I once saw Chris Tomlin wear pleather pants on stage. Dare I say, they were patent pleather. How do I know they were patent pleather? I was sitting on the 2nd row. They had several zippers. Several. Light beamed from them in all directions. I’m pretty sure they were black, and he topped them off with some kind of equally-shiny skater shoes. Though to be fair that was about 4 years ago, so that could just be my caricatured memory of it.
I laughed about it. I mean, come on, he was wearing shiny pleather pants. But as I look back on that instance (it obviously stuck with me—see: zippered pleather pants), I was not just laughing at the silliness of the pants, I was trying to distance myself from the “uncool” Christian on stage. The fact is, despite the fashion monstrosity, Chris Tomlin was on stage because he was leading thousands of people in worship that night, facilitating bringing them into the presence of God. I failed to see that because I was too caught up in what separated us rather than what united us.
Over the years as I have experienced many aspects of Christian culture, I have run into several other things that evoke a similar judgmental cynicism in me, and it usually has to do with whether I think that person is being genuine or not. Whether its a word-for-word rehearsed speaking style, a sermon story with an undeterminable source (Did this happen in real life? Did this come from an e-mail forward? So many questions…), a worship leader without an instrument (apparently for me there is a fine line between worship leader and performer, and that line is an instrument) or clapping in between every song at church, I start to draw lines between me and them.
Recently I have taken note of a couple verses in Luke that has convicted me of this attitude towards other Christians.
John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”
(Luke 9:49-50 ESV)
The one who is not against you is for you. Just because they do not “follow with you” does not mean they are not also part of the same kingdom of God and earnestly seeking to follow Him.
While of course there are always things in Christian culture (or any culture I suppose) that misrepresent who we are and don’t really merit encouragement (t-shirts that change the John Deere Logo to John 3:16 come to mind), and there is a time and place for rebuking those who are speaking a gospel contrary to the Truth, we should strive to remember we are on the same team. We share the same goal: to proclaim Christ and live faithfully to Him.
Instead of making judgment calls on other Christians, I should be encouraging them and supporting them. After all, Chris Tomlin has probably reached more people with his music than I may ever. God may speak to someone through that rehearsed voice at the pulpit. And at the end of the day, I don’t know these people’s hearts. We of all people, as Christians, should be a united community amidst the chaos of the rest of the world, because we know that one thing matters more than anything else.