There is a beauty in the simplicity of Jesus. He says, “Give me all and follow me,” and He takes care of the rest. Sure there are bumps in the road, twists in the path and obstacles to overcome; but at all times, if we’re following Jesus, we’ll be alright. Our cares will be cared for, our thirsts quenched, our hunger satisfied, and our desires fulfilled. At least that’s supposed to be how it goes. What has gotten in the way? Well, this might be tough to hear, but I feel Christianity has.
There is a major difference between following Jesus and following an organized religion. With Jesus it’s simple; follow Him and “He will make your paths straight,” as the Proverbs say. With Christianity, however, it seems to be “Sign off on this doctrine, this doctrine, this tithe statement, and this last doctrine. Oh, and don’t hang out with anyone who hasn’t signed off on these same things; they’re heretics.” I might be exaggerating a little, but with the experiences I’ve had recently, this is how it feels.
Nearly four years ago, I began my college career. I was excited to be in such a new atmosphere and especially such a prestigious venue as the University of Oregon. My faith in God had led me to this place and I was excited to see what would happen next. In less than a week of being in Eugene, I came to a Cross Training barbecue and then from there I started coming out to Calvary whenever I could catch a ride. I had spent the previous four years of my life in a church no bigger than 25 people with 80% of the congregation retired. So when I walked through the doors to Calvary and saw hundreds of people clapping hands, screaming songs, and worshiping God in a way I had only seen before at concerts, I was thrilled. I mean, for crying out loud the band had more than one guitarist and a drummer. This was definitely where I wanted to be.
Flash forward two years to the fall of ’08, a conversation woke me up.
“Have you heard about Calvary?” a girl asked me at a Christian gathering for college kids.
“Yeah, I heard,” I said and proceeded to dodge the subject. She was referring to the recent rumors floating around about Calvary, rumors like we believe multiple ways lead to eternal life or that Danny O’Neil preaches out of a Bible he wrote himself. They were ridiculous, offensive, and really annoying because not a single one of them was grounded in even a fiber of truth. But still they floated. And each time they struck my ears, I simply turned away because I didn’t want to deal with them.
Eventually, though, it became too much. Before all this had taken place, I had only met with Danny once in person. And that conversation had nothing to do with inerrancy or any other of the floating rumors in the local Christian gossip. That conversation was about not slacking off with school and to go out and make something of myself, sort of. I mean, Danny phrased it a little differently, but that’s the main gist. He basically just told me to not drag my feet and do something with my life. He’s pretty intense like that.
At the same time of the floating rumors and the pep talks that left me wanting to lead a college football team to the Rose Bowl, I was living with eight other guys. One of the eight, who attends a different church but had heard the rumors about Danny, had addressed me on the issue. He basically asked me why I was still with Calvary and I said because I felt the pastor was leading me in the ways of Jesus. We talked a bit more about things like inerrancy and the Bible and God, but all the while, I noticed, we weren’t talking about the things Jesus was doing in our lives.
I’ve had many conversations similar to my housemate’s since then and all relatively had the same impersonal feel to them. Instead, they were argumentative; two people merely trying to prove to each other how right they were. It was somewhere in the middle of the summer – after another conversation with Danny – that I decided that Calvary was definitely the place for me and here’s why: it was a place where I had grown and a place where there was still some growing left.
What I mean by Christianity has kind of gotten in the way of the simplicity of Jesus, what I said at the beginning, is that the conversations I had arguing about whether the Bible was inerrant or if Danny was a “false teacher” or not, they were side effects of an intensely organized religion. They weren’t Jesus. Over the summer, I read through the Corinthian letters several times and was encouraged with each read. Paul’s talks about church division were exactly the things I needed to hear because it placed an emphasis on what the church is and does: it’s a body – a single unit – and it moves.
I don’t mean to argue in favor of non-inerrancy or to knock down inerrancy; I’m simply saying inerrancy and all the issues that go along with it is a catalyst for division in God’s church, the big kind. It’s as though a fleet of ships suddenly decided to turn against several of their own ships and drive them away. The great thing, though, is that God is bigger than His fleet.
Reading through Paul’s descriptions of the church being a body, for some reason, gave me a picture of a naval fleet setting sail. No, not the kind of navy we see today with the armored ships and the big guns; the picture I’ve had in mind of the church is a fleet of 18th century ships, you know, the ones made with wood and stuff, like in Pirates of the Caribbean (great movies). I picture those ones because they’re probably a little harder to steer and maneuver than the ones we have today. I felt the difficulty in sailing one of those ships is quite similar to the difficulty of moving a church forward. But before setting a ship to sail, you have to build it, which brings me to a deeper level of the metaphor.
Thinking back to the time before I became a Christian or even before I started coming to Calvary, I felt very alone. My faith was between God and me and not very many other people. I didn’t talk about it much and I certainly dodged the deep, philosophical questions like can God build a rock He can’t lift (to which I have an answer, but that’s for another time). I kept it to myself. I was comfortable in my little rowboat and I wanted no one else to try and steer it for me. And then Jesus came walking on the water, so to speak, grabbed my boat, dragged it over to Calvary’s ship, broke my little boat into hundreds of pieces and then grafted it into Calvary’s ship. Turning to me, He said, “Get in,” basically.
That’s what makes a church; hundreds of individual rowboats being torn apart and grafted into one ship, one solid and strong ship with Jesus as the architect (I mean, if you think about it; He was a carpenter and He could walk on water, so He could set up shop right in the middle of the ocean). Our little rowboats can only survive a small lake; the ships can handle the sea.
About a year ago, Danny gave a message that was basically him “coming out of the closet” with his non-inerrancy-ism. In the message, he basically said that inerrancy wasn’t a foundational doctrine to his faith nor to our church, Calvary Fellowship. He didn’t argue a case against inerrancy trying to persuade the audience to agree with every word he said; he just said that inerrancy wasn’t necessary to his faith. Some of my Christian friends took this to heart and started asking me, more adamantly, why I was still here. Though the questions often agitated me, they also taught me something very important.
The church, the bride of Christ, is one. I’ve already said this several times, but it really started to resonate after all the conversations I’ve had with friends who don’t go to Calvary. Even the Christians who started the rumors about Danny are a part of the same bride of Christ, the same flock of sheep, the same body, and the same fleet. That fleet is composed of many ships all with vastly different styles. When one gets singled out because its beliefs don’t line up with the others, they should all get singled out. It’s like Paul says, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you,’” (1 Cor. 12:21).
What I feel that Christianity, as an organized religion, has called for is an all-knowing tugboat to lead us safely through the dangers of the sea. It calls for all to agree because there are plenty of passages in the Bible that say everyone should agree and whenever someone doesn’t agree, you throw him over board. What is never realized, though, is that these all-knowing tugboats don’t exist. There is no pastor who has the mind of God for even Paul said, “I know in part,” (1 Cor. 13:12). If even one of the major pioneers of our faith says he only knows a little, then why should pastors in today’s time be expected to have everything figured out and be walking in “sound doctrine”?
The reason I remain aboard Calvary’s ship is quite simple: The captain isn’t afraid to be human. He bleeds, fears, doubts, and wrestles with the same issues that his crew does. He may not be perfect in the way he steers the ship, but at the very least he does two things; admits his flaws and follows Jesus.
I’m not saying my pastor is better than yours; I’m merely pointing out why I feel Calvary is the right place to be for me and my faith. And I’m also not preaching against inerrancy; but I am very much preaching against an organized religion that repeatedly tries to ensnare followers of Christ into ritualistic, intensely-dogmatic, and impersonal practices. Religion’s list of “do’s” and “don’ts” is appealing and pulls people away from an intensely intimate relationship with Jesus. That is what I hate.
When we follow Jesus, we’re going to have our rowboats torn apart and grafted into a bigger ship. That’s just the way it is. He doesn’t care if we believe in inerrancy or if we don’t; He cares about us following Him. There was a week-long period during last year where I believed the Bible was inerrant. And though my beliefs have since changed, I still feel that Calvary is my home, the ship I’ve been grafted into. No one has told me what to believe in or how to believe in it; Calvary just opened its doors to crowds of hands clapping, speakers booming with guitarists’ melodies, and hundreds of tongues praising Jesus Christ. Back when I first walked through those doors, the only thing that mattered on Sunday mornings was Jesus. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we returned to that level of simplicity?