December 14, 2017

“This SA Meeting Is Now in Session”

By Chaplain Mike

Hi, my name is Mike, and I am a recovering separatist. [Hi, Mike!]

It all started when I trusted Christ at the end of my senior year in high school. Conversion to me was like rounding a bend in the highway and driving straight into a blinding sun so bright that it washed out everything else in sight.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in his wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his glory and grace.

Before that experience my life consisted of three major interests: (1) Girls, (2) Baseball, and (3) Music (and the accompanying lifestyle). When I met Jesus, I found I didn’t have to give up girls, because there were lots of pretty, nice Christian girls. I also discovered I could keep enjoying music. Back in those days before the commercialization of CCM, “Jesus Music” was emerging, and it was as important to the vitality of our Christian lives as the Bible. Of course, my old “worldly” LP’s had to go, so I threw them in the dumpster (how often have I regretted that!). My heart was filled with fresh new sounds and for awhile, that was enough. I did, however, give up baseball (how often have I regretted that!). I had no conception of how sports fit with following Jesus, so out it went.

The world behind me, the cross before me,
No turning back, no turning back.

I had all Christian friends all the time. The oft-quoted statistic—that most new believers have no non-Christian friends within two years of their conversion—proved true of me in a much shorter period of time (how often have I regretted that!). Within a year I had decided to attend Bible College and pursue ministry. My dad wisely tried to convince me to get a broader education and work toward a career in something I could fall back on if church work didn’t pan out, but I was too infatuated and immature to listen to him (how often have I regretted that!).

Three years of total immersion in Bible college—the cut your hair, wear a tie, no holding hands, no dancing, no movies, no rock music, room inspection every morning, mandatory daily chapel kind of Bible school—separated me from every facet of life in the world at large. I might as well have been stranded on a desert island. At the time, I didn’t mind. Looking back, I can see all kinds of ways it may have stunted my growth.

On to my first pastorate. Back into the world? Well…uh…sorta. It was still pretty much all Christians all the time that formed my world. We lived in the mountains. No TV. Listened to a ballgame every now and then. Tentatively dipped my toes in the water and started to attend an occasional movie. A little bit of folk music found its way into the house through the radio. I occasionally had a conversation with neighbors, but still felt like a newborn foal every time I did, stumbling around trying to find something we had in common to talk about.

Then we moved back to Chicago for seminary. After a year of school, we experienced a great disappointment. My funding source dried up. I had to go to work and drop out of school for awhile. An electronics factory became my daily world. Nary a Christian in sight (at least that I knew about). I made a few friends and was surprised at how much I enjoyed their company. Soon I found my way back to school and, providentially, into pastoral work once more. This wasn’t the mountains where a person could hide out. Serving in the city began to drag me, kicking and screaming, out of my naive isolation from the world. I took my first course in Clinical Pastoral Education and was introduced to life and death in the hospital wards. My professors, to a person, said repeatedly that being in a seminary atmosphere was fine, but if you really want to serve on the front lines of ministry, get out into the church and serve a community. It resonated. I was starting to see a difference between church work and the work of the church.

So we moved to Indianapolis and I served on the staff of a non-denominational church. All in all, it was a pretty good experience, but I struggled with many aspects of it. For one thing, our family was growing, and our children were starting to get involved in school and sports in the community. I had a conviction about sending our kids to public school, and I started coaching Little League. Through my sons, I got baseball back!

However, we were swimming upstream in the local conservative Christian culture. Where we live is a highly “churched” area, and I watched as Christians changed churches like yesterday’s clothes because of conflicting “convictions.” Many home-schooled their children (despite living in one of the most conservative states in the U.S.) because of the “ungodliness” of public education. Parents forbade their kids from participating in youth group because of an emphasis on reaching the lost and including them in activities. I saw people whose time and energy was totally taken up by church programs and activities. Churches began building mega-centers to provide full service, family-friendly activities for people of all ages, creating a world folks need never leave, allowing them to avoid worldly contamination. I started to feel out of place.

Following our kids’ activities, coaching baseball and working with young people and their families in the community was a constant joy. We had a “neighborhood.” We spent a lot of time together. For the first time in my adult life, I started to feel like I had a life outside of “churchianity.”

We moved down the road, and I took a senior pastor position in a sister church. It was a hard experience for a lot of reasons, but my own inward struggles made it even more difficult. As I look back, I must be honest and admit that, in a lot of ways, I was just not getting the church thing anymore and how it was supposed to work simultaneously with a life in the world.

Just before the ministry ended, I got involved with a family we knew from baseball whose son was terminally ill. Along with other members of the community, we spent hours at the hospital and walked with them through the difficult journey. The bonds formed then remain to this day. In the process, I received a taste of ministry outside the church walls that transformed my life. It was only a couple of months later that I was hired to work with hospice, and now my parish is as wide as central Indiana.

I never have been what one might call a wild-eyed, hard-edged fundamentalist separatist. I was just a kid who was found by Jesus and thought that meant the rest of my life should be different somehow—lived in a separate category from the ordinary course of human life. Now I know that becoming a Christian doesn’t put a person one step above the rest of the human race, or mean that one should separate from sharing common life experiences with one’s neighbors.

I’m still blown away by the grace and mercy of Jesus.

I still think the church is special, the amazing family of God in all times and places.

I just don’t want this whole “Christian thing” to keep me from being human.

By the way, I married a beautiful girl. I’m all about the music. And I got baseball back.

No longer does “the world grow strangely dim” when I look at Jesus. For some reason, when I’m most focused on him, the world takes on a strange, inviting beauty. And I’m ready every day to move more deeply into it with his kindness and love.

This is…about the second turning.

In the first turning, a Christian experiences the transformation from a natural person to a spiritual person. Instead of the “self” being the center of life—exploring, cultivating, adoring it—God becomes the center. This miracle is brought forth by the Holy Spirit giving us new life in Christ. It is a necessary, indispensable, basic step.

But it is only a first step. The work of the Holy Spirit should not stop here but lead to a second turning in which the spiritual person again becomes natural.

• Walter Trobisch
Foreword to Out of the Saltshaker & into the World
by Rebecca Manley Pippert

Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing Chaplain Mike,

    It sounds like we grew up in different worlds, though I think we are near the same age.

    I always felt, growing up, that church was community. In no way did I feel it separated me from the rest of society.

    The only time I didn’t attend public schools was my last two years of college.

    I won’t go into too much detail, but after working for a church I had to leave because…Let me see if I can remember right…the church voted with “We don’t care what the Bible says.”

    It’s a long story.

    I now understand some of your statements about “evangelicals.” If I had been in the legalistic circles you were, and they had the name “evangelical,” I’d have a negative reaction to the word myself.

    So…what position did you play. That will really tell me a lot about you.

    God’s blessings…

    • I was a left-handed pitcher with a so-so fastball but a curve that would break your heart.

      • Would have loved to have stepped into the batter’s box with you on the mound.

      • I played a different position but did pitch a few times. Only had a curve like yours one game.

      • I’m not asking how old you are, The ROYALS still need you (and of course, will still need you 10 yrs from now)…. we have great micro brews, bar-b-que, and fountains that are the envy of any US city….. think it over.

        GregR
        miss you guys: I’ve temporarily lost my mind and am posting over @ SolaSisters for a week or two , or until I get thrown out (I’m being gently, I promise…) let’s see which comes 1st 🙂

  2. Great narrative. I relate a lot as I think many others here will.

    I’ve been born three times. First as a baby. Second as a Christian (age 17) into the same type of separatist world the writer describes. Then, about age 50, I was born the third time. This time, by the help of my kids and the lowering of my evangelical walls, I’ve been introduced to art, secular music and most of all, literature. I feel like a starving kid in a candy store . . . a kid in his 50s, enjoying all the beauty which God as made, even when it comes from the hand of the non-believing artist.

  3. “The oft-quoted statistic—that most new believers have no non-Christian friends within two years of their conversion”

    It is funny how, once you become a Christian, especially in the more conservative circles, the sense that non-Christians are somehow or another contagious and that if you spend any time with them the feeling arises that you might “catch something”. I often wonder if new Christians are afraid that they will possibly lose their salvation somehow or another if they don’t’ completely “separate” and completely immerse themselves in Churchianity. Do we actually teach that in our Churches?

    Great article, I could relate with a great deal of it.

  4. A fascinating account. Personally I’ve felt caught between the two ‘worlds,’ so to speak, of the church and not-church. Current 22, I’ve always felt like an outsider in almost every youth/college/singles group I’ve ever attended in church. My interests and hobbies are not shared by other guys, who only really care about sports and mainstream activities. But I don’t feel at home with nonbelievers who don’t share this most important element of my life, either.

    • Christopher Lake says:

      Kyle, I’m 37, but I have found that kindred spirits tend to be able to relate, no matter what their age. I love fiction, poetry, philosophy, all kinds of music, and foreign films (see my comment below at 3:11 a.m.– yikes, what am I doing up at this hour, lol!). I don’t care for sports. I have rarely felt completely at home with most Christians, especially men. I also don’t feel greatly at home among non-Christians. You are not alone.

      • @Christopher L what do make of the Coen bro’s “A Serious Man” if you’ve seen it.

        I don’t fit in well anywhere, really, though I’m starting to get used to that….

        • Christopher Lake says:

          Greg,

          I haven’t seen “A Serious Man” yet, but I love the Coen brothers’ movies. I do look forward to seeing it. I can appreciate movies that do not come from a “Christian worldview,” so to speak. Certain things in films are harmful to my faith, so I do avoid those things, but I know that some of my Christian friends probably think that I would be better off not watching, for example, the films of the Swedish director, Ingmar Bergman. I think the man was an artistic genius, and generally speaking, I love his work. He portrayed sin, sorrow, and lostness incredibly well. For many reasons, I wish that he known the redemptive side of things, but what he he did, artistically speaking, he did very well.

    • Kyle,

      You and Christopher aren’t the only outsiders here. I feel the same way. I don’t fit in well with either men or women. I’ve often wondered if my choice of careers was partially determined by my lack of fitting with women.

      What seems to work for me is to fit in with bits and pieces, some here, some there.

      Christopher, since you like foreign films, be on the look out for “Mao’s last Dancer.” It’s excellent, and I even now have the book from the library.

      • Christopher Lake says:

        Anna,

        I can definitely understand what you mean about feeling out of place. I do actually fit in better, generally speaking, with women than with men. In social situations, I often find myself in conversations with groups of women. However, even many women whom I come into with now seem to have taken on less-desirable traits of non-Christian men, so there is a gulf there for me. Thus far, since I have returned to the Catholic Church, I have come across *many* Catholics I can relate to on the internet, but not in everyday, physical life, as I can’t get to Daily Mass, transportation-wise.

        Sometimes, I wonder if God is keeping me from certain legitimately good things that I long for here on earth, because He wants me “all for Himself,” so to speak…. which, I guess, would be a sort of Christian “separatism,” but it’s one that I honestly don’t want….

        • Christopher Lake says:

          Thanks for the tip about “Mao’s Last Dancer,” Anna. Even the title sounds intriguing!

  5. Should believers separate from the wickedness that is in the world?

    • Riley Allen says:

      No, we should not separate ourselves. The “wickedness” in the world is also in our own heart. The fact that it is forgiven does not mean it has gone away or that it has changed it’s character. So to suggest that we can somehow can separate from it seems to miss the point. It is the same wickedness. I think that is why the hardest thing to do is be a Christian in the world because the evil is so familiar and tempting. But that is what we are called to do. Not to separate ourselves out into our comfortable little groups, but to be a part of the world as a witness to the change that is occurring within us as a result of our relationship with Christ.

      Now where do we get the strength and support to live that life? We get it from the Church, the local body where we join with our brothers and sisters to share our love for our Lord. But the church is not our home, it is our school and our training ground to prepare us for our work, which is living in the world as a follower of Christ and as a witness to His power to change people into something that shines out against the darkness and wickedness. If we separate then we will not shine in contrast to it.

      Riley

      • Perhaps, in order to help myself and others you could give your top 5 sins that it would be good for believers not to separate from?

        • Ian, snarkiness is not becoming. This post is not about “separation from sin.” it is about a false kind of separation, a separation mindset that thinks following Jesus somehow exempts a person from the ordinary course of life, and should lead to living in a “bubble” where one breathes different air than the ordinary humans around him/her.

    • I agree with Riley.

      How can one be “light” and “salt” if we are not among unbelievers?

      God’s blessings,

  6. Christopher Lake says:

    I am *really* glad that my period of “separation from the world,” as in “no secular music, very few secular movies, etc.” only lasted for a relatively short time (maybe a year, a year and a half at most).

    I grew up in a household where the radio was on, a good amount of the time, and I had many non-Christian friends, so I was not very affected by the fundamentalist Christian culture around me in 1970-80s Alabama. When I came to know Christ in college, it was largely through the witness of Protestant friends who had somewhat of a “separatist” mentality (although even they liked “Star Wars” and “Star Trek”). I got rid of a good bit of my “secular music” and avoided most “secular movies” for a time, but it didn’t last long. Due to my inquisitive, Church history-loving mind, I soon became interested in the Catholic Church and, to the dismay of my Protestant friends, I actually went through RCIA classes and converted. I eventually found myself back in Protestantism though, for several years, though not the “separatist” kind. This year, I returned to the Catholic Church, and I plan to live and die there. However, regardless of *where* I have found myself in Christianity, I just haven’t been able to live with a separatist mentality.

    I love art. I love music. I love thoughtful movies, especially foreign films. At 22 years old, in 1995, I first saw “Red” (the last film in Kieslowski’s “Three Colours” trilogy but the first one that I saw) in a movie theater in Maryland. I knew that I was experiencing a different sensibility than what I had experienced with any American “movie-plex” film. The long stretches of silence, the unique way the characters related to each other, the cinematography…. it was all so *different* and very fascinating to me. I was enraptured. I didn’t realize it then, but I was seeing a sacramental view of life on film. Such a view simply doesn’t “fit” well with a separatist, fundamentalist mentality.

    Even in my years as a Reformed (Calvinist) Baptist, I was not a separatist. I separated from engaging in certain *behaviors* in which I had engaged as a non-Christian, and I still do. However, there are so many interesting people in the world, and I have no wish to stay away from all of them, other than the Christians who share my exact beliefs. What a reduced life that would be! Moreover, as a Catholic Christian, as a Christian, period, I called to be in the world but not of the world. It is very hard for me to see how that can truly be lived out with a consistent separatist mentality.

  7. Steve Newell says:

    St. Paul shows us how to live in the word but not be of the world. In Acts 17, St. Paul was about to speak to the philosophers on the Areopagus. He was educated on the Greek religions and philosophy. In his letter to Titus, St. Paul has read a Cretan prophet since he refers to this person (Titus 1:12).

  8. While I was reading this, a book title came into my head. And there it is at the end!

    Reading, Out of the Saltshaker while still in high school kept me from ever having any tendency toward separatism.

  9. I’m well familiar with the light under the bushel mentality you experienced. As I was growing up, in the “safe haven” church I attended, newcomers more often than not were those already well-churched, but simply changing venues. Usually following a preacher. There wasn’t much in the way of unchurched simply showing up. Foreign missions emphasis for sure, but insofar as our community, outreach was primarily focused on occasional mass evangelism campaigns which often resulted in little success other than easing the collective conscience. If anything, it was letting a tract do the talking. The church grew, but more inward and less outward. Meanwhile, everyone seemed happy with the result.

  10. I too am a recovering separatist. My entire life, I was led to believe that a life without church meant sexual promiscuity, alcoholism, and drugs. Then as I developed relationships with non-christians and non church attenders, I realized most people are ethical, moral people. In fact, some of the most ethical and moral people I know are atheists or some form of agnostic.

    For me, the main problem is not that Christians are hypocrites, but that non-Christians can be very ethical and moral. This caused me great theological difficulty, it made me completely rethink what depravity means. If mankind is not depraved (as I was taught the definition of depravity), then why need redemption?

  11. A few years back, i was invited to speak at chapel at a local Christian school, and was shocked and disheartened at the beginning of the service, when the students were mandated to participate in a pledge to the school; a pledge which included the statement, “I will completely separate myself from the secular world, so I might live a life pleasing to Christ.”

    Wow. I was blown away. I proceeded to completely change my topic for the day, and discuss with students the need for young Christians to make a difference in a troubled and hurting “secular” world. Students and teachers stood and applauded at the end.

    A student later told me that no one had ever applauded a guest speaker before during her 10 years at the school.

    She also told me that her principal had advised her that I would never be invited back again, because I had made a joke about babies not being found under cabbage leaves, no matter what their parents or teachers had taught them, as I discussed how God how designed them with purpose and intent. Also, the administrative staff was apparently quite offended that I said the word “gosh” two times during the message.

    “heavy sigh”….

  12. I teach philosophy at a secular university. Before that, I taught at a Bible college, and my tenure was, you might say, fraught. I am not a separatist and never have been.

    But…

    A few years ago, my spouse (of two decades) became involved with a new group of friends. Prior to that, most of our closest contacts had been church people or family (this wasn’t a matter of policy as much as being the sort of thing that just happens to busy suburban Christians). Anyhow, the new friends were all nice and friendly and engaged in good works (indeed, they all met via a virtual community for non-profit networking). Most were divorced– people who have lots of time for virtual communities are often single, and middle-aged single people are often formerly married– and the group devoted much care and energy to helping one of its own through a difficult divorce last year.

    This year, my spouse will be the one supported by the group through a divorce– a split I do not want and which has caught me completely by surprise. The new friends, I’m told, have given my mate the courage to pursue greater happiness/self-fullfillment than was promised by the prospect of continued marriage to same-old me. Mind you, these veterans of broken marriage have all admonished my dear one not to abandon our children. Walking out on a spouse who loves you is one of the hard-but-sometimes-necessary facts of life, but parenthood is forever.

    See, they have values.

    Am I bitter? Yes. Do I blame the new friends for what’s happened? That wouldn’t be fair or realistic. But I don’t think it can be denied that when you surround yourself with people who don’t share your values, *you* are often the one who changes. And not all changes, even ones that widen your perspective, are improvements.

    • (I realize I’ve gone a little tangential here– no hard feelings, moderator, if you choose to delete this post.)

    • K,

      My wife left under similar circumstances, with the exception that she left all of us — me, our son and our daughter — behind. I’m sorry for what’s happening.

    • K, please allow me to extend my sincerest sympathy. I can’t pretend to know what you’re going through, but I do hope that you can in some way experience Christ present in the midst of it all.

      To everyone else: what about this? While I very much agree with the truth of what other people have expressed about needing to eschew isolation and be present in the “real” world, we need to keep that truth in tension with the truth at the heart of K’s story. Many of us are not natural rebels even when our actions make it look like we are; we tend to “catch” the prevailing assumptions and perspectives of those with whom we surround ourselves. How do we keep these truths in tension? Do we need “rules”? Or do individual Christians simply need to rely on the transforming, protecting power of the Holy Spirit? Is there a correct option in between somewhere, or does it lie in another direction complete?

    • K, I’m truly sorry about what you are going through, and it would not be fair for me to take any position on what happened and why. The Bible certainly does warn us not to be conformed to the world’s values. Each of us must decide before God and with good pastoral counsel where the lines need to be drawn.

    • Be glad they do have those values. Too many parents do walk out on their entire families.

      My Christian mother walked out on our family when I was 8 so she wouldn’t be unequally yoked. We did manage to patch up a relationship of sorts much later when I was an adult, but it was always strained and took effort on both of our parts to maintain.

      Not that I don’t mourn her loss (her yartzheit is in Nov) , but, in honesty, it was always difficult.

      I don’t blame the Christians though. Her relationship with my father was not what I would call a healthy, adult relationship. They fought like monkeys in too small of a cage.

      In fact, I continued being a Christian (my rebellion was joining the Catholics–she was a Baptist) for a long time after that.

    • I’m also very sorry for what you’ve experienced. I experienced divorce as a pastor, with a wife who left for another believer, unfortunately.

      We are all flawed individuals, aren’t we? I’ll remember you in my evening prayers…

    • K,

      I talk daily to men who have gone through similar experiences. Your last paragraph has, I think, some valuable insight..

      There are the two extremes. Like most other things, If one is at either extreme end of the spectrum, there is an unhealthy result.

      God’s blessings…

  13. My entry into The Kingdom came by way of a Christian “cult” group that preached communal living, total separation, daily bible memorization and reading, classes on doctrine, and daily team street witnessing. Despite the obvious flaws and, eventual, heresies this group perpetuated I was thoroughly indoctrinated and armed to do battle with the world, INCLUDING the “lukewarm” Christian world.

    Three years later I found myself on the southern California beached, alone, divorced and homeless. So much for “community”, eh?

    Then I became involved in a Pentecostal church that preached separation, though not as extreme as the cult it still looked down on the usual joys of life. But as I remarried and began to mature I began to “rebel” and slowly departed from the doctrinaire teachings, becoming an “unreliable” member, but by then I just didn’t care what others thought.

    Now, some 40 years later, I can enjoy the good things in culture, such as music, art, film (including mindless movies and TV) AND baseball!

    It has been a long journey that doesn’t seem to totally mesh with any organization, but I HAVE found a home in a Nazarene church that values me as a teacher of the bible. They know about my past and are familiar with those aspects of doctrine with which I disagree, but still allow me to teach. If we ever change pastor this could change quickly, but for now I can be a part of the wider world while still retaining my “cred” as a man of God.

    Separatism keeps one from being what God intended Christians to be, salt and light. Separatism is just another word for fear and control.

    • very well said, Oscar. I’m glad you found a teaching platform (for now), and that GOD has led you to drinkable water. Your story encourages me.

      GregR

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Separatism…
      Enclaving…
      Christian Bizarro World…
      “Just like Fill-in-the-blank, Except CHRISTIAN (TM)…”
      “Us Four, No More, Amen…”
      One commenter on Slacktivists Left Behind snark blog said it best:
      “I wasn’t raised to live my life. I was raised to keep my nose squeeky-clean to pass God’s Rapture Litmus Test and nothing else.”

      That ISN’T Living.

  14. Mike (the other chaplain) says:

    nice article Mike. My Beatles CDs stayed in a box for years while I purchased the latest Newboys, Audio A, or For Him CD. I intended on burning them in a bonfire. I’m so glad I didn’t because I would have bought them all back again. Especially when the remastered discs came out last fall (ok, I guess I did buy them again!). Still…..a musician exercising his gifts is giving glory to God, the one who gave him those gifts….whether he knows it or not!

  15. I truly get what is being said here but I don’t get the seemingly overall disdain for the church. Is not the church the bride of Christ? Should we not love what Christ loves? I am all for going into the world to meet people where they are but in my experience there are few who can consistently spend more time in the world than with fellow believers and not be marked by it. Also, just in reading the post and comments that we can remove ourselves so far from separating that we lose sight of the very fact of where these folks are headed. Are we so excited about hanging out with them that we forget to tell them “repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand”? I have been reading this blog for a while and know that is not your heart Chaplain Mike, but I just felt I should comment.

    Blessings to all!

    Bryan

    • sarahmorgan says:

      When you meet and talk with someone who has been spiritually abused by a dysfunctional church, you may understand better why some Christians struggle with loving all aspects of church.

      I believe that one of the biggest failings of the church today is in teaching its members how to help and encourage one another throughout the week as each of them brings the church to the world in their daily lives. Jesus sent His disciples out in twos. but it seems like today everyone is expected to go at it alone…sort of like the church-as-a-gas-station, where you’re supposed to get refueled once a week before going out on long, lonely drives.

      If we are the church (the bride of Christ), and Christ loves us, and wants us to shine His light into the world, shouldn’t we do it?
      If we put our focus on loving ourselves (or our institutions) simply because Christ loves us, doesn’t that put us on a path towards narcissism, at the expense of loving others?

      • Sarah,

        As a pastor myself, I have spent many hours talking to people who have been hurt by a church. I agree that there is much that many churches do wrong and that does not please Christ. But even still, Christ loves us. I surely do not mean that we go around ‘loving ourselves” in a narcissistic way but rather having a proper understanding of who the church is. If you talk about my bride, you will have to face me. In the same way we need to understand that not only did Jesus die for this church, we will be presented to him as a glorious gift. I simply believe we should use caution when we are so quick to criticize Jesus’ bride, any part of it. Rest assured, there will be many brothers and sister’s who (although perhaps in error) lived a life of separation from the world and yet will be with us in heaven while those of the world will not. Oh and yes, we are to be a city on a hill as well as salt and light. It is possible to be both. Peace and Blessings.

        • sarahmorgan says:

          Bryan,
          Please accept my apology for incorrectly presuming that you had no experience with people who’ve been hurt by the church.

          Staying on the original topic — you said in your original post:
          I am all for going into the world to meet people where they are but in my experience there are few who can consistently spend more time in the world than with fellow believers and not be marked by it.

          But isn’t this exactly the sort of thing that believers should learn in their church communities — how to stay grounded in Christ in seemingly Christless areas? Where else would they learn this? What do you, as a pastor, do to equip your congregation to do this?

          • Sarah, I totally agree with you in principle but in practice it is not so cut and dry. Notice I said MORE time in the world than with other BELIEVERS. I have found that in order to remain “salty” in the world, I must spend ample time with believers (not just in church). We all know what Jesus said to do with salt that has lost its saltiness. Where did Jesus spend most of His time? As I read the Scriptures I see Him spending the majority of His time pouring Himself into 12 men. He certainly engaged the world. But mostly met with His disciples.

          • sarahmorgan says:

            Bryan (in response to your 11:07 comment — I’m not sure my comment will appear in the right order, since I can’t reply directly to your comment),

            I did indeed notice that you “said MORE time in the world than with other BELIEVERS”. But I am currently living in a seemingly Christless area, and have been hurt by not one but two local churches, and I now find myself having to stay grounded in Christ with very little encouragement from, and fellowship time with, true believers.

            The evangelical churches where I live are all separatist “fortress churches” (they all believe that within the confines of their church is the only real safe place to be, and they work hard at trying not to get “contaminated” by anything they deem to be worldly), and the actions and behaviors of both leaders & congregants towards others are primarily motivated by fear, not love. Because they fight among themselves, and don’t interact in meaningful ways with the community, the nonchurchgoing community holds them in disdain or derision, which makes any local witnessing and/or mission work difficult.

            In the past, I’ve brought up the idea of acknowledging the spiritual darkness in my town, and how fellow Christians need to encourage each other all the more in this environment, but I’ve been shot down, mostly by churchgoers who’ve been taught so well by their church leaders to avoid and separate from the world that many are scared to death of any interaction with anyone who doesn’t attend their church (much less no church).

            It seems that if Jesus could pour himself into 12 men, a pastor or other leader could pour himself into 12 people, teaching and mentoring and encouraging them to pour themselves into 12×12 people, and those people into yet more people, hopefully ad infinitum. But it feels now like it’s too much to ask church leaders to teach their congregations to acknowledge that dealing with the world can be difficult, much less get them to see the great need for Christians to help and encourage each other in the effort, and, most importantly, to not fear the world….instead, it’s easier to teach them to just avoid the world.

            Thanks for engaging me in this discussion. Prayers for you and your church.

          • Sarah, (responding to your other post)

            I completely agree with you in your assessment of disciple making. I am truly sorry that you live in an area where the church does not function in this way. I believe that our opinion differs due to our experience with believers around us. I am seeing God work through the discipleship of men and women who are engaging a culture for Christ. In my previous post, I was speaking of true believers, not simply church attenders. We must make this distinction. Also, I was primarily speaking of the One Holy Catholic Church not the local church. Unfortunately there are many local churches that are filled with unregenerate people, thus leading to no outworking of the fruits of the Spirit. Also, we must be careful of generalizing. You wrote: The evangelical churches where I live are all separatist “fortress churches”. While this might be true, this certainly does not mean that ALL evangelical churches are separatists or that they all behave in such a manner.

            Blessings.

    • Bryan, as you may know from other posts, I’m still struggling to find the proper balance with church and life in the world. That’s why I call it the post-ev wilderness. Still a lot of wandering going on.

      • As an adjunct for all our meditation and prayer, God gives us an everyday practical exam of life in this world – whether it’s the church world or the secular world. I have one foot firmly planted in each. I cannot claim success in either world, so I just rely on God’s grace to help me thrive in the mess.

        BTW, grace is a really cool concept I discovered after expanding my horizons beyond – but not leaving – Roman Catholicism.

        Let’s keep wandering on the well lit path.

    • Bryan,

      A lot of what the separatists consider wordly to be shunned is neutral stuff, like music or art. Once I dated an outspoken Christian man, and I was very emotional over a photographic exhibit I had just seen. (Children in Crime, very heartbreaking. I still remember the image of a small child and the outline of a murder victim). His response was, “That’s the way of the world.”

      Besides, you are more likely to be heard speaking about the love of God, when you have things in common, such as going to concerts, etc.

      • I get the feeling I am getting painted with a wide brush here. I am in now way saying that we are to not engage the world. I have never been to a church that practices “separatism” so maybe I don’t fully know where everyone is coming from. But I have, however, been a part of a church that tries so hard to look and be like the world that they forgot who they were. They sacrificed the Gospel on the alter of relativism. When we look at the life of our Lord and the Apostles, I just don’t see them “blending in”. Yes they were a part of the world in as much as they needed to be to reach the lost for Christ. But in my experience most of us don’t have the level of commitment to do that and we just end up looking and being more like the world. This is hard thing to do and I have been trying to find the line for years. I have many lost friends but what scares me to death is that over time I forget they are lost. Anyway, there are some churches that do it right. Not perfect, but being used of God.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Bryan:
          You’ve come out of one extreme end of the bell curve.
          Anna came from the opposite end.
          Both were way out-of-balance in opposite directions.

          It’s like one of you was raised around total nymphomaniacs, the other around total asexuals, and the subject is “problems with sex.” What triggers your alarm bells are going to be completely different, and you’ll miss what triggers the other’s.

    • Christopher Lake says:

      Bryan,

      I love the bride of Christ very, very much. I’m a practicing Catholic, so for me, it is unthinkable to follow Christ without a connection to the Church.

      On the other hand, while I enjoy a wide variety of “secular” music, films, literature, etc., and I love talking about these things with my non-Christian friends, I do look for ways to share my faith in Christ with them. Not in an obnoxious, unnatural way, but in the easy, unforced way that people simply converse about their pursuits and passions. Such as, for example, the way that I would enjoy talking to people about my wife’s wonderful qualities, if I were married.

      • I completely agree with you Christopher. I also understand that what drives much of our beliefs about this is our background and experiences. I have experienced church where anything and everything is acceptable and there is nothing sacred or holy. As a Catholic, your experience is vastly different. I believe we both agree here, maybe just define the terms differently. Keep on sharing brother!

  16. Very nice post – very honest. I like the little poem you quoted at the beginning. I think it’s by Helen Lemmel – I used it not long ago in a message given at a funeral service. It seemed to fit that particular situation.
    I was also thinking, like Steve Newell, that we are asked to be in the world and not of it. That’s the cross in context. Full of tension, to be sure, but that’s where the work of Christ is to be done.

  17. You are definitely singing my song here, and you do it so well. You will have to forgive me, but when I come in here, I always feel like a kid who is sitting at the adult’s table. I tend to want to keep my mouth shut for fear of saying something stupid! I will say, though, that I can completely relate to your entire post. Having grown up in the church with a family full of ministers, I have struggled to be comfortable outside of the bubble of churchianity, too. It eventually left me needing a break from the madness. My husband and I are not in ministry right now because I had to leave for awhile to get my bearings. I didn’t want my children to grow up the same way. So, in this time of re-evaluation, I am discovering freedom, and I think it most interesting that in choosing freedom, I am often making others around me very uncomfortable, but I am still forging ahead. Thank you for the encouragement to keep finding my way.

    • I know what you mean about feeling I should keep my mouth shut…I know I’m in a learning-only stage, so why should I even try to pontificate? It would sound childish coming from me…

      I’ve been on the path of freedom lately in life, and have noticed it makes people uncomfortable as well. Heck, it makes me uncomfortable…it’s even painful to me sometimes. And sad. But freedom it is…what other choice is there?

      • Matt,

        Thank you for commiserating with me. And, you are so right about the uncomfortable nature that freedom invokes in all of us. It seems too easy to live in freedom. Certainly, we have to work harder, try harder, do more, be better…but, it’s not up to us. If it were, we would all be in trouble. I know that I can understand it all better if I am able to keep a set law, but the law is not going to do me any good in the end.

        Thanks for you comment!

  18. I grew up a separatist – and it takes years and years to get it out your system.

    Also Chaplain Mike – Now those songs are stuck in my head!!! I haven’t heard them in 11 years….

  19. I so admire what you Chaplain Mike (my brother) has shared above. I felt in many ways the same. I though, left the church community due to my changes in attitude and belief as a Christian that I just wanted to be human as well. God uses us in this world in many ways. I too work in hospitals where the Lord has blessed others through me and blessed me through others. It’s important to be a part of the Christian atmosphere community for the sake of edifying one another, but I do believe God uses us in our “secular” world too. I unfortunately was not strong enough in my convictions to uphold some of the obedience to God and listening to His will words. Everyday I look to getting a closer relationship with the Lord in my life now married and with a child and to continue to be used in my profession. I am blessed to be not only your sibling but a sister in Christ. You have done very well. I am always bragging of your talents with your work, family and songs and baseball!! In giving up the worldly things you did the Lord blessed you and led you to bless others and He still does today. God Bless Mike!!

  20. Mike,

    Thanks for this for this ‘vie sainte’ or ‘holy life’ as they put it in catholic France. The expression doesn’t refer to being canonized by Rome (lol) but to seeing the hand of God in one’s life.

    Through the internet I have encountered quite a lot of ‘separatists’ over the years. I’ve always tried to be friendly to them or to ‘exit counsel’ them somehow, but being from liberal Europe and the very liberal Netherlands and being of catholic (the Beast of revelation!!!) stock didn’t help much.

    The fun thing is: what we need over here is quite the opposite. A bit less of ‘anything goes’ mainline churchianity and a bit more of commitment to holiness and Holy Writ…

    Anyways, I can see now more clearly why you are such a worthy caretaker of IMonk’s legacy.

    • Our setting makes a big difference, Hans. Thanks for your kind words.

    • Christopher Lake says:

      Hans,

      From what I can tell as an American, it seems that both Catholicism and mainline Protestantism in the West could use more of the historically Catholic understanding that we are *all* called to live lives of heroic virtue– to be “saints,” whether officially canonized or not. Not all of us will live lives of heroic virtue (I’m not sure that I am or will, but I want to), but I know that we are called to live such lives as Christians.

  21. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Conversion to me was like rounding a bend in the highway and driving straight into a blinding sun so bright that it washed out everything else in sight.

    Sounds like a recipe for wrapping your car around the nearest light pole.

  22. I guess great minds think alike, Chaplain Mike. I sat down to write on “separation” (with tongue in cheek, however) the same day. (http://disjournal.blogspot.com/2010/09/short-history-of-come-out-and-be.html)

    Thanks for putting a face on how theological abstractions can set us adrift. Some of the most pernicious (and subtly attractive) deceptions are the ones that appear to have such a solid biblical foundation.

  23. CM, I too have benefited greatly from today’s discussion. I have one issue though with your entry and all of the comments. You and many others talk about the freedom found in returning to your music, songs….and “baseball”. I don’t get it. One would think that true freedom from all of the earlier influences would lead to an appreciation for the game of golf. I do not understand any of you baseball people. This is not intended to divert the discussion here into lesser things like sports. I just had to say this for my own sake, or satisfaction, I guess.

  24. We seem to have gotten it backwards. Jesus was completely himself on earth, and did not be anything other than what he was. (Well, he did often say “don’t tell anyone what I just did,” but you know what I mean.) He spoke of salvation, damnation, and the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet he waded neck-deep into the world, eating with swindlers and whores. The church’s tendency these days (and I am pointing the finger at myself too) is to speak on how to have a better marriage, financial peace, well-behaved children, etc., all the while cloistering ourselves away from non-Christians.

  25. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Uh, Chaplain Mike, you DO know that in German the initials “SA” are an invocation of Godwin’s Law?

  26. I can relate to your story because mine was very similar, including the 3 year Bible school and now that I’m in my 59s, seminary. I have also become Lutheran. I’m interested in how you got there in your journey. On my internship, I’m getting involved in hospice as a chaplain.

    Peace.

  27. Loved your honesty and all the comments. It’s a struggle we all go through, I think.

  28. Paul Jimenez says:

    I’m lucky enough to live in a big city and go to a church with people from many different cultures. I go to a sorta-kinda-baptist church that’s heavily hispanic and I have a very diverse group of friends. we even started a indie-punk band. I guess were closest to christen hipsters than anything else. We heavily value arts and culture. And share a mutual distaste of CCM. It’s sad to see so many people trapped in bubbles.