Following the Spirit
Really great book… especially if you’re interested in understanding the Amish way of life; how they think, how they live, why they do some of the things they do… This book invites the reader into the lives of two people, Ora Jay and Irene Eash (and their family), whose loss of their two young daughters in a terrible accident, moved them to a deeper searching out of their faith and a yearning to know God.
Though the Amish way of life is centered moralistically around the ideal of Christianity, Ora Jay and Irene share their story of how far the presumption of faith is from that which is, more often than not, merely conformation to legalism and religious tradition. The rule of the “church” is essentially higher than Scripture, though most Amish do not appear to realize this is what’s happening since most believe they are within Scriptural bounds.
The book contains long sections of letters written by Irene Eash to Amish friends and family to show context for their journey toward a full faith in Jesus Christ, which eventually led them out of Amish legalism. Through the letters and the testimony of Irene and Ora Jay shared in-between, the reader is introduced the increasing joy of their newfound and growing relationship with the Lord as well as the heartache of trying to convey their love and hope and faith to their family and friends, who did not understand.
It would be a mistake for the reader to absorb this testimony as merely a treaties against the Amish and their misunderstandings of and unique approaches to biblical Christianity, for the reality of religious legalism touches many people in virtually all denominational affiliations… even those who believe they are among the freest and most spiritual. In reading this book I was reminded of my own exodus from the legalism and bondage of status-quo “churchianity” and was moved with compassion for both the Amish people as well as my fellow brothers and sisters in many mainline denominations that are no-less bound in the deception that religious affiliation and subservience to church dogma is somehow equally important as or equivalent to biblical Christianity (i.e. relationship with Jesus Christ). I found myself inspired, sometimes convicted, and absolutely encouraged by Ora Jay and Irene’s journey of faith, their humility, their transparency, their desperation to know God, and their love for those that had not yet seemed to comprehend the joy they were discovering in Jesus.
There were a few moments, early on, in the book that I was wondering a little bit where it was going and reacted a bit impatiently; as there was a lot of reference to the letters sent to family and friends, much of which discussed details of Amish daily life (not related especially to their faith – things like the daily washing and sewing and labor in the field). I confess that I was eager to get to the “faith details” of their story and where that ultimately led them and cost them, but upon completion of the book I am glad that the broader context of Amish life was included, because it provide a more clear picture to help understand the way the Amish folks live and think and interact with each other.
Many times I found myself deeply admiring elements of their perspective on life and community. The Amish people – indeed – are a community that behave very much like close family. While they may not enjoy many of the conveniences of life that most Americans take for granted (and thus by their own choice) and while many of the convictions about such things are derived predominantly from religious legalism rather than the effect of a life-changing relationship with Christ, some of the principles that guide their behavior reflect noble sensibilities that many of us may find entirely admirable such as the ethics of treating one another with respect, dignity, demonstrating the value and ethic of hard work (and not just hard work but skilled work), consideration for others among the community (helping those suffering in their time of need and struggle).
I was impressed in some regard with how the Amish approached matters such as how they choose a preacher for their congregational gatherings. The community would choose a number of men and then cast lots to determine which would serve in the way of preaching and performing typical “church” duties. That’s not exactly the part that impressed me. What impressed me was that he was merely a brother among the community; no special or lofty credentials or experience required… but also his service as a preacher did not allow him the opportunity to quit his job and collect some kind of salary off parishioners, but instead required him to continue in everything expected of a man who labors to care for his family and do good in his community. He was expected to continue all of his daily work (and means of acquiring his living) just like every other member of the community. His responsibility to study the Bible and preach and serve in whatever capacity preachers normal entertain was merely in addition to his regular daily activities. In truth, the typical Amish preacher’s work ethic puts most most modern pastors to shame and allows for no excuse of “full time ministry” to remove them from such responsibilities in the name of “serving the church”. Ironic too, considering that “serving the church” is the staple of Amish religion. But as I considered how diligently they commit themselves to such endeavors and maintain the task of caring for their families and community, it made me think of the apostle Paul who mentioned that he also labored night and day to make his ministry without charge to those he served. What is sad is that, for all of these incredibly admirable qualities of Amish diligence and responsibility, so many do these things void of a close relationship with God and merely out of religious duty to the church.
In closing the book greatly inspired me and encouraged me. The loss suffered, the struggle ensued, the emotions exhausted all along this journey of a family who so desperately desired to know what it means to have a real and close relationship with Jesus Christ, even though it cost them so much.
The book probably deserves five stars; however, I gave it four only because I think some of the content might be a challenge for some readers who may not be especially interested in all the little details of Amish life and perspective. As mentioned earlier, the book takes its time presenting a somewhat detailed image of Amish life, which could strike some as slow-paced and sometimes uneventful. Since I was personally already familiar with some of these details (because I’ve studied a bit about Amish faith and lifestyle before), this dragged ever so slightly for me as well… I personally preferred the elements of direct commentary and testimony shared by the authors apart from the perhaps all-too-frequent reliance on quoting from their letters to family and friends. Still, I must remain entirely positive here because those letters served their purpose and I became more engaged with hearing them as the story continued.
The testimony in the book is told by both Ora Jay and Irene; Both share alternately their unique perspective on their journey together. I found this enjoyable and interesting and felt like I knew them the more the book went on. Though the story centered on one family’s exodus from the Amish church, there is considerable material to reflect on for anyone who has been a part of an organized and/or institutional religious group (i.e. church). Many church groups get hung up on various kinds of legalism, heavy traditional influences (that are not necessarily biblically-motivated), and misunderstandings about Christianity. There is much here to glean challenge, conviction, compassion and great encouragement from. Most of all this book presents a call to the freedom and joy that is only found in Christ Jesus! Excellent!!!
Great book! I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it entirely.
Recently, I read an article posted online that sought to appeal graciously to non-churchgoers with an attempt to woo them back into the fold. You can read the article yourself if you’re interested by clicking here. The following is my personal response to the post, which I also shared on the author’s website. Feel free to add your own comments or, better yet, visit this author’s website and share your heart there as well. I believe the author’s intention was positive, although it’s apparent that he is positively influenced by churchianic mindsets (as so many of us have been). My desire to share my thoughts with him and his readers was not to offend anyone but rather to provoke study of God’s Word and encourage a thirst for genuine Gospel liberty and deeper relationship with Christ. I sincerely would love it if this brother discovered what so many of us have also been discovering over the last several months and years concerning this wonderful life in Jesus Christ, unfettered by the chains of religion. So now, without further adieu-dieu, here is the response I shared with the author of the “Letter To A Non-Churchgoer”…
Wow, where to begin with this one… I guess let me start by saying, I was a deeply-involved church boy for 30+ years of my life. I’ve now been out of that environment for over 15. I am still a follower of Jesus and a member of the Family of God (which, in truth, is the only “church” referenced in Scripture). I appreciate the humble tones of this letter and it appears the author is manifesting good intentions; however, he fundamentally misunderstands the non-church goer on so many levels. I’m not sure I can blame his ignorance entirely. I’ve walked in those shoes too. I meant well when I did. The author’s understanding of church has likely been drilled into him by his environment… not by the Holy Spirit, unfortunately.
To his comment:
“But, except possibly for a wedding or a funeral, we never share in the enterprise I call church.”
The author may not even realize how accurately he indirectly described the reason why what he calls church is not what the Bible calls Church when he says, “the enterprise I call church.” The Church of Scripture is NOT an enterprise. It’s not a business. It’s not even a social club. Yet that is everything that today’s church program is… but, if someone cares about what the Bible presents, then “enterprise” is NOT it. According to Scripture, the Church is the body of Christ (the Family of God, the Spiritual nation of the Kingdom of God, the very PEOPLE who are born again and who live in Christ – regardless of whether or not they attend some man-made program we label as “church”).
Just a few weeks ago I visited a church organization with my mother one Sunday morning (a rare occurrence for me these days). In case you’re curious, my mother doesn’t quite hold the same conviction about church world that I do. She sees glimpses of what I have expressed to her and she listens to my heart and often nods in approval concerning the things I’ve shared from my personal experiences, but church remains an important activity she enjoys participating in (and it’s often been important to her to experience it along with family). Recently, mom relocated from her home across the miles to move in with my wife and myself due to some health issues. You can imagine the challenge here as we are not “church-going folks” these days and here we are with mom who is and she wants to find a place to attend and we’re just not in that mode or mindset at all. I’ve suddenly found myself in a position where I’m taking my mom to church because this is important to her, though I (quite honestly) detest it myself. I share this because I know many of you have found yourselves in similar predicaments and I want you to know that I understand and I hope I can encourage you with something today.
I know the feeling of thinking that if you happen to sit in a pew after which the Lord has opened your understanding about the errors of churchianity, that there might be a concern that you’re somehow endorsing it and compromising by being there. If any of you are anything like me, it’s no longer an enjoyable environment for you, but there may be times when (for whatever reason) you find yourself back in that environment and it’s unsettling. Perhaps some of you have felt a conviction that churchianity is full of error and you’ve wanted to distance yourself from it, but (in the honesty of your heart) you still enjoy and crave the experience of fellowship with other believers, or singing the songs, and sometimes just being in an environment that (for the most part) seems to at least intend to encourage people to seek the Lord and you’re a little torn by these contrasting feelings about involvement with it. You’re not alone. Lots of folks have struggled with these same concerns, including myself over the years. These days the kinds of things I struggle with concerning it have transitioned a bit (quite a bit actually), but I still relate to the many letters I’ve received about this because I really have walked through this as well and my heart goes out to those who are working through this.
The whole thing reminds me a bit of the movie the Matrix; and the thought of the “Matrix” as being “church world”. Those of you who have seen the movie might know what I’m talking about. Church world (“the Matrix”) isn’t real Christianity, but for those still inside it, they don’t seem to know otherwise. Yet some are awaking and others will find themselves “plugging” back into it from time to time (though they are no longer a part of it). It can pose a real mind trip for some of us.
NOTE: This article first appeared on the original TruthForFree.com site June 20th, 2005.
It was the proverbial Christian catch phrase of the 90’s and it’s still going strong. You see it practically everywhere you look: On bumper stickers, fish emblems for automobiles, t-shirts, banners, hats, bracelets, necklaces, Christian television and virtually everywhere else imaginable in church world. It is sounded over the loudspeakers of rock concerts, conferences, radio and printed in the religious educational materials of many churches and youth ministries. It is the question that almost literally fuels Institutional Christianity itself.
- NOTE: For those who may be unfamiliar with my verbiage here, what I mean by “Institutional Christianity” is, essentially, the modern day church system (which is largely identified by its buildings, denominational and clergy designations, programs, static routines and Sunday services – and the mission to advance the building of such organizations and structures as frequently and in as many places as possible). In other words, it is “Christianity” as most of the world recognizes it – a religious institution or a system comprised of religious institutions. Real, biblical Christianity (in this author’s perspective) is something far more simplistic and organic; it is a global, spiritual community of believers in Jesus who find their identity in HIM (not in meeting places, programs, denominational titles, and religious rituals). This is not to say it is wrong for Christians to meet in a building, but buildings and programs should never be the focus for they do not define, embody or validate true Christianity as the Scripture teaches it.
The reason I say that WWJD is the question that almost literally fuels institutional Christianity is because anyone who observes the institutional church system can easily and quickly recognize its flagrant fascination with titles, catch phrases, and externally imposed methods to invoke a religious response or action. Rather than the simple, inward motivation of the Holy Spirit and actions that flow purely and spontaneously from sincere love and faith, catch phrases like WWJD invoke people to take action based on the presumption that their identity and acceptance by God is wrapped up in religious activity. WWJD also leaves Christians to determine on their own what they presume Jesus might do, rather than recognizing that a living relationship with God reciprocates communication and activity based on love, faith and obedience to a living Lord. All in all, WWJD is something that involves an external regulation of conscience and does not require any influence by a living Lord.
Equally surprising is the fact that the Institutional Church’s thriving on the question of what Jesus would do, demonstrates as reality what so many who walk with the Lord on the outside of the four walls of institutional Christianity (i.e. traditional church attendance) have been saying for years; THE INSTITUTIONAL CHURCH SYSTEM CONCEPTUALLY SERVES A DEAD JESUS!
“What?” you say… “How can you dare say such a thing? WWJD is such a good, positive, righteous statement! Surely all Christians should intend to pattern their lives according to a consideration of how Jesus would do things… isn’t that what Christianity is all about?” Well… in a word… NO! That’s not what Christianity is all about. NOT EVEN CLOSE!
NOTE: The following article is taken from Chapter 11 of Peter Whyte’s book “The King and His Kingdom”, written in 1979.
The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch (Acts 11:26). The name “Christian” means an adherent of Christ.
Today we have such muddled terminology that we apply the term to any church member, regardless of whether he or she is a dedicated follower, a disciple, of Christ.
We need to become disciples of the King and His Kingdom, and church membership can sometimes be a hindrance rather than a help. Loyalty to a man-made church will usually prevent total loyalty to the Kingdom of God. The claims of the organization usually take priority over the claims of the Kingdom when any conflict of interest arises. You cannot serve two masters.
- Becoming a disciple involves first AN ACT OF MY WILL.
I WILL TO DO THE WILL OF GOD.
I WILL to be a disciple of King Jesus and His Kingdom.
Becoming a disciple means I STOP TALKING AND START DOING.
It may not be difficult for us to see the truth of the Gospel of the Kingdom, but we are an unholy nation of scribes and Pharisees. Our normal reaction, if we accept the truth, is to agree with it Then we study it for ourselves in the Bible, read books and hear teachings on the King and His Kingdom.
We then make the fatal error of talking about it, and NEVER become TOTALLY COMMITTED TO DOING IT PERSONALLY.
NOTE: The following article is taken from Chapter 17 of Peter Whyte’s book “The King and His Kingdom”, written in 1979.
The gates of a city in Bible days were the seat of authority. The elders and rulers of the city sat in the gates, and the people came there to hear the reading of the law. The judges gave out judgments and the king’s place of audience was in the gates.
The word Hades means “not to be seen.”
The term “the gates of Hades” therefore denotes the rulers, the powers of the “not to be seen;” the spiritual powers of darkness.
Jesus was saying, “I will build My people that I have called out (My Church), and the ruling powers of the kingdom of darkness from the unseen realm (the gates of Hades) will not overpower them.”
A while back I was having a conversation with a business associate when the subject of relationship with God came up. While it was apparent that she considered herself a Christian, I wasn’t entirely sure what her perspective was on things like religion, church, and so on, so I just began to offer some of my own perspectives and the ball started rolling.
My friend from work quickly told me why she could no longer stomach church in general and why she was not a regular attender by any means. It wasn’t because of false teachings. It wasn’t because of abusive leadership. It wasn’t because of judgmental Christians. It wasn’t because she didn’t like the music or the pastor or tithing or some program. What she said to me was simply that she gets enough “organization” at work. This was a simple yet quite impressive statement to me, especially coming from a non-church-goer that isn’t likely even aware of an “out of church movement”. I could tell this wasn’t her trying to wax eloquent by expressing observant contradictions between the Ecclesia and man-made church, or even with any intention to complain in general. There was no attitude of complaint in her voice whatsoever. It was just a simple response… “I do all that stuff at work, all day long, day after day… why would I want to do that at church too?” It struck me that, while most of us have realized this problem with churchianity (the incessant infatuation with organization and all the legalism that comes along with it), I don’t often think of this as a response people normally give for why they don’t go to church. Some express exhaustion with the lifeless routines. Some talk about false teachings, abuse by leaders, arrogant or hypocritical people, boring sermons, etc… but few simply point out the obvious reality that church today looks almost exactly like the corporate world.
There was no attitude of complaint in her voice whatsoever. It was just a simple response… “I do all that stuff at work, all day long, day after day… why would I want to do that at church too?”
This was a statement I certainly related to, since my job involves plenty of organization (since I work at an organization). One of the most refreshing things about my relationship with Jesus is that it bears no semblance of some kind of corporate structure at all. It is, after all, a RELATIONSHIP! Generally, people who attempt to approach their friends with the same attitude as their job, don’t usually have those friends for too long. Certainly God is much more than a close friend. Why on earth would someone presume He can be organized into a clever little program (as though He were a product to be packaged and marketed)? This is GOD we are talking about!
When I first made my exodus from organized religion, I remember talking with someone online about aspects of the Christian faith and the term “orthodoxy” came up. Now, up until that time I had always presumed I held to orthodox Christianity, because my understanding of orthodoxy was with regard to the doctrine established by Jesus Christ and His apostles in the first century. I still hold to that ideal; However, as I began to re-examine the actual definition of the term orthodox, I found that embracing this concept was not as simplistic as I once presumed.
Here is this literal definition of orthodox from Webster’s Dictionary:
1. accepted as true or correct by most people : supporting or believing what most people think is true.
2. accepting and closely following the traditional beliefs and customs of a religion.
This is the dictionary definition of “orthodox” and was a bit of a shocker to re-read… “Accepted as true or correct by most people…” What? I could care less about what “most people” think with regard to the Christian life. What the Lord Jesus says is true is the only truth I desire to accept! Orthodox refers to “supporting or believing what most people think is true…” What they THINK is true? Since when has the Lord Jesus called anyone to support and accept what most people THINK is true? If you don’t mind me saying, that’s likely one of the major reasons why we have so many church organizations today that are all over the place with doctrine. It’s not that there is a problem with doctrine; The problem is that they are basing their doctrine on orthodoxy – what most people think is true… rather that drawing the truth from out of the Scriptures as plainly as Jesus spoke. We have pastors and teachers everywhere, giving their twist on doctrine and these become divisions apart from the sound doctrine once delivered to the saints, as we read about in Scripture.
by Devon Leesley
In my christian experience of many years, you have to look long and hard to find another believer you can really connect with in the Spirit. Even with those who have escaped Christendom, many of them still hold to pride and jealousy, even as in the church system they escaped. Thinking they have improved on their walk with Christ by leaving organized religion, they have taken on a new form of arrogance; that of seeing all things “church” as being hopelessly inundated by paganism… and rightly so, but their sin of pride is disgusting.
I’ve tried connecting with certain brothers on the matter of all the falsehoods only to be snubbed and rejected still. Sounds off topic but I don’t think so. It all goes back to the same old sin… the pride of life. Esteeming oneself above others. I believe in order to be part of the “remnant”, truth and true humility must go hand in hand. So easy to gain an insight and miss the ooze of self importance seeping in to your spirit.
What a battle! God has ways of keeping us small. That should be a constant prayer… if you want to belong to that remnant.
Jesus was called a friend of sinners because; He was! It was not meant as a compliment but as a slur. Who would say such a thing? The religious folks of His day.