Monday, September 20, 2010

When is it ok to walk away?

Last week Pope Benedict XVI visited Great Britain for the first time in centuries and in the face of the ongoing child abuse scandal. Some demonstrators were so bold as to say that the Catholic Church "murdered" their souls. Despite this, they still identified themselves as Catholic: "I am a Catholic, but my faith is in God, not in those church officials who have covered this up," one of the demonstrators said. Valid point, but why stay committed to that church?

At the same time, we have the audience Michael Spencer is writing to in Mere Churchianity; those who have left their churches and in some cases Christianity altogether because of abuse, hypocrisy, luke-warmness, and countless other reasons. Last week, I listed some specific examples. Each of these had valid reasons to leave, but I think just as importantly, each have a valid reason to return: the church is not Christ and Michael continues to hammer this point as we continue through his book.

Let us consider these "sins" of the church: abuse, hypocrisy, luke-warmness. You could add neglecting its mission, being polluted by the world's values or even other religions. If this sounds familiar and you find yourself shouting, "preach it brother!" recognize that this isn't anything new. In fact, these are the same claims Jesus himself brought against the church in Revelation. In other words, the Church has been screwing up since it was founded. Not that that makes it ok. In fact, Jesus had some very harsh words to those churches. So today we continue to re-vector our programs, our polity, our preaching to make sure our eyes are "fix[ed] on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith." (Hebrews 12:2)

This is in fact the point Nancy Rosback makes in response to my query "But I wonder, how much responsibility should be on us, Joe six-pack Christians and our failure to recognize that little-c church is made up of people who make mistakes and is different from the big-c Church?" Her reply:

I was wondering when this topic would come up for discussion.

I actually think that Michael, as a pastor, was truly concerned for the people that have left Church, and wanted to reach out to them.

I also think that Michael was wanting to get a message to Church groups, that they must not lose sight of Jesus as the reason for being.

The thing is, if one really looks at any church from the beginning, we can see that human groups have not been able to keep there eyes on the source.

Yet, i think that God continues to renew His Church (capital C).

And that is why we see the changes in the small c Church over the centuries. There are always people that start new groups, thinking they have the answer to make it right. But, even if they are on the right path at first, many people lose sight of the reason for being.
and on it goes.

renewal happening in hearts, but, not all hearts, we are all growing in the same field until the harvest.

it IS a battle, a spiritual battle. the Word says this.

and i truly believe that God is going to continue to renew His Church, big C, no matter what anyone does.

As believers, we must allow ourself to be renewed, so that we do not become blind.

Now how this plays out in each individual life is up to God and that individual.

I do not BELONG to a little c- Church, even though i may gather with people that do. I choose to go with my eyes open to Jesus, or to not go with my eyes open to Jesus, and pray that i always will have my eyes open to Jesus.

We need to seek out others to encourage in Jesus... and in this we will be encouraged in Jesus.

How this is done, is in the Love of God. That is the ONLY way.

Where this is done, is anywhere that God leads each person to do it.

It can be done anywhere.

Here are some basics that i don't ever want to leave, ever:

God is in charge of His Church,

Love God with my heart,

Love others,

and keep my mind on the fact that my Lord, Jesus Christ, is actually with me every second. (in many ways)

Can't argue with much of that, but I will anyway. Keeping in mind, there are 51 "one another" instructions (some are more strongly worded as commands) to the Church found in the New Testament. Many of these cannot be followed outside of an authentic church community. One specifically, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." (Hebrews 10:25) Yes, you could argue that you can still have an authentic Christian community and not call it "church". But then I'd just turn around and call you a "house church". I guess whatever form it takes, we need each other for encouragement, for sharpening, for instruction, and for worship.

And this still doesn't address the countless numbers who have walked away from the Church for any and every reason.

Keeping in mind Jesus' own words to forgive not seven times, but "seven times seventy" times (Matthew 18:22) and to leave any offering to the Lord and first "be reconciled to your brother" (Matthew 5:23-24) yet "It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin." (Luke 17:2) Add to that Paul's instructions to "submit to every authority" (Romans 13:1 and also Hebrews 13:17) and to "not put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way" (Romans 14:13, but really the whole chapter applies). And finally going back to Hebrews 10:25 above and the example of abused Catholics at the beginning of this post, my question this week is:

At what point is it ok to leave the church?

And when should one return?

This continues the discussion of Mere Churchianity. More of the conversation can be found at Bend the Page and Faith, Fiction and Friends.


Fatha Frank said...

To be fair, I'll start. I hesitate saying I "left" the Catholic Church more than I "moved on". I wasn't seeing the lifestyle described in Romans 12 and I saw most who worshiped the church more than they worshiped Jesus. I ended up where I am because I saw people who genuinely wanted to live like Christ's disciples and who called one another to the same. Have we screwed up? Absolutely! But I've never considered leaving. Exploring, maybe, but never leaving.

I think walking away because of an issue only magnifies the issue but doesn't resolve it. People left behind are hurt, and sometimes leaders overcompensate in reaction. Instead I think it is better to stick around to address the issues. Sometimes leaders are too prideful to hear criticism, and I'm grateful I haven't faced that yet. If I did, I don't know, maybe I would have to leave.

Glynn said...

We left a church after 15 years -- and it was like a divorce -- wrenching, dislocating, anguished -- and yet to stay would have been worse. We were not in the first and major wave of people who left; we stayed to try to deal with the issues and because we loved the people in our Sunday School class. We finally understood that it was be miserable or find a new church home. Close to half the church ended up leaving; the church itself imploded and has never recovered.

We eventually joined a new church, but it amazes me how much the shadow of the old church lingers over us.

Fatha Frank said...

Glynn, I appreciate your comment and your experience. I don't want to minimize that it any way. It sounds like a case of leadership being too prideful to listen or change. You saw the hurt first-hand. I've seen too many church splits just like this and I know it is not what Jesus intended praying for unity in John 17.

I think my question would be better stated as, can we go at it alone? I've met countless numbers of people who tell me their relationship is 'personal'. But I don't believe it works that way. I don't believe it can.

A Simple Country Girl said...

First of all, thank you FFrank for this. As I have stated at Nancy's and Glynn's, I have to gather my rolling thoughts for a post of my own.

Second, as I have shared previously, we too left our church (the one where we were baptized and stayed for 6 years). So for your question, I reckon it is okay to leave the little-c church when you speak up time and again with sound biblical doctrine, when you speak up as a compassionate human, when you speak up with love as a leader, when you have to remove your child from the service due to worldly adult content on the video screen or dripping out of the new preachers mouth, when someone comes in and rules with an iron hand instead of leading with a servant's heart.

Did we leave the big-C Church? No way! Did we grow closer to Jesus of Nazareth? You betcha, we did!

Basically when the Bible becomes something other than THE WORD OF GOD, leave. Don't leave Christ, no, never do that. Leave those who have already left, but remain with their bodies.

Chapter 5 of "Radical" addresses something akin to this Chapter of "Mere Christianity" too. "How do all of us join together to fulfill God's purpose?"


Anonymous said...

i don't know the answer to your question. But, i do think that perhaps we should meet with at least one other believer regularly, and i don't do this. You may have just encouraged me to do this.

As for the chruches...
after reading the paperwork i needed to sign to become a member of the chruch, which i was attending, i could not bring myself to sign. it felt like i was trading God for a bunch of rules and strange doctrine.

it just felt wrong to me.

i want to belong to Jesus, i don't want to sign on the dotted line to belong to a doctrine.

There is so much that anyone can say that is wrong with any chruch groups, and the older the group, the more wrong we can see, just like in ourselves. I think that we are to fight evil with Love.

You see, i think that we are beginning to realize that we have not really been tested.
That we have yet to learn what Love is.

gathering or not gathering, i am thinking that it is time for each of us to ask for one or two people and be involved in their life for a few years, and encourage them to do the same. and then maybe, in a while start again with a couple more.

i think that thinking to hard about the little c chruches is a distraction from what we each should be doing.

gather with those who encourage one another, go together in twos or threes the rest of the time, being involved, friends, oneanother.

i think, that each of us can make all the difference. If each of us made the changes maybe we should be and are not.

thank you for your post.
in Love

Fatha Frank said...

SCG, thank you for your thoughts. If you voice your concerns, stand on the Bible, and are not heard or respected, then there's not much else to do. It is always sad to come to that. I only pray that you have found authentic community where you can grow closer to Christ. We cannot do it alone.

Fatha Frank said...

Nancy, where in the Bible did anyone ever become part of the Church by signing paperwork? That's legalism if I've ever heard it.

You're on the right track finding other to 'do life together'. I believe that's what we are called to do. I recommend Chip Ingram's book, Living on the Edge or you can read my seemingly endless discussion on the book by clicking the R12 tab.

Thanks for stopping by (was wondering when you were gonna)!

Anonymous said...

i think that thinking to hard about the little c chruches is a distraction from what we each should be doing.

i thought this might be unclear.

i think that thinking too hard about any little c chruch group in any way negative is an evil distraction from what each of us as believers should be doing. Jesus, our daily bread, forgivng as we will be forgiven...Loving one another. So important, but so easily distracted away to to see the importance.

not like a have an opinion or anything...

Anonymous said...

thank you for the book recomendation.

maybe i will read the book...and the discussion.