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.
=) Sorry, but you didn't scare me off. =)
Doctrine has it's place and time, but it still boils down to Romans 3:23 and John 3:16.
He he...how could I scare off the lady with THE blog?! LOL. Thanks, Peej!
You know what I long for? To be in a simple place, of simple worship and good, wisdom teaching. No power point, no productions. Not that I feel there is anything wrong with them but I feel sometimes we depend on them too much and make them the focus.
I understand what you're saying Dee...and I so agree.
Love and hugs gurlfren,
Yes, Pat, I think some of my angst is related to the complicated and more visual things going on in churches now, too. Lots of bombardment of the senses at once! Maybe I'm getting old and cranky. (:
Thanks for understanding!
You so hit the "church" nail on the head, Dee...there are lots of yous and mes out HERE... and we are all the Body of Christ. Those who follow the Lord, withersoever He goeth, and do whatsoever He doeth, and adhere to whatsoever He teacheth!! ;)
I think more and more people are searching for the same thing you are... AUTHENTICITY! I have a Masters of Divinity and I somewhat understand the logic behind denominations. However, I dont understand how people justify the divisions that are created from the differences. I think we (the Church) should focus more on the views we share in common rather than our areas of disagreement. Personally I believe churches should focus on loving God and loving people with the love Jesus modeled for us through his life, death, and resurrection. The more I study the more I feel that it truly boils down to those two things. I dont want to get on my soap box in a comment section of your blog but I have been working on a piece about this very topic. I hope to be finished with it in about a month. Kinda controversial I might add.
Anyway, great post. I pray that you can find a church where you can serve those around you with the love of Christ.
Mid, I think you have great points...we ARE the church certainly, and all of us are unique. It would be wonderful to be appreciative of God's variety and gifts that each of us bring to His body! Maybe that is something we can pray and strive for as we try to figure out all this stuff. Thanks for your kind comments!
Bryan, wow! It seems the Spirit of the Lord is moving among many of us to delve into a more relational and personal walk--one that allows us ALL to function the way we were made to function in the Body of Christ. I truly feel that the old ways, though sometimes more comfortable, may not be the way to be a Church with the changes that are coming in our world in these end times. It may be time to grow in a different and more personal--and STRONGER--direction so His gospel and Word can still be effectively spread to our neighbors, families, and friends. Who knows what the Lord has in store for us all in the coming years? I just feel a real move to something, as you said, authentic to my life and the lives of those around me. I'm not ready to pitch out the whole idea of the church as we know it, but I SURE think the divisions need to be healed in order to form a stronger link for ALL of the Body of Christ. Thanks for your insights--I hope I get to read your article!
Thanks for sharing your heart, Dee. Evangelicals have accused others of being ruled by tradition, and turning those traditions into Biblical truth. But we have done the same thing—adding to Scripture (or taking away) to suit our own personal wishes.
We need to get back to the truth (and doctrines) that the Scriptures really teach. We need to get back to our reason for being—which is not accumulating all the "bells and whistles," having all the latest toys, and building our own personal kingdoms. We need to get back to holding lightly to the things of the world, and being committed to building God's kingdom, to completing His mission of redemption and restoration.
When you find a church like that, you've found the right one.
Blessings on you.
Thanks for your comments, Lynda! It is so easy for us to drift into traditions as doctrine without realizing we are perpetuating traditions! It's so comfortable to do that. You're right: the missional church has to be our main goal...what's the purpose to be a church without that as a mainstay?! So hard to weed out and get back to the basics. We need the Lord to guide--and be open to HIS plan.
Wow, Dee. I love how you shared your heart. You are so right. My husband and I saw that when he got hurt at work. We dropped out of so much. Life goes on without going to every single service and doing every single thing you feel obligated to DO.
I'm not caught up in denominations either. This post is perfect. Thank you so much for sharing yourself.
Great post, Dee. I was blessed to go to a seminary that drew from many different denominations (plus it was a Messianic Yeshiva to train rabbis). We learned that there are disputable matters--then there are the things that really matter.
My theology (and church history) prof told us to watch, in the coming years, how Christians (and Messianic Jews) will begin to pull together and not fight over the old doctrinal disputes. He'd already seen it at conferences where members of different churches were sitting down together to work on common goals. We're, hopefully, learning--we are not the enemy, Satan is.
Laury, thanks for your comments! I know it sometimes take an injury or something like what happened to me to realize that WORKING for the church just to do it is NOT Christianity. It changed how I saw my walk with God forever.
Karen, I agree! I can think of no greater testimony to the power of our Living Savior than for Him to tear down our denominational walls in the coming years...how much stronger will we be when we can present a united front to the world?
Terri, thanks for your succinct and encouraging Amen! One word says a lot!
Dee, thanks for your boldness in sharing on a difficult subject. I agree with you - we can't allow denominational walls to separate us from our brothers and sisters in Christ, and it's all about our relationship with Him who loves us, not our ethical religion and rules.
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