The Privilege of Church-lessness: a Donald Miller post-script


donaldmiller-bw-2Donald Miller put up another post sort of talking more about his church attendance thoughts, this time talking about how the doctrine of the “priesthood of believers” means he does sacraments on his own and whenever he wants because God has given us all “agency” in this world to do that kind of stuff. He longs that pastors would empower their people to feel free to do these sort of things as well.

I made my thoughts clear last week about how wrong I think he is on this stuff (especially so with the sacraments. He even says he does baptisms for other people even though he himself has never been baptized). I won’t rehash that here. I did want to bring up one thing I noticed in his other posts that was more explicit in this last post. He writes:

To be fair, I’m wired a bit differently. I’m creative and I’m a risk taker. I realize a mistake I often make in my writing is assuming people are wired the way I’m wired. They aren’t. Most people are looking to “do it right” and play by the rules. This saves them from the trouble I often find myself in.

I can’t get past the the feeling here that Miller is saying that “most people” (read: “those that go to church”) at least primarily go to church because they want to “do it right” and “play by the rules”; that not going to church is an act of freedom, while those that still go are bound by something Miller thinks he has freed himself from. It’s not that he necessarily thinks he’s “better” than others, but I fear he makes a dangerous division within the Body of Christ between himself and “most people”.

And it was here that I realized one of the main reasons I’ve had such a strong reaction to this Donald Miller church stuff. It’s not just about the beauty of church, the frustration of evangelicalism, or even the mystery of the sacraments. It’s how this mentality flows so easily from a place of societal privilege and ends up further marginalizing those on the fringes.

In Miller’s most recent post, he talks about how he feels “empowered” to “share in God’s agency” to do baptisms in waterfalls and backyard swimming pools, as well as have communion with friends using hot chocolate and cookies. One insightful commenter wrote this:

I’m pretty sure if you gather together with those Jesus gathers, you’ll find very few home swimming pools, or even impromptu hot chocolate and cookies, particularly if you have to have a car to get to there. A poor ecclesiology tends to stem from a refusal to share in honest friendship with the poor of the earth. We need church because the rich need the poor for salvation, not because its a cool place to have more authoritative sacraments.

This article is for rich people seeking beauty. That’s neat, but eventually it hollows out.

Miller talks in his post about how it would be great if pastors enabled their people to have the “agency” that he presumably enjoys in the world. And maybe he’s right. Perhaps sharing in God’s “agency” is our right, honor, and dignity as those made in the Image of God.

But far too many people have that agency robbed from them. So the question is: what is a more “Jesus-shaped” response to that reality? Fully and freely enjoying your agency in spite of those without it, or giving up some of your own agency for their sake?

Sunday gatherings pull together all of God’s people no matter where they are on that spectrum of agency and privilege. It gives us fellowship and solidarity with people that no amount of sincerity or hard work would bring us in contact with otherwise. To think that you are part of a small group of “creative risk takers” that are free to stay away from that group really does speak to a sense of leisure, ease, comfort, and choices that, frankly, the rest of the world does not know.

Even if we were to say that Donald Miller is right–that the Holy Spirit had given him the freedom to not attend Sunday gatherings and he really could know God just as well outside of that context–there is still a whole host of other people that need him there. Even if he was walking fully in his “God-given agency”, I can’t help but paraphrase the Apostle Paul and think of Jesus…

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard agency from God
as something to be exploited for his own comfort,
but instead emptied himself of his privilege,
even though it was his right,
and taking the form of a slave and church brother,
was born in solidarity with those without this sort of privilege.

And being found clothed in the mundane, limiting,
trappings of gathered believers, he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even to the death of his own preference,
freedom, agency, and privilege.

I pray that Donald Miller might consider doing likewise. Not out of guilt, condemnation, pressure, or need. But rather, out of love.

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7 thoughts on “The Privilege of Church-lessness: a Donald Miller post-script

  1. My gut response is that Christian community is a non-negotiable part. I totally understand the drive to not participate in the faith expressions that he is used to. But…the alternative isn’t walking away altogether, but living in intentional Christian community that is different from that. I don’t fault his desire, but I sure wish he’d see how selfish his blog posts read.

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  2. I think what bothers me is the flippancy with which he views the sacraments/mysteries. There is no reverence of them, nor is there an acknowledgement that this is where God has promised to meet us. Of course, that is what happens when they become mere symbols.

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  3. this is from the post you linked:

    “Which is something I hadn’t felt before, but how the blogs were received. I consoled myself by reminding myself I’d never left “the church” just simply didn’t attend many services.”

    from early on, in Orthodoxy, (thought not sure how early) missing three consecutive sundays for reasons other than those outside of one’s control (health, age, etc) was considered self-excommunication. I am not sure how one “re-entered” the church after that, but i found that interesting when i learnt it.

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