Blurred Lines (no, not the Robin Thicke kind)

–Daniel S. Ferguson

Since I’ve been started asking more and more de-churched individuals for their stories, I keep hearing variations on the same thing: “I left church because there wasn’t room for me there.”

I’ve certainly felt the same way at times (most of the time, if I’m honest). I usually get the sense that I would have to yield on certain issues, personality traits, or personal beliefs in order to “fit in.” And this isn’t just a social exclusion; it’s a religious one, where it’s suggested, and sometimes directly expressed, that who I am and what I think are incompatible with Christianity.

I’ve experienced first-hand the stress of being the odd man out for any number of reasons. Luckily, I relish in that, so I can live with it.

Most people aren’t that masochistic, though, so they leave. Why go on feeling excluded all the time?

I’ll be the first to admit that some of the responsibility falls on those who, like me, feel excluded. I’ve intentionally picked fights, caused ruckus, and raised hell, often just to force a church into a corner.

I do this because I figure if I’m going to be pushed, I might as well push first. It’s emotionally easier that way.

I imagine that many people push Christians away because they fear that they will be pushed away by Christians. (Click to Tweet)

It’s a defense mechanism that I know all too well.

But that impulsive response, however self-induced, is still just that: a response. I impulsively push first precisely because I’ve been pushed away so many times. While I accept personal responsibility for continuing this habit, When I push Christians away, I am largely doing what I was trained to do by Christians, and so are many others. (Click to Tweet)

Churches, just like other social groups, tend to draw sharp lines on specific issues. These lines serve as definitions. If you’re past this line, you’re not one of us. But if you’re on our side of the line, we’re happy to welcome you.

There is no social group in the world that doesn’t have that, because then they wouldn’t be a social group. You can’t have an identity without some level of definition. There is no group that is not exclusive on at least one defining issue. There is no group that universally includes everyone, no matter what. Every group draws the line somewhere.

The fact that churches have sharp lines doesn’t bother me. Where churches draw those sharp lines bothers me.

I’ve written this before in two other posts, but it deserves repeating here.

There are only two equations in Christianity: “Jesus = Salvation,” and “Human = Saveable.” (Click to Tweet).

Those aren’t necessarily the only sharp lines Christianity should draw (Jesus can’t be salvation if he isn’t God first, and humans can’t be saveable if they can achieve righteousness on their own, for examples), but it’s a simple paradigm for Christian faith that shows what we believe firmly and succinctly.

Given Christ’s singular mind for his mission, and the New Testament’s obsession toward the same, I feel very uncomfortable drawing any lines on a Christian definition outside of the Gospel of Jesus Himself. “We preach Christ crucified,” Paul says (1 Corinthians 1:23, NIV).

Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.

The reason I so often feel pushed away by Christians is because either I, they, or both have added or subtracted from those Gospel equations.

I’ll admit my own complicity. It’s all too human to supplant God’s justice in favor of our own (Click to Tweet). I do it, too.

So many are fleeing church because they feel exiled from a Gospel that is meant to adopt them. That’s our fault as Christians. (Click to Tweet)

We did that. We’ve done it over and over again. We drew our lines sharply on political issues, moral issues, social issues, and personal issues instead of on the only issue that matters to eternity: the death of Jesus Christ as payment for sin and his resurrection as the hope for all.

I know we have to draw the line somewhere. I get that. Just draw it on Christ and nowhere else.

I have hope for churches, though, and for those who have left as well: this is a fixable problem.

Church leaders, intentionally focus on preaching and teaching the Gospel first. When in doubt, preach nothing else.

De-churched people, give grace to churches, even when you’re not offered grace. That’s what Jesus did, and it’s what we should do.

In my experience, I discovered a couple years back that I had a problem. I was a serial doubter with lots of issues that kept me at odds with church. But I was also loved the Bible, the Gospel, and the church itself. I felt stuck on the fence between two worlds. I made fast friends with non-Christians, but deep friendships with the most faithful.

I eventually decided that the only way I could go on was to create the very space I didn’t feel existed. I intentionally started working to blur the sharp lines in the church I attended. I openly shared my opinion, but I focused on grace in the relationship first.

That’s what churches should do, and it’s what others should do. Focus on the relationship, not the rupture.

Challenge the status quo by being as kind and gracious as you possibly can. Tell the fulness of truth in the fulness of grace. (Click to Tweet)

Or, to put it as Paul does, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10, ESV).

So let people in. Let people let you in. Be gracious. Outdo each other in humility and forgiveness.

And for God’s sake, blur the lines.

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