Bizarro Church (1John 2.12-17)

In last week’s passage, 1John 2.12-17, John addresses three different kinds of Christians that make up the church audience he is writing to.   By different kinds, I mean, different stages of spiritual maturity in the Christian life—new believers (children), maturing believers (young men) and seasoned believers (fathers).  Every church, our church, must have all of these present all the time. 

Without new believers, the gospel is either not being preached or new people are not being reached.  The church is growing old and will soon die.  Without maturing believers, the gospel is not going deeper and fans, not followers, of Jesus are being made.  The church is energetic but shallow.  And, without old more seasoned believers, the church lacks mentors to help shepherd the new and young believers with the wisdom that comes from years of faith.  The church is in danger of becoming prideful and making reckless “youthful” decisions.

In addition to the three types of believers, John earlier identified two types of non-believers present in the assembly.  Among the non-believers, there are those who claim to love Jesus but walk according to the lies of Satan, and those who claim to be filled with the Spirit of Jesus, but teach the lies of Satan.  All in all, there appear to be five different types of people present in the assembly of the church.

In reflecting upon what the sermon Sunday, I was reminded of Bizarro Superman—the alter ego of Superman.  Bizarro Superman is the “mirror image” of Superman.  He is not a true villain dedicated to evil, per se, but he is a devoted anti-Superman. In other words, he possesses the same super-powers Superman possesses but in a “negative” form with contrary motivations—a reversal of everything Superman is.  From a distance it is hard to tell them apart.  A cursory look can cause one to easily mistake Bizarro Superman for the real Superman.  A closer examination, however, reveals that he is in fact a false version.

Which leads me to the title of this blog, Bizarro Church.  Just as there is a REAL Church, there is a BIZARRO church.  A Bizarro church is a “church” that, by all appearances, passes as the real deal on the surface.  Upon closer examination by the light of Scripture, this churches reveals itself to be unhealthy, destructive, and fake.  Despite having the same costume, the same works, even the same “powers” of a true church, in the end it is devoted to evil.  How can one identify a Bizarro Church?  Just as there are certain “marks” that define a healthy church (e.g. preaching the gospel, sacraments, church discipline, etc.), there are also certain  “people” to be found in a healthy church.   It’s unlikely, minus a few cults, that you will find a full-fledged Bizarro church.  Instead, you will see that different Churches are either remaining more “true” or become more “bizarre”.

Consider the different kinds of “people” in churches and their Bizarro alter-egos:

SHEPHERDS:  In the True Church you find biblically qualified shepherds.  True Shepherds recognize that they are first under-shepherds submitted to Jesus (1Peter 5.1-5).  They work hard to know the sheep, care for the sheep, feed the sheep, protect the sheep, discipline the sheep, and sacrifice their lives for the sheep. WOLVES:  The Bizarro Church is full of false teaching wolves.  These individuals pick on weak sheep in an effort to control the sheep by teaching lies and half-truths about God and His Word.  They lead for selfish gain using their authority to come between the sheep and the one true Shepherd.  Then they eat the sheep.
SHEEP:  In the True Church you find people who have been saved by Jesus.  By grace, they have responded to the voice of the Jesus as heard through the gospel.  The gospel has given them a new life, with a new heart, new eyes, and new ears.  Through the Spirit, they endeavor to serve Jesus as Lord and to find satisfaction in Him (John 10). GOATS:   In the Bizarro Church you find false converts who try to look like sheep.  In reality, they are non-believing goats who eat every lie in sight.  They hang out with the sheep, make a lot a noise, get into everything, and take inordinate amounts of time and energy away from the shepherd.
CHILDREN:  In the True Church you have new believers.  People are being saved by the gospel.  Their new faith brings energy to the church and a renewed sense of mission.  These children are cared for by the community, fed, cleaned, and protected. As they are dependent upon others for growth, the body helps to mature, establish, and strengthen their faith in the gospel. They are the weak and vulnerable ones who are being trained for future gospel work (Ephesians 4.11-16) INFANTS:  In the Bizarro Church, people become newborn believers and never grow out of diapers.  They never learn to feed themselves, choosing instead to drink from the breast of the “body” until they act like a 10-year-old who hasn’t been weaned.  They spit up a lot, usually the concentrated milk of 5 pastors, all of which they can quote more than the Bible.  They are consumers who don’t truly understand the gospel and need to grow up.
YOUNG MEN:  In the True Church you have mature believers fighting for the Lordship of Jesus in their lives. Having been establishing on a foundation of the Gospel, they are building God’s kingdom through devotion to His Word.  They are the soldiers in battle, the athletes in the race, the farmers working the fields.  The young men are the strong ones, fighting sin, preaching the Word, loving their neighbors, and choosing the harder right over the easier wrong.  Empowered by the Spirit, they seek to live the gospel they have confessed by training for godliness (1Tim 4.7-8; Titus 2.11-14). JUVENILES: In the Bizarro Church you have immature believers fighting to be Lord’s of their own lives.  Intellect, emotion, and experience govern their lives, including the truth of God’s Word.  The reject discipline, instead making excuses, justifications, and/or accommodations for their refusal to obey God’s commands.  They are selfish, self-absorbed, and self-serving.  They immerse themselves completely in the world God saved them from while refusing to engage in a gospel community God saved them to.  They are maturing more in the world than the word.
FATHERS:  In the True Church you have seasoned believers who care for the new and young believers.   They recognize that the mission of God has not changed, but their role in it has.  They see all of the victories and defeats of their faith journey as tools to train future generations.  Their work is no longer on the front lines as soldiers; rather, it is in the community itself as trainers.  They endeavor to encourage, teach, and otherwise help the younger generations love God, love their husbands, love their wives, love their children, and love their church. (Titus 2) INVALIDS:  In the Bizarro Church the seasoned believers do not understand their role in the church.  They have believed the lies of Satan telling them that they have “paid their dues”, that it’s time to rest, or that they are unwanted or irrelevant.  Living in the past, they refuse to engage the current generation. They have loss any sense of mission and thus squander, rather than entrust, the wisdom and experience God has given them. They retire from gospel work and become consuming infants once again.

Author: Sam Ford

Sam Ford is a preacher, planter, and pastor from the Pacific Northwest. He is currently pastoring Restoration Road Church in Snohomish, WA.

3 thoughts on “Bizarro Church (1John 2.12-17)”

  1. It was a good sermon. As a devoted ‘note taker’ I was grateful in how the sermon was organized. What stood out for me was your explanation in how the world influences the children, father and young men differently.


  2. Thanks Joel. I probably should have preached two sermons because I think there is much to learn about how the world influences us differently at different stages in our spiritual maturity–either to reject truth, pervert truth, or forget truth. There is, without doubt, some overlap but it is helpful to consider where we are most vulnerable. I wonder if our failure to recognize those vulnerabilities is in fact a direct result of our failure to know how mature (or not) we actually are.


  3. One of my favorite sermons Sam. What a beautiful picture of family. Marta and I were having a discussion today on just how to encourage this type of dynamic at DR, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of the meet and greet (?) you called at Ross’ house a few years ago. As a new Christian, I remember growing under several mentors at the church I was a member of. I sure miss them, and that sense of grounded-ness. It seemed like people were more available and sacrificial with their time back then, I know I’ve withdrawn a great deal from the face-to-face kind of man I used to be. Have we just entered some sort of 21st century virtual vortex or something?


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