As Brandon said in the last post, he has chosen to leave the church for reasons he’s wrestled with for years. You can view his initial post here. I, too, have wrestled through many of the same issues and some more of my own, but I still am actively involved in church.
For all the nerds out there, Brandon and I have compared ourselves to Magneto and Professor X from X-Men in our stances on the modern church. We both seem to want what’s best for Christians, but we differ on our views of how to get there. It’s a healthy friendship and every time we discuss things I never leave feeling like Brandon thinks I’m an idiot. And he doesn’t believe that I think that about him. Even though I do. Just kidding.
It’s important to note, too, that when we say “the church”, for the purpose of these posts we are mainly speaking of the “American Church.”
To sum up yesterday’s post, Brandon said he walked away from the church because he felt like it is too close-minded and blind to its own imperfections. Despite the church claiming to be imperfect, it moves forward on a rigid structure and doesn’t allow itself to bend and evolve with the times.
I read his argument and agreed on many issues. But I am still going to church. I don’t just attend; I am involved. Church people annoy me. Then, I annoy church people. It’s a cycle that has been going on for years.
So why don’t I leave, too, if I agree with so much of his argument?
I view the church, not just the people I share a building with on Sundays but the entire body of Christians, as a family. Think about your family, I mean everyone you are related to. Are there people in it that annoy you? Are there people in it that you disagree with? Are there people in it that have hurt your worse than anyone else has ever hurt you?
I believe that most people would answer yes to that, but not many people have changed their last names because of it. It’s the same way I feel about being a Christian. Christians say and do some really dumb stuff, but they are my family.
Can a relationship with God exist outside of the church? Of course. I can still be a part of my family even if I never talk to them, but it’s not the relationship I want with my family.
Instead of disconnecting myself from them, I want to be a part of what is good about the church. I want to bring change from the inside and not stand on the outside and talk about what’s so wrong with them. I want some skin in the game. It’s easy to criticize what you are not a part of, but when it bears your name, you are more likely to want what is best for it and to do something about it.
Brandon spoke about how the churches he was in were not ok with a lot of the questions and challenges he brought forth. He said, “I walked away from the church, because it was not functioning in such a way where those questions and changes could be not only talked about openly, but treated with respect and equity.
I feel the tension of this statement, especially when I see the response that certain Christians in the public eye go through when they even hint at moving away from traditional beliefs and standpoints. Tim Tebow nearly got stoned for only deciding not to go to speak at a church that had recently been in the news because of comments about homosexuals. Dan Haseltine, lead singer of Jars of Clay, has taken on a barrage of backlash for saying that he didn’t see why Christians needed to put up a fight against gay marriage. And Michael Gungor said that he doesn’t believe the earth was created in seven literal days and people in the church have denounced him and ridiculed him.
So I believe Brandon’s statement was spot on. It is by far not true of every follower of Jesus, and he would be the first to tell you that, as well. But it feels like the most vocal parts have set up a club whose creed says, “Come just as you are,” but it functions like, “Do exactly as we say.” It’s a funny argument to make by a people so different and divided that we have thousands of services and churches to choose from.
The church preaches, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone,” but then we throw stones anyway. I’m not saying sound theology isn’t important or sin doesn’t matter. I’m not saying rebuke and correction never belong in a church setting. I am just saying we eat our own, and we do it publically. And we do it often.
I fully understand why a free thinking, curious individual with some doubts would not feel welcome in the academic atmosphere of the modern American church. Many churchgoers walk into a sanctuary every Sunday with their own doubts, yet they are scared to vocalize them for fear of being attacked.
So why am I still hanging around a bunch of selfish, arrogant, insecure hypocrites? My simplest answer is this: because I am a selfish, arrogant, insecure hypocrite. I fit right in. And God welcomes me.
I see a lot of bad in the church. In America, we are trained to look for the bad. It comes naturally to us. Our knee jerk response is to prove ourselves worthy by proving someone else wrong. The church is full of this same nature.
But for all the bad, I still can’t give up hope on what it could be, what it was made to be and the good I see in it now. It’s the Body of Christ. Just as his physical body was wounded, so his church body is wounded and marred. We are in need of healing every day. I don’t deny that, and the more the church starts to recognize this, the further we will go.
The difference I see between the world and the people of God is this: the people of God realize they are so screwed up that their only hope for functioning is by the grace of God. I need the church because it is God’s and I am welcomed to be a part of it.