Not too long ago, I read a Facebook post that reminded me of how I used to think. The beauty of walking hard and bitter roads is that one day, assuming you are delivered from the “stinking thinking”, you can help others traversing the same awful path.
One morning, as began my ritual of coffee, checking up on friends online, and preparing for some time alone with God, I ran across a comment on Facebook that broke my heart! One of my pastor friends had posted an article on the dangers of being a “solo Christian”; the article focused on the fact that it is dangerous if not indeed impossible to walk alone in one’s faith. Below is the response to the article:
Unfortunately, many of us were driven away from church due to repeated abuse, horrible teaching, a circus atmosphere, false expectations, and on and on. I could write a book. I may yet.
I gave it 38 years of my life before I finally walked away a year ago. That’s a pretty long time to put up with such endless, unyielding crap, and an even longer time to listen to teachers and others who heap burdens on people, but never actually point us to Jesus in a practical way that puts us in a position where he and he alone can deal with us, as originally intended. I never once needed the church and its people to point me to principles. Nor to morality. Not to guilt, fear, and “Christian superstition” that kept me strung out and always feeling like I could never measure up. Not to the latest, greatest teaching and “revelation” that would often as not get debunked later on. Not to the most recent “movement” that provided yet further distraction and confusion. But rather, I just needed them to remind me and point me to Jesus, plain and simple–so that HE could build into me from the inside out what churches tried to force on me for years. Except when he does it, it is done for real. No guesswork. No church games. No performance, either for God or man. Just real. And the tragic irony is that as long as I was involved with church, I could rarely cut through the confusion and endless clamor long enough to hear the voice and heart of Jesus. Once I left, the dust started clearing up.
In the year since I walked away from church, it has at times been a very rough road, and it seems almost every issue, weakness and failure I’ve dealt with over the last four decades has surfaced, including depression on a level I’ve never encountered–which is saying a lot. But along with these things–since I no longer dare trust people to walk through such things with me–GOD has repeatedly shown up to slowly heal and change me like never before. From the inside out. Not out of fear. Not from coercion, guilt, shame, humiliation and false accountability, manipulation, or a sense that I need to keep up or find myself rejected by the people around me. In fact the very reason he CAN reach me finally is because indeed I pulled away from church and the people therein, except for two people who I trust, who respect me and my relationship with God enough to let HIM deal with me, rather than constantly telling me what they think God wants me to know (then kicking me aside if I don’t lock in to their opinion in a timely manner). You mention that people like me are accountable only to ourselves. If you only had ANY idea of just how accountable to GOD that I am, working out my salvation with much fear and trembling. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to subject myself to man’s idea of accountability again. I’ve seen all I need to see over the years to know too well how successful that was in my life.
God led me to leave church a year ago. You can accept that or reject it. I was there. I know. Experience trumps opinion. Proof texts mean nothing, because I can counter any proof texts with other proof texts that contradict them. The proof is in the fruit, not in texts interpreted by men who have already decided they have it right, and use texts to support their thinking and teaching. And the fruit takes a lifetime in many cases, and is not subject to being judged by “fruit inspectors”, but can only be judged by God, who sees the end from the beginning, and who is not put off by setbacks, slowness to see, failures, obstinance, sin, or any of the myriad things that man points to and says, “Aha! See? This man is not a genuine Christian! Leave him alone!” and so on. I’m no longer intimidated by such people or their words and attitudes. Their problem, no longer mine.
There have been times, including very recently, where I’ve dearly wanted to be part of some sort of assembly of believers again. But as soon as I begin considering finding a church or even a home group, I’m quickly reminded of the fact that I’m terrified of church and most of the people that populate them, and I cannot put myself in that atmosphere again. Church had nearly forty years to get it right. They blew it. Large. I was the one dying in the road while all the church people walked around me and went on their way. Enough! (that was what God said regarding the situation). God showed up, picked me up, led me away from it, and has me to himself until further notice. Proof texts and principled opinions and doctrine notwithstanding. I don’t know if I’ll ever be a part of a church again, or if I will just stick to Jesus and those trustworthy, proven people he has placed in my life. If I do, it will be a move of God, because he deems it the right time. It won’t be because of someone’s proof texts, well ordered doctrine, or attempts to guilt me back to church. It won’t be for any reason other than God saying he wants it. Just like with every other area of my life. I inquire of God. He answers, be it ever so slow in coming. If that’s not good enough for those who call themselves his people, so be it. They should inquire of God about me, then wait for him to answer, be it ever so slow in coming. Better yet, just assume I’m none of their business and let me breathe.
Can you not just feel the pain pouring from this man? The damning accusation is especially acute in my spirit because I have been there! I have struggled with this all of my adult life. The good news for me is that one day the Spirit spoke in profound clarity and this is what He said:
“You cannot be on the outside looking in. I love My Church, but she must change! If you love Me, then love My Church.”
I was completely taken aback by these words and I can assure you that I did not want to hear them! The Church in my opinion has blasphemed the name of Christ in a way only a loved-one can inflict pain upon the beloved. I look at it this way: you may have a friend that hurts you, you may have a co-worker that drives you nuts, but no one can inflict true and lasting damage the way a parent or family member can! That being said, it doesn’t give us the right to “throw in the towel”. God has an abundance of grace, mercy, and patience…we unfortunately fall desperately short in these matters. If God has put up with Israel all these millennia, don’t you think He has plenty of patience for His Church?!
Let’s be real here for a minute. When Jesus walked our tiny planet, He didn’t have a problem with the cursed, He didn’t condemn the thief, He didn’t stone the adulterer, and He promised Paradise to the criminal hanging on the cross next to Him. Jesus didn’t have a problem with sinners, BUT He DID have a problem with the religious! Jesus had nothing but kind, comforting, and loving remarks and teachings for the downcast of the world; but reserved His anger and condemnation for the religious leaders! This is astounding to say the least. As recorded all through the Bible, God detests the religious heart. Just read Isaiah 58, just read all of the recorded discourses of Christ as He addressed the Pharisees and Sadducees, and read the plethora of damning accusations Paul had for the early Church as she divided over ridiculous doctrines and reversions back to religious thought. Paul asks a poignant question of the church in Galatia, “Why would you finish in the flesh what was started in the Spirit?” He accuses the church of being “carnal” rather than “spiritual” when they began to divide based on disputes and the early hints of sectarianism. God reserves the right to condemn His church, Jesus reserves the right to accuse the Church for it is His, and Paul has every liberty to chastise the churches he planted…but when it comes to you and me…we must be very, very careful!
The fact is this: we are all part of the body of Christ; we are all part of the church, so to point out the flaws of the church is essentially to be pointing at the person in the mirror! You see, we must take ownership of the church and ownership of the impetus for change. Even Paul tells us that if “part of the body suffers, we all suffer”. So to point at the toe and it accuse it of being a bad toe is the same as saying, “As a finger, I condemn you for being a bad toe!” But then the finger can’t do much if the toe is bad; for if the toe is infected, the foot is infected, and if the foot is infected, then the body can’t walk, and if the body can’t walk then the finger must busy itself picking the nose!
When the Spirit began to speak to me concerning the Church, He made it clear that I had come to a crossroad. I had much time (almost 2 years) to pray, meditate, study the Word, and commune with the Holy Spirit; but a day came when the Lord basically told me that if I wanted to continue to grow spiritually, then I would have to join myself to the body. I resisted and the result was what can only be referred to as a “desert experience”. God withdrew from me to make a point. It got to where I was literally begging Him to grant me audience with Himself. After much prayer, begging, and copious amounts of tears, He visited me only to reiterate His mandate to join with His church. I humbly complied! The result has been life-changing to say the least. This is what I now know: the Church does need to change, the Church cannot change without its individual members praying for and demanding that change, and you cannot do that from the outside looking in! Look, let me be honest here. The Lord has asked me to help bring the Church to repentance and remind her of some fundamental principles. I am not a popular guy! Most look at me and think, “Who the hell are you? What gives you the right to shake the place up?!” and they ask the question, “Why can’t you just conform to our version of ‘business as usual’?”
This is where I am presently struggling. I know what the Lord has asked me to do, but many doubt that I am hearing the Lord. You see, in the flesh this seems to be a lose/lose situation in that I really don’t want to be that guy and the church doesn’t want to hear it! But the fact remains, I DO hear the Lord and I have chosen to be faithful. I must be patient, for God has surely been more than patient with me! I didn’t ask for this job; in fact, some days (if not most days) I cringe at the thought of being that guy that is always exhorting the congregation to get off of their collective rumps and be kingdom children of God! Pastors are trying…well, the ones I know are doing their best at least. The problem is that what the pastors want to say and what they are allowed to say are two different messages! They have a congregation to lose, an assembly to piss off, and a holy convocation of attitudes to manage. I don’t. So I challenge people “in the trenches” and then have the pastors trying to reason with me and wonder why I am so abrasive. Look, I admit that we all are a work in progress, and therefore will admit that my communication skills could and should improve; but I can’t waver on the message that the Lord has asked me to bring! I can’t in good faith “water it down”, I can’t be obedient to God and try to please men at the same time…God knows I’ve tried!
So the fact is that we are all being asked by God to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. In order to be part of the solution, one must walk in rhythm with the Spirit lest our emotions get the best of us. It is far too easy to become frustrated with the status quo of lukewarmness in the church today; it is far too easy to become an elitist and state with your words and actions, “Hey, you guys need to be more Spirit-filled…like me!”; it is far too easy to slip from love into apathy. For me, I have to approach every church relationship in complete love and complete abandon. I have to love my brothers and sisters unconditionally and I can’t do that alone. I must have the Holy Spirit pouring that love into me on a daily basis. I am incapable of loving the way God expects me to love; only He can provide that kind of love. So in order to produce any lasting and substantial repentance in the church requires a loving person dedicated to seeing the best for all of God’s children. Some would say that I am pointing my finger at the Church and again ask the question, “Who the hell are you?!” I would reply in full confidence, “I am a disciple of Christ doing my job.” Again, I didn’t ask for this job…it was mandated from the Almighty Himself and as far as I’m concerned, He has an outstanding sense of humor! And let’s face it: if you don’t think there is a problem with the church today, then you need to wake up and smell the apathy! Don’t listen to me…listen to what the Bible says.
I am waxing too long here and I apologize. Here is the undeniable, immutable truth in the matter: as Christians, there is a process of spiritual maturation; one must come to God as an individual and “seek His face” one-on-one; we have all made the awful mistake of replacing our personal love affair with God with a church life; and that is where the trouble begins. We must maintain our intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit AND be part of a church. Too many times we think (inadvertently or on purpose) that we can replace our personal journey with a group journey. That is simply not the way it works! The spiritual concept that Jesus and then His disciples were trying to impart is that one must walk in the Spirit as a “new man” or “a new creation”, and then bring that power to the assembly. If you forsake your one-on-one relationship for a community-dependent relationship with God, you will always be disillusioned and disappointed and eventually will become bitter! Our church life is built upon the solid foundation of our personal life; if we forsake the personal foundation, then anything built upon it will eventually come crashing down. We should not lean on the church; we are built to lean on God alone! God demands to be number one in your life…even above your church. You see, Peter is very clear on this as he describes us as “living stones” being built up; we cannot depend on the church to be “alive”…that is the Spirit’s job! Our job is to love, love, love, and after that to love. We should not go to church to take from it; we should go to church to add to it. Amen?
I have a confidence and a hope that overwhelms me at times, and that hope is this: in a day not too far off, there will be a “later day rain” revival to eclipse all revivals. At the same time, there will be a great falling away in the church. In the not too distant future, there will be a line in the sand, grey will be replaced by black and white, and no longer will there be allowance for “armchair Christians”. I feel it deep down in my spirit that very soon this world will be rocked by God’s glory and the “last call” for humankind. The church must be awakened, the sleeping beauty must arise and take up her full armor, and that my friends is why I will never ever give up…this world needs us, and I for one will not go down in an apathetic pile of uselessness! We are called to change the world and change the world we will by the blood of the Lamb and the words of our testimony!
Be brave, be loving, be ready, and be kind to the Church Jesus so desperately loves…