Another absolutely glorious morning here in the South of England. Thank you God, for this is the day that YOU have made.
My post “Converted to Christ, not Christianity” caused quite a bit of a stir with one of my closest spiritual friends who has been a follower and encourager of my blog ever since I started it. Sadly, this friend no longer wants to continue along side me in the journey. Her choice, not mine!
I have been giving a lot of prayerful thought and consideration to the issues she raised on the comment section of that post ever since she made it and actually for the last few years. It is not everyday that one is confronted with the statement: “Your belief that God is leading you outside/beyond the constraints of the institutional church is not scriptural. Stopping going to church is not scriptural”. I have read this kind of statement many times, but it had never come so directly from someone with whom I felt such a deep spiritual bond. It hurt. I will not lie to you, but most of all it shocked me. I know this person’s heart and I know she said the things she said because she is looking out for me, and wounds from a friend can be trusted, the book of proverbs assures us. However, I have to be faithful ONLY to the voice of the Lord in my life, no matter how well-intended other fellow brothers and sisters in Christ may be in trying to guide me down the “right” path.
As you know my husband and I coordinate an initiative in our village to help provide food for the homeless. We now have over 70 families/individuals who donate food once a month. We deliver all donations to a Drop-in Center run by the Salvation Army, and during the drop-in afternoons the homeless, victims of addiction, prostitutes, people on very low-income, and all sorts of people in desperate need of Christ’s unconditional love, receive exactly that. They are fed, nurtured, loved and they walk away with hope. The work this drop-in center does is in my eyes the call that Christ placed on His followers, on His Church: to be the light and the salt, to love our neighbour as ourselves; in essence to bring the love of Christ which overflows in our own lives to those who have none. How difficult and complicated has The Church of today made such a call? How many hurdles and bureaucracy does one have to jump over before actually fulfilling such clear and straightforward mandate from our Lord?
Let me share with you a portion of an email I received yesterday from one of the people who serves at the Drop-in:
“One young woman touched me quite a bit. She is living in a disused warehouse and is a heroin addict. She is very polite, honest and well-spoken. She told me of her need for money £40 a day to fund her habit or she is unwell. To get that money she either begs or prostitutes herself. This is why we are doing what we are doing. It’s not to score brownie points with God. It is to simply show people God’s love. Churches can do and say things that we don’t like or agree with, but the message we as Christians want to send is that we all mess up and you can never be too messed up for Jesus. I hope our drop-in does that in a totally non-patronising way. It is only by God’s grace I got a second chance at life, and I intend not to waste it, but to use this second chance to get as many people as God allows me to into His kingdom. ”
That very last sentence brought me to my knees filled deep with conviction from the Holy Spirit. I cannot for the life of me continue being part of something that in my experience has no integrity, as it claims to follow the voice of our Lord, but in reality has a mind of its own, a will of its own. Please, please understand that my issue is not with the members of any given church or with Christians in general, but with The Church as an institution set in stone, a rigid body which chokes the breath of the Spirit out of it; a rigid body which stops the blood from flowing through its veins; a body which claims to have Christ as its Head and many members who contribute by fulfilling their purpose within that body to maintain the whole healthy and to perform to its maximum potential, but which in reality has replaced the supremacy of Christ as its head for the voice of man who has become the captain and who together with his chosen commanders has absolute control over the whole ship, dictating how and when the rest of the members of that body must function and contribute to the whole; a body where its members for the vast majority sit passively and become obsolete, as most of its functionality is restricted to the head, ruled by man and not God; a body in which most of its members are not allowed to use gifts such as teaching or prophecy, because these would threaten the exclusive position of the clergy. A body like this does most certainly not operate as the Body of Christ but as a human organisation, and in so doing, the Spirit of God is quenched.
The Western Church in its majority is being used today not to bring the love of Christ and His redemptive power to a lost world, but simply to enhance man’s power and position. When I look at many churches in the UK in particular, I see organisations that drain people by their demands and expectations, instead of a fellowship which seeks to restore them by operating according to God’s pattern and will; I see the many parts of the Body which Christ clearly spoke of not working towards one and same goal, but trying to outdo each other by constantly coming up with new and innovative ways of doing church, running a church, and being a church, by giving themselves new denominations which clearly seek to be so different from the rest. Where is the unity of all parts of the Body working as a whole? Jesus prayed in the Last Supper that we would be one, just as Him and The Father are ONE. To continue being a member of such an unscriptural entity would surely only serve to perpetuate its deeply rooted principles which totally contradict the teachings of our Lord Jesus. Will we all continue to bury our heads in the sand under the lame excuse that church leadership and pastors do the best they can, and that they are only human? Will we not accept the fact that no matter how much we try to come up with new ways, vision statements and reform within the local church, it is often the very foundations of today’s understanding of what a biblical church should be that are completely flawed? Will we not be courageous enough to remove those foundations which we know are wrong? Will we not accept responsibility as Christian individuals for the part we have been called to play in extending the kingdom of God or will we continue passing on the bucket to those who claim to have a greater calling than the rest of us? Will we not be prepared to start afresh even when that means throwing away hundreds of years of tradition which by their own very extended history have become so engrained in our brains, so whitewashed, that one cannot tell what is true according to God’s word any more?
Last weekend, our next door neighbour’s cat got run over by a car right outside her house. Understandably, she was devastated as was our daughter who has been looking after this cat and grown increasingly attached to it over the last 4 months. When we popped round to console our neighbour, all she kept saying was that her cat was a roamer and that living by a main road, it was a matter of time before this would happen. However, despite constantly repeating this, in her heart there was an obvious sense of guilt and regret for having made the choice to keep an animal which was born to be free within the constraints of a home and specially so close to a busy main road. My husband and I did what we could to ease her pain and heartache. My husband and son dug a grave in our neighbour’s garden, and then later that day we visited her again. We gave her a lovely bright plant as well as a home-baked cake, but though she was touched, her heart remained inconsolable.
As I pondered on the pain of her loss and I prepared myself to explain to my 12 year old daughter the fact that her beloved animal had just been taken away in one split second, it suddenly dawned on me that this is very much how we go about doing church today. We say all the right things such as “Where the Spirit of God is, there is freedom”, but in actual fact the church which was meant to be a fellowship through which we enjoy together this journey of freedom, has become a place of bondage, for we no longer have the freedom to be who God created us to be, freedom to obey only the voice of the Lord and not that of men, freedom to follow the Holy Spirit and do even better things than the Lord Jesus Christ did during His ministry (“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. John 14:12 ), freedom to approach the Father directly, without intermediaries or permission slips, freedom to simply BE IN CHRIST. And so as this cat who was created to be a roamer and not a pet, became a prisoner in the four walls of my neighbour’s house only to be let out when its owner chose to, only to breathe the fresh air when its owner deemed appropriate, only to explore the wonders of God’s world independently from other animals when allowed to do so by one who has chosen to be its owner , to control its destiny, when all along a call deep within told him he was destined for freedom and not captivity. All of this led this poor animal one fine morning to push the boundaries imposed on him, to break the chains of restrictive living, to take a leap of faith, to follow the voice deep within that called him to Freedom, even when that freedom meant death. Living in Freedom is a calling that lies deep within all of us, and for Christians the answer to that call is Christ within. The trouble is the majority of us would rather live in the safety of captivity rather than push the boundaries, question the status quo and venture out into the unknown, because we know the call of the Christian is actually not to Lord it over others, or to live in submission of others abiding by their rules and understanding of how we should live out our faith, but to die to self and in that death, come alive to becoming the new creation that God destined us for. I will continue to push those boundaries out because within them I do not find Christ, but only the will of man who seeks to control and manipulate the very FREEDOM that Christ died to give us all.