This post has been on my heart for quite a long time, but I hesitated to write it since I'm loathe to hurt the feelings of my friends or family. But I feel compelled to say a few things about church denominations. Before I go much further, let me say that I was raised in a denominational church and was a very BIG proponent of denominations and the importance of choosing a church based on that idea...until my husband, Jim Brown, died of cancer in September of 1995.
A curious thing happened to me one night in the hallway of the hospital. I was leaning against the cold wall, waiting outside my dying husband's door as the nurses administered yet another dose of pain killer, and I thought of how much I was aching. My heart was literally shattering into a thousand pieces because Jim was my everything. He was the father of my little 3-year old son...my knight in shining armor...the rock that stabilized our home and our marriage...and one of the sweetest men I had ever met. He was my best friend and I simply could NOT imagine life going on without him in it. To say that I was sad was a gross understatement--I was broken. I was a wife and mother with a HUGE hole already growing in my heart, and getting bigger by the second, as Jim's death came creeping nearer.
As I stood there, I felt God, my Abba Father, wrapping himself around me and suddenly, I knew that all the things I'd thought were so important to my walk with the Lord: staying in a Pentecostal church, attending every Sunday--every time the doors were open, being at church 24/7, or whenever the church called me, making sure I "looked" right, "acted" right, "sounded" right didn't amount to a hill of beans in my most desperate moment in life. Suddenly, all that mattered was that the promise God made--and Jesus fulfilled--eternal life--was REAL. I felt God murmuring His peace and His promise into my heart: "You will see Jim again someday--you WILL".
But it was not enough! No, I didn't WANT to see Jim again in heaven, I wanted to see him here on earth--forever. And that revelation, that all the things I thought I believed, tipped my spiritual world upside down for a time. Slowly, as I adjusted, and I mean painfully adjusted, to life without Jim, I regained some of those spiritual truths back...the ones that matter, that is. Like: Jesus saves! And heaven is our REAL home, and God is LOVE. But some of the things I thought were so important, never came back. They were winnowed out by misery and pain and loneliness and strength and knowledge of how great God is and all the things that seem to be a base for Christianity. The basics.
Now I do go to church, but I really don't care about fitting into ALL aspects of their doctrine--just be sure you preach Christ and salvation and the Second Coming, and I'm pretty much happy. Some things are silly to me now...how often to go to church, how long the service should be to feel "spiritual", how much I show up during the week, and a host of other things that just can't be as important as living my life with my family and friends and showing love and grace and...mercy. And making a connection in real life with those I go to church with, not just shaking their hand on Sunday morning. How shallow I was when I thought that was enough.
In the last couple of years, my family and I have been searching for a new church home. And here is where doctrine is getting us into trouble with others. We are connected now to many people with many different doctrinal views and some of them are being a bit pushy about what a "good" church is. The thing is, I just can't take many of their ideas seriously! Some are adamant that Pentecostalism is "wrong". They're pretty sure it has to be "of the Devil" (though they confess to have never been in a Pentecostal service at all). Then, on the other side of the street, are my Pentecostal friends who insist that a church without the Holy Spirit working in it through tongues and interpretations can't POSSIBLY be a good church. Sigh.
Here's the thing they seem to be forgetting: they're talking to a gal who thinks being in a church service for more than hour now is "burning daylight". I have little patience any more for all the rules and regulations. Some of my ex-Amish friends seem to have merely exchanged one set of rules for another, their new church doctrines are so stringent and precise. And some of my Pentecostal friends just can't see beyond that one gift of the Spirit. It's all or nothing for many. Oh dear.
Both sides remind me of the old joke about going to heaven and seeing a huge walled area. The person asks: "Who's behind that wall?" To which God answers: "Oh that's the (insert a doctrinal church body of your choice here). They think they're the only ones up here."
As for my family and me, we're striving to find a balance. A church that accepts us and loves us as we are NOW--and prays and helps us grow toward what God aspires for us to BE. We're looking for a church family that is not afraid of the hard questions or a pastor that doesn't always have all the "right" answers. (Struggling to KNOW is not a sin, in my humble opinion.) But offering mercy and grace and peace and love is a good way to get my attention.
I don't want to go to a church that expects me to check my brain at the door and hands me a doctrinal manual to live by...to become a Stepford Christian just so I can look and act and be what everyone else in the church already is, or is pretending to be maybe.
But, here's the rub: I am not a natural born rebel. It takes the heart out of me to struggle with these kinds of issues. I'd rather run and hide than to deal with them straight on. I'd rather pretend I understand their doctrinal standards than to say, "No--I don't get that!" or simply to ask "Why?".
So this is my confessional moment: talk to me about God and Jesus and how things are going in your life. I REALLY want to know! But PLEASE, leave your doctrines at the door. I'm tired of trying to sort them out and find niches in my Christian walk that will satisfy all of those rules. I need and desire God wholly and truly, and without cliches and rules that make little sense to me in my dark moments of life. I need to get down to the nitty gritty and LIVE my life fully with Christ in it, of it, and surrounding it FIRST. Sometimes lately, it feels like I just can't see Him through all the doctrinal veils I'm looking through.