Several years ago, I had some friends over for dinner. Things were going well…until everyone took their first bite of food. You see, I decided to fire up the grill and cook some burgers. I went through the usually grilling routine. I’d grilled dozens of times before. Slap on the meat. Flip a few times. Voila.
When everyone sunk their teeth into the burgers, blood flowed worse than the time I nearly sliced off my finger. After a few awkward stares, I realized what happened. In a moment of sheer embarrassment, I got up from my chair and grabbed some deli turkey from the fridge.
Random question: Why is the person who makes the mistake always the last one to realize it?
Anyway, no one at the table even considered trying my “straight from the meat section” burgers. Why? Just one bite of uncooked meat is toxic to the body and could result in an appointment with “Mr. John.”
What is true of meat is also true of the church. A few toxic Christians can impact an entire church. So, I want to highlight some toxic Christians in the church today. The following Christians describe me at various points in my Christian journey. Understand something. This post is really about self-reflection. My prayer is that you will identify some of these toxic behaviors in your life and, like myself, make some changes.
Here Are 10 Toxic Christians in the Church Today.
1.) THE “ALWAYS CYNICAL” CHRISTIAN
Cynicism is toxic. From a general lack of trust towards people to the inability to see good in anything, cynicism has the power to infect every arena of life.
Many Christians, starting with me, master the art of pointing out the bad from a young age. For much of my Christian journey, I thought it was my job to find the errors in everything from sermons to the lives of those around me. I was like a stealth ninja. My only job was to make sure every mistake was pointed out. And after finding the errors, my friends and I would gather for a time of “reflection.”
It was really an exercise of self-glorification.
Here’s the problem with cynicism: as long as it’s your default perspective, you can’t be a catalyst for change. Not for the good, at least. And I say “perspective” because cynicism is all about how you see things. You and I can look at the same person, situation, etc., and see two different things. The only difference is the filter through which we see it.
If you are a Christian, everything you believe in and look forward to is anchored in hope, and the breath that gives life to hope is optimism. God refused to give up on you because of hope. Jesus came to this world because of hope. One day every man and woman who loves God will live eternally with him because of hope.
Now, I understand what you might be thinking. There is a difference between cynicism and critical thinking. Here it is. Cynics look at the worst in every situation, never desiring to make things better. Critical thinkers recognize the evil and ugly, but always choose to focus on something redeeming. They always operate out of hope, and they are always in the trenches trying to make things better.
To put it another way, cynics focus on what something is. Critical thinkers focus on what something could be.
The church is desperate for men and women who will choose to focus on the redeeming qualities of the church. After all, God sees the redeeming qualities in us. Even when we are at our worst.
2.) THE “BACK ROW” CHRISTIAN
In college, I sat in the back row of every class. I didn’t want the teacher to call on me. I wanted to spend my time browsing the internet or adjusting my fantasy football roster. I wasn’t interested in the material. To be honest, I only showed up for class because I thought it would help me at the end of the semester.
Such is the case with “back row” Christians. They are mildly interested in God, at best. Being a “back row” Christian isn’t about where you sit in a pew or chair during worship. Some “back row” Christians are “front row” worshippers. This is about where God sits in proximity to your life.
Most “back row” toxic Christians keep God at arm’s length. They are driven by money, titles, and achievements. And they don’t want God interfering with their pursuits. Unless, of course, God wants to help them reach their goals.
“Back row” Christians are toxic because they wear the tag “Christian,” but their lives aren’t informed by God. And because the church is a body, these Christians force the church to carry their weight. What fat is to the body, these Christians are to the church. And the more “fat” that churches [carry] around, the less effective they become in moving towards a broken world and impacting an ever-changing culture.
3.) THE “WORLD IS CAVING IN” CHRISTIAN
It’s not ironic that most of these toxic Christians’ favorite channel ends in “news.” Fox News. CNN News. ABC News. They are paralyzed by fear. ISIS is taking over the world. Global warming will eventually wipe out humanity. The zombie apocalypse is imminent. And every major story, especially the tragic ones, are conspiracy theories.
Never mind that the God these Christians serve claims to be sovereign over all the apparent threats to humanity. Never mind that the phrase “do not fear” appears hundreds of times in the Bible.
These Christians allow fear to dominate their [lives], and this drowns out any opportunity for the world to see God. When fear is present, God is absent. Fear is self-reliance. It is a declaration that God isn’t enough. He’s not big enough, strong enough, or knowledgeable enough.
This is why fear has no place in the church. It’s the opposite of faith and therefore the antithesis of God.
4.) THE “FOLLOW THE RULES” CHRISTIAN
“Follow the rules” Christians believe their actions make them cool with God. They condemn other Christians for their lack of morality. And secretly they are okay with Christians falling on their face because it makes “follow the rules” Christians feel better about themselves.
Eventually, the weight of earning God’s love will crush your joy. There’s no room for authenticity or transparency. There’s no room for gray areas. And eventually, the weight of trying to earn a relationship with God crushes their joy and destroys their intimacy with God.
Let’s face it. When someone is only happy with you when you follow the rules, it’s impossible to grow in intimacy with that person. When that person is God, the only thing that will please him is perfection. And you screwed that up this morning before you got out of bed.
The message of the cross is “You can’t earn it!” God knows you suck at life. Maybe that’s too harsh. God knows you suck at perfection. But Jesus is awesome at perfection, and because of Jesus, God is cool with you. What the world needs to see is your weakness, not your perfection. It is in your weakness God will show the world his perfection.
It is in our weakness God shows the world his perfection.
5.) THE “POLITICAL” CHRISTIAN
Every church has a few of these toxic Christians. They equate the decisions of our government with the direction of the church. They believe how you vote determines whether you love God. And their conversations usually include a rant about the President [and] the most recent government decision.
It’s really quite fascinating how these Christians work politics into every conversation. Just think if “political” Christians channeled their creative energy and passion about politics towards Jesus?
Can you say, “Revival”?
6.) THE “CULTURE IS EVIL AND SCARY” CHRISTIAN
“Culture is evil and scary” toxic Christians find insanely creative ways to escape the world. It’s evil and scary, after all.
These Christians act more like the Old Testament Israelites than the New Testament apostles. They are the chosen people. And, like the Israelites, engaging in the world’s affairs is a slippery slope. Engagement might start harmlessly. But before you know it, you are worshipping their gods and stuff. So these Christians stay off the slope altogether.
This would be a great idea if not for…Jesus. You see, when Jesus showed up, [H]e changed what it meant to be holy and righteous. Disengaging was no longer the way God showed himself to the world. Engagement became the new way.
“Culture is evil and scary” Christians believe the goal for their Christian life is to play defense, hoping to arrive on their death bed with no scratches, scrapes, or wounds. But the opposite is actually true. The goal is to engage the culture, praying that God’s love, joy, and peace will seep through your words and actions onto those around you. In the process, you might get wounded.
But remember this. Jesus was wounded. And [H]is wounds gave you life.
7.) THE “I LOVE JESUS BUT NOT THE CHURCH” CHRISTIAN.
These toxic Christians believe faith is best worked out in isolation. It’s disengagement of a different kind. A more dangerous kind. Isolation is Satan’s secret weapon.
You see, Jesus spent most of his ministry around people. These people weren’t perfect. They struggled to “get it.” They fought over worldly stuff like having the highest place in Jesus’s kingdom. And eventually, all of Jesus’s friends left him. Abandoned him. But Jesus knew his friends would hurt him and he invested in them anyway.
Look, I get it. Some of you have been hurt by the church. I have been hurt [by] the church. There is nothing easy about plugging into a community of believers. They will hurt you and disappoint you. But nothing worth having comes easy. You are selfish. I am selfish. And community releases us from the drug of self-addiction.
“I love Jesus, but not the church” Christians will only become a fraction of the person God created them to be. And they will only show the world a fraction of who God is.
8.) THE “GOD DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY” CHRISTIAN
Cut and dry. In or out. Up or down. Black or white. All of these describe “God doesn’t work that way” Christians. Their view of God is limited to their perspective, their experiences, and their understanding of the Bible. These Christians claim to have faith in God, but they won’t believe anything they haven’t seen with their own eyes.
These toxic Christians believe God is all-powerful. But if something isn’t logical, they are skeptical.
The mystery of God and how you become a [Christian] are compressed into five easy steps.
Intimacy and love can’t be manufactured. They can only be experienced. And here’s why this is a problem based on personal experience as “God doesn’t work that way” Christian. You can follow the right steps, figure out all the formulas, and still be a long ways from God. Light years, in fact. Intimacy and love aren’t formulas. They can’t be manufactured. They can only be experienced.
While these Christians conjure up formulas for God, I believe [H]e is saying, “Look up. Look around. Get out of the box. Experience my greatness. Stand in awe of my unending power and unfailing love. Fall in love with me and stop falling in love with some churchy formulas.”
9.) THE “LOVES TO PICK A FIGHT” CHRISTIAN
These toxic Christians show up anytime someone mocks God or challenges their theology. Social media. The local coffee shop. Wherever. I promise, sometimes I think, “Were you hiding behind my bookshelf during that conversation? How did you even know I said that?”
These Christianity believe they are the morality police. They use their knowledge of the Bible as a weapon to beat down all the theologically misinformed Christians. They are aggressive. They are obnoxious, and they usually have a temper shorter than your average Oompa-Loompa.
These Christians are toxic because they believe winning an argument and pointing someone to God are the same thing. But it’s interesting. Jesus wasn’t interested in winning arguments during his ministry. He was [OK] with people not understanding [H]is purpose or [H]is relationship with God.
Winning arguments might give you satisfaction. But it doesn’t bring God glory. Jesus was more concerned with love. Winning arguments might give you satisfaction. But it doesn’t bring God glory.
10.) THE “YOU CAN’T TALK ABOUT THAT IN CHURCH” CHRISTIAN
These Christians are fearful every word they say will be taken the wrong way. They believe truth should be filtered, just in case some “weaker Christians” don’t fully understand what you are trying to say. In other words, there are certain conversations the church shouldn’t have. Mainly the ones that make people uncomfortable.
Sex. Abortion. Mental Illness. Doubts about God. Justin Beiber.
Jesus, however, wasn’t concerned with being politically correct. In fact, Jesus said on numerous occasions, “You won’t understand this right now,” or some variation of the phrase. Jesus was obviously not concerned with being misunderstood.
Jesus proclaimed truth because [H]e was the Truth. And truth has nothing to hide.
Only a few toxic Christians can impact a church. Again, my prayer is that you will do some reflection. At some point in my journey, I was every one of these Christians. Some of these I am still fighting today.
As you take steps towards Jesus, the world sees a clearer picture of his glory and character. That’s the goal.