I grew up in a really safe, upper-middle class cool little town called Hudson. I’ll admit at times I’m ashamed to admit that I grew up there, because everyone in the Akron/Cleveland area of Ohio knows it’s one of the richest, and potentially pretentious places around. Yet as much as I was not a typical “Hudsonite”, I can say now that I’m glad I grew up there because it was fun and my education was great.
I’ll have to admit that I got in trouble quite often during my days in Hudson. I was a definite miscreant. There was a good little period when I was a senior in High School that the cops in the area knew me well, a long haired burn-out kid that needed to have his old 1988 Buick searched for drugs (which happened a few times).
Yet when I was 11 or 12 years old I wasn’t as crazy. Though I still remember getting busted by the cops for silly things like jaywalking. One time my friend Chris Waldeck and me got kicked out of a church parking lot for skateboarding. I had one of those junky Bart Simpson skateboards, you know, the kind with a curve on only one side that squeaked a little when you rode it?
The cops in Hudson were often thoroughly made fun of. We used to joke that they probably didn’t have much to do since Hudson was so safe. We’d always say that they were probably hanging out eating donuts and drinking coffee, just waiting for some little kid to jaywalk so they could write him a warning ticket.
And then I think of what it would be like to be a policeman in a big city like Cleveland, Ohio, or Detroit, Michigan, where the crime rate is so high. Every day would be a wild adventure. There would probably be no time to warn someone about jaywalking, or even give speeding tickets. If you had high profile organized drug dealers and murderers to deal with, priorities would change significantly.
Now America is the “global Hudson” of the world. We have the most freedoms, we possess most of the resources, and we have the potential in this country to live a safe, comfortable, happy life. It’s not this way in many other countries, such as Iraq or Mexico.
Much like Hudson cops, the American church has interesting priorities. We have a lot of in-house debates over theology. We have a lot of factions. We have the freedom to divide over music style, size, ministry philosophy, theology, culture, and more. We have plenty of folks that get paid really well to perform a certain duty within the church. We have ministry professionals, preachers, speakers, writers and musicians, that make a really good living doing what they do for Jesus sake. And as long as none of them get narcissistic, greedy or immoral in the process that’s all well and good.
But do we ever compare ourselves to the global church?
I remember when I began to discover the world outside of Hudson. It was a culture shock. I experienced multi-cultural diversity. I learned a different view of material possessions from the poor. I learned the work ethic of rural farm-workers. I gleaned from some of the ideals of friends steeped in the liberal arts.
When we compare the American Church to the global church do we realize how spoiled we are? We’re much like Hudson cops, who view petty things as crimes. We aren’t persecuted and don’t live in fear for our lives. So we fill our time by debasing and outcasting each other for petty reasons like culture, way of dress, music style and theological distinctive. Poor congregations are embittered towards rich congregations. Rich congregations look down on poor congregations. Charismatic people criticize evangelicals for being too tame, and evangelicals criticize charismatics for being too crazy. Calvinists criticize Armenians for denying God’s sovereignty, and Armenians criticize Calvinists for denying God’s desire for the world to be saved. Old people criticize young people for playing loud music, and young people criticize old people for latching onto tradition. I could name many more arguments but wouldn’t have the time or pages to name them all.
We desperately need the culture shock that would come from knowing and understanding how different churches operate around the world. Then our view of discipleship would be far more complete, and our understanding of scriptures would become clearer.
I’m certainly not suggesting that we do what many in my generation (and history) have foolishly done: Throw out the basic gospel and just focus on social justice. But I do think we need to be well rounded. I think factions that aren’t heretical need to learn from each other and work together. I long for a day when the church in America looks more like this:
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (Acts 4:32-35)
And less like this:
15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. (Revelation 3:15-18)
So may we American Christians begin to desire the Lord to stretch us. Just as I was shocked out of my comfort upon departing from Hudson and the plastic bubble safety that surrounded me, I pray that all of us will begin to be shocked out of our comforts- whether they be riches, denominations, theologies, safe friends, church styles, or upbringings. Then we will be inspired to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. (Ephesians 4:12-14) And may we come into a fuller knowledge of the truth of the scriptures and see Jesus as the Lord Himself sees Him.