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!
I find it curious that while the organized, institutional church works so hard to transform itself to function virtually identically to the world (following the world’s patterns, systems, formulas, authority paradigms, marketing techniques, etc.), the Scripture teaches followers of Jesus to do exactly the opposite; To completely forsake copying the world and its wisdom, to separate from its ways, and to follow only Christ and thus not allow any pollution by the world’s corrupted system.
- Romans 12:2 – Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
James 4:4 – You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.
Colossians 2:6-10 – As, then, you took Christ Jesus the Lord, so go on in Him, rooted and based together in Him, strong in the faith which the teaching gave you, giving praise to God at all times. Take care that no one takes you away by force, through man’s wisdom and deceit, going after the beliefs of men and the theories of the world, and not after Christ: For in Him all the wealth of God’s being has a living form, and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority…
Leviticus 18:3-5 – (the Lord says) You may not do those things which were done in the land of Egypt where you were living; and you may not do those things which are done in the land of Canaan where I am taking you, or be guided in your behavior by their rules. But you are to be guided by My decisions and keep My rules, and be guided by them: I am the Lord your God. So keep My rules and my decisions, which, if a man does them, will be life to him: I am the Lord.
Ephesians 4:17-18 – Therefore, I tell you and insist on in the Lord not to live any longer like the gentiles live, thinking worthless thoughts. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart.
2 Corinthians 6:17-18 – So leave the corruption and compromise (of the world); leave it for good,” says God. “Don’t link up with those who will pollute you. I want you all for myself. I’ll be a Father to you; you’ll be sons and daughters to me.” The Word of the Master, God.
Mark 10:42-45 – And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
The more my friend and I chatted about this, it was apparent that since both of our jobs involve working in an office with committees, boards, members, leadership teams, etc. (all the things that we look forward to getting home away from when the day is done), the reality is that much of what we do for a living, doesn’t feel much different from what organized institutional churches do in so many ways. In fact, it’s entirely the same smell altogether… My friend made the point that she had already spent most of her life organizing, strategizing, recruiting people, managing and dealing with all of that stuff (membership, rosters, programs, leadership training seminars, luncheons, awards dinners, meet-and-greets, group activities, customer relations, marketing schemes, etc.)… To her, if that’s what “church” is supposed to be all about, then there’s just no point in it… She already does that – all day long, every day, all the time… It’s the necessary evil of serving a secular master to accomplish the task of providing for our financial/material needs and our families needs…
My friend went on to express how God has to be so much more personal and meaningful than merely an organizational strategy because she needs more than that. What she was trying to put into words was something deeper than I believe there are words adequate to express, for the truth is that the body of Christ is not an “organization” or an “institution” and walking with God is not something that can be conveniently managed or put in a religious box. Scripture plainly reveals to us that the family of God is something far more organic than some kind of man-made business program. If that be true, how can anyone think it would be wise for someone to place the inferior human-devised concoction over the essential thing which God has ordained? Yet this is exactly what happens in today’s so-called church system.
Listen, there’s a reason why most folks look forward to Friday, holidays, and time off from the ol’ daily grind. That makes sense to me. Indeed, why would I want to spend my weekend doing the same thing? No wonder so many people “burn out” on church. Yet, for many years I did just that… and I burned out on it totally. Others said, “Just give it another chance…” and I tried… and I burned out again, and again, and again. In fact, to call it burn out is misleading, for even that presumes that some kind of flame was burning bright at some point. Religion is dead to begin with and only bears the appearance of life.
It is when a living (born-again) person presumes they may sustain the life they already possess in Christ by using any means that Christ has not ordained that they experience this “burning out”. Would to God that more folks would burn out; That is that that the “flame” of religion would burn itself out in their lives, so that they might seek out the only true source of life, which cannot be obtain through religion! Sadly, I fear that many – because of their continued fraternization with religion (which is really component of the world’s ungodly system) – the flame that is burning out in their lives is not the flame of religion, but of their relationship with the Lord! They have placed their light under a bushel and it is snuffing out the flame. Many, who do not escape this snare, will become slaves to religion and thusly enemies of the truth. We are already seeing this happen today as churches are merging more and more with worldly concepts, even new age and occult ideologies. God is giving them over to a depraved mind and to their sinful lusts. Like Paul said (2 Timothy 3:7), though they are always learning, yet they are never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.
- 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 – And for this cause, God will give them up to the power of deceit and they will put their faith in what is false: So that they all may be judged, who had no faith in what is true, but took pleasure in evil.
Even though I’ve been out of the religious system for quite a few years now (going on 14 at the time of writing this post), I still marvel at how so many Christians are taken in by its facade. I know many people who are good folks who I sincerely believe love the Lord, yet remain almost completely mesmerized by the organization’s self-proclaimed insistence of importance. Though they have Christ, they still believe that He is not enough (though they would never put it in such terms). They feel they need this machine called institutional religion to validate their membership in the body of Christ (and they judge one another by it). They submit to its rule and yield to its influences because they presume it is an instrument of God, even though God has never once given any instruction to entangle themselves with the likes of organized religion. Many get offended if it is spoken derogatorily of, as though God Himself would bring judgment down on someone who did not embrace it. How is it that so many people who proclaim Jesus as Lord of their lives could presume any other lord over them? Yet, inadvertently, they do just that… and their leaders enforce these mindsets. It’s heartbreaking.
I am thankful for those whose eyes are opening to the truth. I am thankful for those that have been made free! But I still long and pray that so many more would become spiritually wise to the devil’s devices, which so often are actuated through the medium of organized religion. God knows each heart and He knows how to deliver every one. He delivered me! I have been encouraged to find that there are folks, like my work associate friend, who have simply loosed themselves from the grip of institutional religion because they have already recognized the similarity that marks how so many church groups tend to operate, which is just like the world’s corporate system – an environment that they already crave to have a vacation from. For these, it seems to be inherently obvious that there must be more to a relationship with God that this!
But what I have also noticed is that, just because some folks recognize and despise the similarity between the modern church system and the corporate world, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have made a full connection in their understanding. My work associate friend, while I found that we shared some agreement on this issue, I also was aware that she did not seem to be “living the life” as fully as she seemed to hope was possible. In fact, she appeared to be virtually ignorant of the possibility of a powerfully real relationship that can occur with God. For her, it seemed, that she wanted an emotional experience that transcended the mundane routine of work world, but perhaps not enough to really make Jesus Lord of her life. I could see an openness and perhaps even a hunger for more, but also a wall of resistance. What I’m saying is that, it is not enough to simply want to be free of religion. It is not enough to simply recognize that the modern church has made its bed with the world in so many areas. What needs to transpire is a revelation of God, to move beyond a mere disconnect from religion, to a life that recognizes Christ as Lord (as much as He is Savior and Friend). For this to happen we must pray for our friends, work associates and family. God is able to accomplish great things… and we ought to realize that He may very well desire to use us in the process. This means we will need to trust Him, listen carefully for His direction, and then put off timidity so that we may speak His words and share His life and that we may do so through His love! That love must overtake us, change us, transform us entirely. It’s not enough to just complain about the problems with church world. At some point we must embrace the same heart of God that drew us out and unto the truth and see with His eyes and become His vessels of truth and love to others. My friends, this is just as much the word of the Lord to me and so I am speaking this for the benefit of all those friends of God who have open hearts and ears to hear.
- Luke 8:16 – “No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a bowl or hides it under a bed. A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house.”
We’ve all heard that verse a hundred times or more, but I was especially struck today by the words Jesus followed this up with…
- Luke 8:18 – “So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to My teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.”
We, who have heard the Lord speaking to us and obeyed, are so blessed… but when the Lord says to pay attention to how you hear, and when He says “to those who listen”, we must understand that He is talking about a listening that is marked by obedience to what He speaks to us. If we do not “listen” (attending to what is said), then the Lord says that even that which we think we understand will be taken away from us. I do not want that to happen to me. I want His life to shine through me and serve as a blessing to others; that they may come to know the joy and freedom I know in Him. That they will revel in the blessing of true relationship with the Master, unfettered by any chains of bondage, religious or otherwise.
Since I had that conversation with my work friend, opportunities come about from time to time to share more about my relationship with the Lord (without reference to any religious aspect). The most wonderful part about sharing my faith these days is that I do it with all genuineness. I have no anxiety that I have to share anything and there’s no religious impulse to try and get someone to come to a church service or anything nuts like that. I have no mindset anymore that worries that I might not be fulfilling “the Great Commission” if I don’t find clever ways to sneak in a discussion about God. It just comes out in normal day-to-day conversation and as part of who I am. There’s no more “manipulation” in the way I think about or converse with folks (and if I encounter any, I am quick to lay my heart before God and ask Him to forgive me and uproot every last ounce of religious fodder). I no longer look at folks as “targets” I need to influence in the hopes that they will get saved. My heart is only to see them the way the Lord does and then be obedient to His voice. Beyond that, it’s just another day, walking with Jesus and I hope that my light is shining. There have been several times when people have just begun to share the depths of their heart with me and I have not told them I am a Christian and, sometimes, they have even said, “I don’t know why I am telling you all this.” These occasions don’t really strike me anymore as “opportunities to evangelize” so much as I take them as opportunities to open my heart to the Lord and simply say, “Lord, if you have something to do through me, I’m willing,” but otherwise my conduct is consistent. I am wholly myself with people. It’s wonderfully liberating!
I am always intrigued to find that there are these moments when a random conversation with another person can put something (that took me years to figure out) into such simple terms, like my work friend who gave her reason for not being interested in church; because she already does all that stuff at work. To her mind it was so simple; If church is essentially no different than work, then what’s the point? That’s a really good question, especially coming from a person who isn’t interested in church and isn’t coming from a position like many of us who experienced religious burn out or frustration with corrupt leaders, doctrines, or religious practices and people. I suspect there are probably a lot of other folks out there who are not cut from the “I used to go to church” cloth. They just don’t care about it and aren’t interested. They may not have any more emotion tied to the subject than that. Since that is likely the case for such individuals, we who claim to walk with Jesus ought to consider the likelihood that any topic of faith might be regarded by some of these folks as completely uninteresting, simply because they tend to equate the subject of faith in God with the pointlessness of church. If that is the case, then we ought to make certain that the light that is shining from within us really is the light of a genuine relationship with Christ and not merely some religious comprehension of Him… because I’m not interested in the pointlessness of church either (i.e. institutional churchianity).
- 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 – It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful. If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us.
Matthew 5:14-16 – “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”