-Pastor Melissa Fain-
Culture is the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group. (Merriam Webster)
When many hear the word “culture,” they think of some society in another country. Often, we don’t think of ourselves, or if we do, we don’t think small enough.
Generally speaking, there is a national culture. There are also community cultures, like in a town or a city. There are also tiny cultures that form from a group of people being together like an office or school. Then there are cultures that form beyond boundaries. Baseball families have a culture. Football fans have a culture. D&D players have a culture.
One of the truths about culture is it often runs in the background. It’s the culture that holds the unwritten rules of the community and the punishment for breaking those rules. Because it runs in the background, the people within it don’t realize how it changes them and their actions.
Church culture is creepy.
To be fair, any hyper-focused culture looks creepy to the average outsider. This is because the hyper-focus causes the culture to look and act differently than the culture they naturally inhabit. Sports and D&D fans are great examples of how those cultures beyond borders can seem odd or manic to the outsider, but just runs in the background for these cultural insiders.
But Church culture is creepy.
I was completely invested in Church culture growing up. I was so invested, I had friends that made fun of me, because I was the creepy one! Seriously! I lived at the Christian bookstore, buying the Karaoke version of Christian songs so that I could sing them in Church. My music selection was almost entirely from a local Christian radio station. That was just music. Everywhere else I was completely invested too. I lived and breathed the Church.
Boy, did atheists enjoy talking to me. They knew my zealous nature, and searched me out. More often than not, to try to get me riled up like many others before me probably were. Only I wasn’t there to protect my religion like those they talked to before. I was there to test it. Many weeks ago, I explained I was systematic in my theology. This was part of that. If my faith couldn’t exist outside the Church, then it wasn’t the right faith. God created everything. God is in the darkest corners of the universe. What God wants in my life should be able to stand up to, you know, life.
None of that changed my achilles heel. I could not see the Church because I was far too invested in it. I was fully immersed in Church culture, and therefore, couldn’t truly see Church culture.
Then I wasn’t. I was forcefully taken out of Church, and the veil was lifted. It had to be lifted because…
Church is also very dangerous.
I discovered what those atheists above really wanted to do was bring out the inner monster lurking in many single minded Christians. They were specifically after the ones that never questioned their faith outside the Sunday morning walls. They wanted to see the good Christian person start to bite out when their faith was questioned. I have never met an atheist that can’t see beyond the simplicity of faith, and I was always taught to dig deeper into the text. That’s why there wasn’t an atheist that has ever caused me to bite. And, if they hit on something in my faith that didn’t make sense, they were doing me a favor because it gave me an opportunity to strengthen it and dig deeper.
First, attacking atheists is a newer strawman for Christians created by modern apologists to suggest the world is the problem, not them. This is wrong. We are called to save the enemy, and since we’ve made the atheist our enemy, we are called to save them.
Second, these atheist populations are merely poking what naturally comes out when weak faith is tested. It’s the same thing that comes out when our safety zone (the church culture) is tested. When something happens in the Church that breaks the community, it is easier to attack the person who was hurt rather than deepen faith through self reflection and change. So most take the easy way out. This means people who are attacked by the monster at the end of the Church, will often stay silent to keep from being attacked again. When you, yourself, have been attacked, you become a safe person to share woundedness with.
Did I mention Church culture is creepy?
The more disassociated from the general culture a Church culture is, the more on edge I am, and more creepy the culture appears.
I’m on edge, because we are called to go out into the world and make Disciples. When I wrote last week I wrote about the doormat phenomenon, where Churches cloister themselves in their building thinking they can evangelize from their doormat. The more disconnected they are from the general culture of the world around them, the more likely I see they are also secretly monsters that can bite out if their faith is tested.
Let me leave on this note:
The scripture that is most used to shield this phenomenon of cloistering Churches is this: We are called to be in the world, not of it. (John 15:19)
That specific scripture is about following Jesus, not the world. Well, if we were to follow Jesus we would be outside the Church just as he was outside the Temple. If we were to follow Jesus, we would be eating with sinners, and helping the wounded. In doing that, we wouldn't be hated by atheists, but by those who refuse to leave the building and do what Christ had called us to do. That's the problem. That's what makes the Church the scary kind of creepy.