Some pastors drive me crazy. I think God put some pastors on earth to personally teach me patience. To personally teach all us believer priests patience and forgiveness.
Once upon a time, when I was a new-minted Christian, fresh off a several-decades-long agnosticism binge, I had a pastor who seemed fine to me, at first. Fine in the sense that what he said in his homilies made sense. It actually seemed to square with the Bible. Seemed not to egregiously contradict what appeared to be the sense of what God seems to want us to get about him. In the Bible. At least most of the time.
But I was really not paying very close attention for awhile there. Because you see at first I was radiating. I was mostly electrified by the Holy Spirit in worship. And after worship I sat in a kind of spiritually lit state. So that when it came time for the sermon, I was basically glowing. Was just taken up in that Holy Spirit glow a person will sometimes get.
But after about, oh. I don’t know. A year, maybe. I find that the guy is talking about how Christians mature. Ripen was what I thought. But no. It was in his talk (and therefore in his mind) more of an ascent. More of that same getting better and better in every way sort of a thing. Now he didn’t say better and better in every way. He wasn’t that obvious about it. But this was his drift.
Oh, he presented the idea in terms like “maturity,” “growing closer to the Lord,” “walking closer with God.” Phrased the idea in metaphorical terms that are a bunch of tired, worn out, stick-in-your-throat-and-gag-you clichés.
(Don’t you hate that, by the way? I mean doesn’t it almost make you ill the way these guys drag out tired, old, dead and rotting figures of speech to describe Mr. Excitement himself. God himself. And ideas about God. And our relationship with God?
You’d think these guys—if anybody—would understand the raw power and freshness and originality and creativity that are God himself. And would therefore be ashamed and embarrassed to drag their putrid language about him out and show it to us like it is really something to be admired. Language that alternately wants to make us go to sleep or throw up.
You’d think somebody would pull these guys aside and whisper in their ears and say something like, “Look here buddy. You are dishonoring God here. You are making God appear to be as tired and bored and unimaginative and silly and dull as you are. Stop it! Go read some Annie Dillard, will you? Go read some George Herbert, some John Donne, some Gerard Manly Hopkins, some Rilke, some Dostoyevsky, some G.K. Chesterton, some Tolstoy. Would you please inform your thought and your soul and your tongue and your sermons with the world’s great literature about God and the things of God rather than with cartoons and Evangelical pastors’ illiterate books about God?”)
Where was I? Where am I? God, forgive me for what I sometimes think of some of these guys. God, forgive me for what I sometimes say about some of these guys.
Oh, yes. So the guy uses these worn out metaphors that tell you close to nothing about what the Christian experience is about, what being a Jesus freak is about, but where they’re all headed is this ascendancy or moral progress idea. They imply that we’re getting closer and closer to God as we mature in our faith. They imply that we are getting to be better and better people. That by degrees we will eventually achieve rough equivalency with Jesus.
So this is where it started for me. With this first minister after decades of abstinence. This insidious idea that we get better and better. This idea that we become more and more God-like as we spend more time with God in prayer and study and worship and works. This idea that we become more and more righteous as we spend more time close to Righteousness himself. Justice himself. Beauty himself. Truth himself. Love himself.
And then you know what happens? I bet most of you can guess. As this guy is prattling away along this line of discourse in his sermons, he is simultaneously wooing his secretary! Now this minister is married with a handicapped child at home! His secretary is married with a few young children at home! And this guy is wooing this woman, and she is accepting his advances, and they both end up running away together, after the guy is given the boot by the church for his behavior.
So I was given an object lesson early in my recovered Christian career. Here’s what a mature Christian looks like: A guy committing adultery. Here’s what a Christ-like guy looks like.
So with this experience and a lot of other experiences since then—experiences of pastors and other Christians—I’ve come to several basic conclusions about this pastor-invented idea that the work of Christians is to become more and more like Christ. These are in no particular order.
Conclusion Number One: We are all sinners. We all do sin, daily, and we are all capable at any time of monstrous sin.
Conclusion Number Two: We all would like to think we are capable of being Christ-like, but we are not. There is a difference in kind (not in degree) between God and his people.
Conclusion Number Three: We all would like to think we become better and better in every way, but we don’t. If we think so, we are deluding ourselves. If we are pastors and talk this way, we are dangerous to ourselves and others, because hubris is the result, a supersonic aircraft of a sin that carries us and those with us straight to hell in a fiery crash.
Conclusion Number Four: We should always keep our bull-crap-ometers turned on around Christ-likeness people. It could save us from swallowing a euphemism.
Conclusion Number Five: Pastors and others who buy into the whole Christ-likeness thing don’t get something fundamental about being followers of Jesus.