charis · Christian witness

Despite a Messed-Up American Church, Why I Stay

origin_5743457941I spent time this past week reading two memoirs of recovering fundamentalists, Addie Zierman’s When We Were on Fire and Elizabeth Esther’s Girl at the End of the World. I was broken-hearted and nauseated by these books. The way that devotion to God can so easily turn into hate, rejection, pride, and abuse reminded me of lots of things I’ve seen (and participated in) throughout my church experiences.

But I was also inspired that both of these women, despite their experiences of unbalanced and even cult-like faith, did not give up faith in God and in the Bible. They didn’t give up on the Church either, even when they were tempted to. (They did, however, find healthier places of worship.)

Why? Ultimately because they couldn’t let go of Jesus. And He couldn’t let go of them.

In Encounter with God, a Bible study guide from Scripture Union, I read this:

But the central truth of the Christian faith is that God the Son, through whom all things were made, not only became flesh and blood, but flesh and blood with a local address.

This is what draws me to the Christian faith. The incarnation. A God who sinks down deep into our earth, so deep that when He walked this earth, you could point to a physical address where He grew up. Jesus cares. He gives a rip about people. He came near to everyday people, willing to be criticized for loving and knowing them. A God whose love was earthy and real and transformed those who were humble enough to admit their need of it.

I am so done with pontificating Christianity, with confusing politics and faith, with making our devotion to God an excuse to push everybody else down. I’m so done with yelling instead of listening. I’m so done with using our religion as a way to get out of serving our neighbor. I’m so done with seeing so many nonbelievers do a better job of serving with humility than I see American Christians doing. I’ve done all these things and I’m so sad about that and so longing to be different.

Yes, I’m longing to be different. I say I’m done with these things, but the truth is that there are many times I fall into old patterns. I’m learning to walk in humble service, but I have a long way to go. I get so prideful sometimes. Perhaps the difference is that my goal is different now. No longer the culture war. No longer being right. Just following, loving, serving, telling my story.

I believe a lot of the same things. I’m still what you could totally classify as a conservative Christian. But the pressure of making others see things the same way is beginning to slip from my shoulders. It’s just not my job. Grace abides. God’s grace is what has drawn me and it is what will draw others. It’s my attitude toward others that is changing. It’s my pride that is beginning to be killed. This truth is steadily beginning to sink in: It’s not about me.

There are many times I get so discouraged with Christians and with the American Church that I long to cut the ties and go be alone with my faith. And then I think of another bewildered seeker who just didn’t have it in him to cut the ties from Jesus. I think of Peter who didn’t understand the ways of God, who couldn’t see how the cross could figure into his vision of a triumphant King. I think of how he said the wisest words, words to which I cling: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” I am held by this Jesus.

For better or for worse, the Church is the local address where Jesus holes up now. And I want to be where Jesus is. I can’t be with Him in the fullest way without being with others members of His Body. I’m held by Jesus here, in this Body. Just like He came into a broken world, into a body that was capable of dying, into relationships that were fraught with human sin (not His, but ours), now He comes through an imperfect, broken Church. Still so very near to us. Longing to kill our sin and pride and make us new in His life. We can be that to each other. Through Him.

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

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6 thoughts on “Despite a Messed-Up American Church, Why I Stay

  1. Rebecca, I’ve always had respect for you. But this post…it really explains why. I don’t wear a label on my sleeve that declares my faith to others, because I believe it should be my heart that is judged and I believe God is the only one who truly knows what is in my heart. Most days however, you can find that heart on my sleeve. I have my own post on this subject, because I’ve had such an unusual experience in this valley with judgement based on faith declaration. (I have yet to hit the ‘publish’ button because I’m still editing it for possibly too much reactionary writing) You work so hard on being the kind of Christian I could trust as a child, a follower of Christ who calls out the kind of behavior I’ve always heard Jesus really asked for from us. It is so refreshing amongst the current environment. Thank you.

  2. The american church does have something wrong with it. Christian fundamentalism and evangelicalism as a whole are a dying breed and i would suspect will not be around in 50 to 100 years. I think you correctly address the obvious problems associated with these two groups and an ever increasing acknowledgement among Christians that they are disappointed in the church. The problem in the church today is greater then you even realize. They are the interpreters of the text, that is to say the interpreters of the God we knew as children. Its very disconcerting to realize that the first 30 years of my life were dominated by a perspective of God that was bullshit. The story of Jesus is a great one, and should not be discounted based on the sick and ailing American church. But please dont feel obligated to stick around for the sake of Jesus. Forget about the Church and remember simply Micah 6:8.

    1. Hey, Montie, Thanks for taking the time to visit my blog and comment. I’m sorry you had such a rough time in the Church. There’s a lot of junk that’s done in God’s name. I have my doubts that the Church won’t be around any more though. There’ve been predictions like that in the past that didn’t come true. I guess my hope is just that it will be purified and live out its calling better. There are definitely days when I worry things are too far gone, but then I meet someone who is a real Christian–or I think of my friends who follow Jesus quietly and faithfully–and my hope is restored. By the way, I love Micah 6:8 too. I wish it could be our motto as the Church. Thanks again for taking the time to reply.

    2. I have often been discourage with the church as well, both evangelical and mainline protestant. However the church is God’s idea not man’s. The Christian faith is a communal faith, not a individualistic, solo, just me and God faith. So one of the crosses we may be called to bare is our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ as they bare with us, both being quite imperfect. On the other hand church can take various forms. It doesn’t have to be 1st Baptist, Presbyterian, Assembly of God etc.. on the corner of Fifth and Main with a steeple and all. House churches have become the answer for some, along with less hierarchical leadership structure and more every member participation.

  3. It was really interesting reading your blog post. It’s hard when we have things in common with others (like religion) and those people don’t do a very good job of representing the very thing that makes us similar. Being Jewish I have a very hard time listening to other Jews justify intolerance through religion. I know for many people it’s one of the reasons they find relief in atheism and which is understandable. I think it’s a good thing to question your beliefs though – you’ll either come out with a more assured, stronger conviction or you’ll keep questioning until you find what makes sense for you.

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