So I ended my last blog with a cryptic and earthy thought. Tonight I will expand without the use of profanity!
We left our church of 21 years and ventured into new territory. Leaving behind the Baptist way of life and entering the Presbyterian world of catechisms, creeds, and….rules. Not that rules didn’t exist in the Baptist church, it was just a little, how can I say, less structured.
I should have known that something was amiss when, at the church, the first function we attended was a closing program of their Vacation Bible School, we sat under a tree on the lawn eating a hot dog, ignored by the church folk sitting at the tables. We went from the inner circle at our previous church insignificant visitor in this closed community.
We persevered and continued to attend even though few people seemed to take an interest in us.
Time moved on and we have made some good friends but even today the church does not feel like a home to us. There are cliques and groups that are closed to inviting anyone else in. It feels sometimes like coming into the middle of a movie and not getting it because you missed the first half.
Anyway, my determination NOT to get involved in ministry evaporated over a few months as I was asked to join the praise team and then asked to become an elder. I started a college and young adult Sunday School class, ran Vacation Bible school once, and started to organize outreach. Then things started to go downhill.
By this time I had gotten a good grasp (although incomplete grasp) on God’s grace and unconditional love for us though Christ. This understanding comes out in almost everything that I did and do, from teaching, preaching to outreach. I was and am driven to love others as unconditionally as I can through Christ. Not to rescue them from hell but to show them through love a better way. If they ask questions great, if they reject the message, that is ok too since I am not the one who saves them. The work of conviction, as far as I am concerned, is the Holy Spirit’s job, not mine. Not everyone sees the gospel the same way I guess.
I have been at this church for almost 6 years now. I have been criticized for the way I let my daughter dress to what she reads, to what I wear and what I read as well. I was asked to start wearing a tie so that the people who disagree with me would listen to me. I have been told that I do not respect God because I wear jeans to church services. I have been told that grace is not the only thing that the gospel is about , obedience is as important (even though it is a correct understanding of the depth of God’s love and grace that actually leads people to obey). I have been called a heretic, a Christ hater, and horror of horrors, a liberal. There are people at the church that despise me and have sought to have me removed as an elder.
Here is my crime…I TRY and love all people and seek to help them to become all that they have been created to be. I love the drug and alcohol abuser, I love the person living with HIV/AIDS, I love the gay and lesbian individual, I love the atheist, and people of other faiths, i love “sinners’ of all kinds because I am one too. I want, with all my heart, to see them come to Christ because there is freedom BUT I will not shove a gospel tract in their face, I will not spout platitudes about righteousness and holiness, I will not become their friend only to turn on them when they don’t “receive Jesus”. I want to do all that I can to open dialogue with people.
But it seems like many evangelicals don’t want that. Thus I am at odds with them. Suddenly, as in the days of middle and high school, as in my family, I once again do not fit in.
I am finding more and more that the church as it is today is not a sanctuary for the disenfranchised, weak, and lost person. It is more of a club with do’s and don’t’s and rules and regulations. There is something wrong with that, there is sadly something very “unchristian” about the Christian church.
It is driving me from it…..these people, these pharisees and guardians of all that is right and true (according to them). More importantly it is keeping people from hearing what it really true (supposedly).
This is the crossroad I stand at. If the claims of Christ are true..that one is truly free, and truly loved by God because of the cross for all eternity, then why does the church seem so rule oriented and angry? Why do most people outside the church see Christians as legalistic, narrow-minded, judgemental hypocrites?
Let me share the next few times some of the issues i am dealing with in the church I attend and also some of the issues that the church has chosen pontificate about in society.
Peace to all who have endured my ranting.
9 thoughts on “Day 12 of A Journey”
don’t be so dense Mark…God is telling you to come back to the Baptist church…there is no other way…
Mark, to answer your question:
Not everyone who hears, responds. To put it in Reformed terms, the invisible church is much smaller than the visible church.
The answer to your second question is easier. They see us that way, because that is how we act.
I’ve told you before Mark, anytime you want to start a church I’ll be there!
I can help you with it, too.
Just to be honest and upfront with everyone, as much as I hate to admit it, I’ve had more than my fair share of times when I was the one who wasn’t welcoming to newcomers, and when I was the judgmental one with a narrow-mindedness. Yeah I’ve been hurt in some ways by churchgoers, by I’ve also done some hurting. And to be fair, while I’ve witnessed the horrific side of church life over the past 23 years, I’ve seen the wonderful part of church life too! People who love to the extreme, who serve God with all their heart and take Jesus’ words seriously! Our friendship Mark is just one example of that! As far as your specific questions, in regards to being “rule oriented and angry”? Having a list of rules provides structure. You know whats expected, there is clarity, everything is “black and white”. It takes the guessing out of religion, so you don’t have to think about life, God, and others too much, in other words, rules keep it simple and convenient, as Americans we like that! As far as being seen as “legalistic, narrow minded, judgmental hypocrites”, we certainly deserve some of that criticism, I know I deserve it and I’ve said it about others in church! I can’t help but believe that even if we were the most loving, accepting, and caring group on earth, we would still get that reaction from some people! Jesus made it clear that if they persecuted Him they would persecute His followers. He also prepared His followers by telling them not to be sad or angry when they were persecuted, but to “leap for joy” because they had a great reward waiting in heaven for them! Of course there is a difference between being persecuted for following Jesus and for just being a rude idiot! I applaud your courage Mark for writing this blog, and you and I are similar in our views on what we would like church to be, but I have to believe that there have been some positive things in your church life too.
I have found myself with “no home”. As a woman, many evangelicals do not believe I can be a pastor. Yet the burning in my soul before I became a pastor and the overwhelming peace now that I am a pastor, I cannot deny. Often times people assume that since I am a woman I am liberal in my theology. So I do not fit in with the conservatives and I do not fit in with the liberals. As a pastor, I now attend church from the outside. I am not “one of the people” in many of my congregations attitudes and minds. I cannot do anything about that. I cannot do anything about having no theological/Christian home. I have found peace in simply being who God has called me to do. Yes there are tears and pain. I have a support group who are scattered throughout the country. And I am learning patience. It took me many years to get to where I am. I am not so wise and articulate to be able to get someone to where I am quicker than the route I took. And if they do not wish to take the journey, I am not sure I was called to be a kidnapper and force them. Christianity is a lonely and hard road. I find the God who is calling me deeper is worth the struggles.
Wow, i just read this and well, i am the same i love everyone mark especially people with mental health issues, maybe because i have my own. I agree totally with lou, i found my church family at caz and have recently left due to some issues within my family. I too was in leadership sad to say i missed the boat somewhere in my walk, and have now backsliden and plan on going back. Not sure back to where you first left although i have to say the 18 years i was there i have never had so much love FROM THE PEOPLE WHO TRULY LOVE ME i miss everyone so bad, but i cannot sit underneath someone that does not understand nor supported me in my recent issues. I will attend the womans groups when i can. Ive tried the weslyn but its the same no one talked to me, and there are clicks everywhere. Even where we just left among the young kids too. My girls wont even go because they were teased one about her mental health issue. So where do i go from here, well i have to begin my life over again, find the place that warms my heart. Connect with those who do and have had a place in heart all these years. I was telling someone the other day i didnt know what true friends were especially patty, marge, kathy etc until i walked through those doors so if for anything i learned alot from them . I see my daughter come home and cry no on likes her, why because she has bipolar and the kids ridicule her, and even adults have made comments. Its truly heartbreaking but its not only in the church its the whole world understanding. I guess what im trying to say is that i feel the same as a couple of you but as lou said good things ive also found within those walls we left. I enjoy reading your blog will post more when i can.
My gosh Mark. As I read through these blogs I am filled with a heartfelt pain. I too was pushed beyond bearing and stumbled and fell picked my self up dusted my self off and went on. No thanks to those who dealt me the blow. Imagine if you will sitting under a tree on a beautiful day with about ten of your peers and being told that I was not living up to what a “Christian’s” duty was to family and church. That I was allowing my ex-husband Paul and my son Dave to use drugs and alcohol “without doing anything about it.” (BTW I had been told to Let Go and Let God handle the situation and then when I finally had found peace to carry on in the face of their use and Let GOD handle it I was told I was wrong, “I was allowing it to continue”. Removed from assisting with the Celebrate Recovery. And people wonder why I left CAz. I sat there under that tree and looked into the faces of those who I thought were my friends and no, NOT ONE SINGLE person stood up for me but allowed this tirade to continue. I felt bewildered, confused, hurt beyond compare, and yes very very angry. I poured my heart into helping addicted people, It is my life work today as a matter of fact.
I now think back on that and yes I could continue to harbor bitterness and resentment in my heart, but I have chosen to forgive and apply grace, mercy and love to the situation. I have chosen to let God heal the wounds inflicted.
While I saw people given opportunities over me I chalked it up to people who really did not understand God’s call on my life and the FACT that God used and contiues to use IMPERFECT people to accomplish His works on earth. (People need to reunderstand that concept) And I guess that is okay today. God’s call on my life is personal and irrevocable.
While I struggle to find a place to attend church where I can be useful I am faced with hearing the same messages repeated and repeated. Never the full gospel. Never a place for new people to become involved in ministry. Always the same vanguard. No opportunites for a real person with faults. I truly believe that Jesus would weep in churches today seeing the hypocrisy and judgementalism. He would weep a river of tears for the condition of the church.
And manhy a night I weep with Him.
Sorryy forgot one thing…to a person who is consumed with guilt and shame, over the past I should have been approached by a single person and not dressed down in front of my peers. I have yet to hear an apology for that, and know I never will. Thank God He is in controll and has applied the Balm of Gilead to my heart.