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.
While I will not presume to know what the Lord might be intending to show you through the challenges you might be facing in your thoughts concerning this matter, I will encourage you that this presents a wonderful opportunity to seek Him and listen for His voice concerning these kinds of things in your life.
Let me just offer that, despite my personal issues with churchianity, I’m not sure that just sitting in a pew now and then automatically equates compromise… ESPECIALLY if the Lord directs you to for some purpose of His (and for some people I believe the Lord may, in fact, direct them in this way). I tend to think about it this way. We usually have no problem with the notion that God often sends people to minister in places that are in darkness but need to know His light. We generally have no problem with the idea of missionaries going to places that have no knowledge of Christ and we expect that God’s heart is to bring His truth to those people. Isn’t it possible that God may desire the same for some with respect to the infiltration of places like religious organizations? I think so. I’m not suggesting this as some kind of excuse for attending church and feeling okay about it. I am seriously saying though that God may call some to this and some of you may just find yourselves in these kinds of situations like I’ve described. Sometimes it may be because the Lord desires to use you in some way. Other times it may be so that you can observe something and He will teach you through it.
Jesus talked about us being IN the world and yet not OF the world…
John 17:14-16 – I have given them Your Word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not pray for You to take them out of the world, but for You to keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
I think we could easily apply this same logic to church world (because, in many cases, it’s essentially the same thing – the world’s mindsets are infused all throughout churchianity). I believe it is possible to be IN the church (meaning a religious organization or around those who are yet slaves in their mindset to it) and yet not OF it (i.e. the church system, mindset, etc.). Paul said:
1 Corinthians 9:19-23 – Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law. When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law, I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some. I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings.
I love Paul’s attitude there. It encourages me that I can also take up this same mind. I don’t have to be overly vexed about my surroundings (though I confess that, sometimes, this is easier said than accomplished). I know that I can walk in relationship with the Lord and do His will wherever I am at. Now, for some, the Lord will speak to them and impress on them to stay clear of some environments. We need to listen to Him! That means that, in the event that we find ourselves in an environment that is uncomfortable to us (such as church) we don’t just automatically apply the situation I’ve described where you can be “in the church but not of it” because a relative wants you there. We have to listen to our Master Jesus. Some will be able to sit in such environments with the blessing of God and others will not. We must be led by the Holy Spirit. If God convicts you that this is not for you to engage in, then He has a purpose and we must always yield to His instruction. Otherwise, if we do not, we may miss that which He is desiring to accomplish through us.
My purpose in sharing this today is not to give anyone excuses (nor is it intended to endorse one decision over another regarding involvement with church organizations), but to encourage everyone to live free of religious pressure and follow the Lord with abandon! If God calls you (for example) to show love to a family member by attending church with them and allowing Him to use you in some way in that environment (or whatever He may be calling you to), then don’t worry about what anyone else thinks; just continue to follow Jesus and obey the Lord. But also be prepared to let God use you in that environment He has allowed you to be present in.
I’ve had friends outside the church world environment presume that I am inadvertently conveying an endorsement for churchianity – simply because they saw me visit a church or maybe talked to someone who saw me in a church service. Several people have made this presumption at different times or due to different circumstances they observed. Suddenly they were filled with concern that I might be demonstrating compromise (or at least wondering if I had changed my mind toward organized religion… For the record, I haven’t). I’ve had friends who have read through my website and know what I believe, hear that I’ve visited churches with other friends on occasion and they’ve thought that I was being hypocritical or, at the least, showing inconsistency with what I’ve often blogged about. I’m quite certain that if they had any idea or truly knew me on a very personal basis, they would never so quickly presume such a thing. But I’m not angry at them… I understand the concerns. I’ve felt the same concerns at times with others I’ve known. I’ve even struggled with those concerns at the times when I’ve found myself sitting in a pew at the request of friends or because it’s important to a family member (and I didn’t sense that the Lord was necessarily prohibiting me, but the question certainly entered my mind whether it might look to some that I had changed my perspectives on churchianity). Even when I knew that in my heart I held no affectionate attachment to any of it (and was IN it but certainly not OF it) I still struggled with being there because, in all truth, I was not enjoying it and (most of you are aware from what you have read on this website) that I have much against the mindsets that dominate it and which are constantly working influence on those attending. How odd it feels to be so done with church and then, on occasion find myself there for various reasons. I get why some people might wonder if I was being inconsistent… But in those moments, it would be great if those people knew what was going on in my heart… I’m not much of a “participant”, truth be told. I’m observing things. Scriptures are often flying through my mind as I witness and encounter things in amazement that are being said or even sung sometimes. I am often praying the whole time. I am asking the Lord for wisdom. I am asking Him to give me spiritual eyes to see around me. I am asking Him to speak through me if necessary… and, yes, I am even open to Him teaching me through the experience or even the message given by the dude in the suit on the platform. I desire to be a humble vessel that God can work with. I never want to be too arrogant about what I think I know. Sometimes the Lord tweaks that knowledge just a bit and unless I learn to bend and yield with His voice, I know that it may result in a hardened heart. I never want that.
Believe it or not, God has opened up doors for me to befriend people, like professional pastors, whom you would think I’d probably never want to spend time with or that they would want to give me the time of day… and God sprouts a friendship and allows seeds to be planted.
So, my encouragement to you is to simply be led BY HIM. Not by your heart only. Our “heart” can mess us up so often (Jeremiah 17:9). Emotions can run us into all kinds of situations that are fraught with confusion and error. We need to grow in the area of tuning our spiritual ears to His voice. Sure, we’ll make mistakes sometimes (and believe me I do), but that’s no excuse to give up. God will grow us up in this area if we set our hearts and minds on allowing Him to. I have NOT arrived!
I do think it’s very important to realize that our identity as friends and followers of Christ is not so tritely identifiable as “us outside the church” and “those inside the church”, but our identity is found in Christ Himself. Jesus, while among us in the flesh, walked into our messes (He’s still walking into them). He was known as the “friend of sinners”. Somehow, the Lord Jesus who is holy and pure and without any sin, was able to be IN this world and yet not OF it. The Bible says that He was found in the Temple daily. We know, from Scripture, that He did not approve of much going on there. In fact, He rebuked the religious leaders for their errors, their greed, their abuse of widows, their failure to rightly lead people to God, their absolute incompetence as shepherds. He even called them a brood of vipers worthy of damnation! He proclaimed to the Jewish people that their Temple was left to them EMPTY and DESOLATE because they failed to embrace the One God had sent to them. Such strong pronouncements (and the Bible indicates that those religious leaders hated Him and wanted to destroy Him). It’s obvious that Jesus did NOT endorse any of it… But again I mention this… Jesus was found in the Temple daily and was even teaching there (Luke 19:47). Please note, I am NOT comparing the Temple to a modern church. The Bible makes no such comparison. But I am making a comparison to the business of religion (and the mindsets of the religiously-infected) that God Himself detests. The Temple, which was intended to be a holy place of prayer, had become as a den of thieves. It was filled with corruption and lies. Jesus endorsed NONE of it, but He still was not afraid to be led by His Father to those inside. He endorsed none of their faulty mindsets, but He was not afraid to stand among them to show God’s love, to share God’s Truth, and to set free all who would embrace Him. Jesus even went to the homes of some of those religious leaders and ate with them. The New Testament also indicates on MANY occasions that Jesus was found in the synagogues (the religious meeting places) EVERY WEEK! Again though, He was not OF it… He was the Light of the world, shining in the darkness! This same Jesus dwells in us! That means that WHEREVER we go in our day-to-day lives, we can shine His light in this world. The fact that we are sometimes present in places of darkness, does not mean we are endorsing the darkness. Jesus only did what He saw the Father doing! THAT is where we must live.
John 5:19 – So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by Himself. He does only what He sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.”
I’ll leave it right there. I hope you are encouraged. Don’t allow anxiety to overtake you because you have felt conviction about the errors of churchianity and sometimes find yourself in that environment. The important thing is to walk with Jesus. Don’t search for excuses to validate your actions. Seek for God’s wisdom to guide your actions. Let Christ live and move and breathe through you and rest confident in His Lordship. Sometimes religious people will have a problem with you… Sometimes even people who think they are not religious will also have a problem with you. In fact, sometimes the people who preach the most against religion, tend to manifest that religion has an even stronger grip on them than some of those they accuse of the same thing. Live for Jesus and don’t be intimidated by anyone!
1 Peter 2:15-17 – It is God’s will that your honorable lives should silence those ignorant people who make foolish accusations against you. For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. Respect everyone, and love your Christian brothers and sisters. Fear God, and respect the king.