In Defense of the Lone Ranger Christian

I don't know about your church, but the ones I grew up in have an informal term to describe a Christian who doesn't attend weekly services: the Lone Ranger Christian.

The so-called Lone Ranger Christian is one who is a believer, but who navigates their spiritual journey without the accountability and community of other Christians. They believe in Jesus, follow Jesus' teachings, and don't feel the need to show up for church every Sunday...or ever.

I've grown up hearing a lot of Lone Ranger Christian-shaming. "Lone Ranger Christian" is used as a derogatory term and I've heard countless times the dangers of being one. You will backslide, they say (if you aren't judged as a backslider already). You will fall into a life of sin, they say. You will be empty and alone, not having a community of brothers and sisters to encourage you in times of trouble. I've even heard some say that there are no Lone Ranger Christians, implying that a Lone Ranger isn't even a Christian--or, at least, not a good one.

Ouch.

But I beg to differ.

I'm writing today as a recent, mutated form of a Lone Ranger Christian, meaning I attend church with my family where they are members, but I am not a member of the church we attend. In fact, for the first time since I was 7, I am not a member of any church. As my family transitioned out of a difficult church situation and into a new church in the same denomination, I decided to be free from it. I chose to go to church with my family, but technically and mentally left, even as I physically walk through its doors each week.

And the shaming has begun, as I have been told in a formal letter that the writer is praying that I will "...return to the service of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ," and that the church has formally voted to "withdraw fellowship" from me. *

Ouch.

And we wonder why some people just want to be left alone.

I don't think there is any shame in being a Lone Ranger Christian. In fact, I think that, for some, it's vital. There was no shame for the Apostle Paul, a religious man above religious men who spent 3 years in the desert after his conversion, a Lone Ranger Christian, sorting out the scriptures and shaking the perverted religion from his head. Yes, he later joined and even started churches, but what would have been lost if the church in Damascus told him there was no such thing as a Lone Ranger Christian?

Perhaps worse than shaming a Christian for not wanting to join a church is the shaming that occurs when Christianity takes on a sinister form and the preaching on the Lone Ranger Christian becomes a bully stick, pounding one back into submission. The church member has to choose to either die within its walls as a "good Christian" or make a run for it to the desert, a Lone Ranger.

To those who run to the heat of the barren desert because it is cooler than the politics of religion, I say there is no shame. I say, there is a wealth of truth and peace to be found there.

To those who run into the wilderness on broken legs and the sword of judgement still wet with their blood, I say there is no shame. I say, The Great Physician has an office there.

As I become more familiar with the wilderness, I'm finding that I'm actually not as much of a Lone Ranger as I thought I would be... or that I hoped I would be. 

When my heart walked out of church, I was angry with God. I was angry over the injustices and inconsistencies I saw in the Bible and angry on behalf of everyone who had been hurt by religion. I mourned the loss of my security in scripture and the Church and I shut God out before He could hurt me again. 

And then He spoke. To tell what He said would mean nothing to the reader, but it melted my defenses in a supernatural second and made me believe that maybe God wasn't what I thought He was. The God who was speaking to me now was not the God I had been talking to.  The one I was throwing punches at was formed by years of believing things I was afraid not to. Tearing myself away from the god of my own construction has been like tearing off pieces of my own flesh. I have nearly vomited from the pain. Literally.

Here in the wilderness, I am finding God. He is finding me. He is in the wilderness. He is in the desert. He meets with the church and the Lone Ranger, perhaps especially the broken-hearted Lone Ranger.

Dear Lone Ranger Christian, I have misunderstood you and have thrown stones at you. I am sorry. I applaud your courage and your willingness to be true to yourself. I am now sitting in my own bed of stones and I am coming to understand:

You can be a Lone Ranger and still be a Christian--even a good one.


(My thoughts one month later: One Month After My Defense of the Lone Ranger Christian.)



*In the spirit of fairness, when a church in this denomination says they "withdraw fellowship" from you, the wording can be misleading. In action, members still talk to you; friendships are not broken (though the very act does make things awkward); you can still show up to church, every Sunday, if you'd like, and attend church gatherings. But you are no longer considered a member and you are viewed as a sinner in need of repentance. It takes an apology to the church and a statement of your repentance toward God to be re-instated as a member. You're not shunned, but still...ouch.  As for why they have "withdrawn fellowship" from me, well...ironically, because I decided to be a Lone Ranger Christian. 


6 comments:

  1. I love you! Well written and from the heart.

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  2. Even within and as a member of the church, you can feel and be a Lone Ranger Christian when what you believe does not seem to fit into the paradigm of that church. When there are only a few that you can comfortably talk about what you believe which disagrees with the tradition, you are not alone. There is freedom in being a Long Ranger Christian. That being said, I believe you need to find a more loving fellowship,

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    1. Oh, you are SO right about being a Lone Ranger Christian in church!!! That was 15 years of my life. I think that's the hardest Lone Ranger to be. The felt need for secrecy is a heavy weight to bear. Criticism and rejection hurts, but secrecy and shame over nothing to feel shame about kills you inside.

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  3. My husband and I attend a church, but very rarely. We find the Sunday services distracting and struggle to worship God in them, but the community there is unbelievable. So we participate in the community every week... but practically never on Sundays.

    I haven't come to terms with what this means for us. I think it's important for Christians to have a community of believers who love and support us... but I know that God uses "wandering in the wilderness" time to bless us in ways we could never find at a Sunday service.

    Thank you for your thoughts, Rachael. Every crumb is another piece that helps me understand what I'm doing, and what God's doing in me, a little bit more.

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    1. I don't know what the Sunday services look like and what the community looks like, but it seems to me that the "church part" would be the community. That's my 5am, pre-caffeine thought, anyway. :)

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