The thing about expectation is it is often not rooted in love, but in pride. I expect you to live a certain way or believe a certain thing or walk a particular road, not because I love you and it’s best for you, but because of the pride I have in my own heart that would be embarrassed if you took a certain path. After all, I influenced you and trained you to be a particular person, right?
Category: The institutional church
In the past, I never wanted to be part of a house church. There’s nothing flashy about that. There’s no place in “America’s Fastest Growing Churches” magazine for my little house church. I’d see these large churches with massive buildings and thousands of attendees and thought, “man what a testament to God’s Spirit being poured out.” Until you get involved in larger churches and then realize that most of those people aren’t even followers of Jesus. That was the part that kept nagging at me. All the time and effort (and tons of finances) poured out to grow the gathering but not adding to the Church.
The times in our lives where we felt closest to being the New Testament Church were when we had a small group of people at our home. We broke bread, we prayed, we worshipped, we read God’s word together… we reached out and blessed others… we met each other’s needs. We were a church.
I tell this story because that experience reminded me of one essential, fundamental truth about Western religion, something I’ve tried to keep before me in the years since: Christians can often be the very least reason to consider Christianity.
The church often seems cram-packed full of disproportionately more broken, hypocritical, deceitful, loud-mouthed, ignorant, combative, hateful, and just plain ugly-minded people than one might encounter in almost any other sphere.
And this should come as no surprise. The church attracts the people that know they’re screwed up. People who think they have their crap together find little reason to turn to God. Thus, it might be considered a legitimate complaint for people to say of the church, “Why do I want any part in that? Those people are a mess.”
First of all, here is a brief explanation of mammon for those who don’t understand the term. Both in Matthew and Luke, the writers quote Jesus as using the phrase (in the KJV) when he said, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” Most modern translations replace the term for money. For instance the NIV says, “You cannot serve both God and money” and the NLT uses a slight variant when Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.”
Let’s start from the beginning. This Tennessee pastor from ASBC, an “independent, fundamental, King James Only, Soul-winning church” – where when you attend you shouldn’t “expect anything liberal, watered down, or contemporary” – preaches a message against homosexuality, and then Mr. (I’ll not call him pastor from here on out) Grayson Fritts loses his mind and calls for the arrest and execution of those in the LGBTQIA community.
In an age where our president can literally say (or tweet) anything he wants, and people who previously screamed at the top of their lungs for the head of other leadership with obvious moral challenges now defend the current administration with circular, straw man, and every other kind of bad arguments, I know now that the church lives in this same world of unaccountable leadership.
This is the hardest thing I’ve had to write. I’ve started and stopped a dozen times, unsure of what to write. Almost a year after our stepping out in faith came crashing down,I’m still trying to figure things out and where to go from here. Being in a “wilderness” certainly feels like an apt description.
I made a mistake recently. I attended a church meeting at a dying church where a denominational “consultant” came in and gave a report to the 20 remaining church members about how to change their status. Honestly the consultant who gave the report was so rude and intense, I thought she knew the group of people who she was addressing. But alas, she spent a half hour with each church member (before this meeting) and as far as a few of the members knew, she had never attended a service. She was a consultant for the UCC denomination, and if you know anything about that denomination, you probably already know that a church growth consultant for them is an oxymoron.
In many ways Leviathan is God’s church, too big for us to contain in any box. It is a rope woven with thousands of strands. Nothing can stand against it; nothing can break it. God’s church is a group of believers gathered in a hidden room, praising the Father and sharing his words, knowing they could die for such an act of communal love. God’s church is an elderly woman sitting in a pew singing the same hymns every week, celebrating her quiet faith with those around her. It is a group of young people wailing on guitars amid flashing lights and catchy videos; a couple traveling to an impoverished town to rebuild the lives of strangers for no other reason than they adore Jesus and want to add to his kingdom; a child drawing a sun and clouds and beneath it the words, “Jesus Loves Me” with the “S” backwards during Sunday school; women gathered around a sister suffering through illness; men patching the home of a neighbor in need; mothers reading Bible stories to their children and fathers showing how faith and strength are intertwined; people praying for their family and friends and government; a man on his deathbed staring at the ceiling and finally understanding he needs Jesus in that moment; people loving each other despite sometimes cosmic differences between them.