Bizarro Church, and What We Can Do to Save American Christianity


Bizarro SupermanI grew up in an age of comic book superheroes. Spider-Man debuted just months before I was born, and as a child, I endlessly watched the old George Reeves Superman TV show.

About four years before my own debut, at a point that can only be considered a creative nadir, the writers of the Superman comic came up with an anti-Superman called Bizarro. His powers were the opposites of most of Superman’s, and though he was none too bright,  he gave the Man of Steel fits.

Bizarro hailed from a square planet, Bizarro World. Later, as is wont in comic books, publisher DC kept enhancing Bizarro World, adding Bizarro copies of favorite DC denizens Batman and Wonder Woman.

To me, there’s nothing more idiotic in comics than the whole Bizarro idea (well, if you ignore all the desperate comic book universe reboots and their inane explanations).

Sometimes, I feel like I’m trapped in Bizarro Church.

At the beginning of 2012, I wrote about the organic/house church movement and my frustrations with even finding an existing church in that mode in my area, much less one that seemed vibrant and growing (“Is the Organic House Church a Myth?“). That post eventually generated 100+ comments, as many shared my frustration or felt they needed to comment on my rightness or wrongness.

Unlike some bloggers, I don’t close my comments after a period of time. You can comment on a post I wrote a decade ago, if you wish. Over this past weekend, a reader commented on that older post that he shared my frustrations with the oddities and rarity of the organic/house church.

Now let’s discuss the brouhaha that erupted by bringing in the “Gentlemen.”

When the post first came out in January 2012, Gentleman A commented on it and seemed to be an organic church leader. I’m not sure how, but the sudden, recent activity on that post’s comments by that reader commenting sucked in Gentleman B, who, out of nowhere, wrote a screed against Gentleman A, claiming A was some hellraiser bent on destroying the real organic church and its leaders. This was followed by Gentleman C, who often decloaks from nowhere and comments. In this case, Gentleman C wrote to the reader and repeated the annoyingly frustrating organic church habit of sharing how organic church is thriving like crazy in every place where the reader (blog owner included) does not live. Later, Gentleman D, also out of nowhere, wrote me a personal email, noting how Gentleman A is slandering him all over the Web. Evidently, Gentleman D was tipped off to the presence of the seemingly innocuous comments of Gentleman A because of what Gentleman B wrote. And, with a little research, it seems Gentleman D and Gentleman B are connected through the same organic church organization.

In short, a few organic church “leaders” swarmed in and started accusing each other or making the usual unhelpful comments.

Adding to this, my post on Christian singles from a few years ago (“The Christian Singles Mess“) saw a reader comment turn into a diatribe against younger Christian men and their inability to grow up, make good money, and become a proper husband for the commenter.

I’ve been a Christian going on four decades, and I’ll tell you honestly that sometimes I just want to chuck the whole enterprise. And I’m not talking about my blog.

How did the Church in this country get to be such a mess? From the Bizarro behavior associated with this organic/house church fiasco to the Bizarro “everyone else is a loser but me” kind of commentary, it all seems so idiotic as to strain credulity. You begin despairing that whatever it is that Jesus started, we’re not anywhere close to that organization in any way, shape, or form. We instead seem to be practicing a Bizarro form of church that exemplifies everything that is wrong in the world.

Worse, when Bizarro Church grabs the spotlight, immediately we get its apologists, who claim that it’s impossible for sinners to run a decent, sensical church—an idea I reject in toto.

How is it that so few people can see through all this obfuscating garbage? Why is it that no one seems to take basic, commonsense Christianity to heart?

How do we fix this Bizarro Church behavior and get back to the main and the plain?

1. Folks, we are dust. So is everyone else. And dust shouldn’t have such a high opinion of itself.

Here is what Jesus said:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
—Luke 18:10-14 ESV

I am sick to death of the lack of humility everywhere I look in the Church. If we don’t repent of our pride, we are wasting our time being the Church, because we won’t be, no matter how much we tell ourselves we are.

2. We think we have a handle on life. We don’t. Time to grow up and experience a reality check.

Here is what Jesus observed:

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
—Matthew 9:35-36 ESV

I will repeat what I have said often elsewhere on this blog: Most people are just trying to get by. Do we have compassion on them? They may get by in a sinful, stupid way, but they are trying to get from Point A to Point B in any way they think is possible. What stupid things are you and I doing to get by? Because I can promise you that we are sheep too.

3. We say the harshest things to and about each other. We should stop. Now.

Here is what Jesus said:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
—Matthew 5:21-26 ESV

Later in the Scriptures we are told that Christians are ambassadors who have been blessed with the ministry of reconciliation. Are we acting that way? Is reconciliation at the heart of what we do as believers? If not, why not?

4. What we learned about Christian practice as children seems to be forgotten in our “maturity.” That’s an enormous loss.

Here is what Jesus said:

“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”
—Mark 10:15 ESV


“And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.”
—Luke 6:31 ESV

Really, how hard is it to ask oneself before any interaction with others, Is this how I would want to be treated? I mean, didn’t all of us learn The Golden Rule when we were 3 or 4 years old, even if we never stepped foot into a church? If so, how is it that we treat others so atrociously?

5. Whatever it is that is wrong with someone else, what is wrong with you and me is probably bigger. How can this not sober us?

Here is how Jesus said it:

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”
—Luke 6:41-42 ESV

Nothing amazes me more—or frustrates more—than people who read their Bible every single day without a miss and yet they’ve never incorporated into their lives the most well-known and obvious passages. If that’s the case, stop with dutiful Bible study, because it’s not penetrating that cold, dead heart, and we’re just wasting our time unless the Holy Spirit gets ahold of us and we repent.


I’m sickened by all this immaturity. Really. None of us is listening to what the Spirit is saying to the American Church. We are all self-righteous prigs, and we seem satisfied with our state.

Stop it.

Bizarro Church sucks. Period. And yet it seems to be what we’re perpetrating on the world.

Some are searching the skies for Superman to appear and fix everything. Here’s a clue: You and I are Superman. But only if we stop living in this Bizarro World of our own making and start living the way Jesus can empower us to.

Is the Organic House Church a Myth?


Over the course of the last six weeks, I’ve been working my way through Frank Viola’s series of books on organic church. I’ve completed Pagan Christianity, and I’m now reading Reimagining Church.

In those books, Viola does a stellar job of sharing stories about how near and dear to the New Testament these naturally formed and free-form, Spirit-led organic churches are. They supposedly embody all the positive characteristics I wrote about yesterday in “I Had a Dream.”

Having been around churches all my life, with a degree now called Spiritual Transformation (once Christian Education)  from the top Christian college, and a keen sense that something is definitely amiss with the way we do church, I am dying to see a church like the one Frank Viola describes in his books.

I wish it could prove to be more real, though.

My son came home from school last weekend totally enthralled with the musical The Music Man, which his music class at school had shown. That it’s my favorite musical—and I own the soundtrack, though not the Preston/Jones movie, sadly—made it all the more a father-son shared experience, since we played the heck out of the soundtrack last weekend, driving my wife bats with our mutual singing of the question of how can there be any sin in sincere.

That said, sometimes all the sincerity in the world can’t necessarily change reality.

I can’t shake the feeling that Frank Viola comes off a little like the infamous Professor Harold Hill of the musical’s fame. Just as Hill paints a marching band as the cure for every moral ill confronting the youth of River City, Iowa, so Viola lauds the organic church as the only viable answer for Christians who long for a more genuine experience of community in Christ than the “pagan-inspired” institutional church offers.

While I don’t think that Viola intends to skip town with anyone’s cash like Professor Hill did, the comparison is still apt, since both the marching band and the organic church seem more mythical than real.

House among the mistsI say this because the more I attempt to locate the type of organic/house church that Viola says has been blessing his life for the last few decades, the more it seems like the fabled destination of another famous musical, Brigadoon.

What my search for the organic church has yielded:

  • I emailed Viola’s organization for more info, which landed me on a mailing list to receive more stuff from Viola and his cohorts, yet none of it yet addresses the main question: Where can I find an organic church in my area?
  • I’ve visited the websites of numerous top house church and organic church organizations that tout access to church locations and resources. What I’ve found are moldy, old sites filled with broken links, out of date church info, dead and buried churches, and all the wrong kinds of impressions that such organizations want to make on someone looking to connect with them. In short, visiting organic and house church websites is akin to hanging out on MySpace or Friendster.
  • What does it say about the rosiness of organic church when you discover some of these churches no longer meet because the people who started them left to go back to paid, institutional church ministry?

I live just outside a metropolitan area of 2.2 million people that is heavily churched. When Christian pollsters and church resource magazines publish info about influential institutional churches, this area contains a disproportionately large number of them. Which is why I continue to scratch my head at the utter lack in such an area of anything resembling Viola’s ethereal organic church. Hasn’t anyone burned out of those institutional megachurches and fled to the supposed refuge of an organic church?

Reading the testimonials of organic church members included in Viola’s books makes my heart ache. But like so many tales one hears in the American Church today, it seems like those beautiful stories are happening in some hazy, distant place, almost like Narnia, except even harder to find.


If you are NOT a regular reader of Cerulean Sanctum, please do not use this blog as a means to carry out a long-running battle between advocates and critics of Frank Viola or any house church organizations affiliated with him. I don’t care if you are defending or attacking, NEITHER TYPE OF COMMENT BELONGS HERE. I am both saddened and appalled that this blog has been drawn into some ongoing feud between Christian brothers and sisters who are so ruthlessly concerned with getting the upperhand in that feud that they’ll hijack this blog to do it. Simply put, doing so is not Christ-like. Please take your feuds elsewhere and know that I’ll delete any comments that even remotely seem abusive.

Really, as a rebuke from a fellow Christian brother of some experience: Grow up.

This is not to say that people can’t comment about their positive or negative experiences in house churches. But please refrain from scandalous attacks on any named person. And please, no comments allowed from “hired guns,” truly hired or merely self-appointed.

Because, frankly, I’m tired of it.

Banking on God: Crisis, Part 5


The picture of dark daysSo here we are a month later at the penultimate post in this series. Today, I’ll be expanding some of the general ideas I discussed yesterday, while adding practical ways we can address crises better as a body of believers.

In times of darkness, we must be Spirit-led, radical thinkers who take chances that flow against the status quo’s stream. Truth is, the status quo got us into many of the troubles we face as Americans, as no one wished to buck the system to make things better. Too often, though we say we love the rugged individualist, the strongest voices for godly change are the ones we shout down fervently. Remember: they stoned the prophets, but the prophets were right.

Here are a few ideas I believe we must seriously consider in our churches if we are to prevail and be a shining, countercultural light for Christ in dark times.

Healthcare is troubling issue because fewer and fewer people can afford it, yet none of us is immune to entropy. The early Church made its name in Rome by caring for the sick. Most of the world’s hospitals were founded by Christians. Yet Christian leaders today seem utterly flummoxed by the issue, preferring to ignore it even while their congregations suffer.

I had a taste of this Easter Sunday when one of the key members of my church’s worship team was laid out by a condition easily treated by a physician. The problem? He couldn’t afford to see the doctor and get the prescription medicine he needed that would have enabled him to join us!

For this reason, I believe that churches need to start stepping up to the healthcare plate. Many communities are home to retired doctors. No reason exists that a church (or a communion of churches) could not approach these retired doctors and offer to pay them a stipend to look after those people in the church who lack healthcare options. A retired doctor could see the sick on a Saturday for a few hours. House calls are even possible. This kind of thing is easily set up.

To be even more radical, why can’t a series of churches in a community band together with local politicians to have the entire community buy the services of an actively practicing doctor—or three or four? We pay for fire departments and police, why not community doctors? Keep it local by keeping the county and state out. That keeps if from becoming a big government initiative while continuing to benefit an entire community. With most office visits handleable by general practitioners, there’s no reason why this can’t work. Why then are we not pursuing it?

For funding such an idea, or any other benevolence fund, most of us, as I noted yesterday, could get by fine without 75 percent of what we own. The early Church divested itself of all sorts of extra goods, including houses, but we seem loathe to give up even the smallest thing. Just how stingy are we? Look at how many families are failing around us and see how the cultivation of our island (every family for itself) mentality has damaged even our church families.

We need to get some sense about how we spend our money. When we’re starving, we can’t eat an iPod.We spend millions on junk, yet what really lasts escapes us. God will judge our generosity some day. Are we feeding Christ by feeding the hungry or are we simply out to feed our own desires? Which one makes us sheep and which makes us goats?

We Christians will collectively spend umpteen millions of dollars each year on Christian conferences that we attend and then forget about a month later. Imagine what we could do if we channeled that money to worthy preparation and stopped our fixation with one religious high after another. Could we strategize new ways of living and fund those initiatives?

Take housing, for instance. A coalition of churches could buy older apartment buildings, rehab them, and offer housing to those who fall prey to bad times. We had a family in our church lose a home to fire just a couple weeks ago and another family offered the use of the home they just left. That’s one way to go. Or a couple churches working together could buy up foreclosed or auctioned properties and rehab them for families. Or they could work deals with families who are moving to donate their old homes. Heck, that’s even a tax writeoff! These are all readily workable ideas.

We need to re-explore Christian communities. I’ve written before that I believe it a wise thing for a group of Christian families to buy available land, build their houses together on that land, have a common meeting building, farm the land, and maintain some percentage of common purse for use when tough times hit. Or a couple families could build condo-type houses with common areas linking two homes. Or we could work to rent out apartments together in the same building. We are not limited here if we set aside our faulty ideals on what it means to be well-off!

Food is big issue, too. Dark times almost always mean less food. I was in the store today and was shocked at how prices continue to rise either outright or through what I like to call “packaging fraud.” (Your half gallon container of ice cream is now 1.75 quarts, or even 1.5 quarts. I noticed today that packs of cheese that were once half a pound are now six ounces. Same price, but no fanfare on the smaller size. I consider that fraud, frankly.)

How do we deal with the problem of food? We grow our own.

I catch a lot of flack from naysayers on this, but if we have a backyard and we’re not growing food on it, we’re wasting our property. We can’t keep relying on others to feed us. It’s time that we Christians started assuming leadership on the back to basics of growing and making our own food. No excuses here, either. If I, the world’s worst “black thumb,” can grow food in raised beds on my property, you can, too. I have a fruit orchard, also. No reason why you can’t, either. And it’s far cheaper to grow food ourselves and preserve it than it is to buy from big food conglomerates. Tastes better as well.

Every family in our churches should be growing food. End of story. And for those with bigger properties, goats, rabbits, chickens, turkeys, and cows can supply meat. (I’m exploring that for my family even now.) Those people who have more resources for food production can assists those with less. Folks, this is about survival.

As for other skills, your church directory should list not only the basics like a phone number and address, but the skills and talents of each person listed. Someone got car fixing skills? Time to use them to the bettering of everyone in the church. Who sews well? Who can teach others sewing? Who has legal training? We need to know this. Every ability should be noted and made open for use. People who can pay should. Those who can’t should try as best they can to, yet that inability to pay should not keep them from getting services from their brethren. People with plumbing skills should be fixing plumbing in the homes of people in the church. Same for electricians, accountants, and whatever other skill is needed. We need to start depending on each other and living up to real community, even if it hurts. Again, the days of our privacy are gone. The government already knows everything about you, so privacy is a myth anyway. Our churches need what we have to give, money, skills, and all. Time to pony it all up.

Jobs are a big issue. Those people in the congregation who can make hiring and firing decisions need to understand that they should be hiring their out-of-work brethren. For those people in our churches who can train others in worthwhile work, they need to do it now, not wait till bad times come. An out-of-work person in a church is everyone’s responsibility. You can tell how loving and godly a church is by how well they meet the needs of their weakest members. And nothing in our society renders people weaker than being out of work. If our churches are filled with out-of-work people, then we’re not living up to the high calling of Christ. Jobs training, networking leads, anything that works we should be exploring. Absolutely no excuses on this, either.

Churches need to be working with local businesses to ensure them that they can provide ethical employees. Our churches should be able to go to any local business and say that the people in that church will make the best employees because they are godly, moral, ethical people who will do a company right. If we can’t say that, then we fooling ourselves concerning our discipleship programs. Church leaders need to be able to make that promise and fulfill it. They should cultivate relationships with community business leaders that will ensure that, even in down times, their congregants will have work.

As you can see, this takes on an alternative economy kind of thinking after a while. Underground economies exist all over the planet, but we suburbanites do a lousy job of creating our own. We need to learn how to barter and exchange outside the system. One day, off the grid and outside the system may be our only means of surviving. We better start planning those means now.

Why aren’t we training our children to survive? For all our obsession with homeschooling, how many homeschoolers are teaching real survival skills like animal husbandry, power generation, farming, and the like? Knowing Latin won’t fill an empty stomach. Our kids need to know how to live like the pioneers of old if they are to live in the days to come. (We adults also need that wisdom, too, though I suspect too many of us spent our precious time learning how to play video games or memorizing sports stats and not enough learning how to sex chickens.) Who in our churches can teach the next generation how to do these things? We need to identify them. And if we can’t identify those people, then we need to drop all the other junk we’re doing and start teaching ourselves those skills.

Our churches need to learn what real persecution looks like, too. How is the Church persecuted in other countries? We need to know how those persecuted churches survive. What happens if we have our church building taken away? How do we keep meeting? How does an underground church work? Our church leaders should stop assuming that tomorrow will be all milk and honey and start finding ways to test-run persecution. Break your church up into house churches for a while and see where the pressure points and weaknesses are. Who are the leaders of the church? Who will run things if the pastor or elders get taken out? How are we training people to assume leadership roles? This is basic discipleship training! How are we living it out?

Do we have prayer meetings in our churches going on all the time? Why not? Dark times call for serious prayer. Why are all the old ladies filling our prayer meetings? Why are all the able-bodied men camped out watching sports? What a waste! Are we serious or not? I’ll tell you, we’ll be serious when we lose our houses or can’t put food on the table. But by then, it may be too late.

Bad days call for fasting and repentance. I read all sorts of headlines about the dire economy, but I hear no Christian leaders calling for repentance, fasting, and prayer because of it. Why not? How badly do we want to be caught unawares? I don’t wish to be and I don’t want my church to be, either. Are we serious people or are we dancing when we should be preparing for winter? Dance when the stockpile is in place, but not before.

I could go on and on here, but I think the time has come to wrap this up.

I ask again, How serious are we? When did we Christians get so “fluffy”? Tough times call for tough people and brave ideas with committed follow-through. Good times won’t always be here, yet we act like they’ll last forever. How foolish we are when we, of all people, know how things will end, yet we are not prepared for that Day!

In the next post, I’ll wrap up the “Banking on God” series. Stay tuned.


Banking On God: Series Compendium