So where do I find myself at present . . . ?
Recently, my wife and I have both been challenged by dear friends who are concerned about our decision not to remain within the framework of an institutional, organized church. Given how much these friends mean to us, these conversations have touched off a great deal of study, prayer, discovery and contemplation . . . as well as prompting the creation of this blog.
We have become involved with a network of wonderful people in this area, who are facing a similar journey to ours. These people were introduced to us through the writings and podcasts of Wayne Jacobsen, and we had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Jacobsen and several new friends in March of this year at the home of some local friends of his who have now become good friends of ours as well. What impressed both of us was how little Wayne seemed interested in leading and controlling the conversation we were having. Each person in the room had a story to tell, and all of us learned and grew from the experience . . . but nobody was responsible for leading or directing the discussion. It was completely organic, completely real . . . and completely independent of any “local church.” Jacobsen lives in California, far away from us here in Virginia, but the other people in that room have, in the last two months, become a very large and important part of our lives.
My wife and I came away more refreshed than either of us have been by an ordinary church service for a long, long time. We felt like we had seen God working in the minds and hearts of the people in that room, and that He had worked in our minds and hearts as well . . . showing us more of Himself. We have gotten together with some of the people in that room, as well as some of their friends who are in similar situations, a total of four times. We hope for many more such gatherings, as each one brings a renewed sense of joy, fellowship, and gratitude for our Father’s working in our lives.
I have had well-meaning friends tell me that this experience runs completely contrary to Scripture. I disagree. While I am certainly glad that many people are able to find spiritual nourishment and fellowship inside conventional churches, I find nothing in scripture that indicates that this is the only way God will ever use to build up the people He has redeemed.
I will address some of the most common objections I have received in regards to this statement in future posts. I considered putting them here, but I don’t think this series is the place for them. This is a story, not an apologetic. All I will say about them for now is that, after a lot of soul-searching, prayer, study and agonizing, I have come to a place where I don’t think I can, in good conscience, attend a conventional church at this point in my life. If I did so, it would be because I was once again bowing to external pressure from others, conforming to the person they want me to be. It would not be because I believe that’s where I need to be to engage in a meaningful relationship with God, or with other members of His Body.
Where, then, do I go from here?
I don’t know . . . and oddly enough for someone with as many “control-freak” characteristics as I have, I like it that way. God has made life an adventure – a mystery with new surprises and unforseen twists. One exciting thing I have been discovering even in the past few weeks is that, when one is living outside the boundaries of a conventional church, the opportunities to speak truth into the lives of others, and have them speak truth into my life, are vastly increased.
There are, it seems, a lot of us asking these questions. When I first began examining my beliefs about church, I thought I was alone – or at the very least, that Heidi had been through these questions before. At the time, though, I wasn’t sure I wanted to end up in the same place she had. She had seen and been through a lot more than I had, at the time, and I thought perhaps it was because of this that she had ended up where she had. Time and experience, though, led me on a very different path, to the same place she had reached – a place outside the walls of any church building.
What I discovered, though, is that far from finding ourselves defenseless outside these walls, and open to spiritual attack in ways that “normal Christians” aren’t (something each of us heard from our skeptical pastors, church leaders and friends) we are finding other people with similar questions and similar experiences, who have arrived at similar answers.
We are also finding that we can experience all of the same benefits that a conventional church offers – the study of scripture, the fellowship, the opportunities to serve and bless each other, the joy of participating in “Body Life” – without the shame, fear, and debasement that is popular in many local assemblies.
For some of us, this is our first experience with the easy yoke, the light burden, and the rest for our souls that Christ offers in Matthew 11.
Where do I go from here? I don’t know . . . but for the first time, I do not fear to find out what comes next.
. . . I am excited by it.
Back to Part 4