My post a couple of days ago, The View from Here, generated some of the most interesting comments I’ve received since starting this blog. I found in those comments a very similar (and strong) dissatisfaction with the status quo–and a kindred spirit among them. I also noted that people are dealing with that dissatisfaction in differing ways. Some are trying to stay in the institutions hoping to be a catalyst for change (or perhaps reluctant to break the only form of fellowship they know); and some are feeling like they need to leave.
Either way–I personally believe that what we’re seeing (and experiencing) is a divine discontent that will ultimately bring huge change in what “the church” looks like. While some look at the numbers migrating out of the sheep pens and express understandable concern…I think this looks a lot more like God than many of us are willing to admit.
That said…I have a few more thoughts to share on the idea of leaving institutional Christianity behind. I think in times of transition, we need to strive for wisdom and balance, remembering to lean on the counsel of God and not our own. (See Proverbs 3:5-8) In my own journey I’ve made a few mental notes to help keep me from falling off the many possible cliffs, and I’d like to lay a couple of those out for your prayerful consideration. There are certain things we would do well to leave behind…but there are other things we should NOT leave behind….
1. We can leave institutionality behind; we do NOT leave the church.
Sometimes we can make such a big deal about leaving our respective “churches” that we ourselves miss the point. As believers, we never leave the church; we ARE the church. We’re just reclaiming the original Biblical definition of what “church” is. It may be totally legitimate to leave a particular congregation or a church institution. But you cannot leave behind what you are. The church has always been YOU. The only way you can leave it is to turn your back on Jesus. Don’t do that. 🙂
When we change our thinking about this, it will change our terminology. Take, for example, the phrase “going to church.” When we truly see ourselves as the church, we see how misguided (and un-Biblical) this phrase is. How do we go to ourselves? When I hear people talk about how they are going to stop “going to church”, I have mixed feelings; are they making a big deal about how God is leading them to stop attending meetings, or are they truly changing their understanding about the whole thing? I think it’s important to clarify that, because the object here is not to stop “going to church”, but rather to start “being the church.”
You may notice that in this blog I try to avoid terms like “leaving church” or “leaving the church”; I talk about leaving behind institutional Christianity and structures. I do that on purpose, because if we don’t differentiate between them, it can lead us to the wrong conclusions. That leads me to the next point…
2. We can leave behind attending institutional structures; we do NOT forsake assembling together.
Hebrews 10:25 is in the Bible, folks, and we can’t tear it out. We need one another, and Jesus set it up that way. We must not avoid assembling together; that’s a Biblical principle. The point is that institutional Christianity isn’t the only way to fulfill this principle.
I can fully understand and relate to those people who have felt a leading to drop out of their respective institutional churches, and even to have a time of “de-toxing” or taking time apart for wounds to heal (because there is a lot of wounding going on). But I personally recommend to people in that place to think of it a temporary, transitional place, not a permanent solution. I believe that extended isolation from the Body of Christ can make us just as soulsick as the abusive situations many of us left behind. If we are truly following Christ in a migration outside the walls, I think we will at some point naturally gravitate to some form of Christian community. It doesn’t have to be another institution (and for me, it couldn’t be); it can be a home fellowship, or a Bible study, or even sharing fellowship with a couple of people at Starbucks or something. Make it as laid back as you like, but get together with other believers. To me, gathering for a “service” no longer defines it as an act of the church; the church manifests whenever believers gather in Jesus’ name, no matter what it looks like. If you’re leaving, and if you need to take a break, go ahead; but don’t stay away from us too long, okay? We need you. 🙂
Finally…I recognize that each of us ultimately has to answer to the Good Shepherd, Jesus, and some may feel a leading to leave traditional forms of Christianity, and some won’t. God may be doing something in His church, but that doesn’t make the act of leaving a trend or bandwagon to jump on. I believe each of us must be led by the voice of Jesus. My journey is my own, as yours belongs to you. My hope is that as I process my own thoughts here–as I make notes of my “view from here”–you will find something to help you on your own way. And reading other blogs and your comments likewise gives me something more to think and pray about. Cool, huh?
Have a great weekend.