Monday, March 26, 2012

The Dreaded Question.

"What Church do you go to?"

"Oh, I haven't been going anywhere"

"Have you tried ______? I think it would be really good for you" (This is usually coupled with a concerned look and condescending tone)

I have had this exact same conversation way too many times. I get so frustrated that my salvation seems to be tied up with my church attendance for so many people. While I know this isn't true, and I try to not let it affect me too much, I just wish it was different. These posts by Rachel Held Evans have really helped me process through this.

On leaving the church
On returning to the church
On the slippery slope

For me I experience church when I sit and have discussions with my closest friends about our thoughts on faith and experiences with God around my dinner table. I see it as church when my husband and I listen to podcasts in the car and discuss them together when they are finished. To me a church isn't a building, it is the people I surround myself with on a daily basis that I hope to serve and love as much as possible. It is learning and living with them. At this point I don't feel called to enter another building that is labeled as a Church. My faith has grown far more outside of such buildings.

It may not always be this way. I don't want to convert anyone to my way of thinking, or prove how I am right and everyone else in church is wrong. My only hope is that everyone would be more accepting of how everyone will have a different personal journey with faith. I include myself in this statement, I hope to be just as accepting of those who subscribe to the typical church model as I am to the rag-tag bunch of people I choose to be with.

I am very curious about different opinions on this subject. Why do or why don't you believe in being part of a large church body? What have been your experiences inside and outside of churches, and how have they led you to the beliefs you have now about church?


  1. I also do not attend a church building at this time...I have tried after my negative church experience, and it has been more anxiety ridden than anything.

    I think the reason people respond to our unchurchiness that way is because they have been taught how to "be a good Christian" and faithful church attendance is definitely up there on the list. The problem is that it is not what God looks at...I know, I know, do not forsake the assembling of the brethren...but I argue that I am always assembled together with believers, they just don't fit in the box that the American church has constructed.
    I probably will return to church, but I am growing and learning and more passionate about my pursuit of God now than I have ever been.
    Ultimately, I trust 100% in the sovereignty of God, and believe that this time in my journey is all part of the plan. And it's part of His plan for you too. :)

  2. What I've come to understand though various blog posts, facebook statuses, links to articles you agree/don't agree with, is that you've been hurt by people associated with MH. You didn't agree with the pastor, didn't feel comfortable in the building itself, didn't like the pressure of becoming a member. I can understand all this. It makes total sense logically, that you wouldn't want to continue attending a church you couldn't freely worship in, use your gifts in, fellowship with other believers in, etc. I don't feel comfortable in Assemblies of God and like churches for some of the same reasons.

    The church has always been a place where Christians can gather together and worship, praise, minister, commune, serve, fellowship, give, and share with other believers. This has been the practice since the New Testament days when the deciples would gather together to break bread and listen to Pauls preaching in Acts 20:7. Could these people not be simply trying to help you get plugged in to a local community of believers with a common desire to love and serve and learn and grow? If you think of it as someone trying to love and help you rather than pressure and guilt trip you, you might have a different perspective on a church invite.

    You can read your Bible, listen to and sing praise music in the car, read a book about some authors opinion on some grey area of scripture, "fellowship" with your husband and closest family and friends. You can serve at a soup kitchen or place a tract in a bathroom. You can go on a trip to Mexico and help build a home for someone. All these things you don't need a chuch for. I've done and do all these things as a church goer as well, but it's Sunday morning where I'm challenged the most by the sermon, in the presence of God through the corporate worship, recharged for the week by the followship with other believers or the testimony of a new believer or someone who has had a God experience that week.

    Without attending church, where do you find your conviction? How do you challenge yourself in areas only you know you need improvement? Is everyone you know so blunt to tell you what you need to hear? When you listen to a sermon, the HS speaks in ways your friends and family can't. It's not always what you want to hear. It may conflict with what YOU believe, how YOU want to live your life, YOUR plans for your future. The Bible might also conflict with your social views, your friends social views, what "society" thinks is the "norm". Salvation isn't about us, it is and always has been about surrendering our lives completely to Christ. It's always been what He has done for us and not what we can do for him. He gave his life for me, my friends, my family, the least I can do is make every attempt to give up my life for Him, and live the way He would want me to. This is why I honor Him by attending Church on Sunday, when maybe I'd rather be sleeping. Does God care if I attend church or not, I doubt it. I bet it pleases Him though.

    Church is full of sinners. You wont find a perfect church full of perfect people anywhere. Church is full of hypocrites, gossips, drug abusers, alcoholics, sexually immoral, and slanderers, just like you and me, although maybe not all of the above.

    In conclusion, going to church wont save you. It won't make you more holy. If not in the right church, you might not even grow. Heck, you might even regress. However, if in the right church, not only can you grow and be challenged, you can help other people do the same. Matt 28:16-20 "...Go and make deciples...". The best place to get equipped is church.

    At the end of the day Kaelee, church or not, you and I are both saved just the same in God's eyes. For me, if I stopped going to church, I'd feel like something was missing, like I'm not giving enough of myself to God or His ministry. That I'm not using my gift's to serve him. All of these things I do as part of a church body.

  3. Andrew said:
    "Without attending church, where do you find your conviction? How do you challenge yourself in areas only you know you need improvement? Is everyone you know so blunt to tell you what you need to hear? When you listen to a sermon, the HS speaks in ways your friends and family can't."

    I completely disagree with this. While being a part of a healthy church body can be a beneficial experience and offer a sense of community, the statement that the HS speaks through a sermon in ways that ordinary people can't is just untrue.
    When Jesus died, the veil was torn. The holy of holies is available to all believers. We do not need a human mediator (priest, pastor, etc.) between us and God. The HS can convict me through the words of my 5 year old in the same way he can convict me through the words being preached over the pulpit.
    God has put people in my life who will speak the truth in love (or be blunt). And in that community, with people who I trust, who actually know me and my heart, I am much more ready and willing to receive correction or advice.
    I personally think God is grieved by Kaelee's & Sophia's experiences. I think that he is able to speak through the people in Kaelee's life. And I completely trust that when/if it is time for Kaelee to return to the church building, the HS will figure out a way to let her know...
    The reality is that God wants our heart, and I think he is always teaching us something. Sometimes those experiences are painful, but there is definitely sanctification happening.

    I would love to recommend a sermon series to you, and I don't mean this as an insult, it is a study through the book of Galatians:

    1. "the statement that the HS speaks through a sermon in ways that ordinary people can't is just untrue."

      I suppose I meant to say the Holy Spirit can speak in ways that ordinary people can't. The HS can however speak through ordinary people, including pastors (also ordinary people) who have beed called to the ministry, whose purpose is to preach the Word of God and minister to the flock and the lost.

  4. I didn't intend to imply that the HS can only speak through a pastors sermon in a church. The HS can speak by any means through anyone, I don't disagree with that. The issue I was intending to address is it's easy to choose your own material when not attending a church. For example, let's say I have a problem with pride. I'm probably not going to go out and seek information on how to deal with my pride. After all, I'm too proud! However, regularly attending a church where timely sermons are preached can help people who are too proud, who have problems with gossip, sharp tongues, whatever it may be. Can a 5 year old say, "mommy, you shouldn't say those bad words"? Sure! That's pretty convicting. However, we're not all so fortunate to have a 5 year old hold us accountable. Young kids are probably the most brutally honest of them all. They haven't developed filters yet!

    I'm not suggesting Kaelee get back into church asap. I'm simply stating why I think it's important, how it affects me and my relationship with God, with others, and my convictions. In my opinion, it's easier to fall away without a solid church connection and body. Can a group of friends and family keep someone accountable; challenge them in the same ways as a sermon? Sure. Can you continue to grow in your faith with a personal Bible study or small group and not church? Sure. However It's my belief that without the accountability of regularly attending church, it's makes the world more tempting. It's harder to keep in the Word and keep up your prayer life. It's easier to compromise. It's easier to ignore. Church serves a purpose. Is it for everyone? Of course not. It is meant to benefit the believer. The purpose of the church is not to terrorize anyone. People do that, people involved in with the church do that, they will have to answer for it. Like I said in my previous post, the church is full of sinners, pastors included. The church isn't for the holy to get more holy.

  5. Here's a good outline and sermon on the purpose of the church.

  6. I am coming back to my own discussion a little late. You make some good points Andrew, but at the same time your statements sometimes give me the idea that because you experience church a certain way, you believe everyone should/could if they tried. I also get the feeling that you think my experience with spiritual abuse is my only reason for being dissatisfied with church. It is not. Before I even began attending Mars Hill I had a lot of doubts about church structure.

    I have very rarely been influenced by sermons. People have usually claimed this is a result of my own pride, but I don't feel like that is the case. I have experienced growth and transformation most in my relationships with other people. I am looking to actively participate in relationships with other people and God, something I have found impossible to do if I am passively sitting in a chair looking forward at a man on a stage. I claim all of this as my own experience, and how I am able to function best. I don't want everyone to be exactly like me. I just wish we were all better at looking at growth, instead of the actions/structure that leads people to growth. It will look different for everyone, because we were all created so differently.

  7. Hi Kaelee, Aric here. I've your posts have been popping up on my feed for a while, and I thought I'd respond albeit a kind of long-winded two-part post. This is my story concerning the Church:

    When I moved up to Bellingham, I was thoroughly Reformed minded and had finally dissociated myself with the kind of sensational evangelical methodism I had been raised in (Foursquare, Calvary Chapel, Pentecostalism etc.) I was a great admirer of John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler etc. because it seemed that I had found what was, to my understanding anyway, a kind of faith based on God's Word, not how great we felt when we were worshipping. I hated the emotionally manipulative atmosphere of most evangelical churches - this is why I found myself in a very awkward position as a worship leader at New Life, but, alas, this is why moving away from home allowed me to completely dissociate.

    Now a few things happen when I became "unplugged" from my old church. First, I realized that by and in large the "community" that I thought I had was very superficial. It became more and more difficult to remain in contact with the people who I thought were closest to me, and I found that most of my "closest friends" were only close because I saw them nearly every day (or every week) at church.

    Second, I found that without the constant social pressure to believe, think, and act in certain ways, I was in an exciting and somewhat scary space in which I could question some of my own beliefs and entertain some of my doubts without any kind of push-back. Removing yourself from any kind of community (whether a Church, or a university community, or your atheist/humanist poker club etc.) will bring you to a place of questioning; when there is no social necessity to believe or think in certain ways, you will naturally come to question and wonder about why you used to think in those ways. Remember, we are social animals!

    That being said, I started to take classes (my major is religion in history). My first few set of classes were on the New Testament and Religion in American history. About a week into the quarter I was completely emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually wrecked. For the first time in my life I was systematically coming to terms with something I always kind of knew in the back of my head, but never actually committed myself to confronting, namely, the inconstancies, errors, and narrative problems in the New Testament texts. I found out that Paul didn't write a quarter of the books we thought he did, that John was composed hundreds of years after the three Synoptic gospels - I found out the political/ideological agenda's behind different gospel accounts, I found out about Paul's apocalyptic mindset, and how the Church had to deal with his mistakes in later generations.

    The amount of cognitive dissonance I was undergoing was indescribable.

    On top of that, I was learning about the history of American Christianity - I learned about the roots of Pentecostalism (about 100 years old), the emergence of "revivals" (you and I might know them as summer camps- I learned about the staggering amour of religious pluralism that exists within Christianity alone.

    This, of course, was on top of a devastating breakup of a 2 year relationship, isolation from the community and family I knew and loved, and the death of my grandfather. I literally had a nervous breakdown.

  8. (2/3) So where did I go from here? Well, I became a kind of atheist for a few months, weeping over the Death of God and mourning over the meaninglessness of life. The more I continued to study religion the more I became jaded. I had to come to terms with the fact that every single one of my close friends (who are Christians) would probably end up ostracizing me, not trusting me, and would condescendingly "pray for me" while I "struggled" through this "season" of my life. That made my even more depressed, because I knew that's precisely what I would have done if were in their shoes.

    But here's the thing: Even in the midst of all this existential turmoil, I still had hope. Moreover, I was still not satisfied with the philosophic notion that something could come from nothing without the action of a Prime Mover. Ironically, though it was thinking that brought me to this place of despair, it was thinking that got me out.

    I wanted to know about the origin of the universe - so I started to read the great philosophers. Aristotle, Plato, Socratic dialogue - I moved on to the Church Fathers: St. Augustine, Origen, Ignatius, Gregory of Nyssa, Anselm, Aquinas etc. I started to realize that the history of Christianity was much more intellectually engaging and different than I thought. I started to realize that it wasn't until the Protestant Reformation that "Scripture alone" was considered the basis of authority - The Bible had always been a living document that was only to be understood under the interpretation of The Church herself. This was a major paradigm shift for me.

    Most of all I had to come to terms with the fact that for over 1500 the one Holy Catholic Church was just that: One. It wasn't until sometime after the Protestant Reformation that we start to see "denominations" arise, and it is with the Protestant Reformation that we begin to see all kinds of things that were once deemed heretical (sola-fide, sola-scritpura etc.) turned into doctrines.

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  10. (3/3) I'll stop boring you with Church history and get to the point. I am in the process of become Catholic (which freaks out my evangelical friends almost as much as if I were becoming an atheist) and my thoughts concerning the Church as such:

The Church for me is not about politics, it is not about the "special feeling" you get while worshipping, it is not about how "involved" you are in prayer groups, home groups, dinner parties or youth events. The Church is the place where we partake of Christ's body and blood, where we confess our sins, where we are joined in communion through a liturgy that exists outside of time. The Church a living, breathing, entity - and it is one whom we are called to submit to, to serve, and to love.

Church for me is also about the physical component of our faith, as much as the spiritual and intellectual. It is the sight of the icons, the smell of the incense, the sound of the voices, the feel of the water, the taste of the Eucharist. I believe Church is a holistic experience - or rather - that faith itself is a holistic experience. 

The church isn't just a building, but that building is a part of it. The church isn't reducible to the songs you sing, but they are a part of it. I try to attend Church precisely because my salvation does depend on it. Because my "faith" without action is no faith at all.

Anyway, I'm sure this all sounds foreign and stupid to you - and I completely understand. I think though it's helpful to be reminded that our Christian evangelical lives are not the only form or expression of Christianity; it's good to consider how Church and the Faith is approached outside of the tradition that you've been raised in.

    For a classical/historical understanding of the church, click here.

    Hope this has been somewhat helpful... or at least informative.

    1. Aric, not bored over here at all! While my own process wasn't quite as intellectual, it was very similar. I had always noticed similar things in the church. I hoped that my faith would grow and those things would begin to make more sense, but they never did. So I experienced my own time of falling away. While this looked different for me (self destruction in the form of my eating disorder to avoid difficult feelings and questions) I totally understand where you are coming from there.

      I am happy to hear you seem to have figured these things out for yourself! I am not freaked out by your choice to become Catholic, but I must admit it is something I have never considered for myself. From my understanding of history (which is admittedly not that broad) most of the corruption in the church began in Roman Catholicism. While Martin Luther wasn't the best man (his later anti-Semitic writings and such) I do believe he had some things right regarding the reformation and his issues with the Catholic church. A book I have been reading off and on lately that I love is Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola. It speaks a lot about how our church customs are actually rooted in pagan traditions (the more obvious things being the dates of Christmas and Easter, the less obvious being the shapes of our churches and such) and how far away they are from the early church.

      I am rambling, but basically I see a lot of power hungry corruption in both Catholicism and Protestantism. While I don't expect perfection from any church, I do expect accountability and the ability to say, "we were wrong" and start over. I have yet to witness this personally so far, but if I have missed something please feel free to let me know.

      I am going to the link you provided. If you are interested here is a brief post I read this morning from a friend that I found very interesting on some church history

      While it seems you probably already know a lot on this subject I would be interested to hear your thoughts on what she says!

  11. I have some thoughts on Marietta's discourse that I'll probably share later (or maybe I'll just comment directly on her blog) but I wanted to address the idea that "corruption in the church began in Roman Catholicism."

    Again, if you would have asked me two years ago about Catholicism, I would have said the same thing. I knew about "indulgences" and "inquisitions" and bloodshed, power hungry popes, and a slew of other nasty things.

    But what I didn't know was that while all of these things were realities, there was a constant discourse within the Church herself over these issues. Yes, there were evil popes. But Dante (a Catholic, obviously) himself places numerous popes and bishops into Hell in his Inferno. Catholics never stopped practicing their faith because of perceived corruption; on the contrary, it caused Catholics to call out these rulers for what they were... corrupt.

    Corruption in the church didn't "begin in Roman Catholicism" - it began in its inception. Peter himself denied Christ three times - and yet Christ chose him to be the Rock on which the Church was built. The Church's foundation happens to be built upon a fallible, corrupt, whiney human being. And yet, this same Church has been instituted and protected by Christ himself.

    As for apologies, I'm not sure what events you mean (you probably have in mind the disgusting and tragic child abuse cases lately) but not only have there been apologies for such tragic events, but reform mandates in attempts to eliminate corruption in the future. As for things like inquisitions most people are drastically under-informed on the actual historicity and context in which these took place and why they took place. A good place to begin to understand inquisitional history might be here, and maybe we could discuss that later.

    But I think what is most important is the understanding that the Church itself is compiled of corrupted, evil people. But it's also compiled of charitable, loving people, and event saints. The Church is a Divine institution compiled of human beings.

    I think this little quote by Mr. G.K. Chesterton is really helpful when thinking about the Church as an institution:

    "When Christ at a symbolic moment was establishing His great society, He chose for its corner-stone neither the brilliant Paul nor the mystic John, but a shuffler, a snob, a coward—in a word, a man. And upon this rock He has built His Church, and the gates of Hell have not prevailed against it. All the empires and the kingdoms failed, because of this inherent and continual weakness, that they were founded by strong men and upon strong men. But this one thing, the historic Christian Church, was founded on a weak man, and for that reason it is indestructible. For no chain is stronger than its weakest link."

    Anyway, I'll try and hit you up about Marietta's later. Thanks for the dialogue.