Nearly 3 years ago I made the decision to leave the institutional church, it was a tough decision for me to make. If I was wrong it would almost certainly have a negative effect not just on me, but on my wife and kid as well. I had not been offended by the church we were attending nor was I backsliding. I simply had it impressed on my spirit that if we stayed we would eventually wither away and die. Around about the same time I started feeling this way I started to meet lots of Christians who were thriving spiritually despite their lack of church attendance. I had some real thought provoking books come across my path as well so soon enough my wife and I made the leap of faith.
It has been the most exciting 3 years of my journey thus far and as a family we have learnt and grown more than we dared imagine. I was reflecting a bit on this recently and so I decided to put pen to paper (or keyboard to Microsoft office word) and write some of the lessons learned that have taken place down over here. These are probably subject to change, hopefully only in deepening of understanding though. Coming from a charismatic and then more of a fundamentalist type of background, I have become a master at learning and unlearning things in the past, something that continues today… These thoughts are brief and therefore run the risk of being misunderstood but I really think that it is going to be quite lengthy already without expounding too much.You can always leave a comment to question something or send an email to email@example.com if any points are unclear. If you are reading this it may appear very critical of organised religion, that is not my objective at all. God is undoubtedly meeting people within those walls and programs. The intention here is simply to point to what God is doing outside of the box.
So anyway, here are 10 things that I have learnt since I left the institutional church.
1 - Your new heart is not desperately wicked and deceitful.
This may seem a little unrelated, but it was an absolutely vital thing to learn to trust my heart again. I’m sure there are exceptions, but whichever churches that I attended when I was growing up, we had Jeremiah 17:9 thrust down our throats, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it?”. But Ezekiel 11:19, 18:31 and 36:26 and other similar verses speak about God giving us new hearts. Once I took a step back and was out on my own, and couldn't sit back and pay the professional to give me a “thus saith the Lord” anymore. I needed to start hearing Gods voice for myself. I have seen many who have left organized religion behind still battling with this and 5 years down the line they are still reliant on hearing sermons via the internet from the same guys saying the same old things. As important as it is to learn from others, we have to learn to hear Gods voice for ourselves. And he really has 2 primary ways of speaking to us, one being through scripture and the other being to our hearts. Yet most people are taught that they cannot trust their hearts and so they never learn sensitivity to the Spirits nudging. And the truth is that we cannot rely on scripture alone to guide us into all truth because even those who have it cannot seem to agree on its interpretation. We need to exercise ourselves in both interpreting scripture and hearing Gods voice until they can exist in perfect harmony.
2 – There are no vestigial organs in the body of Christ.
This is pretty simple, but I used to think that this meant that 95% of us were there to shake strangers hands at the church door once a week, help with slides on the screen during worship or help make coffee and be content warming a bench the rest of the service. Sadly, every little job the church may find for people to do is still to prop up that one man in front at the end of the day. The greeters make you feel welcome, the worship team gets you into the mood, the Sunday school teachers keep the kids away and the sound guy makes him heard, all so the preacher can deliver his sermon more effectively. In the true ekklesia, regardless of location, each one has a job that directly puts the spotlight on Christ. It may not happen at a certain time or location every week and it generally has nothing to do with a program. It is a natural outflow of living in Christ.
3 – Sola Scriptura sounds better than it really is.
3 – Sola Scriptura sounds better than it really is.
This is in no way a criticism of scripture, neither is it meant to reflect negatively toward the importance of sound doctrine. I am truly thankful for the book that I have many worn out copies of on my shelf, which truly is inspired in a unique way. Many have given their lives that we may own it. However, this motto or mindset of “scripture alone” has been the cause of more division than any other factor in the last 2000 years. The protestant church has splintered into 46 000 denominations in just 500 years because it has chosen to center around the word that became ink rather than the word that became flesh. Paul admonished the Corinthians for following men and dividing Christ (1 Cor 1:12-13). Yet we have totally chosen to ignore what he said, we have followers of Calvin, Wesley, Luther etc etc. Where brothers are centered on Christ, there can be disagreements and unity.
4 – Let’s not forsake fellowship.
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together is vital. Yet the institutional model only creates the illusion of fellowship. A few smiles, some singing followed with staring at the back of somebody’s head for an hour or so was not what the author of Hebrews had in mind (it couldn't have been because church services had not even been invented yet). The truth is that we need each other; scripture is filled with “one anothering” verses. We cannot love as Christ instructed if the church does not become relationally focused beyond the Sunday gathering.
5 – It’s about the kingdom, not about religion.
Religions have many things in common; they all have clergies and laity, priests and laymen, places of worship, holy days and money boxes. Christ never came to start another religion though, He preached what the New Testament calls the gospel of the kingdom, so did John the Baptist, the 12 disciples and the other well known folk of the bible. Early Christianity was not even considered a religion, the Romans in their ignorance even mocked the Christians thinking that they were atheists. It was not until hundreds of years after Pentecost that Christianity under Constantines guidance became a religion. “The Pilgrim Church” and “The Torch of the Testimony” are 2 great books dealing with the subject.
6 – The gospel of salvation is a half truth.
John 3:16 is true and it is truly good news, but it is still only a half truth. Scripture does not speak of the gospel of salvation, nor does it speak of the gospel of finances and prosperity as one lady tried to convince me while channel flipping earlier today. The gospel is of a kingdom and a King! A casual stroll through the New Testament reveals this and while it is certainly Gods desire for everyone to change the way they think, call on Christ and be born again. His plan is bigger than that! The gospel of salvation is self centred, while the gospel of the kingdom is about God. The gospel of salvation deals primarily with two events, the moment of salvation and the moment we go to heaven, whereas the gospel of the kingdom deals with our transference from one kingdom into another in the now!. The gospel of salvation is great, but there is so much more than that.
7 – The love of Christ compels us, not the obligation to perform.
Religion thrives on using shame to get people to do things. And of course we like to measure our works against those of others because we never quite know if we are doing enough. If Christ has not put it in your heart to love and serve, then I think that we need to check our motives for doing the things that we are doing.
8 – Religion is dangerous.
The world laughs at Christians, the atheists are not shy to poke fun at us and very rarely can we argue with their accusations because what they say is generally true. Sadly, I always find myself pleading with them to see the difference between Jesus and what he taught as opposed to the organizations and peoples who “represent” him. I do believe religion (as we use the word in modern times) within any faith can be dangerous, including Christianity. It creates Pharisees and the only thing more dangerous than unrighteousness people is self righteousness people.
9 – God is not who I thought he was.
In the last 3 years my perception of who our Father is has dramatically changed from someone who would kill his own son so that he could again talk to us (doesn't seem fair or just does it?), into a Father who loved his creation so much that he was actively involved in the redemption of it. I think a lot the “cheap grace” teachers out there have given grace a bad rep because of a lack of understanding regarding sanctification. Likewise those who slam the grace of God don’t seem to understand “justification". I have so fallen in love with the story of the Prodigal son in Luke 11. God is so big and we will continually be learning more of who he is far into eternity, I am confident in His love as portrayed in that one short story of the loving Father who shows grace and love to the prodigal son and then extends the same love to the equally lost older brother.
10 –Our life is in the vine.
John 15 has also really come alive for me, learning that the Christian life is not one of trying to follow the new set of rules which overthrew the Mosaic ones, but one of surrender to Him. Only Christ can live like Christ did, but he can do it through us as well, as long as we allow him to do so. A branch cannot bear fruit of its own accord, cut it off from its source and it withers and dies…