I’ve been really conflicted lately.
I find myself almost constantly situated on the outside of the church, proposing a critique of very strongly-held beliefs that are neither biblical nor ethical. I try to show the Christians around me that Jesus isn’t dead and you can’t separate him from the world outside. I try to remind them that loving their neighbors does not stop at tolerating the annoying person they work with, but requires us to go out into the streets, find those who need to be loved (that’s everyone), and love them. I’ve tried countless times to say these words, but either (or both) of the following invariably occurs:
1. My statements get attacked as unbiblical, and name-calling ensues. (The funny thing here is that most of the words they use to describe me–words that they paint as wretched–are actually accurate and words that I use to describe myself.)
2. I’m not heard or acknowledged at all.
Please, don’t hear me as some whiny drama queen who talks so much that no one listens anymore. I’m not complaining. I’m just prefacing my present issue. Neither am I trying to instruct others based on my mastery of the topics at hand. Each suggestion I give is a directive for my own life just as much as, if not more than, those I may be speaking to.
All of this goes to say, I’m not sure if I can be a part of the church anymore.
I see the church saying they believe the Bible, but then either not realizing or just not following its direct implications in the world beyond the doors of the sanctuary. I have an ongoing beef with the “Religious (Christian) Right” because of their varied beliefs on economic strategy, birth control and sexual health, racial and gender equality, homosexuality, the Israel-Palestine conflict, and the list goes on. I’m relatively certain that I agree with them on nothing. Yet this movement has continued for decades and has claimed that their beliefs are Biblical. I’ll address these disputes in depth in a later post, but I use them as an example here because they are one of many groups I find myself in conflict with.
In fact, I am hard-pressed to find Christians who will even go so far as to seriously consider an alternate view to their own.
I know that I can’t get rid of church history and, as awful as it has been, it is part of my heritage. And I don’t want to leave the community I’ve found with some of my equally-yoked brothers and sisters who choose to remain in the church. But I don’t think that I’m bearing any fruit by attempting to be a change-agent, and I’m tired of being a so-called bullhorn.
The Bible writes a lot about the community of believers. My quick BibleGateway search returned 113 uses of the word “church” in the Bible, all in the NT. Let’s unpack this word a little, though. The original word–“ekklesia”–most literally means “gathering.” And, in the first century AD when the majority of the NT was written, that’s exactly what churches were. They were small gatherings of people who met, usually, in a person’s home, to worship. Preaching wasn’t as big of a deal within these gatherings, because there was no canon to preach from, and aside from affirming Christ, there wasn’t much else that was all that exciting. Theology was not conceptual or abstract–it only came into play in practical settings (marriage, diet, money, etc.) or in the aforementioned affirmation of Christ’s work and person, which served to eradicate doubt or uncertainty in the minds of new believers.
If this is the Church that the Bible talks about, I definitely want to be a part of it. I love the community I have in which I and my brothers and sisters discuss our lives, where God is at work, where we need/want Him to be at work, and how we can pray for one another. I absolutely love worshipping alongside these people, especially when it’s just us–no show, no fancy lights or stage setup, just a guitar, a djembe, perhaps a keyboard, and a dozen or so off-key singers sitting in a circle. And, yes, we do discuss theology, and I enjoy it, but for us, it’s usually practical issues that lead us there, or we’re commiserating over how complex the whole lot is. I love that. And I think that that is along the same lines as the NT Church.
So perhaps I’m not divorcing the Church after all. I’m just leaving all my old lovers–fancy buildings, organized services that only occur once (or maybe twice, if you’re crazy) a week, bulletins, etc.–behind, and I’m pursuing my true Love, Christ, with like-minded brothers and sisters.
Hear me out: I’m not saying that it is necessary to up and leave our established church communities. I’m just calling for critical, keen, and aware minds that are not afraid to evaluate their situations. If you’re in one of those blessed communities that has committed to following Christ wholeheartedly, at each hour of the day, every day in the week, then by all means, continue. But please, look at your surroundings. Does your church’s values match its world’s needs? Is it aware of the people and creation beyond its walls? Does it respond to the outside community? If not, it might be time to reconsider who you choose to covenant with.