Six Myths Christians Should Stop Believing (Part 2)

Jesus Halo 2

Welcome to Part 2 of Six Myths Christians Should Stop Believing.

 

Some things Christians believe are quite strange. Like the Queen said to Alice of Wonderland fame, even I sometimes catch myself believing as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

I haven’t been a pastor long. But I’m becoming convinced that, for my own sake as much as anyone else’s, one of my primary responsibilities as a pastor is to dismantle these strange myths.

One or more of the following every week if possible.

 

Myth #4: Pastors Are Closer To God

No one says this, but most Christians believe it. I’ve had the unique experience of transitioning from parishioner in my church to a pastor of my church. I’ve continued to grow through this time. But I can tell you first hand that the transition itself didn’t bring me an inch closer to God.

What the transition did was help expose this myth. Those at my church who’ve known me since the beginning of course see me as pastor—but they also still know me as Kurt, with all my flaws and struggles. But interestingly, those who’ve joined our church since only see me as pastor. At least until they get to know me well.


As Paul argues, no part of the body is more important than another—in fact the parts with less dignity deserve more honour.


And along the way, the assumptions I’ve encountered regularly are that I have answers to the deep mysteries of life, effective strategies for healing brokenness in the community, Christian obedience nailed, skills adequate to every counselling situation, a higher connection speed to heaven. In a word, that I have it all together.

I’m working on all of these things, and I’m happy to give any of them a good crack, but the reality is that apart from marginal gains, I’m the same person now as the one I was before I became a pastor. One thing’s for sure: I definitely don’t have it all together.

I don’t resent these assumptions. They’re quite a compliment really. But they’re also a complete myth. So I’ve tried to brainstorm what it actually is that distinguishes pastors from non-pastors. I can think of two things.

The first is that the way we earn a living makes us more available for the work of the kingdom and the needs of God’s people—particularly to teach and shepherd. This is a great privilege and blessing, and one that I relish.

The second is that we’ve been called and appointed by God to this role. This is also a great honour, and one I don’t take lightly. But as reformers like Martin Luther would point out, this appointment by God is only on par with that of other leaders—whether leaders of families, businesses, or government.

And in terms of the gifts God has equipped us pastors with, as Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 12, no part of the body is more important than another—in fact the parts with less dignity deserve more honour. Could it be that we have it completely back to front?


I can tell you first hand that becoming a pastor didn’t bring me an inch closer to God.


In the old covenant, priests were the mediator, or connection-point, between God and his people. But in the new covenant, all of God’s people are priests (1 Peter 2:5) and we now need no mediator other than Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).

Point being, pastors are only as priest-like or as close to God as any other Christian. All believers have a direct connection to heaven. And us pastors are only one of many necessary parts of the body—no more, no less. The pedestal we’re put on is but a figment of the imagination.

Pastors aren’t closer to God. Don’t let this disappoint you. On the contrary, it’s good news. It means that if you’re a believer in Jesus, you’re as close to God as any shiny pastor is.

 

Myth #5: The Church’s Problems Have One Solution

While Jesus is the only name given under heaven by which we must be saved, and this is at the core of my faith, I’ve noticed that many Christians act as if a similarly one-fold solution exists to all problems.

The church would fulfil its calling if. Our nation would return to God if. We would see revival if. Insert your pet phrase: All believers were trained in apologetics and actually knew what the Bible says. We rediscovered the prophetic and had genuine heart encounters with God. Christians really loved their neighbours and took social justice seriously.

This isn’t mockery. I believe every one of these statements. The problem is, many Christians believe only one of them, as though the church’s problems (however defined) have only one fix.


Church, if we pooled our strengths instead of pitting them against each other, who knows what kind of revival we might see in our day?


Jesus railed against those who honoured him with their lips but whose hearts were far from him. So clearly it’s all about the heart.

But James asked what good it was if someone had faith but no works, caring nothing for the needs of the poor. So it must be all about the hands.

But like in Hosea’s day, when God’s people were destroyed for lack of knowledge, Paul had to rebuke the Corinthians for their immature understanding. So it’s all about the head.

What’s God’s point? Which one actually wins out? I know it’s far more complicated than the simple false dichotomies we’ve sucked on for generations, but let me break it down: God’s solution is multifaceted. It’s all about the head, and the heart, and the hands.

Church, if we lifted our eyes, swallowed our pride, and pooled our strengths instead of pitting them against each other, who knows what kind of growth, transformation and revival we might see in our day?

 

Myth #6: God Likes Me If I’m Good

Surely this one takes the cake. The persisting default mode of the human heart is to believe that our performance determines God’s mood towards us.

We know in theory that it’s by grace that we’re saved, but many of us struggle for years to truly believe it. Sometimes it takes a lifetime for a believer to finally walk in the unyielding confidence that because of Jesus’ finished work, God’s love surrounds them at every moment. Sadly, some never get there at all.


Everything needed to restore us to perfect union with God won’t happen this week. It happened two thousand years ago at Calvary.


There are many reasons for it. But here’s one perhaps we’ve neglected: many churches do a far better job of teaching moralism than they do the gospel.

There’s no shortage of sermons on how to pray or serve or love, what it looks like to be a better husband, wife, employee or citizen; doctrines to believe, Bible heroes to imitate, commandments to follow, three steps to this, seven steps to that.

All of this is good. But none of it is the gospel. And by gospel, I don’t mean a token mention of Jesus dying for sin.

I mean a heart-posture towards God. In all of our teaching about how to be a better Christian, are we declaring even more loudly that everything needed to restore us to perfect union with God won’t happen this week—but happened two thousand years ago at Calvary? That by faith, we are, right now, adopted and deeply loved sons and daughters of the King?

It is finished. That includes all of our striving. Can this message be heard over all the other noise? If not, then what we’re really telling people is God likes them if they’re good. And there’s nothing unique about that. Every religion under the sun teaches it.


Many churches do a far better job of teaching moralism than they do the gospel.


When the crowds deserted Jesus to continue on that broad path of religion, he asked the twelve, “Are you also going to leave?” Peter’s reply gets me every time. “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life.”

May we never replace the gospel of grace with good advice.

I’m quite serious when I say that as a pastor, I try to dismantle one or more of these myths— especially the last one—every time I have the opportunity to preach. I would challenge every pastor to do the same.

Six Myths Christians Should Stop Believing (Part 1)

Jesus Halo 1

Some things Christians believe are quite strange. Like the Queen said to Alice of Wonderland fame, even I sometimes catch myself believing as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

I haven’t been a pastor long. But I’m becoming convinced that, for my own sake as much as anyone else’s, one of my primary responsibilities as a pastor is to dismantle these strange myths.

One or more of the following every week if possible.

 

Myth #1: Church is on Sundays

It’s probably been said long and loud enough that we now get it: church isn’t a building. But did you know? It’s also not a 90 minute event on Sundays.

The church is a group of people. People that Jesus has called out, as Tim Keller would say, to be “a counter-culture for the common good”.


The church exists to meet the needs of a lost and dying world.


This makes all the difference. It means that when we walk out of the church building, get in our cars and drive home, the church’s main event has just begun. Sunday is a drinks break. Hey, let’s even call it a celebration.

But it’s a celebration of what the church has been doing week-long: loving neighbours, growing deeper in private worship, hosting others in our homes, defending the faith, encountering God, fighting injustice, feeding on Scripture, speaking hope into darkness.


When we walk out of the church building, get in our cars and drive home, the church’s main event has just begun.


This has other implications too. It means, lo and behold, that the church doesn’t exist to meet my needs. If I’m a follower of Jesus, then I am the church, and as the church, we exist to meet the needs of a lost and dying world. Ultimately, if all we do is an act of worship, then at the bottom of it all, the church exists for God.

As such, “I didn’t get much out of church this week” exposes much more about the person saying it than the event their critiquing. Yes, our Sundays should be marked by mutual love and service—and by excellence, not mediocrity. But let’s not forget: church isn’t on Sundays.

 

Myth #2: God Won’t Let Me Suffer

We don’t go around saying this. But we secretly believe it. It’s our unspoken creed. We demonstrate our belief in it every time we get upset with God when life doesn’t turn out the way we expected.

Simply by virtue of the fact that we’re Christians, we tend to think that we’re somehow less exposed to suffering than others. Or that we’ll get through our suffering quicker and more unscathed. Chapter and verse for that one?


“You have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.”—Philippians 1:29


Never mind David’s lament Psalms, or Job, or Jeremiah, or Lamentations, or that Jesus himself was called the “Man of Sorrows”, or the first three centuries of church history, or the many Christians experiencing mental illness, or all that’s said about suffering in the New Testament.

Like James 1:2-3. “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.”

Or Philippians 1:29. “You have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him.”

Or Jesus’ words in John 16:33. “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”


Christians tend to think that they’re somehow less exposed to suffering than others, or that they’ll get through it quicker and more unscathed.


Nice as it is to believe, there’s simply no guarantee that every Christian will marry happily, carve a smooth career path, be outlived by their children, avoid betrayal and heartbreak, and live a long, healthy and prosperous life. Anyone heard of the persecuted church?

As Psalm 23’s “valley of the shadow of death” reminds us, God’s promise isn’t an absence of suffering, but his sweet and abiding presence in the midst of it. Oh yeah, and the life of the world to come.

 

Myth #3: Demons No Longer Exist

This one will raise some eyebrows—for its inclusion in this list, if for no other reason. Regardless of what our churches say on paper about angels and demons, by and large we western Christians speak, act and live as though they no longer exist.

Missiologists—generally speaking, westerners, who’ve studied non-western cultures and who occasionally return to commentate on ours—call this the “flaw of the excluded middle”.

That is, in the west we see the universe as consisting of two tiers—the visible things of this world, and the invisible things of the other world (God). The tier we exclude is what lies in between: the invisible things of this world; the world of angels and demons.


Regardless of what our churches say on paper about angels and demons, by and large we western Christians live as though they no longer exist.


Of all the human cultures that have existed on God’s green earth from ancient times until now, ours is the only one that commits this strange fallacy.

I’ve lived in South-East Asia for a number of years and have seen things that made my skin crawl. First hand, let me tell you that demonisation is exactly as the New Testament describes: evil spirits taking over the faculties of otherwise-sane people, throwing them to the ground and causing them to say and do things they’re neither aware nor approving of.

What’s far more shocking is that these beings might afflict the body or mind of sufferers for years before they make their presence manifest. The big show of power is normally a last-ditch effort for control, before the victim experiences a sudden and welcomed release.

Doubtless many will think me strange for mentioning this. But that makes Jesus and his biographers strange too. Over a third of the times the gospels record him healing someone, that healing involved the exorcism of a demon. So my question to skeptical Christians then is, when did demons stop existing?

We’ve let the rationalism of the last few centuries, and a couple of poorly-handled and widely-publicised cases of spiritual abuse intimidate us. But that doesn’t alter reality: demons still exist.


If we follow Jesus, we’re in Christ. He has been exalted to the highest place and before him every knee will bow. 


And while the demonic is by no means the cause of all the world’s ills, I’m going to go out on a limb and say, based on the New Testament, that demons are responsible for at least some of what we today call mental illness—and a variety of other health issues too.

This is no silver bullet. Really it raises more questions than it answers. But it also gives us another tool in our charge to set the captives free.

Demons are ancient beings, and they wield far more power than you or I. But if we follow Jesus, we’re in Christ. He has been exalted to the highest place and before him every knee will bow. In Christ, the authority to cast out demons is explicitly ours.

Demons still exist. If this makes us uneasy, it’s time our theology and our confidence caught up with the authority entrusted to us by Jesus.

Read on about the last three myths that Christians should stop believing.