“It’s funny I don’t fit, tell me, where have all the average people gone?” Roger Miller once asked in the old country song. In it he went on to describe how everywhere he turned, he didn’t seem to fit in. The rich saw him as poor, the poor saw him as rich, city people thought he was country, country people thought he was city, and so on. As the years go by, I find myself feeling that way increasingly in the church.
For the most part, I pretty much side with conservative interpretations of the issues – baptism, women’s roles, instrumental music, amillennialism, young earth, etc. On the other hand, I believe there’s room for grace for those who hold different interpretations, that because I probably don’t have everything right then I should probably give some room for error to others. As Matthew 7:2 makes clear, if I will cut off others for getting one small thing wrong, then that’s how I’ll be judged.
It’s that specific ideology that has me feeling ideologically homeless. The progressive wing of Christianity looks down on conservative ideology, and the conservative wing wants nothing to do with those who don’t believe a person has to interpret every single issue exactly the same way to be saved. For the conservatives, nobody is going to heaven except the people in 99% agreement with them. For the progressives, it seems as though everyone is saved except the conservatives. A few examples:
In one article, I mentioned in passing that taking a drink of alcohol might not be a sin and got blasted from multiple sides, with one preacher even taking out Facebook advertising to tell people to shun me.
Another article got me labeled as a liberal “change agent” for saying we shouldn’t spend so much time rehashing baptism and the instrument in the churches of Christ. At least 3 Sunday sermons (that I know of) were preached directly about why I’m a heretic because of that article.
At one point, a lady I’ve never met tried to contact my church leadership to get me fired because she disagreed with one specific thing I wrote.
As those things happened, the more progressive wing of the church reached out to me to offer friendship, even though we disagreed on a few things. The more time I spend with them, though, the more I feel the same lack of grace. My stance on women’s roles made me oppressive toward women, in their eyes. In one bizarre instance, my refusal to concede that the woman at the well narrative (John 4) established her as a #MeToo victim supposedly made me a biased, privileged, white male. The side that prides themselves on grace often shows anything but to those who are to the right of them.
I’m not sharing these as some weird sort of bragging. I’m sharing them because I’ve talked to a number of preacher friends who have received the exact same kind of treatment from both ends of the churches of Christ. You likely have heard the stories of people being “written up,” slammed on TV shows, blacklisted from events, and even confronted in person. It’s ridiculous how out of hand it’s gotten.
And so, I find myself feeling ideologically homeless. The funny thing is, though – I believe at the very least that there are many of us “average people.” We may even make up a majority. But, as with the political world, the loud voices on the extremes crowd out those in between. There is very much an, “If you’re not for us, you’re against us” attitude (despite Jesus saying the exact opposite in Luke 9:50). So, despite our large numbers, we end up feeling isolated and go into a hiding of sorts for fear that one of our disallowed beliefs might slip out and cost us friendships and (for ministers) even our jobs. To me, that’s ridiculous.
To be honest, I envy people in the denominational world who can openly debate issues like divorce and remarriage, eschatology, the work of the Spirit, and other topics that have become so divisive they’re off limits to us. Let’s talk! Let’s help each other! And let’s do it with a sense of love and pursuit of truth, rather than slamming each other down for being wrong and in pursuit of who’s right.
The biggest struggle here, of course, is to avoid the pride that comes from trying to find your place. We “average people” can’t be like the Pharisee of Luke 18, praying “I thank you, Lord, that I’m not as judgmental as those to my right or as lax as those to my left.” The goal here is to simply find common ground with our brethren.
And that’s what I want to do. I’m tired of being in hiding, afraid to say that I disagree. I know I’m being idealistic, and I know that , like Roger Miller, saying these things will get me labeled too liberal by the conservatives, and too conservative by the liberals. But I think it’s worth the risk, and I think I’ll find plenty more “average people” by speaking up, though some will understandably be afraid to agree publicly. I’m tired of being silenced by the extremes. We’re holding ourselves back by pushing each other astray and making important topics off limits for discussion.
I just want to be pleasing to Jesus and follow His footsteps. I know for a fact I’m getting that wrong in various ways every day, in ways that I’m aware of and in ways that I’m not. So please be patient with me and show me a little grace where you disagree with me. I’m willing to show it right back. Let’s simply remember that we’re flawed individuals on the same side, with the same goal.
This average Guy is one of the many to which you refer, Jack.
I can relate. I haven’t a church home where I can feel involved.
Sadly, we just quit going anywhere.
Hi, Roger —
First off, please forgive me for stepping into your world to offer my thoughts without knowing anything about you other than what you shared here.
I appreciate your position and have felt the same at times, but I hope you’ll keep searching for a flock of Christians with whom you can worship.
Assembling with our brothers and sisters is a way to both give and receive in the kingdom, and I believe it’s more important than we will ever know this side of eternity.
I’d be willing to bet dollars to donuts that you’ll never find even one or two people with whom you agree on everything — the apostles even disagreed on some things, as do we even with our closest friends, brethren, and family members — so I encourage you to seek out Christians who are able to disagree without being disagreeable.
God’s grace is sufficient.
Let’s just be biblical Jack and speak the truth in love. Keep your chin up
I’ve never heard of you before, but after reading this I see in you a kindred spirit.
Thank you for this. Many of us do find ourselves in a similar role. Maybe if we are making both extremes uncomfortable, we are doing something right.
You have articulated a feeling I have been harboring for a while now. On the day of his wife’s death, my great-uncle said, “We’ve gotten too smart in the church,” and he meant it in a negative way.
Jack – I enjoy your articles. You are willing to examine whether a long held belief may or may not be correct. I am with you in the “average” space. Thank God for that as God has a history of using “average” people.
Appreciate this article and your heart brother. I too, consider myself more a middle of the road moderate conservative in our fellowship who often feels like not too welcome on either side of the far right or left. I am thankful to preach for a loving moderate conservative congregation in Tulsa. But the alienated middle can be a lonely place at times. But just know brother there are others like yourself and I. Hang in there brother!
I’m with you, brother.
Hey Jack. A very good preacher I know recently asked me this question; “Does God forgive sin?” If he does, why would he not forgive interpretation? That made me pause and reflect in a very good way.
Sometimes our brethren challenge us to practice the “Great Commandment!” Yet when Jesus gave it, one of His disciples had just left the room to betray Him, and another uses His statement as an opportunity to boast about how he would “lay down his life for Him. ” (We know what he did regarding that boast just a short time later!)
Yet Jesus Himself went on to ask God to put Him to death so the soldiers who just nailed Him to the cross might have the opportunity for forgiveness!
So what do we do with well- meaning brethren who immediately start collecting feathers and stoking the fir under the pot of tar after reading something we wrote/taught/preached?
Love them anyway! Good doesn’t love us because we are right. He loves us because He created us for that purpose. He created us in His image so we could spend our eternity with Him. If He only does that for the “100% accurate brethren,” eternity will be lonely.
Brother, Peter tells us how to “follow in His steps” when facing adversity. Do that, love the brethren anyway, and you will be doing just fine!
I like the term “alienated middle” a little more than “average.” You are not alone. Some of us differ on various issues, but we maintain a love for our Lord, a commitment to his people, and a willingness to follow where he leads us through his Word. Pray hard, my friend, and keep your eyes focused on Jesus. You are not alone.
What a wonderful and timely article! I pray it moves us all closer to talk and help each other grow with a sense of love and pursuit of truth as you proposed. I’ll say a prayer for you also. Keep writing!!
Gratefully in Christ.
Jack, I always enjoy your writings~~You cause me to think as I read and I love the challenge~~Yes, like you I tend to fall in the middle and consider myself an “average” Christian~~I am very blessed that the majority of my church family is also “average”. We surround each other with love and focus on the big picture~~ I had a long talk with my Heavenly Father and shared my concerns~~ Bottom line is that I’m His and He is mine~~Hang in there Jack, you are His also~~God’s purpose for us is to glorify Him and reach the lost through love and He will take care of the rest…
This problem is not limited to any one group. Independent groups, denominations & small
groups all have the same mind set.
The bully pulpit has been used to condemn others. some
reject & shun others for any # of reasons while praising our God.
The same loving Father that has forgiven the sins of others as well as our own. Is it any wonder that people of all ages are giving up on church, and that
the church has little influence in today’s world.
It’s time to fall on our knees seeking God’s forgiveness and returning to being true disciples
of our Lord Jesus Christ. Having
a willingness to live, love and emulate the life Jesus lived on this earth. May God bless us all.
I find this kind of “fear” of speaking up to be strong as a minister’s wife, as well. For those of us who don’t share publicly our thoughts, it still helps to hear from others that we are not the only ones thinking this way. Thank you for sharing, Jack!
Jack, et al. —
I believe that the excerpt below, taken from Justo Gonzalez’ excellent historical work in The Story of Christianity, does a great job capturing one of the reasons why so many congregations have been shrinking and it fits into your narrative very well.
“…fundamentalism and power struggles caused many churches to divide repeatedly, resulting in relatively small groups that wished no connection with others. This was exacerbated by insistence on every minor point of doctrine, as if salvation depended on agreeing on each one of them.”
Gonzalez, Justo L.. The Story of Christianity: Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day (p. 512). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition (Available at https://amzn.to/2Pg1zrh [affiliate link])
I feel your pain, brother. What you describe mirrors my own frustrations. Keep on pursuing Christ. God is faithful and merciful, and will not despise your work when offered to Him with sincerity and humility. As it says to the churches in Revelation, “the the one that overcomes, I will give a crown of life.” Keep on, keepin’ on. You are an encouragement to me.
I know that song (even the poor, wayfaring third verse.) 😉 Thank you for writing this. Now I want to go back and read more of your posts (this is the second I have seen.)