“I grew up in the church.”
Usually hearing those six words are a good indication that someone is familiar, at least in part, to what is fondly called “The Christian Bubble.”
It’s a condition I knew long before I heard the term. Not only did I “grow up in the church” but I have had a long association with institutions of faith (I dislike the phrase “Christian institutions” because after all, a building can’t be a follower of Christ.) My junior and high school years were spent at a private, Christian school (sometimes the phrase just can’t be avoided.) I went to college at a non-denominational university that was evangelical in its stated convictions. I now work at a denominational, evangelical institution of higher learning. My familiarity with the bubble is profound. I know the lingo, the norms, and if there was a secret handshake, I’d know that too. It’s a long-established relationship.
For those unfamiliar with “the bubble” it’s quite simply the subculture associated with evangelical institutions. It’s the propensity to isolate ourselves from the world in order to provide a safe environment to learn what we need to learn, to teach what ought to be taught, and to behave in a way that is in keeping with our beliefs. Since it is so hard to do this out in the world, we attempt to erect cocoons where we can do this safe from the infiltration of others. In the bubble, we assume that everyone knows what we mean when we talk of grace; we have confidence that our convictions will be affirmed, and we need not offer any explanations for why we stand and why we sit at different parts of the service. Everyone just knows the cues.
While there is certainly a point to be made about why these bubbles are beneficial for the training and education of young people, the problem is that we often want to extend these bubbles throughout adulthood. We treat our church much like college students treat their campus – as a safe place to grow and develop. And I suppose it should be that – if by safe it is meant a place where you can trust that the Word of God will be preached and conviction will occur. However, too often we don’t want to venture outside of the cocoon. We want to stay where its warm and fuzzy not realizing that the purpose isn’t to stay in the cocoon forever. The purpose is to be under its protection for a limited time in order to grow and get stronger, and then be released to do God’s work. The purpose of the “bubble” is to prepare for the spiritual battle we are called to (Eph. 6:10-20), not avoid it.
And this is what we don’t like. We don’t like the risk of not being liked. We don’t want to battle; we want to be protected from insults, persecutions, and troubles, even though this is exactly what our Savior said we should expect (Mt. 10:22). We may feel like we can remain safe in the cocoon, but if we do so we certainly aren’t sound. Sound means “in good condition” and while the caterpillar is in good condition when he first enters his hiding place, if he stays there indefinitely, he is not doing what he was created for. If he stays, he will atrophy. If he stays, he will eventually die.
Similarly, if we stay in our “Christian bubble,” we won’t’ be going out in the world to make disciples as we were commanded (Mt. 28:19-20). We will not be doing that for which God has created us. Staying in the bubble may be safe, but it will eventually lead to our atrophy. We must go to church to be equipped, then we must go out and, by His grace, do the work that God has prepared for us to do (Eph. 2:10). We must fight the battles, not because they are easy, but because they are what God has called us to.