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.

23 thoughts on “Bizarro Church, and What We Can Do to Save American Christianity

  1. Jerry

    Amen, brother. It’s really simple:
    Here’s Jesus. Listen to him, and do what he says.
    What Dallas Willard has called the great Ommision from the Great Commission.

  2. Truthseeker

    🙂 he he!

    (I also comment to change my name from Thruthseeker to Truthseeker..:) English as second language is my excuse….)

  3. Mr. Poet

    I used to watch “Super Friends” when I was a boy. I kind of liked the blocky Bizarro world and the silly things Bizarro and company did. Of course, “Super Friends” was not the same as the comic books, as far as I know. If I had to compare Bizarro to the Church? At best, we act like a bunch of blockheads who look at every wall as an open door.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree – and have been convicted of this myself over and over. It’s easy to want others to hear our opinions, and that turns into wanting others to agree with our opinions, because we think incredibly highly of our opinions, and so we get louder and louder and suddenly realize we sound thoroughly self-righteous. It’s such an easy hole to fall into, and yet I also find it strangely hard to show grace to others who are acting the same. I’m re-learning humility – and for the most part only try to express my opinions about touchy issues when people specifically ask me. 🙂

  5. linda

    Hi Dan,
    I don’t think we have to worry about what the ‘church’ is perpetrating on the world. We need to be worried about what the ‘church’ is perpetrating on believers.

    I read your article on Charismatic Churches and the Cult of the New. It is disturbing that a CM church that is open to ministry is so often in writhing error. A picture of a snake comes to me. As long as a church is embracing serious error it is a complete danger to a believer. Some say there is or ‘must be’ truth somewhere at the core of these churches. Don’t believe that, what you see is what you get in these churches.

    I’m a believer in the ministry gifts, I was baptized in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues in March/April of 1982, a few months after my husband and I received Christ as our Saviour. There was no doubt that my husband was a changed man in January of 1982 after we were saved. He dumped all his liquor down the kitchen sink the next morning and didn’t have another beer or liquor drink for many, many years. (He was hooked on alcohol)

    Error in the church has to be dealt with. We see this in the Scriptures. Paul dealt with error. There was no idea of letting error continue in the church with Paul. What we have today is leadership in the church that cannot discipline, or perhaps refuses to discipline because they themselves are corrupted. If churches cannot deal with correction then, believers have no choice but to consider leaving that church. My experience is that these believers who may have to leave will have much difficulty finding a decent home church in their community.

    I don’t think that traditional mainline churches are doing better than any other churches. The problems of today in the North American church are widespread and infested in every denomination and style of church. We don’t see any better fruit coming from these mainline churches. I have a co-worker who says she is Catholic. “We’re Christian”, she says “but we are a different kind of Christian”. A different kind of Christian? Is there such a thing? I don’t think so. We’re either in Christ or not in Christ.

    Is it safe to use psychology in the church? I say NO!! Any leader who is deliberately using psychology to manipulate or lead the sheep needs to be dismissed from leadership. The Holy Spirit leads the leader and the congregation, not some secular controlling device or method.

    I think too much is being made out of this ‘restoring the tabernacle of David”. This is going backwards not forwards in the Word of God. I am thinking of this being a shadow showing what was to come in Christ. The believer having access to God and being in the presence of God at will and at any time of the day or night. I think we make too much of these things because they sound so spiritual and unusual, and mysterious and “New”?

    We know that God is moving because of the angst that is occuring in the church. There is dissatisfaction, and doubt, confusion, abuse, hurt and every other evil thing happening in the church of today. This is a good indication that God is likely doing something as well. He’s readying the saints for a change, a move, or a correction.

    The scripture says ‘my sheep know my voice, and they will not follow another’.

  6. Diane R

    In 1995 I spent some time in the Fuller Seminqry library (in Pasqdena, CA) researching all of the Christian history books as to how the first century church was organized. I also studied every New Testament Scripture on this subject that I could find. I believe God set up the fist century church the way it is supposed to be. He is not “doing a new thing” today. Here is what I found, contrary to the house church movement. Churches only met in homes because they had no “church” buildings. But pastors and elders didn’t appoint themselves. No one ran around saying ” I think I will begin a church on my home.” Elders were appointed by the Apostle who started the church and pastors came out of the eldership. Apostles were submitted to a major church, such as the church in Jerusalem, the one in Antioch, etc. Churcheshqd an order of service and membership classes for new Christians lasted about a year or at times longer. These future members could not take communion. Only members could. The churches were mostly organized in what we call the presbytr system, that is led elder run, not pastor run except in rare cases where a certain church was in crisis. Then it was meant to be only temporary. The church also had deacons to take care of the church’s needy and sick, not really the community’s needy, although it was certainly open to individual or groups of members doing that on their own.
    I do not see the current house churches even close to this structural description. I agree with many of the commenters in the original post and also this post that what passes for this type of church can certainly lead to abusive, controlling and certainly very untrained leaders. This idea that just “anyone” can start a regular church or a house church is a grave error IMO. Sadly, many writers want you to believe that the fourth or fifth century church was the “early” church when talking about meditation (which by that time often was more Buddhist than Christian). I believe we should stick to what happened in the first century and emulate that organizqtional structure as well as we can, although we can certqinly use more modern/postmodern methods. Thanks for listening.

    • Diane, I must have missed the parts of the New Testament about a formal membership process with “membership classes” lasting a year. Also missed the part where Christians were denied the Lord’s Supper because they weren’t members. Or the part about a presbyterian form of church government where elders ruled over the church. Can you point those out to me?

      • Arthur,

        I’m not sure I know the answer to this one, at least within a traditional church structure. I was part of a large church that had no formal membership, yet because of that, many of the people there didn’t have any real feel of ownership for what was going on in the church. They flitted in and out and eventually just wandered off. That church later implemented a membership program and it seemed to help people feel as if they owned what was happening at the church, both good and bad. The result with membership turned out to be better than the result without it.

        Just a cultural anomaly? Maybe. Perhaps it comes down to adjusting to the times and to the place. Maybe Americans need a feeling of membership. Perhaps Paul would say that this is being a Jew to a Jew and a Roman to a Roman. If the result accomplishes something positive and the practice isn’t specifically forbidden in the Scriptures, is it automatically invalid if not mentioned?

        I’m not saying I disagree with you, just that I’m not quite as set one way or the other regarding the membership issue. Again, membership may be utterly a cultural construct, but perhaps God uses cultural constructs to advance His Kingdom.

  7. Eli

    Humility or the lack thereof is super significant.
    It’s not just our character flaws at work… we have gone a step further and systematized the worst in us.
    I dont think we will ever be able to wrestle back certain terms from the institutions (generally speaking) so its better to just embrace alternate terminology. (eg ditch ‘christian’ for follower of jesus or the like)
    As more people unplug, the vacuum will hopefully create space for better expressions and environments.
    The fact most christian tv and websites make out like all is well and heaven is coming down to earth… is proof enough waiting for a wake up call is pointless.

    • Eli,

      I think that the element we must focus on is being sober. Laugh when appropriate and joke when the situation calls for it, but grow up and think as if we have a million people we have to move from one continent to another in 30 days–and their lives depend on it. That’s a big task and it will require some planning and hard work. Fact is, we’re lazy and don’t see the haste needed to accomplish our mission, no matter how much we protest to the contrary.

      • Eli

        if you’re using the exodus as an analogy or comparison that strikes me as a bit odd… at least at this point.
        maybe if there was a decent chunk of christians that believed they were in exile or slavery. We may be moving towards that reality but its a very long way off statistically speaking.
        I would like to see the moses generation arise, people who are willing to speak to pharoahs and have the backing of god.
        I believe that day will come, for now perhaps the moses’s are mostly in the wilderness.

          • Eli

            well then im not sure about the haste. god seems to be working pretty slowly on the past thousand years. he also seems pretty content working with small groups of people to flesh out certain things.

            • Eli,

              I’m not one someone who jumps on every Last Days bandwagon, but it seems pretty clear we are running out of time for the Church to do its work before nightfall comes.

  8. Dan you are not alone in considering chucking the whole thing. The organic church movement is hardly a panacea although I think they are on the right track in many places and certainly an improvement over the institutionalized religion that passes for “church” in most of the West. The squables, back-biting, slander and power struggles among certain “leaders” in the house church movement are as unbecoming when the participants meet in a house as they are among the competing clergy who meet in buildings.

    I sometimes wonder if it would be best to set aside Sunday for family and avoid any of the stuff that is associated with “Christianity” in our culture.

    • Arthur,

      The sermon at my church yesterday was on passing the baton of Christianity to the next generation. While that’s a great topic, I wondered about all the ways in which we American Christians are not doing it very well. Like so many topics that demand tougher answers, working harder at implementing the usual fixes does not appear to be working. Many of the teens in the church sit in front of me, and in my tenure at the church I can recall many other young people who have sat in those same pews yet are now missing from the church for many reasons.

      It makes me wonder just what we are doing and why it is working so badly. I have my own ideas, many of which I have shared previously on this blog.

      Whatever the case, I too wonder if maybe the best thing is to just stay home on Sunday and forget the “show.” But then, I don’t know anyone who has done that and not succumbed to a laziness in their faith that eventually leads to no faith at all. Lone Ranger Christianity seems to always lead to wandering into a desert and stumbling into an arroyo, never to be heard from again.

      • Eli

        many have wandered and died in the wilderness so to speak. but then if some of us dont at least make the journey we risk never giving a better way a solid chance.
        Fortunately there are more and more believers leaning into other ways of gathering and living… though of course mileage varies greatly.
        For some of us leaving meant rescuing our faith so to speak. A benefit is ‘church’ is potentially redefined such that whats going on in certain organisations no longer represents the final word on the state of the body.
        I have heard of lone ranger christianity and how we should fear/avoid it (and rightly so)… but then i dont hear so much about the danger of conformist christianity, quite the opposite.

  9. Amanda

    It makes me so sad that America can’t see what’s going on and many are running around like headless chickens yelling that the sky is falling.
    ‘When disaster comes to a city has not the Lord caused it? Amos 3:6
    We are told to subm it to leaders, those in authority. The Lord appoints the leader we deserve, we can have a Saul or a David. Rebellion against a leader is symptomatic of rebellion against Go’s authority. ‘Pray for those who persecute you’.
    Americans rely too m uch on physical powers, guns, money – You cannot serve God and Mammon – and physical power won’t save you from anything.
    ‘The weapons of our warfare are not carnal but m ighty through God for the pulling down of strongholds. Spiritual warfare. Words of God spoken in the power of the Holy Spirit against the wickedness of this world. You are called to fight spiritual wickedness NOT each other.
    Repent your self indulgence, your abuse of strangers in your land, your greed and covetousness, humble yourselves before God and he will lift you up.

    • Amanda,

      America is no greater nor worse than any other nation on the planet with regard to how God treats us. He is no respecter of persons–or nations.

      The Bible says that God is the one who appoints leaders. I can’t see that it says we get the leaders “we deserve.” That qualification doesn’t seem to be there. The Bible doesn’t back that up either. Many times, God appointed leaders who were better than the people deserved (or else there would have been no revivals and “rediscoveries” of the words of God as we had with the OT righteous kings who followed wicked ones and inherited a wicked people along with them). It’s God’s choice which leaders He appoints, and the past seems to imply that he appoints leaders who accomplish what God wills to accomplish.

      I think that history shows that while physical power is not a panacea, it tends to work to its own favor more often than not, especially when wielded by ethical people.

      Which type of earthly power is best? Military? Economic? Scientific? Better that a nation be strong in all things than otherwise. Spiritual power is left to the Church, which is its own “country,” so to speak. If there is any problem there, it is not the fault of a nation but a fault of the Christians within that nation. Sadly, most Christians in the West don’t want to take responsibility for their own shortcomings.

      In other words, the problem is not one of nations but of you and me.

  10. Hmm, all very good food for thought. I had to go back to your post about Organic House Church and read the comments there as well.

    I have several comments, but, I certainly don’t know much so it’s all based on my experience and what I’ve seen. I’ve been part of mega churches and small churches, home church cults and real, awesome “organic churches”, and I definitely DEFINITELY prefer the organic church. But I also realize one cannot “create” an organic church. Christians today want to “make their own church” and they want to gear it a certain way. I have seen men come into our house church and try to form it into something they want, and get frustrated it’s not going their way so they leave.

    The reality is that in our fellowship, we are being knit together. And I have witnessed God move is all in a direction as a group, teaching us and drawing us closer together. I do believe God has selected exactly who is there to be there.

    It has not always been a pretty process. Because we are family, sometimes we argue and have to do some major heart-surgery and discussions. I think people have this idea of what it is going to look like because they are so longing for this picture they have in their head, and they are really disappointed that it’s this messy, sinful group of people working out lies they’ve believed their whole lives, finally learning what grace is, and truly drawing in to Jesus rather than trying to “get it all together” like they were told in Institutional Church.

    On the other hand, sometimes God doesn’t bring people into a specific organic church, but surrounds them with a specific family or two. And we certainly had that at a time in our life (when we were still part of institutional church). We were knit very close with another couple when we were new believers, and we spent much time with them. I would never have called that “church” then but it certainly was part of being the church and it was far more nourishing than any service I attended.

    I think we tend to categorize things, and want to fit them into boxes. And the reality is that God can bring people into our lives that we are to be knit with outside of any “church” group. Our churches are so messy because we have a habit of separating out our lives rather than realizing the opportunity to grow and fellowship is all around us, and God has placed specific people in our lives to “flesh things out with” and to be knit with.

    The house church I “joined” several years ago has changed so much over time. If the person I am now walked into the house church it was then, I would have ran out, but I have seen how the Lord is growing us all toward Him and really changing us, and I know he does that outside of any “church category”. I feel like I’m not making much sense, but I think my main point is that we need to stop trying to fit it into a box and dictate what that is supposed to look like. I appreciate Viola’s books, but I think they can be turned into a methodology for some people rather than just allowing God to fit people together and knit them together and grow them together, and thus, a mess is created because people are trying to create their own organic church.

  11. Denise Keith

    My brother started a house church 2 and half years ago.
    Our Experience:
    We never had more than 5 to 12 people
    Great things were accomplished
    2 missionaries were born out that church
    A ministry to the homeless/needy/poor were born out of that church
    4 Families Restored to God
    4 men came off drugs
    2 had back backgrounds with jail were restored with successful jobs to support their families.
    Many visitors came and went with testimonies.
    Can you work yourself out of a job as Pasture? lol
    Wanted to share with you.. Love your articles..

  12. Denise Keith

    I forgot to list this.
    We now go out into our local community taking bible studies for Adults and children into their homes. So many don’t have cars to get to church.
    This is working for us now. We are trying to connect to local churches to help.
    Many ways to fish.. Just have to seek them out.. God bless you!!

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