“What Church do you go to?” Why Jay Bakker is my (virtual) pastor

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I often get emails from people, stuck in dogmatic churches, who are hungry for grace. They hear the message of the cross expressed in terms of God’s restorative justice, rather than divine wrath and revenge, and they ask me where they can find a church that teaches that, too. They hear the focus on unconditional grace and radical acceptance and long to be part of a church with that focus as well. So they write to me asking “Where do you go to church?”

I wish I could say I have found a great church where people are focused on being real and loving each other, warts and all. A place where asking hard questions is not a sign of moving away from Jesus, but a sign of moving closer to him. A place where the goal is not for one guy in authority to control people’s morality like they were infants, but to empower everyone to develop a mature adult faith.

That’s what church ought to be like. So why is a place like that so hard to find?

Maybe it’s because pastors feel a pressure to act as if they are perfect, and so end up leaving no room for us to ask healthy questions either. Instead, they’re pressured to act as if they have it all together. With us its the same: We get up and sing happy and triumphant songs that often don’t really reflect our reality, instead of creating an atmosphere where we can be real and loved for who we really are.

I’d love to go to a church that was focused on grace and messy radical love. I haven’t found a place like that where I live yet. But I have been “attending” Revolution Church for quite a while via their podcasts from Pete’s Candy Store in NYCand more recently from a bowling alley in Minneapolis, and I am proud to call Jay Bakker my (virtual) pastor. What makes Jay so awesome is that he is an open book. Rather than being authoritarian, he gets us all to think and reflect by modeling this for us—including humbly questioning himself. Rather than acting like he has it all figured out, he demonstrates what normal and healthy struggle looks like, and in so doing creates a space for us to face our questions, too. He has real authority because he uses his power to lift up those who are often marginalized and kept down. He’s my hero precisely because he is not invulnerable and perfect, and makes it a little more okay for the rest of us to admit we aren’t either.

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I wish there were more churches like Jay’s. I’d be the first in line if there was one near me! The trouble is that because he is focused on taking a stand for love alongside the marginalized, rather than making money his main goal and bottom line as so many churches do, that means he struggles sometimes to make ends meet. It’s the opposite of the mega-church, and that is good because it means that it’s the kind of radical place that Jesus wanted us to be a part of, and at the same time hard because the way of Jesus was never intended to be a business model.

Now of course face to face is always better than through a wire. So please don’t misunderstand me to be saying that I think a virtual church is ideal over face to face relationships. If I lived in the same town as Jay, I’d much rather go there in person. That would be ideal, but the fact is, many of us (myself included) don’t always have access to the ideal. So we need to  find a way to deal the best we can with the messy imperfect  reality we find ourselves in.

So if you find yourself in the same boat, and are looking for a church that is focused on grace but just don’t have anything like that in your neck of the woods, I’d like to invite you to come to my “church” next week. There’s no commute, no problem with parking, you just need to stick some headphones on your ears and tune into the podcast. It’s not perfect, but I’m learning that maybe that’s okay.

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About the Author

Derek FloodDerek Flood is the author of Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives, and Why We All Need to Learn to Read the Bible Like Jesus Did He is a featured blogger for the Huffington Post, Sojourners, here at Red Letter Christians, as well as writing regularly at his website theRebelGod.com. A longtime voice in the post-conservative evangelical movement, Derek’s focus is on wrestling with questions of faith and doubt, violence in the Bible, relational theology, and understanding the cross from the perspective of grace and restorative justice. Follow Derek on Twitter @therebelgod and Facebook.View all posts by Derek Flood →

  • Frank

    Sure its a good church is you like to have a pastor deny the Word of God. Stay far far away,

    • SamHamilton

      In what ways does he deny the Word of God? I know nothing about him.

      • Frank

        Jay is the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker so I sympathize with him having to weather that. However he claims homosexual behavior is not sinful, he denies Gods created order for marraige and sexuality and performs same sex weddings.

        • SamHamilton

          Ah, I should have recognized the last name. Thanks.

          I was going to guess he was rebelling against something, what with the tats, lip piercing and hipster hat and glasses.

          • Frank

            I am fine with rebels. Jesus was considered a rebel. The difference is Jesus did the will of the Father. Today’s rebels do the will of culture or themselves.

          • SamHamilton

            Sorry…I might have been editing my post while you were typing. But yeah, I don’t think there’s an inherent problem with rebellious actions. Most rebellion is more of a pose than action though. (This is not a shot at Bakker; again, I don’t know anything about his ministry.)

          • jonathan starkey

            Love COVERS a multitude of sins.

            Maybe we should be like Noah’s sons and cover their Father?

          • John

            I’ll go for “doppelkonformistischenrebellen”. Which sort of roughly means rebel conformist twin. Ish.

          • SamHamilton

            Well done John!

        • Jonathan Starkey

          I would highlight Jimmie’s failings, but every time I look at another women with lust in my eyes I’ve committed adultery, and every time I’ve brought up another persons failings there is slander in my heart.

          I’ve wondered. How much law there is in highlighting other peoples breaking of the law.

          Is that gossip?

          I mean I was reading James yesterday, and these people confessed One God and the Law, but had know works of humility/love in their hearts?

          • Frank

            I made no judgement about Jimmie. I simply said that being their son came with a lot of baggage.

            As far as Jay is concerned he is a teacher leading people astray which compels people to speak up about it.

          • jonathan starkey

            So you’re compelled, by what the flesh or the spirit?

          • Frank

            By the Word of God we who follow Christ are all compelled to speak out boldly.

            Romans 16:17 (ESV)
            I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.

            2 Thessalonians 2:3 (ESV)
            Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,

            1 Timothy 4:1-5
            I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

            Acts 20:29-31 (ESV)

            I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears

          • jonathan starkey

            Sounds like you’re causing divisions.
            Rebellion is the pride of the law.
            Solid teaching is the Gospel of grace and truth. Faith in Jesus. Not works of the law.
            Endure suffering of humility, kindness, and patience.
            Fierce wolves who loved the Law. Full of blindness and pride.

          • Frank

            Don’t be deceived yourself. Those that are causing division are those that are leading people away form the Kingdom of God, like Jay Bakker.

          • jonathan starkey

            Those that are leading people into hostility, by highlighting the law.
            You can be deceived on 2 sides of the fence.

            Paul rebuked Peter to his face. It wasn’t because Peter was getting loose on the law.

          • Jonathan Starkey

            Self-righteousness is blind. Is just as dangerous if not more dangerous than being in blatant error.

          • Frank

            I agree but that’s not the case here. And there is nothing self righteous about it. I admit my many sins. Those that say something is not a sin that clearly is are treading on very dangerous ground.

            Focus on the right things before you fall into deception.

          • jonathan starkey

            Focus on hope that is to come, not having attained it yet.
            Focus on Grace and the cross.
            Focus on my own sins and not others.
            Focus on bearing one anthers sins in love, and forgiving as I have been forgiven.
            Focus on being subject to authority in humility, even abusive authority.
            Focusing on gentleness, humility, meekness, love and kindness.
            Focusing on loving people who are the worst offenders. Not counting myself as better.
            Focusing living right before God.

            Anyway nice chatting with you.

          • Jonathan Starkey

            Focusing on that I am dead. And that Christ is alive.
            Focusing that everybody can come to Him.

          • Frank

            I agree but your list and calling out and rebuking false teachers are not mutually exclusive.

          • jonathan starkey

            How do you avoid pride, and diligently call things out at the same time?

          • Jonathan Starkey

            I mean my sin is pretty constant.

            Don’t you believe you will be held to the same measure that you are highlighting in Jimmy Baker?

          • Frank

            I am sure of it.

          • Frank

            There is nothing prideful in recognizing sin. There is nothing prideful about warning others to stay away from false teachers. You seem to think things are mutually exclusive when they are not.

          • Jonathan Starkey

            There is pride in recognizing the sin of others.

            The Pharisee: Thank you God that I am not a sinner like that man over there.
            The Publican: Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner.

            The Older Brother: How dare you kill a calf for this sinner, when I have been in your house all the time and have not broken any rule.

            The Pharisees: If you knew who this woman was you would not be allowing her to touch you.

            I think the thing that makes us mad the most. Is that people who have not worked for it are now getting it for free.

            While you were yet sinners Christ died.

          • Frank

            I said nothing like the Pharisees. Stop seeing only what you want to see.

            Calling out sin is an act of love not pride. It can be prideful if the person thinks they are perfect or not as bad as other sinners but that’s not me.

          • jonathan starkey

            It is not an act of forebearing.

          • jonathan starkey

            Anyway, I do the same things. And don’t want to get caught up in this. I challenged the author of this article to stay in Church, but I always want to flee Church. I challenged the author not to harm other, because I harm others. My challenge to author was to not judge conservatives wrongly and to have mercy and love.

            My challenge to you was the same. Love have mercy. Don’t judge to harshly.

            And it’s for me also. And in this conversation.


          • Frank

            We are not called to tolerate sin in ourselves or others.

          • Guest

            really? than why is the first characteristic of Love listed in 1st Corinthians 13 “longsuffering?”

          • Jonathan Starkey

            It seems a little Pharisaical, by the scriptures you posted, and standing behind that pointing out sin is loving. I would approach that deduction a little deeper. It could be loving in relationship. Paul says to restore each other gentley.

          • Frank

            Not speaking about sin is an act of hate. People hid behind legalism and being “Pharisaical” when they want to justify sin. We are compelled to speak out, in love of course, when people are leading Jesus’ people astray. People shouting legalism and Pharisees wont ever change that. Its a common tactic to silence those who speak out against people who choose to live their own way not Gods ways. It wont work.

          • Jonathan Starkey

            Somebody should have told that to the Prodigals Father, wait someone did.

          • Frank

            Well you certainly have a gift to bring up things that have almost no relevancy to the current situation. The prodigal son saw the errors of his sin and turned away from that to come back to the father. We all have that choice we can make.

  • Shaun W.

    Frank’s opposed to it; seems like all the more reason to “attend” this Sunday. Thanks in advance for the info, Derek. I am looking forward to enjoying the Podcast with a side of free-trade latte.

  • Digger

    Its funny reading an article about radical acceptance and then two comments in there is already a rejection of a Christian based on that man’s beliefs. “We radically accept everyone who thinks exactly like us.”

    • John

      Fair point, Digger. Though of course that doesn’t necessarily reflect the author’s feelings. Still, a neighbour is a neighbour, and we should all do better.

  • Guest

    Thanks in advance for the info, Derek. I am looking forward to enjoying several of the Podcasts throughout the week (all with a side of obligatory free-trade latte).

  • Shaun W.

    Thanks in advance for the info, Derek. I am looking forward to enjoying several of the Podcasts throughout the week (all with an obligatory side of free-trade latte).

  • bluecenterlight

    If there is not a church like that where you live then start one. Start a podcast church. I know the meeting house in Toronto encourages distance groups where people get together listen to a podcast and discus it. Grab some people, wrestle with the word, then for Gods sake go live it out. Stop making excuses.

    • John

      That’s really interesting. I’d never heard of that.

      • Jonathan Starkey

        Saul built an alter without waiting for Samuel. Then blamed the people.
        I find lately that I have a heart a lot like Saul.

  • justjohn

    my main tradition, quakers, is well suited to online.

    last sunday i stumbled on a regular church that does not trigger my ptsd with church.

    “the vine” … and turns out it is of the church of christ … who’d have thunk?!

  • jonathan starkey

    Grace is not unconditional, it’s based upon a condition. That you receive it freely, not that you may boast in receiving it. But then grace if it is working in you should manifest in humility.

    This article reminds me of the book of Romans, where Paul says, be careful not to judge the Jews to harshly, because how much more could they be grafted in. Gentile Christians in their freedom began to slander those who were more traditional. Which is not grace working in your members.

    The Bible says “if you cannot love a brother whom you have seen, how can you love God whom you have not seen?”

    You can’t have a virtual relationship.

    And statements like “I’d love to go to a church that…” or “I wish there were more churches like….” is based upon personal ideal or idealism. You will always be hurt wherever you go. These are statements of the flesh.

    A brother asked, “I have found a place where my peace is not disturbed by the brethren; do you advise me to live there?” Abba Poemen replied, “The place for you is where you will not harm the brothers.”

    I pray that whatever church setting we are in, we may be able to express, humility, long suffering, patience, meekness and kindness.

    • jonathan starkey

      And honour.

      • SamHamilton

        Good points about “personal ideal and idealism.” There isn’t a person or institution that I’ve gotten to know in the flesh that hasn’t disappointed me at some point or another. Some just in small ways, but disappointed me nonetheless. There is no perfect church. I’ll bet Revolution Church isn’t perfect either. I’ll bet they worry about funds and leadership and perception, etc.

        People should spend less time working to find the perfect community of Christians and just pick one that’s close and start getting to know the people there. They might surprise you.

    • Cindy Lessenden

      I agree. I once went to midnight mass at an Episcopal church. I expressed the thought, “Oh they are so Christlike.!” My husbnd said, “they look that way because you don’t know them.” Loving unconditionally is loving people you know all about–especially when they are least Christ like. PS–I go to a CBF church of people who’s goal is to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. We come together to find our center and worship our Lord and then attempt to go to the world and LOVE–ALL ARE WELCOME (by the majority of us) And when I find my self not wanting certain persons in my church–well–I know that’s wnen I need God most! I want to be His sheep, not his goat!

  • Tim

    Does he point you to Jesus? Or do you just like him because he is similar to you and makes you feel comfortable? There is a real, tough question to answer. Also being an ACTIVE PART of the BODY is vital to relationship with the One Jay is hopefully pointing you towards.

  • Thee Bloomin Idiot

    Sin is sin and I am the chief of all sinners. Praise God for not giving me justice, but mercy. Praise God for the grace He has shown me.

    That being said I don’t know about Mr. Baker’s church, but Derek and all followers of Christ, must be about the business of relating with people, the good, bad and the ugly, and loving them all. Jesus did.

    And we must be in community with each other…. To lift each other up. Find a church and be Christ to those found there.

    You will never find a perfect church, because they are all filled top to bottom with imperfect people.

    Thus our need for Jesus!

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