Yesterday I wrote about my wife, Shelby, who loves Jesus very much but has never done well in the context of institutional church. She tried very hard to fit in because it was the only expression of the Christian faith she knew; but when God led us away from institutionality, it was one of the best things that ever happened to her spiritually. I’d like to pick up the thread from here. (Read the previous entry first if you missed it yesterday.)
In my mind, Shelby’s journey begs the question: why has the “church” become a place where only a certain kind of person fits in? Or to put it more accurately…why has it become a place that only accepts people who suppress their hearts in order to fit the mold?
My wife has a wild streak, but wildness is not synonomous with rebellion. The same Jesus who submitted to death on a cross also drove the money-changers from the temple–and not politely, mind you. God is far from tame, yet the institutional system claiming to be God’s ambassador to earth only seems to accept people who allow themselves to be tamed by it. This can’t be right.
The gospel does call us to submit ourselves to Christ and each other, but I believe institutional Christianity calls us to submit to things God never intended. Further proof in my mind that our machine is broken, that it’s time for us to acknowledge that this thing isn’t working right. Certainly Jesus intended more for us than this when He came to redeem us. There HAS to be something better–a better way to follow Jesus, and a better way to live in community with one another.
Far from backsliding, Shelby is thriving in her love and faith–outside the system. And God has used her journey to help awaken me in mine. The truth is, I learned how to get along in the system, but I never truly fit it, either. (I wonder if anyone really “fits” without having to sacrifice a part of themselves.) The real me was imprisoned, buried in all the religion, and now I have come alive. There was always a part of me that was dissatisfied, and for years I thought I could help reform the system from within. I now believe that it is the system itself that needs changing. The church should not function like a broken machine, but like the living organism it always has been.
I know there are many more misfits, more wild ones–both inside and outside the walls of our institutions. There are non-Christians who would fall madly in love with Jesus if they knew “following Jesus” didn’t have to include submitting to the broken machine. And there are many Christians who have lost themselves inside the system, people who long for something more but don’t realize they could have it in this life. Do I have the solution? Nope. I have only my journey toward freedom, with Jesus as tour guide. All I can say is that I believe the path to freedom for each of us lies in a personal decision to follow Jesus rather than swear loyalty to an institution. This is the path of the wild ones. This is the path I wish for everyone.