Friday, August 26, 2016

Will the Real Church Please Stand Up?

I have been born again since 1971 and have attended a host of churches over the years. All of them have had their issues, and I have been frustrated over and over again, thinking there should be a church that was “right” out there somewhere. I have finally jumped off the treadmill of religious works and found the real Church, but it took quite a few years of looking.

The Churches

The first church I attended regularly many years ago was a small non-denominational church where we really did have a good time for quite a few years. But the leadership allowed all kinds of kooks to essentially take over entire services, leaving me wondering if they had any discernment at all. It turned into a 3-ring circus, and I left. The next one was a mainline Baptist church that had a pastor that was caught in adultery before it was over with. Next was a small Methodist church that had a known adulterer in charge of the youth. Go figure. All those were interesting, but didn’t hold a candle to church number four.

It was a “church” that was caught up in the Shepherding movement and promoted control and complete submission to authority, using the so-called spiritual covering doctrine as their license to run over their “dumb sheep”. After 12 long years in there, I finally got out, and in getting out, I began to see the truth of it all. It was essentially a spiritually abusive church that has left an enormous amount of human wreckage in its wake.

Because I was still in go-to-church-on-Sunday-regardless mode, I felt I had to attend somewhere. So I tried another, this time a pretty good-sized Pentecostal church, but it was more a scripted performance than anything else. It just left me cold. One Sunday in particular stands out- I had picked a seat at the end of a long row. As people began to come in, more and more started filling up that row. I finally got pushed out of the row completely- apparently I had transgressed and sat in “reserved” seating! I swear I can count on one hand the number of regulars there that bothered to introduce themselves to me, and I wasn’t missed when I left about a year later. And at that time they were going into a building program and busy twisting arms for the tithe. So much for that.

Church drawing is free drawing from Wikimedia Commons.


 Pagan Christianity
All this time, I was looking for answers. I had decided to write about my experiences in the abusive church to help others in the same situation (link below), and in the process, I had come across quite a few books that began to shed some light on the whole thing. One in particular, Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola, went into detail about where we have gotten most of our church customs and traditions, clearly demonstrating that most of what we do on Sunday mornings is straight from worldly customs from centuries ago. For example, sermons can be traced straight back to Greeks and their penchant for oratory. The flowery talks were incorporated into Christianity, giving us the sermon. There are many, many examples like that. Once I had seen the roots of most of what we call church, I could no longer go to a regular service and accept the order of things. My mind was too busy picking it apart! Thus began my search for the real Church.

The primary problem I began to have with regular, traditional church services is the basic set-up with one person at the head of the place, a staff of people under that person, then the sheep that just go along. After having experienced the perversion of an abusive church, I could see where this basic set-up is just asking for abuse. Jesus is supposed to be the Head, not a person, and you just can’t see that walked out in the traditional systems we know now. Traditional churches assume the division of clergy and laity. The leaders are theoretically gifted to bring the Word of God to the rest of us; they have the anointing and the education. So that leaves the rest of us sitting back, letting them do all the hearing from God, and telling us what to do and where to give. I guess I just got plain rebellious against this whole arrangement.

Organic/House Church
In this process of looking for answers, I also came across a whole host of books by several different authors on the so-called house church or organic church movement. And this seemed to hold promise. I could see how much of what these authors wrote about would work better than what we were doing now- no huge buildings, no paid staff (i.e., no more huge money drain), more participation by individuals, allowing each person to contribute their part. Yes! All this is so much closer to the biblical model that I was seeing in the Word. Collaboration is a key element to this kind of set-up. As each person hears from God and shares their insight, the Holy Spirit works to bring agreement as people work together to find the will of God.

Now we are getting warmer. But I certainly wasn’t seeing any of this where I live, and I began to think that perhaps house churches were just a pipe dream. Frank Viola was one of the proponents of this; he has a lot of books out that demonstrate how they work. But even he has backed off, saying that the time just isn’t right yet.  Close, but no cigar.

House is free clipart from WPClipart.

The Real Church

It’s taken several more years, but just recently I found a book called Finding Church by Wayne Jacobsen.  Oh my, I think we have an entire box of cigars! I am still trying to get my little mind around all this. In a nutshell, he is saying that for 2000 years we have attempted to cram the Kingdom of God into a man-made system of whatever form. For centuries, the church resembled the monarchy-type systems that operated in the world at the time. Then came the rise of democracy, and churches adopted much of that. Think committees, church votes, etc. Now we see churches run like businesses with a CEO and a business hierarchy. All of these have the stamp of man on them, and all of them, at least eventually,  leave the Spirit out of the church.

The house church form goes in the right direction with the right biblical objectives, but the problem is that people too easily slide back into the need for organization and control. Any time you assemble several people for scheduled meetings whether they are in a church building or a house or wherever, the chances of planning God out are huge. For 2000 years, people have tried to organize, plan and control the Kingdom of God, and it’s never been God’s best.

The ideal is for Jesus to truly be the Head. This requires that His people hear His voice so He CAN be the Head. One thing Wayne mentioned that really hit home- Jesus spoke little about the Church as such. He spoke instead of the Kingdom of God. It’s a whole new order, a new wineskin, one that leaves the systems of man entirely behind, allowing the Spirit to lead, Jesus to be the Head and God to be God. The Kingdom of God is based on relationships, not on programs and services. Jesus came to abolish the old. He came to live in us, not just in a church building on Sundays. Old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new!

Box of Cigars is free image from Wikimedia Commons.

Emmanuel, God With Us

Now when I read the Word, I am seeing it from an entirely different perspective. I’ve always viewed it through the eyes of the traditional church model, assuming that our places in Christ are found within that structure. The Church was never intended to be contained in buildings called houses of God- we are the temple, we are the body of Christ, and God has given us His Spirit:
And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. John 14:16-17 NKJV
The Kingdom of God is within us. It doesn’t take a church membership to find your place in God; it only takes a relationship with Him. Churches have held responsibility, accountability, works, works and more works over our heads, producing guilt when we don’t conform completely to expectations. Does that sound like God?

I’m beginning to see how the Church is the interrelationships of people with their God, demonstrating His love to the rest of the world. No planned, mandatory services, no sermons, no choirs, no endless programs that are nothing more than attempts to feed the institutional beast with money and more members. There is such freedom when the realization hits that the true Church is nothing more than God in us. No more old wineskins, no more traditions of men that make the Word of none effect, no more religion.

Rainbow picture is mine.

The Light Is Shining Into the Darkness

Religion is the stumbling block. Religion bewitches and blinds minds to the truth. Just like when I came out of a religious, abusive church, only then could I see the deception, so coming out of the religion that permeates traditional churches is (at least so far) the ultimate eye-opening experience. The veil is coming off, and the light is shining into the darkness.
And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 2 Pet. 1:19 NKJV
Reading the Word from the perspective of the new wineskin brings it to life. Coming out of religion allows the light to shine in the darkness, and the revelation of the Word can finally begin to grow. The body of Christ is so much more than what we’ve known. Christians assemble in a gazillion different buildings for planned weekly meetings every Sunday, and they are in those different buildings because they can’t agree with each other. The little town I live near has 4 different mainline denominational churches within a half block, two on one side, and two across the street. And I have no clue how many others there are in the town. Is this the real church? I don’t think so.

The real Church, the Bride, is depicted throughout the New Testament, but we haven't seen her because we have been looking through the veil of man-made institutions, trying to see the glory of God in the church system we have all been raised in.  But those systems just distort and dilute the Kingdom of God, reducing it to an institution with little power. Seeing those systems for what they are allows that light to finally reveal the Word so the Church can be seen as God intended.

Sunrise in Thailand is from Wikimedia Commons
By Lisa Tancsics, uploaded by Pro2 - Licensed under aCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License here., CC BY-SA 3.0

Divine Frustration and Living Guilt-Free

You can tell when God is wanting to move you on to something new. I learned this years ago- you get aggravated, frustrated with your current deal, and your peace leaves. If you still have peace where you are, then by all means, stay. Just listen to what God is speaking to you.

But if you are experiencing that divine frustration, it’s time to do something different, and that something may be merely to step back, get free of the religious treadmill of works, and just enjoy your life. When you get aggravated about church and perhaps you even dread the thought of Sunday coming like I did, you aren’t doing those around you any good anyway. God may not be speaking the same thing to those around you, and it can be hard pulling away from what you’ve done for years. But if you want to stay in His will and have peace, pulling away may be just what it takes. The guilt treadmill is brutal; jump off that puppy!

The real Church is God’s people listening to His Spirit, and coming into agreement by consensus because they are determined to be led by God, not by their own wants and beliefs. The Church is God in us, and the relationships He engenders as we are obedient to Him, living our lives in the world as we are led by His Spirit. God creates unity, we don’t. God builds his Church, we don’t.

It’s time for the new wineskin. It’s time for God to build His Church. The Kingdom of God is within us.
Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 1 Cor. 3:16 NKJV

To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Col. 1:27 NKJV
Treadmill is free image from Pixabay.

Recommended Reading

Finding Church by Wayne Jacobsen
Clearly the best book I've found so far. I'm sure there are other authors out there who have written similar books. Please pass along any you may know of.

From Eternity to Here by Frank Viola
This one has to be the next best book I've read in years. He presents a wonderful perspective he calls "God's Ageless Purpose".

Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola
A landmark book that explores the origins of all we call "church".

Red Flag Churches, my book on my experiences in an abusive church, available as a free download in several formats at

Blog Posts

The Dechurched and the Next Move of God

The Dechurched, the Wilderness Experience and the Next Move of God
Liquid Church- The Shape of Church to Come
Righteous Judgment
Where's the Love?
Church- Consider Your Ways
Clergy- Invitation to Idolatry?

Red Flag Churches

Red Flag Churches
What Does a Wolf Look Like?
Making the Decision to Leave an Abusive Church
The Spiritual Covering Doctrine
Spiritual Abuse Is Not Obvious
To Tithe or Not to Tithe