Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Start a New Club

We've all been there. You have a group of friends in a tree house, or a fort at the end of the street, and you've all agreed on the name and nature of your "club." You're the "club at the end of the street," or the "club of the sandlot," or the "club of the tree house," and you're all about frog handling, spit wad shooting, acorn throwing, bike ramp building, fort-defending rough and ready business. You all have made a pact to get muddy - nevermind the scratches and scrapes - and sweaty, playing until dark or until someone's mom can be heard calling them home for dinner. There's a general understanding, and sometimes you even formalize it with spitting in the hand and shaking on it. That's the way it works! Clubs are like that. They have a culture, an understanding, a code. They work because they maintain the nature that drew together the club members in the first place.

Inevitably, somebody's sister finds the fort and decides it's perfectly okay to pay it a visit while you're in session. Sheesh! Who does she think she is?!? It's not necessarily an anti-girl thing. Plenty of "tomboys" have been members of tree fort clubs before without issue. At that age, girls are perfectly capable of not being "girly," and haven't turned all gross yet. Nevertheless, the intruding sister cares nothing for club integrity, but is plagued with the common mental disease that finds it completely acceptable to bring her Barbie doll to "The Bunker." Dolls?! In the FORT?? Heresy! Thus ensues that awkward moment when the brother, drawing on courage from his fellow club members, has to tell his sister, "Look, Sis. This club isn't like that. Dolls are okay and all, but not here. Why don't you and your friends start a new club?"

Oh, but she doesn't want to start a new club. She wants to change YOURS. Starting a new club would take too much work. It's too much effort. Perhaps she doesn't know where she'd go find members that will join her club. Maybe she can't think of a neutral spot for she and her friends to play with the Barbie set, and doesn't want them all to her room. Truth be told, she doesn't want to start a new club. She wants the camaraderie already present in your club and the fort already in existence, all without having to change her play habits to belong. She doesn't want to start her own new club. She wants to change yours to suit her! Not cool!

It's perfectly legitimate for the tree fort club to have their own club culture and rules, without the sister trying to turn it into "Barbie's tree house." That's how it works. Instead of taking it as rejection, the sister should realize that she'd be happier and more fulfilled by inviting friends over to play dolls on her living room floor. Leave the tree fort club alone. Start your own new club. What she's proposing seeks to change the tree fort club so much anyway, that by the time she's done it won't resemble the club that it was before. It will have been changed into something else. Some brave rascal needs to tell her, "That's not how we do things in the fort club. Go start your own new club."

It's the same with Christianity. Not that The Church is an exclusive club that hates women, and is focused on keeping "outsiders" out; far from it. To the contrary, Christianity has been at the cutting edge of elevating woman, championing the poor and down-trodden, including those that thought themselves not able to join, and generally existing for the benefit of its non-members. Nevertheless, having said that though, the Church has a culture. It has a history, a cohesion, a rationale for its customs and traditions. Those that join it can be confident that traditions are evaluated against its founding principles (Biblical mandates) and Founder's wishes (Jesus Christ) with each generation. To be "Christian" means that there are certain "fort club" norms to which you have agreed to conform. The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is not so complex a thing that it's difficult to get in, but it is rather distinct. The Church has a distinct culture; and that culture is comprised of people who trust the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, on their behalf, to be fully effective for paying the penalty for their sin, saving them from a deserved eternal judgment.

That central Gospel ("good news") would seem basic enough. But it has come under attack from varied and complex sources throughout time. Some challenged whether Jesus was really fully God as he claimed. Others questioned whether he really died, or just seemed to - later waking up from passing out. Questioning the physical resurrection of Christ has been fashionable in some circles. One of the most recent, and loudly vocal, attacks on the Gospel has been the push to undermine Paul's phrase: "that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures" (1 Cor 15:3b, emphasis added). The very concept of sin is falling into disfavor. A basic definition of this antiquated term (sin), is "to miss the mark." To say that someone "misses the mark" is to suggest that there exists a mark to miss. We all sin and fall well short of God's purity and whatever order he has established for us (cf. Rom 3:23). Thus, because we all sin (because we're "sinners"), we need saving from the eternal consequences of that sin. The assumption is that we simply cannot save ourselves (insert quicksand, or drowning analogy here). We need a Savior to rescue us. 

What if there is no "sin" though? What if what was formerly called "sin" turns out now to be just an alternate lifestyle? What used to be considered "missing the mark" is now just hitting a different "mark" that works for you. Many supposedly "scholarly" voices are now speaking and writing volumes in an attempt to persuade that former categories of "sin" now need to be accepted as "personal choices or involuntary orientations." As a result, they are introducing something totally foreign to Christianity. Without sin there is no Savior, for there remains no need to be "saved." Distinct to Christianity, for 2,000 years, is a eyes-wide-open acknowledgment of human sin (with its accompanying hopeless outcome), along with the "good news" that there is a Savior available for those who will accept his rescue. If people will not call their sinful thoughts and acts "sin" anymore, what hope is there for them? The drowning person asserts that their imminent demise is their "right," and that to offer the life ring is "preaching hate." As it relates the the sexual sins of the mind and body described in Holy Scripture, these are now being legitimized as supposedly missing no mark at all. It in effect condemns those immersed in those sins because it seeks to persuade them there is no need to repent of it. Why would I need saving from something the preacher tells me isn't "sin" after all?

Unfortunately, these voices suggesting that sin is not sin anymore have infiltrated the Church. They brought their Barbies to fort club. They are introducing concepts totally foreign to Christianity and trying to change it into something else entirely. During all of attending seminary, one of the most profound phrases I learned was, "You're welcome to believe as you want to, but you can't call it 'Christian.' THAT label is taken." That stuck with me so powerfully because it seemingly occurred to me for the first time, or in a fresh way, that to be "Christian" assumes certain other historic tenets of the faith; that it's not merely about having my faith, but instead is just as much about growing in The Faith. Fort Club DOES have a distinct culture and set of assumptions in which Barbie does not fit. Someone needs to tell these supposed scholars, pastors and "christian" voices that they need to go start their own club, calling it something else because the label "Christian" is taken already.  

It's important that someone have the courage to tell these voices of strange new ideas, "Your assertions are foreign to what can be called 'Christian.' Choose...either drop the innovations or go start your own club. Oh, and when you start your own new club, you can't call it 'Christian' because THAT label is taken." I don't mind being that rascal. I know others that don't mind being such a little rascal either. But it seems we're too few; more are needed. If you don't like being "Christian," as it has historically been defined, then go ahead and start a new club. No one is stopping you; certainly not in a free society like ours. The issues surrounding gay marriage and homosexuality in particular have produced writers and preachers that have left what can historically be called "Christian." It's time to point out that they're inventing something new that's not "Christian" at all, and they need to go start they own new club. Because "Fort Club" offers to the world the only Savior that will rescue them from sin, and those out-of-place "Barbie dolls" will not only upset the cohesion of the club, but also hinder the mission of saving the world as well.


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