This series of blog posts has been a years long search for understanding for me. I am sure I am not 100% correct in my thinking in every area, but I’ve tried the best I can to see things from multiple angles and perspectives. It is not my goal to place blame or complain, nor to make excuses for myself. My goal is to simply state what I see are issues facing Christian churches that I can no longer subject myself to. This is a multi-part blog series because I want to make sure I express myself thoroughly and well.
As I begin to write this, doubt fills my mind. Is this okay for me to put out there? Should I really be writing about these things? Are people going to think I’m just complaining? Are people going to think I’m rebelling against God because I don’t want to go to church?
The answers that come back to me aren’t particularly comforting. I keep telling myself that yes, it is okay for me to say what I’m about to say. The thoughts and feelings I’ve had over the years are valid. And yes, people will probably think I’m just complaining or that I’m a rebel. A few years ago that would have stopped me in my tracks. Now, I just take a deep breath and forge ahead because I’ve learned to trust the feeling in my gut that urges me to write. It tells me there are others out there that will find this relatable, validating, and encouraging.
The truth is, I’ve been struggling with the concept of church for a long time now. And for a long time, I thought I was the problem – for a lot of different reasons. But in the past five years I’ve been on a journey of discovery and revelation that has convinced me I’m not the problem. The way church is set up is. And I wasn't even looking at the church when I started this journey. I was seeking to understand why I couldn't overcome a deep sense of hurt and un-connectedness with people in the church. ANY church.
I realized I had picked up beliefs in church and began to analyze these beliefs. One of these things I picked up was the idea that I couldn’t learn anything about Jesus or God from any other denomination or religious belief lest I be led astray by false teaching.
As an avid reader, I’ve learned about how other religions and denominations do things and have often been curious about the ‘why’ behind what they do. However, I’ve kept myself from digging too deep into other religions because of this belief. Fear is attached to this idea of avoiding other religions or denominations because so many people fall for the false teachings of these other religions. What if I fall for it too? How will I know if I’m listening to false teaching? It’s obviously very tricky and seems like truth, so I better just avoid those teachings, and the people who listen to them.
Now, I’m not saying to switch from Christianity to Catholicism or become a Latter Day Saint. Or even to switch between Baptist and Pentecostal. What I am saying is this way of thinking has divided us into groups. And if we don’t get along with the people in our chosen group, then we become outcasts – looking for another group that fits our beliefs, and casting aside any group that shows even a hint of believing something different. (Oh, they don’t speak in tongues at that church. I can’t go there; they don’t have the Holy Spirit.) There is a belief that our group is better than the other groups because of the things we believe that they don’t.
Is there some validity to this? Yes. But one thing we either aren’t taught in church or are fearful of learning (or have a fear of making a mistake in this area) – is learning how to hear God’s voice for ourselves. Learning how to trust his direction in our lives and doing it daily. If we were put in a position where we had to learn how to do this right from the start, imagine how much confidence we would all have. Instead, we either aren’t taught, we don't trust ourselves to hear God's voice, or we are comfortable letting the leadership in the church tell us what God is saying. We’re comfortable asking leaders to pray for us when we’re in crisis instead of learning to pray and take authority ourselves.
If we had the confidence to trust the Holy Spirit to guide us in our everyday lives, if we learned to develop that skill, then when we encounter someone from a different faith or denomination, we would have good judgement, or discernment, to guide us. We don’t have to reject them completely. We can have friendships with people who don’t think exactly the way we do because we allow God to guide those relationships instead of being fearful that we will accept false teaching.
Because let’s face it, every denomination and faith has rituals or beliefs that really don’t matter that much. For instance – it really doesn’t matter if you raise your hands during worship or not. Or clap along to music. Seriously, either way, you’re not going to be kicked out of heaven. Promise. Also, if you speak in tongues, you can be friends with someone who doesn’t. And you don’t have to change their mind about it. You should probably respect their belief about it and not speak in tongues around them, but there are lots of other things to talk about than our differences.
Remember the Samaritans? They weren’t well liked by the Jews. Jews didn’t associate with them. Do you know why? After Israel was divided into two kingdoms way back in the Old Testament, Samaria became the capital of the northern kingdom and the northern kingdom started to intermarry with the Assyrians. Samaritans are still Jews, they just have mixed blood. That’s it.
Was intermarrying something God told them not to do? Yes. But both kingdoms disobeyed God in egregious ways, but the northern kingdom disobeyed God more which made the southern kingdom better. Obviously.
Over time, the Samaritans decided their copy of the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible) was the only original copy, and also rejected the books of poetry and prophesy as being the law of God. Still believed in God, still tried to serve and obey Him, still followed the law of Moses, but different enough to be rejected from associating with full-blooded Jews.
I’m also pretty sure it wasn’t a mistake that Jesus picked twelve men from different backgrounds and walks of life as his disciples and then had them give up everything and travel around with him. It’s like Big Brother- Jesus edition. Throw a bunch of people together with different values and beliefs and see if they can get along. Only, Jesus didn’t leave it to chance. He taught them how to overcome differences and see people of all walks in a way that allows us to love them as we encounter them rather than reject them because we don’t understand them.
Something I think church fails at doing. Especially since we divide everyone up into groups inside the church. Kids church, youth, Women’s prayer group, Men’s prayer group, groups for families, groups for singles, retreats for married people, retreats for women, retreats for men. We are a little bit obsessed with keeping people in their correct groups. So much so, that we celebrate transitions. Graduation from kids to youth, graduation from youth to either the men’s or women’s group. Celebrating when singles find love and get to join the married group.
These aren't bad things. Sometimes we learn better and feel more comfortable opening up and sharing when we're in these kinds of groups. But what happens to the relationships left behind? We inadvertently make people feel like they have to strive to get to another group or stay in the group they’re in, so they don’t lose their friendships. When you leave one group, you don’t go back to the other, so you don’t see the people you got to know there as much unless you meet regularly outside of church.
Two years ago, I started going to the Women’s Bible Study at the church down the road from our house. My husband and I do not attend church there. We tried, but it wasn’t for us. They do believe things that are different from what we believe. That does play a role in our decision to not attend there, but only a part. I’ll get more into the other reasons later. I still go to the Women’s Bible study, and I am so blessed and touched that they allow me to do so even though I don’t attend their church. It’s one of the first things that made me say, “Huh, this is something I really like. More churches should be okay with this.”
When we realized that church wasn’t a good fit for us, I felt guilty going to the Bible study. I was sure they would kick me out once they caught on that we weren’t going to become members, but they haven’t. There is a lack of connection outside of the Bible Study, but I’m not entirely convinced it’s because I’m not a member. I’m actually quite certain if I asked any of them out to lunch, they would make the time to meet with me and get to know me better. But I’ve only just recently gotten to a place where I actually could see myself reaching out and asking for that connection, so I can’t say with 100% certainty that I’m correct.
But the simple fact that they do allow me to be part of their group was the first time I realized that maybe it is okay to associate with people outside my specific belief group. Maybe we can love the same Jesus in different ways, still learn from each other, and still be friends. Sure, there have been some awkward moments when I bump up against something they believe that I don’t or vice versa. But most of the things I bump up against, aren’t deal breakers for me. I can respect their different beliefs, know there is a boundary there, and I can still fellowship and learn from them. Many of those women have wonderful insight into the Bible that has helped me look at scriptures in a new light. Occasionally, I can’t follow their thinking on certain things, but I don’t argue the point. I spend a few days thinking it over, praying about it, and if I still can’t agree, I keep my mouth shut and gain new understanding about where they are and what they believe.
Is the goal of church really to stay in our little boxes surrounded by the comforting religious boundaries our specific denomination has set up? Or is the goal to be more like Jesus? To love like Jesus? And can we really do that if we can’t spend time with another human being because they believe in healing, and you don’t? Jesus loves them the same either way. But to take this one step further – if we can’t accept little differences between denominations, how can we expect to bring unbelievers to Jesus? We have to love them too – before they’re saved. We have to show them the love of Jesus.
What would an unbeliever think if you told them about Jesus, then pointed to someone from another denomination and told them not to go to their church because they don’t believe is speaking in tongues. They don’t know what that is yet, or if they do, they don’t understand it. They don’t care. What they need is to know Jesus.
To Be Continued…