Many consider the weekly gatherings, that tend to follow a routine, the primary expression of the church. For example, sitting in pews facing a stage, singing a few songs together, public prayer, passing around a collection plate, listening to one speaker, etc… This isn’t the way all of these type of meetings go, but it’s a general format many seem to use.
Another view of the Church is that referring to the body of Christ throughout the world.
The two entities mentioned above are two separate things for me. They may overlap here and there. There may be people of the body inside the weekly gatherings as well as people who don’t gather in the traditional ways that are part of the body.
Why do I make such stipulations? There are many concepts, including “The Church,” that seem to have been co-opted over the centuries and translations to have a different meaning than their original intent. This may not have been intentional, but the dilemma still remains. Our religious society ends up believing adamantly in misunderstood concepts. I’m not saying this as though I know it all, but the Bible has become understandable as a whole once I was able to view it in proper context. The institutional understanding that I was taught was just chaotic and contradictory as the full context was often not considered.
I ended up leaving because I was unable to uphold the misinterpreted mandates being presented as well as being withheld from discussion of things I’d been discovering. I began asking questions. The answers ranged from “I don’t know” to threats of “there’s some dangerous things out there.”
I admittedly had a severe dislike for these gatherings when I first left. I thought maybe I was just burned out and needed a little time away. However, something quite odd, and opposed to what I’d been forced to believe, happened. I began drawing exponentially closer to God once the institutional agendas were no longer able to force their way between us.
Several months passed and my disdain for these institutions has subsided in many ways. I’ve tried to attend a few services with high hopes that I would see some way to be an active participant in these meetings. I didn’t go in looking for things to criticize but was more hopeful that some of the Biblical discoveries I’ve came across would give me new and better perspectives of the gathering. Unfortunately, these services were even less appealing to my walk with Jesus now that the blinders are off.
I’ve never had much of a desire to sing, but there are a few songs that I don’t mind singing even within a group of people. I’m mostly the type to think about the word meanings. That said, many of the congregation’s songs had the same shortcomings as the rest of the theology. Now with this new perspective, I could see much more clearly how skewed many of these meanings were.
I won’t get into the tithing portion or the public prayers as these have been debated a lot already. I will say that giving money to the homeless is a better option for me. Prayer for me has become a dialogue with God, not a one way oration of what I expect of him.
The one point I tend to actually like, and even get a little excited about, is when the scripture is read. During some of the readings, I began to see the beauty of God’s love and plan for humanity. I get excited to hear this communicated through the speaker. Then, something awful happens. The message gets skewed in the direction of obligation, performance, financial gain, fear, and/or political agenda. Then, I pick my shattered hopes up off the floor and leave thoroughly disappointed.
I don’t say any of this out of spite—more out of sadness. If there was a way that I could be an active participant to help bring the living Jesus Christ into these institutions, I would. It’s been made clear in many of these organizations that I am to follow their conflicting scriptural views and carry their party line. No discussion or questioning allowed openly. After attempting discussion to show how God is love and his amazing plan for all of humanity, I felt Jesus telling me to “leave them alone, they’re blind guides.” It seems people will only accept real freedom in Jesus when they reach a breaking point and can admit that no amount of religious rule following or service attendance will get them there.
The Church, outside of the confines of religion, seems to be flourishing. People are free to be a “work in progress” and question where they need understanding. Meanwhile, obligation is being pressed even harder inside the institutions and attendance continues to dwindle as leadership adamantly upholds defective mandates and cliches.