Sometimes you hear it said, “There’s no such thing as a Lone Ranger Christian.” That’s wrong – there is such a thing. Of course, he doesn’t wear a red bandana and a black mask. He doesn’t ride a white horse and have a sidekick calling him “Kimosabe.” So how do you recognize this spiritual masked man? Here is a profile of the Lone Ranger Christian:
1. The Lone Ranger Christian does not submit to any church authority.
The Lone Ranger Christian always rides solo. To be shepherded and led by pastors and elders is fine for the ordinary believer, but not for him. This renegade sheep is quite able lead himself beside still waters, thank you very much. He is a self-shepherd. He’s really not opposed to authority per se. It’s just that he himself is his own authority. He says he answers only to God. That sounds noble, but his refusal to submit to others for the sake of Christ (Ephesians 5:21; 1 Peter 5:5) means that in reality he answers only to himself.
2. The Lone Ranger Christian does not commit to any church body.
Belonging to a local church body not only means submission to church authority, but it also entails dedication and commitment to one group of believers over an extended period of time. The Lone Ranger Christian won’t have it. He may enjoy Christian gatherings and even be the gregarious type, but his fellowship with other believers is always on his terms.
The Lone Ranger Christian often enjoys hearing good preaching and teaching. And he will even come to church to worship. But he won’t commit to the church. If he tires of one preacher, or if he gets bored with one church’s worship service, or if too many people rub him the wrong way, it’s “Hi-yo Silver, Away!”, and off he rides.
Though he rejects the church in this way, strangely, he needs the church. It serves as the necessary backdrop to sharpen his profile as the self-made man of God, beholden to no institution. Rather than devoting his energies to serving the church, in a parasitical way he looks better as the church looks worse. Christians committed to their churches are engaged in the work of learning to love one another, and to worship and serve together, a messy and difficult business because of our sin and natural selfishness. But the Lone Ranger Christian strikes a pose of daring independence, ever above the fray, proclaiming his allegiance to Jesus alone. Though he is blissfully free from the heartache and stress that true Christian community often entails, the tragedy is he knows nothing of the joy of genuine Christian fellowship. His independence often brings in its wake a sad loneliness.
3. The Lone Ranger Christian values his personal experience and beliefs over church teaching.
Orthodox Christian doctrine has always been a communal affair. Christ entrusted his words to his apostles, who in turn taught others, including pastors and teachers, who in turn taught churches. These churches were formed around a common confession of faith in Christ. Church councils worked through difficult theological questions together. And the Reformed confessions of faith were penned by assemblies, or if written by individuals, they were adopted by churches. In other words, true doctrine is church doctrine – the Bible says the church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15).
But the Lone Ranger Christian, though he may hold orthodox views, will in the end appeal to his own understanding or his own experience as the final arbiter of Christian truth. In fact, he cherishes nothing so dearly as his own opinions. And what makes them right is not that they agree with Scripture, or with historic Christian orthodoxy, but that they are his.
4. The Lone Ranger Christian considers himself a teacher, not a student; a leader, not a follower.
The Lone Ranger Christian is naturally resistant to teaching, because to be taught demands a certain humility and willingness to submit to others. So he fancies himself a teacher. In the worst cases, he is the unique, self-appointed Teacher of Truth (you can often read his comments under internet articles dealing with religion). Likewise, the Lone Ranger Christian will not follow others. He imagines he would be a better leader than most of the pastors and elders he knows, but since he never learned to humbly follow others, he cannot be a true leader in Christ’s church.
Now, there are passages of Scripture you can show your Lone Ranger friend that indicate why all Christians should belong to a church (for example, Ephesians 4:1-16; Hebrews 10:25, 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-5). But such talk will make him uneasy. He senses you are infringing on his cherished autonomy, and he doesn’t like it. Happily for him, just like the real Lone Ranger, he has a silver bullet to disarm any threats to his Christian independence. That silver bullet is one word: “legalism”. Speak of the need for church attendance, of commitment to the body of Christ, or of submitting to the authority Christ gave to his church, and he is likely to shoot them down with this one word.
What produces these Lone Ranger Christians? The root of the problem is pride. At heart we are all spiritual Lone Rangers. And so I suspect the above description may be fit us more than we like to admit.
But the next time you encounter the mysterious Christian who vanishes from your fellowship as quickly as he appeared (with the William Tell Overture playing in the background, of course), and you ask one another, “Who was that masked man, anyway?”, now you know – it was the Lone Ranger Christian.