Thursday, May 18, 2023

Don't Be A Lone Ranger Christian

Episode 71 - Don't be a Lone Ranger Christian

(Any resemblance to actual people that might occur in this post is purely coincidental and speaks more to the prevalence of this issue and not to my desire to point anyone out.)

There is something new that is plaguing Christian communities. Ok, well... maybe it isn't new, I don't really know, but it is new to me. Actually, now that I think about it, it might not even be new to me, but it is definitely something that is now demonstrating itself in a newly exaggerated state. It is sort of like when an artist draws a caricature of a person: The artist will exaggerate any feature that is slightly noticeable in order to create the caricature. This is what is happening in our Christian Communities - we always had lone-ranger Christians, but it has never been as apparent or as grotesque as it is today. 

Before I proceed, allow me to outline the format of this post. I'll begin by defining the title I've created: The Lone Ranger Christian. After that, I would like to describe the three contributing factors that I believe have exaggerated the noticeable characteristics of The Lone Ranger Christian, creating its current caricature. Finally, I will attempt to, in as brief a way as possible, share a couple of Biblical insights that I hope will battle this issue and strengthen the Church. 

Hi Ho Silver ... Away!

And now for a definition... From memory, so it could be faulty, the Lone Ranger was a fictional character, that I believe was a Texas Ranger. The old TV show was a weird cross between an old-timey western and a superhero flick. It was like the Batman and Robin of my childhood ventured into an episode of Gunsmoke. Each week, (I think) the Lone Ranger would encounter a new challenge or a new bad guy, and with his trusty horse Silver and his one loyal friend Tonto, he would stop the bad guy, foiling all of his schemes. He was a Texas Ranger, sure... but he wasn't following orders from anyone. He knew better than anyone else, what was right, what was wrong, and how to dole out justice. At the end of each episode, everyone was just thankful that he had ridden into town to straighten everything out. 

This is essentially what the Lone Ranger Christian is all about. The world is a mess, the church is a wreck, and there are bad guys in all of the Saloon windows. The Lone Ranger Christian will usually enter a situation, and with a quick draw of his trusty Bible, lay out what that situation is really all about. Pow... Pow... Pow... Everyone else's proof texts have been shot out of their hands!  Now the Lone Ranger Christian is ready to move on. 

Because of this approach, attending a specific church on a regular basis isn't completely out of the question for the Lone Ranger Christian, but every church he goes to is either overrun by cattle thieves (people using the wrong translation or singing the wrong style of music) or has a crooked sheriff (a pastor that isn't preaching the right way or with the right focus).  Occasionally, depending on how outspoken the Lone Ranger Christian is, you will sometimes find that when you visit another church in your area, these Lone Rangers are either there or have been there. A long-riding Lone Ranger Christian can eventually be well-known among many churches in any particular area, but for the most part, they ride alone, unfettered by the shackles of a community. 

A key way to spot a Lone Ranger Christian is that they usually brandish a key piece of "the puzzle" that they have found: Every conversation, every debate, every get-together will somehow have to do with this thing they recently discovered or that they are studying. Whatever it is, it is most likely something that "... the church has been neglecting..." and it is an issue that "... most Christians are looking at this the wrong way."  Many of their intrusions into a conversation begin with the words, "... well, you know what the thing is..." and rarely, if ever, contain the words, "... what do you think about this?" (Unless, of course, they are trying to set you up for a conversation.) These key missing elements to living the Christian life that they have found and want to share could be anything from the fact that we have stopped eating Kosher or stopped celebrating the Old Testament Feasts, to ignoring the Apocrypha or the book of Enoch.  It isn't always that extreme, but with talk of Nephilim and a good dose of numerology, many a Lone Ranger Christian has ended up peering over the edge of their flat-earth reality (the conspiracy of all conspiracies). 

Besides spotty, inconsistent church attendance and their uncanny ability to be able to identify what probably "should be happening, but isn't..." the main way to spot a lone ranger Christian is their stalwart independence. All they need is a Bible (and sometimes a Strong's exhaustive concordance) and they can plumb the depths of the scriptures all on their own. No need for commentaries, pastors, teachers, or any other Christian literature. They've got "... their Bible in their saddle, to help them with the battle..."  and they're just a "happy Christian Cowboy going home."

As I mentioned, most Lone Ranger Christians are not as extreme in their interpretations as the examples that I gave, but this individualistic mindset concerning their own Christian life lies at the heart of the Lone Ranger Christian. It is within this thought process that the Lone Ranger Christian is created. They've grabbed onto the Sola Scriptura of the Reformation but failed to listen to the Scriptura on how we handle the Scriptura and what the Sola is referring to. (More on that later.)

Working off this basic description, let's now take a look at our current moment to see what could have contributed to the characteristics of the Lone Ranger Christian, causing them to become increasingly exaggerated. 

Contributing Factor #1: Individualism

We live in a culture that applauds the individual. I'm not going to attempt to prove this point. I will instead operate under the assumption that this is fairly obvious to anyone who doesn't walk through life with their eyes shut. 

This individualistic mindset is currently exploding. We live in a world where we are told to love ourselves, forgive ourselves, focus more on self-care, where we treat ourselves and pamper ourselves. We watch the shows we want to watch on our own personal screens. We listen to the music that we want to listen to with it streaming into our ears... we are our own DJs, our own elevator music, our own hold music, and our own background music and theme song selectors. We exist in friendships and communities, whose online reality feels more like a party of one; where we interject into any conversation that we want to interject ourselves into and can choose to tune anyone out with the flick of a mouse wheel or the click of a button. 

Even our churches have sought to attend to this reality with their different options of classes, small groups, worship styles, and preaching formats... with all of this sometimes happening within the same church buildings at the same service times (different rooms of course). When that isn't enough, churches have found that they can minister to more and more specific crowds of people, especially as those who choose to attend their churches have done so, based almost entirely on what any given church has to offer and the way they offer it. 

The more specialized and focused churches have become, we've moved beyond the typical denominational divides to some experiences that are ultra-unique. In the process, many of these churches have lost the Biblical checks and balances of ministering together. If you always end up going somewhere where everyone agrees with you, you might miss a genuinely important and life-changing disagreement. (Yes, those exist, see Acts 15:1-21.)  If there are two opinions on a topic, either the first opinion is wrong, the second opinion is wrong, or they are both wrong... and the history of the church is filled to the brim with differing opinions leading to a higher clarity of the truth.

The failure of many to do the hard work of hashing out difficult truths has given birth to the idea that there aren't any difficult truths that require hard work. And while the understandability of the scriptures occurring through the work of the Holy Spirit is an actual reality, the lone rangers have rebelled against that same Holy Spirit's prescribed way to bless the body of Christ and bring about its growth, stability, and maturity. (See Ephesians 4:11-16.)

The rampant individualism of the Lone Ranger Christians and their insatiable desire to learn what they want to learn, when they want to learn it, on the topics that they want to learn about and the ability to skip any lesson that doesn't fit into their mental appetite (2 Timothy 4:3-4), has led to the explosion of the second contributing factor... 

Contributing Factor #2: YouTube Church

YouTube Church... I love and hate this name. On the one hand, there is no such thing. There is no Church of YouTube.  On the other hand, I know people who have decided to simply "attend" church via YouTube.  I'm tempted to discuss the way YouTube Church is affecting individuals and families on a broader scale... Truth be told, I actually had two additional paragraphs typed out before I realized I was getting off-track... (Some of that resurfaced in this post: Remote Church Isn't Church) but in this current post, I would like to point out the specific effect YouTube Church has had on the Lone Ranger Christians. 

When one delves into the bizarre reality of the networked madness of YouTube, following the white rabbit will lead to more than a red or blue pill to take. And the Lone Ranger Christians, who have gone a-tunneling down, ever deeper, have encountered the drink-me videos of the Lone Ranger Pastors. I know I'm getting my The Matrix and Alice in Wonderland metaphors mixed up, but there are some Mad-Hatter Apostles down there. And along with all of the Cheshire Cat Prophets and Blue Caterpillar Teachers, they are all offering a chance to view "the desert of the real" in true Morpheus fashion. 

The truth is: YouTube is full of false teachers operating unchecked, and Lone Ranger Christians, who typically believe that they can be their own pastors, are easily ensnared by these false teachings because they are operating outside of God's prescribed plan for the growth of His people. 

Contributing Factor #3: The Corona Virus Lockdowns

Finally, needing no introduction, please welcome to the stage The Corona Virus Lockdowns!  We are all familiar with the effects that the lockdowns and quarantines have had on the sanity of the masses (or our own sanity). But consider for a moment the impact it has had on the Lone Ranger Christians. 

For many Christians, the tethers to their Christian Community (their local church), were not only tested to the point of breaking but were sheared off completely. And for months, these Lone Rangers, whose ties to a body of believers were tenuous at best, were cut off completely from any version of actual, Biblical accountability. Without the present, ongoing reality of submitting to those who are keeping watch over their souls (see Heb. 13:17) and riding the waves, tossed to and fro by multiple winds of doctrine (See Eph. 4:14), they are now finding it impossible to land at any church, because they can't find one that is as enlightened as they are. 

Some Biblical Insights

For a Biblical perspective on this issue, and its real danger, I would simply like to share Ephesians 4:1–16 with some brief commentary as it relates to the topic at hand. In Ephesians, Paul the Apostle is writing to the church that he founded in the City of Ephesus. After going through some big-picture theological ideas in chapters 1 to 3, he is now getting to the nuts and bolts of the daily Christian Faith. 

As chapter 4 of Ephesians opens, we are immediately introduced to the idea of unity.

[1] I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, [2] with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, [3] eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. [4] There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—[5] one Lord, one faith, one baptism, [6] one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6 ESV)

Already the Lone Ranger will be knocked off his horse. It is difficult, if not impossible, to walk worthy "... with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love..." when you are alone. Those are all "together" words. And if you only show up occasionally, or if you move from church to church, without ever settling in, making connections, planting roots, and existing in a community, you are ultimately rejecting all of the "ones" mentioned here. It is in the local church that we experience the beginnings of the universal church. 

The next few verses will seem to steer off of the focus, but Paul is simply laying out a Biblical argument for what he is going to say next. 

[7] But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. [8] Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (Ephesians 4:7-8 ESV)

The quote is from Psalm 68:18. Psalm 68 is a Psalm about God's care for his people. The Apostle Paul has rightly made the connection between our God and Father and of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Psalm, our Lord as King has conquered his foes, and brought the spoils to his people. This is precisely what Christ has done in the work on the Cross. As he defeated his foes, he has brought the spoils to his people. Listen to verses 9 and 10... 

[9] (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? [10] He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) (Ephesians 4:9-10 ESV)

He had descended to the earth but has now ascended to the right hand of the Father. There he will rule and reign until he has placed every enemy under his feet (See 1 Corinthians 15:25). We are now in the victorious final days, when the dragon will be loosed to attempt one more time to wreak havoc, but then will be ultimately defeated forevermore by our Victorious Lord and Gracious Savior Jesus Christ. 

As we exist in these last days, we do not exist without gifts from our King. He has not left us without or left us alone. Even the Lone Rangers of this world know that it was good for Him to ascend so that the Spirit would come (See John 16:7). But the Spirit isn't our Tonto and we are not to be Lone Rangers. Consider the specific way that Christ gives gifts to his people... or more importantly, consider what the gifts actually are. 

[11] And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, [12] to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, [13] until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, [14] so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 

The gifts are not skills... they are people! They are people accomplishing certain roles in the body of Christ. It doesn't say that he gave some the gift of apostleship skills or the gift of prophesying ability. In this text, the gifts are the people filling these roles. I would even argue that those passages in 1 Corinthians about the "Spiritual Gifts" are less about people getting abilities and more about actual people doing those things at different times and in various ways. If someone is healed miraculously and there was a particular person who was the conduit of that miracle, it doesn't have to mean that that person has a special ability, but that God gifted to his people a healing. In God's economy, he sometimes speaks to people through donkeys (Numbers 22:22-31), ministers to people through disobedient reprobate betrayers (Mark 6, Matthew 10, Luke 9 with Judas Iscariot in Ministry), and self-involved obstinate unbelievers to prophesy (John 11:49-52)

These people that now populate the church are the gifts that Christ has given to build up his Church. This is the way it will be until all is accomplished and everything has come to fulfillment. The danger of ignoring these gifts is laid out in this passage very clearly. As strong and resilient as the Lone Rangers think they are, the reality is that they are tossed to and fro by waves and carried away by every wind of doctrine. It is sad that the Lone Ranger is often the only one that does not know this about himself (or herself). More distinctly is the reality that the Lone Ranger Christian is simply rejecting the authority of their Lord. Jesus has deemed that this is the way that he will build his Church. Who is the Lone Ranger to reject this? 

If you are a Lone Ranger Christian, consider carefully the final words of Ephesians 4:1-16... 

[15] Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, [16] from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

If you want to be a part of the functioning, victorious, complete, properly working body of Christ, then find a local church... submit to its leadership structure, connect yourself to its members, and fall into your proper place as Christ builds up his Church in Love. 

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