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.