geeky and then take the position that all other geeky things are vastly inferior and wrong when compared to their thing.   This is a terrible position to take in fandom.  It is also a worse one to take in our faith.   Sadly, this kind of toxic Christianity might be even more common than toxic fandom. 

In the gospel of John, Jesus prays for all future Christians and the main item Jesus prays for is unity among believers.  It is the prayer of Christ, the heart of God, that we be unified and instead we are anything but.   All who love God and follow Jesus should recognize that we are on the same team.  Sadly we do not. 

One does not need to look hard to find churches that completely dismiss other churches.  It is not hard to find a church that will claim the church down the road are “not real Christians.”   This is a toxic attitude and it is a sinful attitude.  It is the same sin that leads us to foolishly believe that adopting a “if you’re not with me then you’re against me” attitude about doctrinal purity is somehow righteous.  When we butt heads with people over belief and get hot under the collar, it is not righteous anger.  It is just ugly.   

Among followers of Jesus this is not how it should be.   We can disagree with someone and still be kind.    We can disagree with someone and still choose to focus on that which unites us   I am convinced that when we all get to heaven, there are going to be people who I spend eternity with that I disagreed with.   There are going to be people in heaven, who did not vote for the same people I voted for.   There are going to be people who I will spend eternity with, which probably had very different theological beliefs than I did.    When we are before the throne of God, our interpretation of Genesis 1 is not going to matter much.  What is going to matter is does our name appear in the book of life because of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. 

Jesus prayed for unity, not uniformity.    We can still love our brothers and sisters in Christ, we can still serve them, and we can still serve with them in order to make disciples. It does not matter what our denominational affiliation is Methodist, Catholic, Baptist, independent Christian, etc.    What matters is what we all have in common:   The love, the forgiveness, and the saving grace of Jesus Christ.   That connection is far greater and far more important than anything that could possibly divide us.   

There is evidence of this in the Methodist tradition.   When the Methodist movement began to take off in England, John and Charles Wesley partnered with an old friend from their Oxford days named George Whitfield.   Like Wesley, Whitfield was an incredibly gifted preacher and they worked together to spread a revival movement across England.   However, these two men had a very strong and opposed view on how God’s grace worked in the life of people.  At first, both men saw this disagreement as a non-essential and continued to work together to save souls and make disciples.  However, this disagreement eventually sent them on their separate ways and the English revival now had two branches The Wesleyan movement and the Calvinist Methodists.   Despite this disagreement, Wesley and Whitfield remained friends.   Whitfield had a standing invitation to preach in any Wesleyan Methodist meeting house, and they shared resources with one another, and they agreed to not compete with one another for the same converts.  Even though they had a fundamental disagreement on doctrine, they came to an agreement to differ.   When Whitfield took ill and laid on his deathbed, he made the request that his “honored brother” John Wesley be the one to preach at his funeral. 

It would have been easier for Wesley and Whitfield to completely go their separate ways and cut each other off.   Because of their disagreements their relationship was strained, sometimes complicated and often messy.  However, they did not vilify one another but instead remained friends and co-workers for the gospel of Christ.   May we follow that example.  It will not be easy and it will often be messy.   We will often have to swallow our pride to focus on what is more important.   We will have to ignore the clean boxes we try to put around people, and get down in the dirt to plant seeds of faith that God can grow into discipleship.   May we always be willing to do that even if doing so makes our churches a little messy.     

 

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