I've been thinking a lot lately about comparison and how we've justified it in the church. I spoke with a couple of different friends just this week. One of them thought it an oddity that I spoke of Catholicism as a different tradition, rather than a different religion. Another, a friend from Redmond, asked me if I would speak of the controversy behind Bethel church in Redding California. Many evangelicals are stigmatizing the church, calling them “grave diggers,” seeing no Biblical precedence for their often-seen “gold dust” or any other of their signs, wonders and miracles, and are therefore labeling them “un-Biblical,” or worse, “demonic” - as if everything that mainstream evangelicalism does is Biblical and godly.
By and large, the problem with Christianity is not those who believe and behave differently than we do; it's those who point out the differences in belief and behavior among the Bride of Christ. Those who point out the differences are un-Biblical.
Comparison is antithetical to Christianity. Comparison has, as its presupposition, legality. When I compare one entity with another, I am holding them both side-by-side to discover which, if either, I prefer - or which, if either, conforms best to the law I have personally adopted. When thinking of religion, though, we are automatically one of two entities, therefore comparing every other religious entity - whether religion, tradition, denomination, or sect - with our own.
Because we're prideful enough to assume that what we believe is now true, we turn our religious beliefs and behaviors into law for everybody else, supposing that if they don't look identical to us, they must be in the wrong. In doing this, we have subjected our version of Christianity to law - a law by which everything else must be judged, either to its praise or its condemnation. And in subjecting Christianity to law, we have subjected it to a godless religion - one which has nothing to do with Christ.
Christ manifested Himself to humanity for the sake of freedom. This freedom had no purpose outside of freedom - “for freedom Christ has set us free, stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). That means this freedom was never given to uproot us from one law to plant us in another, whether the law of the flesh, or the law of a comparative religion. Freedom was given that we might be free, not that we might be bound to “Christian” law.
The moment Christianity becomes a list of dictates is the moment it ceases to be Christianity. Christianity is not a list of do's and don'ts. It is a freedom of expression originating from the realized freedom of fellowship we have with the Lord.
To compare is not even to stand on the periphery of the Christian faith. It is to stand outside of the faith. Comparison does not just disrupt faith; it is a result of a divine absence. We are completely bound by law when we engage in comparison, and are therefore excluded from grace (Galatians 5:4), and in essence, lack relationship with the God of grace.
Absurdity is no excuse for mockery. There have been outrageous claims coming out of Bethel Church. But there are outrageous claims coming out of the Scriptures, too. Jesus turned water into wine. He let a prostitute wash His feet. He healed a blind man by rubbing mud on his eyes; mud He made with His own spit! Jesus was weird by every standard of the word. Christianity is not normality, nor is it antithetical to absurdity. Christianity is a fluid, spontaneous relationship with a highly original God.
And God is truly original. The Scriptures don't confine Him. They expose His power; His infinity; His creativity. God is immutable; the same yesterday, today and forever - but God is under no obligation to function in a strictly “Biblical” fashion. God “does all that He pleases” (Psalm 115:3), and if we truly have relationship with God, we may be found to be original - or rather, weird by virtue of God working in and through us.
So whether we're highly charismatic, flag-waving, church-going barkers, or honorable, law-abiding, Bible-believing conservatives, we're not Christian unless we can look at each other with grace in our eyes, and love rather than hate – if we can relate rather than compare. We're not Christian unless we have relationship with God and allow others to have relationship with God, accepting that it’s a relationship that will look different than ours.
Director of Youth & Discipleship
Riviera Baptist Church