• Faith

    Leaving Organized Religion (Part 1)

    This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series LeavingOrganizedReligion

    I’ve had issues with “church” (or, as some prefer to call it, ‘organized religion’) for many, many years. I have encountered way too much hypocrisy & legalism, and have never felt comfortable going to church every Sunday morning. I was practically forced to go to youth group as a teen, and then had issues at 2 of the 3 different churches I’ve attended in the last 20 years… issues that couldn’t just be overlooked, and so I left. My current church is definitely better than the other two were, but it still makes me uncomfortable, to an extent.

    Leaving Organized Religion: Part One | She Will Rise

    Back in 2009, while browsing in a bookstore, I came across a book called “Pagan Christianity” by George Barna & Frank Viola. I didn’t buy it, but just picked it up and skimmed through it. And, it piqued my curiosity. Here’s the description (from Amazon):

    Have you ever wondered why we Christians do what we do for church every Sunday morning? Why do we “dress up” for church? Why does the pastor preach a sermon each week? Why do we have pews, steeples, choirs, and seminaries? This volume reveals the startling truth: most of what Christians do in present-day churches is not rooted in the New Testament, but in pagan culture and rituals developed long after the death of the apostles. Coauthors Frank Viola and George Barna support their thesis with compelling historical evidence in the first-ever book to document the full story of modern Christian church practices.

    The book had me intrigued.

    Then I picked up a book from the local library that I originally had no intention of reading: “The Year of Living Biblically” by A. J. Jacobs. An online friend reviewed it, and that review prompted me to give the book a try, and see what I thought. Well, I thought it was a fantastic book, and it got me thinking even more! What really got me, though, was the revelation I took away from that: Nowhere in the Bible does it say we have to attend church (in a building) every week!

    People have always loved to quote me Hebrews 10:25, saying this was the mandate that we are to never stop going to church. Well, guess what? This verse does NOT say you have to “go to church”… it just says you aren’t to neglect meeting with other believers…

    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, NIV

    Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” ~ Hebrews 10:25, KJV

    And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” ~ Hebrews 10:25, NLT

    See? Even in the King James Version (which is thought to be one of the most reliable — closest to what was originally written), it says not to neglect meeting together with other believers. But it does NOT say you have to meet in a church building.

    Then, while online shortly thereafter, I came across yet another book: “So You Don’t Want to Go To Church Any More?” by Wayne Jacobsen. And, by Googling the author, I came across his website, LifeStream.org, where you can read a multitude of articles on why he no longer is a fan of “organized religion”, and about how he believes “church” means something different than what we have always believed it to be…

    Mr. Jacobsen says “Church is not somewhere you go; it’s something that you are“. We, the followers of Christ, are His ‘church’, His bride. Wherever we are to be found, that’s where “church” exists.

    And I really like this concept! 😉

    I read some of the articles on this LifeStream website, and apparently this is a growing trend… people are leaving the church building — the Sunday morning gatherings — and they are seeking out other believers that they can learn from and grow with, believers who share their same belief that you can’t limit God to man-made traditions.

    Personally, when I realized that the Bible doesn’t even say you have to “go to church”, but only that you have to continue meeting with other believers, I was so relieved! No longer do I have to give in to the guilt that’s heaped upon me when people ask me if I’m going to church regularly, and I have to say ‘no’. No longer do I have to accept the shame they try to instill in me for not going. Instead, I can relax, knowing that I make my weekly Bible study meetings a priority, and am thereby obeying the Biblical command to continue meeting together with other believers.

    {…to be continued…}

    Note: This post was originally written in 2009.

  • Faith

    Leaving Organized Religion (Part 2)

    This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series LeavingOrganizedReligion

    In my last post, I talked about how I feel God has shown me that I don’t need to go to church… it’s not a Biblical mandate. The Bible only says that we aren’t to neglect meeting together with other believers (Heb.10:25).

    Leaving Organized Religion: Part One | She Will Rise

    Well, I don’t want to give you the wrong impression… I might leave the church — meaning the Sunday morning services, or a specific congregation — but I won’t be leaving the faith. I am just tired of trying to live up to the man-made rules of religion.

    Wayne Jacobsen (author of “So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Any More“), in this article, puts it this way:

    Many people giving up on local institutions are not doing so because they’ve rejected Jesus, but finding that the culture of Christianity is actually diminishing their faith not enhancing it.

    I’ve always felt really guilty for not keeping up with the “spiritual disciplines”: prayer, fasting, Scripture reading, etc. I do read my Bible from time-to-time (though, not as consistently as I should), and my prayer life is fairly active… I pray off and on throughout every day, little prayers sent up about this or that. But I don’t sit down do have “quiet time” with God, normally, and that makes me feel like a “bad Christian”.

    While I realize that the spiritual disciplines are important, I also now realize that I was trying to make them into a “law”, more than a loving, grace-based action. If it doesn’t flow naturally from my love for God, then it’s law, IMHO. We should be so in love with our Lord that we naturally want to spend time with Him, and learn from Him, and grow towards being more like Him. Or, at least, that’s how I see it.

    For me, I feel pressured by other Christians to always be striving in my faith. But, faith isn’t supposed to be about striving. It’s supposed to be about relationship; about letting Christ live out His purposes through us. Unfortunately, I never feel “good enough” when I’m around other Christians. I always feel like they are looking down on me because I don’t make it to church every Sunday, or don’t participate in church events, or don’t serve in some way at the church. I don’t DO enough. But, again, it’s not supposed to be about trying to please others.

    As I said above, if you’re in a relationship with God, and He’s given the freedom to live out His purposes through you, then you’re going to be serving, or acting out the other disciplines of the Christian faith… they’ll just flow naturally from that relationship. It won’t be forced.

    In the same article mentioned above, Wayne Jacobsen says this:

    We were promised a relationship with God but were handed a religion of doctrines we had to believe, rituals we had to observe, obligations we had to meet and a standard of morality to adopt. While most of those were true enough, many found that their attempts to follow them did not produce either the life of Jesus it promised, nor the reality of true, caring communities of faith.

    And, again, this is where I relate. I don’t feel like I’m growing in my faith — only being stunted by the “rules of the game”, and by the condemnation received from those around me. To quote Rob Bell, in his “Sunday” NOOMA video, “God doesn’t want the meaningless rituals… God wants our hearts“.

    “The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen
    those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” ~ 2 Chronicles 16:9a

    So, I’m not going to let those things condemn me any more… I am going to live in the freedom Christ is showing me, knowing I don’t have to follow man-made traditions. I can continue to meet with other believers, both at Bible study, and in one-on-one visits with Christian friends. And, I can continue to pursue a loving relationship with my Lord… just apart from “organized religion”.

    It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.
    Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves
    be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
    ~ Galatians 5:1, NIV

    Note: This post was originally written in 2009.