What is church? Who knows anymore?
We all know it’s not a building, it’s people (even if we refer to some buildings as “churches” in our colloquial shorthand).
But whatever else church is, one thing’s clear: plenty of people are done with it.
Most recently, I read a discussion between some guys on social media, at least one of whom has pastored and has a seminary degree, and is now done. He gave his reasons, which seem to be fairly typical of the dones, but I’ve found myself wanting to ask some questions.
So this is for him and all the rest of the dones out there.
You say you’ve left the church but not Jesus, and you’ve intrigued me.
I don’t want to argue; these are legitimate questions.
Of course, before I ask them, I want to be totally honest. I might be reacting because your journey threatens mine.
I’m a vocational pastor; for the last 11 years I have fed, clothed, and sheltered my family with a paycheck given to me by an organized, institutional church. I presume they gave it to me so that I could devote my working hours to various forms of ministry, and I’ve always believed this was in the spirit of 1 Timothy 5:17.
But your form of Christianity basically says that I am unnecessary, and, let’s face it, if every Christian followed your path to health and freedom, there wouldn’t be anyone to pay me anyway.
(I should add that in my situation this would likely mean an increase in pay, as well as an easier schedule, not to mention freeing up my weekends.)
And you should also be aware that I am actually preparing to start a church. Naturally, I might find people on your trajectory to be frustrating even though I share some of your concerns and aim to avoid many of the same things as you.
So, I can’t be totally objective.
And I’ve still got my questions…
I’d love to hear your answers. Here they are (in no particular order):
How do you practice Ephesians 4:11-16 in your Christian life? (This is the passage about Jesus giving special people to the church to help equip each person in it to contribute to the health of the whole, by teaching truth and discerning error.)
How do you practice other passages like Hebrews 3-4 or 10 or 1 Corinthians 14, which refer to corporate assembly and mutual member ministry?
Who shepherds you? (I realize that may sound horribly patronizing, and I don’t mean it that way. But the apostles seemed to think it necessary in their absence – Acts 20:28-29 / 1 Peter 5:1-4. Sorry, not arguing. Maybe a better question would be, Who watches out for your soul? Besides Jesus, of course. Think, Hebrews 13:7 or 17)
When you evangelize those around you without any embarrassing church ties, and God supernaturally converts a soul through your witness, how do you help them experience the family of God?
How do you handle baptism? Or communion for that matter? (Of course, communion isn’t technically commanded like baptism is, but how do you “discern” the body of Christ while avoiding it?)
If spiritual gifts are given for the benefit of building up the body of Christ, what should people with the gifts of leading or teaching or prophesying do?
If you interpret all of the New Testament references to the organized church in terms of “that was then, this is now,” how do you still maintain that things like homosexuality or adultery are sin? (I’m assuming a lot here. Do you still have a category for calling certain things “sin?” I confess my ignorance here; that’s why I’m asking.)
In your life, what are weddings and funerals going to look like?
Without church you can’t really practice Matthew 18 or 1 Corinthians 5, so how can you tell if you’re really enjoying “Christian” fellowship or just hanging out with the neighbors?
Speaking of fellowship (of the Philippians 1:5 sort), is there any place for missions to unreached people groups in your faith? How does that work?
I really want to know. Ordinarily, I would have started with why, but I think you’ve already told me.
And look, I get a lot of what you’re saying. I’ve been in a lot of churches that would have driven me to desertion too. I think I’m with you in a lot of ways…
I hate church marketing.
I hate millions of dollars spent on religious “eye candy.”
I hate psychological, self-help, power-of-positive-thinking junk served up with a Christianesque veneer.
I hate it that people can “attend church” for decades and know as little of the Bible as a new convert.
I hate the professionalization of the ministry.
I hate the church-equals-concert / conference confusion.
I hate the dichotomy between “going to” and “being the” church, as well as the one between “creeds” and “deeds.”
I hate the pride, greed, hypocrisy, manipulation, nepotism, selfishness, and gluttony.
Maybe it’s because I don’t view these things as part of the church, but I’m just not done yet.
In fact, I’ve got just one more legitimate question to which I’d love to hear your answer:
Given your private Exodus, you’ve obviously trying to help yourself, but given the church’s public flaws, what are you prepared to do to help the rest of us?