Growing Out of Church

Interesting article about a prominent church author leaving the institutional church. The comment that caught my attention was this one the blog author wrote:

Finally, John Eldredge says, “The accusation is that we are backsliding, but the fact is, we are living a richer Christian experience than ever.  It’s mature Christians who have opted out of church.

That’s a good way of putting it. Church is mainly designed for new believers who are clueless about what it means to be a Christian. Once done teaching that, it only makes sense that one gets “out of school” as it were, and goes out into the big world as it is. It’s like leaving home for the first time to go to college or to get married. Some of us leave happy homes and have a hard time getting out there. Some of us leave bad environments and can’t wait for freedom. Church is like that. It’s a religious school for the baby Christian. I know that I felt church could no longer offer me much, especially if I was learning and believing vastly different things than they were willing to teach. When someone with an insatiable curiosity chooses to stay in that environment, one learns to either turn off one’s questioning ability completely or come up with some pretty creative answers to hard questions. Like going to the movies, when you go to church and listen to what they tell you, you need a high threshold of suspension of disbelief in order to get through it. At least I did.

I miss it sometimes.  However, while I can romantically and nostalgically remember my time in church, while I can read about doctrinal disputes and dogmatic questions, while I can keep an eye on the establishment and decry the base wickedness of clergy abusing children or parishioners swindling each other, I cannot seem to accept it all at face value any longer. There’s a time I’d like to crawl back into that comforting womb and be innocent and wide-eyed again (not that I was ever that!).  But leaving church is like the child who realizes her parents aren’t these god-like beings she always thought they were. She discovers they too have feet of clay and don’t know what’s going on either. They just act like they do. It’s an evolutionary necessity to get the young raised and out the door. So like a parent, a healthy religious institution should send “mature” Christians on their way into the world like we send our children into adulthood. Wouldn’t that be the logical thing to do? Because what makes it all worth it is that moment you realize that you are now on your own. It’s scary, but what a giddy, wonderful feeling to be free and trusted to make your own decisions about your life!

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“Cursed is the One Who Trusts in Man..”

People who’ve read this blog know my struggles. They know the problems I’ve had with faith and with churches and with the bible.  I’ve turned my back on all three and I’ve turned to one or the other at various times since then. At one time, I thought I had the answers. Now I know I don’t. It’s clear to me that I will never have peace about it. When things are at their toughest I know where I choose to turn, but faith has to be more than just a fail-safe method when faced with hard times, illness, or even death.

During my recent struggles with major life changes (moving, divorce, illnesses) I’ve sometimes turned back to those things I swore I wouldn’t and I’m still confronted with the same old platitudes that make no sense to me. The bible is full of them. Church is full of them. Yet no one can explain what they mean or how it should be lived. For example, I am going to attend a series of studies put on by a local non-denominational church for those going through separation and divorce. I’m doing it for the support mainly, but of course there will be bible study and discussion. None of my hard questions are ever really answered there. I’m convinced that no one will be able to answer them, but studying them is still something I’m willing to entertain. Well, to set the tone of the support group, a series of emails are being mailed to me with short devotions about divorce. In yesterday’s devotion I was struck by this:

When you are making decisions regarding a new relationship, do not make any decisions based on your feelings. Feelings are temporal and not always rational, no matter how strongly you may feel them. Be wise and take the time to grow and to build your life on a strong foundation…The Bible says you should not depend on humans—yourself or other people—to be strong for you. You must only depend on God. “This is what the LORD says: ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD'” (Jeremiah 17:5).

I can’t begin to tell you how many times Christians have said this in worship, in bible study, in prayer meetings, on television, on the internet, everywhere. Yet, no one can tell me what that really means. First, how can any human being NOT rely on feelings when feelings are all we have to communicate danger, anger, fright, love, etc.? What does it mean to shut down all feelings when decision making? I’d like an example. When faced with two decisions of equal weight and import, feelings are always the deciding factor, aren’t they? And what does it mean when someone writes “do not depend on humans–yourself or other people–to be strong for you. You must only depend on God.”??

God is an immaterial entity that does not directly interact with human beings in any discernibly supernatural way. When we need groceries do we pray for them? No, we wait until we have money and we buy them. Or someone takes pity on us and gives them to us. Was God being depended on in this situation or people? I’d say the people. Yet, we are “cursed” if we turn to them for help and not “the Lord.” Harsh. Christians always like to say that other Christians are “God with skin on.” Yet when Christians fail to help other Christians the failure is always on the part of those who “lacked faith.” This is cheap simplistic faith in my opinion.  If faith is true and worth anything, it needs to wrestle with the hard issues and not fall back on plastic platitudes that mean nothing in reality.

I am really struggling still with questions like these and how that’s supposed to play out in reality and I’ve been “converted” since 1983! I can’t settle for the easy answers because they mean nothing. Some Christians say they have numerous answers to “prayer” yet others say theirs are never answered. Would any of us dare to say that those who don’t receive are at fault for “lack of faith” or “depending too much on people for strength?”  I wouldn’t dare say that. Arrogance doesn’t become us in that instance. There are times that I’d really, really like to rely on my faith again, especially when things get tough. But, in the midst of it, I’m reminded of the less than comforting answers like those above. So, I’m still going to that bible study, which starts in September. And I’m going armed with questions like these. Any thoughts before I go?