Friday, May 1, 2009

My Jesus is Bigger than Your Jesus

Is there a place for the competitive spirit in the church?

I find myself wondering that as I enjoy my latest PS3 game, the slightly dated but still highly entertaining multiplayer online game WarHawk. In it, teams of semi-cartoonish warrior-avatars battle it out across an array of expansive maps, playing games of capture the flag, fighting to seize territory, or just doing some good ol' fashioned virtual killin'.

Behind very single one of your opponents is an actual human being located somewhere around the world. It is, truth be told, not necessarily the most pastorly of pastimes. Dropping your Nemesis fighter into hover mode and lobbing missiles at a footsoldier attempting to seize your flag is hardly turning the other cheek. As I get better at the game, and more folks fall at my hands, I imagine that I've probably been responsible for more folks calling out the name of the Lord in game than I do in church.

As much as I enjoy a well earned victory, the intensity of competition makes me wonder if such a thing has any place among Jesus people. Are we permitted to strive with and against one another as we seek to strengthen our churches and our proclamation of Christ's grace?

I particularly wonder this in the context of my own congregation. Much of the growth we have seen in the last several years has come from our partnership with a Korean church that is now in the throes of a deep church conflict. As the two church camps battle it out, I'm amazed to see their worship numbers growing. Members have left, sure. But as the conflict continues, more and more people are being encouraged to come show their support for one team or another. It has the feeling of two small armies marshaling for a battle. I've heard some suggest that this battle is unquestionably the Lord's work, as they work to build a real church and cast out those who stood in their way for so many years. What better than the crucible of conflict to draw people to church?

This is not God at work, of course. Not if either Jesus or Paul knew what they were talking about. This is just human beings having at one another, which we can do just fine without the Lord's help.

But are there good ways to fight within the church? I think, for instance, that the progressive wing of the church is a little too passive when it comes to striving against repressive and idolatrous fundamentalism. We sit back and are "nice," and do nothing. It'd be better to fight...not by shouting or being obnoxious to ultraconservatives...but by making a concerted effort to make our witness to Christ's grace more intensely viral than theirs.