30 September 2012

I Don't Go To Church Anymore

About 6 months ago, I decided I didn't want to go to church anymore. I've spent my whole life in religious institutions and the entire time they had me believing I had a great relationship with Jesus. But, the truth is, I never really knew him (Mat 7:21-23). I tried to do everything right, but the more I tried, the more I failed. Now, church means something completely different to me.

Growing up, church leaders did a great job of teaching me how to become a good Christian. They taught me how a believer acts, what kind of words to use, and how to live a Godly lifestyle. After so many years of practice and naturally being good at following the rules, I was the spitting image of what a Christian should look like. However, it was living hell.

I would literally lay on the floor in the fetal position begging God to help me not make so many mistakes. I would beg for his mercy for doing things wrong. However, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't be perfect (Jam 1:22-25). All the devil had to do was send some beautiful girl walking by and it was all over. Sure, I could get things right for awhile and I'd start feeling good about myself, but I could only do so much before I messed up again. Once I slipped up, the cycle of feeling horrible and beating myself up would start over.

Church is the place that told me that I had to be careful to follow all of God's commands or I wasn't really living for him. This is why I tried so hard to do the right thing. I saw what they did to people who sinned. I didn't want to be the person that everyone shunned or looked down upon.

On top of that, it didn't matter what church I went to, they're all pretty much the same. They may look and sound different, but they all have similar agendas.

How do I know? Well, while I was in college, I made it a goal to visit every denomination there was. Of course, being a Pentecostal, I already knew I was closer to God then any other faith so I had nothing to worry about (everyone thinks their church is the best). But, as I started hanging out with more people that were Baptists on campus, I quickly saw that I wasn't the only one that really had a desire for God. I visited all kinds of churches and mostly went with friends. This way I could ask questions and not feel so out of place.

This experience showed me that other people who thought differently weren't so weird, after all. Each church was unique, but much was the same. Sure, they had other styles and traditions, but there's a couple of things they all have in common. They're all desperately trying to get people saved and wanting more people to follow their belief system. They're constantly trying to pitch their product so you'll hopefully buy into it.

Over time, I decided to attend the more charismatic or non-denominational (which actually is a denomination) services. In these type places, I was taught that if I raised my hand to receive salvation, said the Sinner's Prayer, asked Jesus into my heart, marked the "I accepted Christ today" check box on the visitor card, and really meant everything I just did (deep-down in my heart), then Jesus would enter my life. Once I accepted him, then this surely meant I received forgiveness and was saved from eternal damnation. However, the list of things to do didn't stop there.

Now, that I was saved and received forgiveness, there was another list I needed to follow (1 John 3:8-10). This list wasn't as obvious, but you eventually learned what you needed to do. These were critical in helping you remain in right-standing with God:
  1. Continually confess and ask for forgiveness of my sins
  2. Receive water baptism
  3. Make sure I went to church regularly
  4. Pay my tithes and offerings
  5. Read my Bible and pray everyday
  6. Memorize scripture
  7. Have a quiet time with just me and God
  8. Serve as a volunteer at my church
  9. Tell people about Jesus
  10. Take communion with the right mindset
  11. Go to church on Wednesday nights to get serious
  12. Join/start a small group
  13. Go on missions
  14. Sing in the choir or praise team
  15. Sponsor a Compassion child
  16. Have a Godly mentor and accountability partner
  17. Sing praise and worship songs
  18. Listen to mainly Christian music
  19. Stand for the hearing of God's Word
  20. Raise my hands and close my eyes during worship
  21. Get on my knees to humble myself in God's presence
  22. Bow my head and pray before every meal
  23. Go on a fast regularly
  24. Be humble and put others first
  25. I promise you, the list goes on forever...
That is just a very brief To-Do list. You don't want to get me started on the Not To-Do list.

Do you see how this is just a bunch of do this and do that? The structure of church is so task-based and simply a bunch of rule following. As long as you do and say all the right things, everyone will know that you're a good Christian and the church will be fine with you. You'll also be allowed to do other significant tasks or hold positions of greater value within the ministry by proving you have what it takes. However, if you get out of line, then you'll be dealt with accordingly. And, please don't think your church is the exception. Religious institutions harbor believers that are focused on one thing - doing it right. And, it's all a bunch of do-do.

Not until about 3 years ago did I realize that I was just a do-er. You see, church doesn't cultivate people who have relationships with Jesus. It only convinces you that you're not good enough. They want you to do all these things to make yourself right with God. However, you can't do anything to make yourself right. No amount stuff they want you to do will make you a better Christian. It just makes you a slave to their religious system (Luke 4:18-21). Religion wants you to be a slave (Mat 5:20). Jesus came to set you free (John 8:34-36).

You see, everything the church taught me, I did. And, I really meant it with all my heart. Even after everything I did right (better than anyone I know), I still never knew Jesus. I believe this is true for 99% of Christians because of the do-do system.

Also, I sincerely thought having a real relationship with Jesus was praying, going to church, listening to the teaching of God's Word, and reading my Bible. The funny thing is I believed reading the Bible was actually hearing God speak. I also thought witnessing answers to prayer or seeing cool things happen in my life was hearing his voice too, but this wasn't true either (John 10:27). Sure, all my life I tried talking to God through prayer, but it was always one-way communication. No church or pastor taught me how to hear God's voice or how to have a real relationship with Jesus.
Some of my favorite people...at church.

Now, church means something completely different to me. Church is no longer dressing sharp or looking cute just to show up at some building that has a steeple, cross, or modern-looking fascia. Church is simply where two or more are gathered (Mat 18:19-20). Having church is when at least two people hang out and enjoy each other's company. You might find these people encouraging, loving, praying, or even sharpening one another (Mat 22:36-40). However, you can't do this during a worship service. There's only 3 times during a service you're allowed to interact with people; before church starts, after it's over, or when the pastor gives you permission to greet someone next to you. The rest of the time you sit quietly while one person talks and seemingly feeds you the "Word of God."

Clearly, church is way more intimate than facing forward in a crowd and listening to some guy preach (John 16:12-15). It's hanging out with Jesus while he teaches me new stuff, meeting together with friends at a restaurant and sharing what we're learning, having a chance meeting with someone while standing in a parking lot for 2 hours talking, or simply making some stranger's day by leaving an outrageous tip (1 John 2:27). Church is simply loving the people around me. It's everywhere I go. This is the church that makes a real difference.

The best part about church is lunch afterwards.


Tim said...

Another great entry. Thanks again for sharing, I really enjoy reading your blog. Keep up the good work.

Beth Botwin said...

I usually agree with what you post anyway, but this is right on. I was glad to be able to share it on my page.

Allison said...

Love this! As I have said before to you, I find God more every Sunday working with the animals at the animal shelter than I have ever found him in a Church! That's where God wants me to be and where I will help and tithe! :)

Dathan Ellis said...

What?! You clearly don't know Jesus. Don't you know you're supposed to not forsake the assembly and pay your temple taxes to the house of God?! ~;-)

Allison said...

I know Dathan! If only I knew what the clear definition of repent meant! Oh, well, just add it to my list of sins! :)

Anonymous said...

Today I am feeling so beat up because of so many of my mistakes... I work for ministry and have hardly ever felt free. I have such a low self image because I feel I am never good enough and when I do mess up I feel expected to confess my faults hoping and praying I don't get fired, stoned, or worse both.
Honestly, your blog entry makes so much sense...its my own mistakes - I take responsibility for them...but no matter how hard i pray...I'm having trouble finding strength to inhale my next breath. The past 6 years has been excruciating and exhausting...
I love Jesus, and don't considering ending my life, but I can't tell you how many times I've asked God to remove me from this life...I feel like a mistake waiting to happen...
Thank you for your insight. I currently attend non-denominational church, was raised Pentecostal...went to Christian Bible school, and currently work in ministry. I've rarely felt freedom.

Dathan Ellis said...

Trust me, I understand you wanting to be removed from this life. I've been there and it sucks. To be honest, as long as you stay in this religious system, it's going to get worse (especially as a teacher). It's time you stopped trying. Stop trying to do anything right and trust God that he did it all right for you...already. Do you trust him that he did it all and there's nothing left to do? Do you trust Christ was enough to cover anything you've ever done wrong (or will do)? Do you trust him that if you did lose your job and Christians "stoned" you that he would take care of you no matter what? Because I didn't. I thought I did.

I really don't care if you take responsibility. I just care that you have the freedom you're looking for. But, you always had the freedom. You always had his love, peace, forgiveness, power and strength. All of Jesus is living inside you right now. However, the system is telling you that you never had it and you had to hold on tight once you got it. But these are lies. This is not freedom. This is slavery. Slavery to a system that God has been desperately trying to free you from.

I know you know all this. I'm just hoping I'm encouraging you to jump off the cliff. Btw flying is so much fun. ~;-)