In our unthinking assimilation of cultural paradigms and practices, we easily fall prey to mental sedimentation. This sedimentation of the mind involves a habitual tendency to concretize, absolutize, and freeze fluid patterns into unchanging monuments. Before long, these mental monuments become our set of laws governing our thinking, feeling, and behaving. We become legalists.
The church as an institution is highly susceptible to this sedimentation process. It begins with our identity fossilization as what the world and the institution of the church call “Christians.” Calling ourselves Christians do not make us one. Professing belief in Christ without corresponding heart recognition of Christ may make us socially respectable within an institution, but may not cut it in terms of spiritual reality—ultimately the only reality that matters.
We like to identify ourselves with a logo to demarcate our precious identities from the “non-us.” This is a universal human tendency, arguably an evolutionary imperative. But unknowingly, in getting caught up with this identity formation imperative, we lose sight of the contingent, dynamic, unfolding, emerging, dissolving process of life that is happening every moment. We are deluded into thinking our identities are frozen in time when in fact we are being formed, deformed, reformed, and transformed in every moment.
When professing Christians and the professing church institution get locked into certain pet forms and structures, we inadvertently conflate form with substance, structure with process, falsity with reality. We are deeply attached to certain ways of being Christian and doing church. We react vehemently to unfamiliar language, form, style, and context of being witnesses to Christ. We find ourselves entrenched in dogmatic even bigoted expressions of church that are actually imports of Anglo-Americanism, if we care to examine ourselves honestly and reflexively.
Did Christ come to make us Christians? No, not in my view. Christ came to make us witnesses to Himself. We are to be like Christ and to mirror Him to the world. Sadly, I have found little evidence of Christ-likeness among professing Christians. Even though the term “Christian” ironically is meant to convey “like Christ.” So I cannot claim that anyone professing to be Christian is actually a Christ-like witness to Christ. Far from it.
What about the church? As an institution, often replete with buildings and bucks and bodies, the church seems to be little more than a corporate entity more interested in serving itself than the world. We speak of being a church not for ourselves but daily find ourselves doing business as usual—for ourselves: serving our own vision, agenda, interests, procedures, processes, and bottomlines. Why do we insist on just one way of doing church? Is church not an inaugurated kingdom ekklesia comprising witnesses to Christ, engaged in making disciples of all nations? Where in the Bible is there a statement on what church should look like in a postmodern, relativist, globally-connected, multi-spiritual 2021?
And when we claim to be making disciples of “all nations,” what are we really talking about? Do we even know what we are talking about? Internet TV evangelism for mass consumption in opulent homes? Missionaries to remote lands imposing Anglo-Americanism on tribal folks? Telling friends and neighbours to come to our sprawling citadel of a church or else land in hell? Is this making disciples of all nations?
In short, are we like Christ? Or are we like “Christians”, defined by the world and conformed to the world? Are we making disciples of all nations or are we cherry picking and commodifying our cultural prejudices to make Christians of selected elites and cashed-up folks so that our church can “grow” and “grow,” bigger and glossier than the other one down the street?
The next time someone asks me which “church” I attend, I will simply smile and say, “What do you mean? Really?” Love me or loathe me, I have no time for fossilised churchianity. There is too much important gospel work to be done. Unless you have a mind of Christ that can see beyond pigeon-holes and man-made categories, and a heart of grace that can embrace the rainbow of God’s diversity, you will never perceive what God is doing in my life. Before you judge, examine your own heart.