The words of the prophet Jeremiah are jumping right off the page for me this afternoon. Though I read about God’s anger at Judah’s and Jerusalem’s unfaithfulness as they had replaced God with the worship of idols, with their pride and unrepentant hearts, there is an underlying powerful prophetic message in God’s heart through Jeremiah which speaks not of the judgement that came to God’s people in a distant and forgotten era, but of the very epidemic which is assailing God’s people even today .
I bumped into an old friend today in the supermarket, and we chatted for quite some time, as we had not seen each other in a while. From the moment I got up this morning, I knew that as I would go about my daily business, I would come across someone, and that I would find myself explaining to that someone why I no longer go to church. The thought was strongly imprinted on my mind this morning that I needed to be able to verbalise why I have stopped attending the Sunday service, why I am no longer a member of my local church. It was almost like I was being warned of an impending situation coming my way, and being equipped to navigate it to the best of my ability. For the last few weeks I had sensed the Lord saying: “Very soon, people will begin to ask why you are no longer going to church, and it is very important that the reasons you give are accurate and a true reflection of why you have come to such a decision.” It felt very much like the Lord was letting me know that there was great weight and consequence in the answer to that question, and that the path that other people would take would depend upon the choices that I am making in my own spiritual journey.
I know that members, old and current, of my local church read this blog. I know that some of you prefer to lurk in the depths of anonymity and pass judgement from the comfort of your own home on what I feel and write here, rather than leave me a comment or pick up the phone to let me know where you think I am failing. Others clearly agree with what I say but are far too proud to let me know so, because that would give me confirmation of what I believe the Lord is speaking into my life and that of so many, and you would rather allow me to continue wondering whether you do echo the things I see and hear from the Spirit of the Lord in the days we are living in than risk stroking my ego by offering me some much needed encouragement. But I tell you that wrong motives will always fail, and ultimately they will not succeed in causing the confusion they meant to achieve. The thing is that my walk is with the Lord. Yes, I very much appreciate any comments left on this site, but ultimately there is only one voice which commands my innermost being, one presence in my life who has the final word on all I do and undertake. I am ultimately not answerable to members of my church, broken cisterns like myself who cannot produce fresh springs of living water. It is the Lord who commands my life and it is only His direction that I seek and need.
Why am I saying all of this?, you must be wondering. I am aware that some of you out there are of the opinion that I am in a bad place, that I am struggling. Well, let me put those rumours to sleep, let me nip this misconception in the bud. I am not struggling, I am not in a bad place. I AM FINALLY FREE!
Let me explain! I love the people who make up my local church, without exception. All of us have some rough edges, which every now and then can cause wounds and rub some old ones, but if any of them needed me to stop all I am doing to help them overcome something big, to help them get through a rough patch, I would not hesitate to do it. In the very same way, every time my family experiences a big crisis, the church gang jumps right in be it with practical support, prayerful encouragement or simply by being there. Fantastic, right?
BUT therein lies the very problem! The Church today has become so good at playing Big Happy Families; the church has become so intent in protecting and nurturing its own, that it is no longer the church as Jesus Christ meant it to be, because if we were, we would snap out of it, we would act according to the word of God and we would wake up to the sickening reality that whilst we pat ourselves on the back for the love and support we extend our brothers and sisters, to those who “are in”, we are watching countless souls go to hell right outside the boundaries of our church, simply because they are not a part of it. We would give our arms and legs for each other within the local church, if that meant that we can continue celebrating together, laughing together, crying together, rejoicing together, suffering together, succeeding together, believing together, hoping together, loving together, eating together, partying together, socialising together. We have built castles, fortresses, walls, impenetrable spiritual bonds that to the outsider shout out: YOU ARE EITHER IN, OR YOUR ARE OUT, YOU EITHER BLINDLY TRUST IN THE AUTHORITY OF THOSE IN CHARGE OR YOU DO NOT BELONG, YOU EITHER FOLLOW THE “RULES OF THE GAME” OR YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO PLAY AT ALL, YOU EITHER BUY INTO THE WHOLE “LET’S DO CHURCH THING” OR YOU AUTOMATICALLY BECOME A THREAT, A NUISANCE, AN OBSTACLE IN PURSUING THE VISION OF THOSE WHO ARE IN CONTROL, THOSE WHO HAVE THE POWER TO DO AND UNDO.
Life inside the camp appears vibrant, genuine, healthy, happy, powerful, purposeful, Christ-centered, full of love, willing to be selfless, to serve and to sacrifice, but the reality is there is no life but death, spiritual death. We care for others so long as others care for what we care for: our local church, the vision, the ministries we are involved in, the leaders we personally believe in and support, the projects we undertake and are driven by. The moment you openly and publicly admit to no longer buying into what is being sold in the market that so many local churches have been turned into, all interest, love, support and encouragement vanishes like dust, and what was perceived as a union made in the heavens, an unbreakable spiritual bond forged in joy and affliction, was just a farce, a pretence, a means to an end.
When you begin to be absent, people immediately begin to talk to you as if you no longer belong to “the gang”, the “club”, whatever you want to call it. Prayer requests stop, emails go unacknowledged and unreplied, support for your own causes wanes, and ultimately you become totally invisible. One minute you are flavour of the month, the next you are a heretic who has lost her/his way. This is how members of a church go about their daily business: casting people’s spiritual fates into oblivion with the blink of an eye.
After much reflection, prayer and wrestling I came to realise that my local church makes for a great social entity, a solid clan, a faithful brotherhood, a supportive big family full of love and dedication to its members, but none of those things fulfill the calling that Christ placed on His people, His bride, The Church; they are all very commendable and valid in their own right, but they all fall dramatically and tragically short from the purpose that Christ has for His church in this world, at this hour. Our calling is to meet the needs of “the least of these”, of our enemies, of the lost, those who do not share our beliefs, our faith, our security, our health, our confidence, our hope. We know all this, we proclaim it, we repeat it like parrots to each other, we blurt it out to those whom we are trying to impress from our spiritual pulpits, but the reality remains that we would rather remain in the safety of the camp than venture out to the harvest; we would rather make ourselves look committed to a higher cause, namely our church, and sacrifice in the process the very calling of The Church: to lay our life down for another, to step out of the comfort of loving just those who love us and extend the same grace, compassion, forgiveness and mercy to those whom we perceive as a threat or as undeserving.
The reason why I have stopped going to Church? Little of what takes place in my local church has much to do with Christ or the commandments he gave to His people. Much of it however is to do with pushing forward a vision, with consolidating little kingdoms with kings and queens who have become “royalty” by human appointment and not by God’s anointing or a daily walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. For all the love, joy, support, nurturing and encouragement that members of the local church family offer to each other, the truth remains the lost remain lost and Evil continues to claim its victims, because those with the power to eradicate the darkness with the light they carry within are solely concerned with the preservation of the institution they have committed all their being, resources and time to; they are concerned with enticing the outsider with enough bait to ensure they bite in and buy into the hypocrisy and the fallacy they chose to buy into or were blindly driven to.
For weeks I have been absent and tried to imagine how would I come to know that the love of Jesus is present in the place where I live, was I not to be a Christian who is a member of a local church. The answer is that I witnessed nothing, saw nothing, heard nothing, experienced nothing which led me to believe or know that the local church was being the hands and feet of the Jesus that Christians are so good at preaching about. God has not placed a calling upon unbelievers to come looking and knocking on the doors of a church trying to find Jesus. God has placed a calling in the hearts of His people to go out and find those who cannot find Jesus for themselves and to love them unconditionally by providing them with the very thing they may be lacking. Satan does not need to blind the hearts and minds of unbelievers for that is already happening. It is the hearts and minds of Christians which the evil one has made numb and desensitized to the pain and need of a dying world. The Baal of old may no longer be made of gold and in the shape of a calf, but Baal is still worshipped in our churches today, for if it was Jesus Christ whom we worship and glorify, we would not be so concerned with our own comfort and well-being, with the success of our own plans and agendas, with using the churches money and resources for its own development and growth; we would be filled with shame, we would make mission our number one priority and not committee meetings, we would use our power and influence to do good and not to push out of the way or to discredit the people who do not agree with us, the people who no longer buy into our own vision and plans for the local church.
Why did I stop going to church? Because I was looking for Jesus and I could not find him there.