Monday, December 27, 2010

Why church doesn't - or shouldn't - satisfy

In my life, sometimes by my choice and sometimes not, I've actively belonged to several different church denominations or communities, including (but not only) fundamentalist, roman catholic, charismatic, progressive mainstream, and emergent ones. And though I stopped "belonging" anywhere more than a few years past, in the last several months I've been off and on going along with friends who want to try new churches each week in hopes of finding a "spiritual home" -- so, my thoughts have been stoked anew regarding what's available "in church".

And I find that things just don't change very much.

Oh, what things look like, talk like, or offer changes. The music changes, what you call each other changes, what kinds of religious doo-dads are used changes (wafers vs bread, high tech vs low tech gadgets, etc), and that kind of thing. And every single new generation (yes, including mine, 30 years ago) even comes along to say that everyone who came before just doesn't get the Real Truth (tm) but THEY do, and then they put forward a Brand New Thing (tm) that's Finally Right (tm) -- except that anyone who looks discovers that all that too will in a few years be overrun and trashed by the next generation following (which will itself bad-mouth everything that came before them, and so it goes). So 'round and 'round it goes.

And like a spoon of dry sugar, or day-old fast food fries, it just doesn't satisfy.

And it shouldn't.

Because if it did or does satisfy, it means we really believe:
  • "Our ways are better than God's ways." We do like human ways of being and doing better than God's ways. For example, even in churches that claim "everyone's equal" or "everyone's loved" or "everyone's right", the human heart always finds ways to draw lines between who's some kind of pastor/priest/pope and who's not, and to lay out better accommodations for those who are loved just a little bit more than others, and to give kudos to those on the "right-right" team and cut out those on the "wrong-right" team, and so on. And the more organized a group of people becomes, and the longer they've been an organized group, the more full of themselves they become (yes, even the latest "Finally Right" people of today, who are already being overrun by the next "Better Than Thou Who Came Before" generational arrogance). It takes no time at all for us to decide that since doing things our way makes us happier and is easier than God's way, and since God loves us, doing things our way is actually God's way. Bleh.
  • "Our church, by pleasing God, is the center of the (or our) universe". Doesn't matter how "good" a person or church we are. Each and every one of us struggles (or should struggle!) against imagining that the godly things we can love, form, build, and do are a huge part of what's important in the scheme of our lives and the lives of others around us -- bigger even than that part of God's plan (which is actually His whole plan) that is so much bigger and greater than any pathetic little thing we could do or be as to make our stuff basically nonexistent. We're victims of our secular and religious cultures, which have taught us to feel good about being Number One, when God would have us feel good about being Number 6,890,490,454 (as of 18:33 UTC [EST+5] Dec 27, 2010). We're taught that things are going right between us and God when we feel emotionally and physically satiated, when God would have us feel things are right between us and God when we're doing what He said to do. We're taught that being loved and valued is the most important thing God can give us, when God wants us to know that being able to love and make others feel valued by God is His greatest gift to us. Because we don't truly have a real understanding of Christ's message that the only way to be on top is to love the bottom, and the only way to be first is to push everyone else ahead of us in line, we can have the most open, loving, and sacred hearts in the world -- but we're still putting ourselves above God.
  • Either, "God orders us to oppress women, the poor, Gay/Lesbian people, people of Middle Eastern descent, etc -- so we do", or "Because God hates oppression, we snuggle up to everyone (even those actively harming others among us, trashing our (and God's) whole mission, or steering us away from the Gospel)." Pick one. They're both positions held in high regard by their proponents, but they are two sides of the same coin. They're both wrong -- not only in real-world practice, but also according to New Testament ways we're supposed to be and do in our lives.  

    'Course, if we find any of these things to be problems, we're invited to "fix" them by getting into a "conservative" church -- or a "progressive" one. Or by changing denominations -- or becoming "nondenominational". Or by going to a straight church -- or a Gay one. Or even by joining up with one of those "OUR generation figured out the truth all you older folks were too stupid/selfish/sheep-like to come up with) things.

    But those things don't fix the problem, because the problem is the rot on the inside, and not the color of the decorations on the outside. Everywhere, it always becomes or stays the same.

    And that rot travels with us everywhere we church-plant or fellowship or whatever, as long as we see and understand church (even "un-church") as based in two things:
    1. What we can do for God -- like our religious accomplishments, do-goods, etc. -- and,
    2. What God can do for us -- like give or protect our crap, make us never have to suffer or be unhappy, put us into trancey la-la's every church meeting, etc.
    That's not what being a Christian is all about. God didn't create us or come to die on the Cross so that we'd have the same relationship with Him that pagans do with earth gods and wood spirits. If we are Christians, we're supposed to be doing something different than the rest of the world. We're not supposed to be "better" -- we're just supposed to be about the real God and what He means to accomplish before this is all done.

    And when our church is nothing more than a Christian-looking pagan faith?  

    Then it doesn't -- or shouldn't -- satisfy. 

    A lot of the time, we wail and moan if we aren't having a great church experience. I know, as I've spent enough of my years doing it, and I've sat alongside a number of you while you were doing it too.

    What I've discovered, though, is that when I started understanding church, and God, and God's plan, in the way that God shares through Jesus and the Bible (as He put it in its original languages and contexts) -- and stopped obsessing on how I or other human beings would like all that to be instead -- a lot of better things started to happen in my spiritual (and emotional, and physical) life.

    Examples? Here's three:

    I just see one church now -- one Body of Christ -- one set of Christians. It's been awhile since I've seen lots of individual churches, or any denominations. In fact, though I don't often say anything because I don't want to be rude, at this point in my life I'm kind of embarrassed for people who are really proud of their individual little religious spots or fellowships as if they are anything more than just a little drop in a great big bucket. I'm proud to be a tiny, tiny little speck of a drop in God's great big bucket -- and I'm proud of all my other tiny, tiny brothers and sisters, too.

    I also don't worry anymore about whether someone has the right "credentials" to "do ministry". Human beings use "credentials" as a way to manage power and goodies in their religious organizations, and as a way for many to avoid the responsibility God puts on every believer (Human beings buy "No, I just give money each week, and the minister takes care of feeding the hungry, telling people about Jesus, etc", but God doesn't). Today, I judge whether someone is qualified to be a minister based on what they accomplish: did they make someone feel loved or cared about? did they show up with a bag of food (not just their throwaways) for the hungry? did they pass out tracts or talk to their neighbor about Jesus? did they help their persecuted brothers and sisters in other lands, with letters of encouragement or blankets or bibles or...? did they take care of and pray for those who hurt them? are they growing in the fruit of the Holy Spirit (and not following after any spirit that will amuse them with spiritual tricks)? did they do these things making sure God got the glory and thanks, and not them? Then stamped and sealed: QUALIFIED TO MINISTER.

    I don't worry about my salvation or begin to lose my faith if I'm long out of some "church". In fact, I realize now that most of my best spiritual growth in my life has either occurred while I was away from any church, or despite the church I happened to be in. That's because churches are full of people whose primary action is to get, maintain, and praise their physical church -- and not really about doing God's work of feeding, caring, loving, and healing. For example, if every Christian church in the world were to sell everything it owned and put it to helping the poor, no one would go hungry, or be without medical care or clothing or clean water or a roof over their head for dozens upon dozens of years. What a testament to God's goodness that would be! Imagine the billions of people who would turn to Christ because of that! But Christians still attached to buildings and religious doo-dads and human organizations haven't yet learned to see and be God's way in the world -- so anyone not following their lead is already potentially in a much more spiritually healthy spot!

    And that's what a lot of this comes down to:

    It's NOT a good thing to be satisfied with something that's crap.

    It's not a good thing to enjoy smoking cigarettes. It's not a good thing to drink and drive. It's not a good thing to ignore our conscience. And it's not a good thing to be happy in a church that makes God sit quietly in a back pew somewhere, only bringing Him up front when they want Him to make someone speak in tongues or to guarantee tithes will keep coming in or to pronounce two people married.

    Not satisfied in your church? Good! More time for Jesus.

    This article written by Lynne at No Junk. Just Jesus. You can contact Lynne at