Over the past month, our routines have been been changed drastically due to COVID19/Coronavirus pandemic. The term “social distancing” has become the current overused catch phrase.
Churches have also been affected by social distancing as they have stopped meeting in their church buildings and moving to having services online. I have monitored various responses and there are some who are not too happy about the pressure of churches not gathering together in person. Some have even challenged the government’s infringement upon their rights but it is really a matter of keeping people safe and healthy. The same has been true for other public events such as concerts, festivals and professional sports.
I spent a significant part of my previous life involved with a church as I was in the routine of attending Sundays and midweek services. The routine actually drove me into depression and frustration as I would leave feeling worse than I did when I arrived. I had to make a change.
As painful as this might be for some to believe, you don’t need to go to church to have a relationship with God. This crisis could really be a good thing for believers as they now have to change how they respond. It really isn’t that difficult. Here are ten tips I have experienced that could help you if you are having anxiety about not being able to go to church:
Tip #1 – It takes discipline
One thing that is the most important part in surviving without going to church is having strong self-discipline. You have to develop your own way of having church on your own. It isn’t easy but you can survive.
Tip #2 – Find Your Way of Reading/Studying the Bible
I know this sounds boring but reading and studying the Bible is important. It doesn’t have to be a dull discipline. There are many ways of doing this. Listening to the Bible is a good way and even the dramatic versions give you an exciting new way to experience the Bible. There are also many apps that can help you with studying the Bible. A good app I would recommend is one named “Got Questions” which answers hundreds of questions about God and the Bible. They feature a random question/answer every day.
Tip #3 – Build your music library
Download your favorite music and always look for new songs that will encourage you. I often like to sample new music in the iTunes Store. Always look for new songs to refresh you and renew your outlook.
Tip #4 – Maintain a consistent prayer life.
Personally, this is the most difficult thing to maintain. It isn’t that I don’t want to pray but it is always difficult to talk to someone who doesn’t talk back. It can be quite a challenge. I also don’t want it to always be a constant list of petitions. One way to maintain consistency with prayer is to change it up. Make each day a different prayer such as “Thankful Thursdays” or develop prayer themes each day that will keep your prayers fresh. The most important thing is to keep your focus in your prayer life.
Tip #5 – Be Quiet
One of the disciplines that I learned from a week I spent at a monastery was the incredible practice of being quiet. Just sitting quiet before the Lord for a few minutes is something that will change you. Of course, in a world full of noise, it can be difficult to find a place to be quiet. I recommend the mornings if you can get up a few minutes early. If sitting quietly challenges you, try setting an alarm. Dedicate yourself to spend a certain amount of time being quiet. Believe me – it isn’t as easy as you think but it does an amazing job of calming you.
Tip #6 – Subscribe to Podcasts
If you have a preacher, Bible teacher or program you enjoy, subscribe to their podcast. I have a few that I listen to daily. If you don’t like them you can always unsubscribe. My favorites are In Touch with Charles Stanley, A New Beginning with Greg Laurie, Rick Godwin and Fighting for the Faith.
Tip #7 – Look for ways to help others
You don’t have to go to church to help others. Unfortunately people tend to do it in church with a return of getting some form of recognition or credit. When you are doing church alone, you can really experience the true blessing of helping others. Look for ways to help others. Be kind to people and be approachable.
Tip #8 – Find Innovative Ways to Do Church
The key to having your own church without others is to keep things fresh. Don’t get stuck into a routine. Change things up and look for new ways to keep spiritually fit. Watch new Christian movies, go to concerts or whatever you find that will encourage you. One thing that I found that was innovative was when I was given some Virtual Reality Goggles. I am able to watch videos and even attend church feeling that I am there in person. It’s a whole new experience.
Tip #9 – Keep a Journal
Writing is a good way to keep focused. Start keeping a journal. There are no rules for doing it. You can write prayers, poetry or scriptures. A good idea to keep sharp with your Bible study is to write a Bible verse then explain how it applies to you and your life.
Tip #10 – Do something every day
Since this isn’t church you can do for two hours on Sunday, you can do this everyday. Although you may not be able to do everyone of these tips every day, you can do something. If you are experiencing life without church for the first time, this is your chance to do something new.
Don’t panic about not being able to go to church. This really isn’t a bad thing to experience. This will teach you that you can make it on your own. Believers need to be self-sufficient and not put so much emphasis on attending a church. Honestly, a lot of times the problem with church is people. There are some difficult personalities to deal with which can distract us from our relationship with God. This is a good time to take a break from those peer pressures of church and focus on what truly is important.
Not to be a prophet of doom and gloom, but there may be a time when people can’t meet in church. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to function without church now? This is a good practice for any “end times” scenario that has been prophesied to come in the future.
The church is people – not a building. If you are a believer then you ARE the church. People focus way too much on the building and group than they do on the real purpose of a church. This time of social distancing is a good time to do that.
I was raised in a church/religious home and was told that we were “Christians”. Tell someone you are a christian and see what kind of reaction you get. It isn’t a positive response, especially today.
Many years ago when I went with a fanatical group on an Israel tour of the Holyland, our guide told us that people who believe in Jesus over there don’t referred to themselves as “christians” but “believers” because there is a history of bad things with Christians such as the crusades. He said they were called believers. I liked that and I have adopted that change in terminology since then.
Honestly Christians have really given God a serious public relations headache. My wife and I passed a guy recently who was preaching and condemning anyone who walked by. Yeah, that’s really getting the job done. I’m really sick of Christian people embarrassing God and making things more difficult for the rest of us who aren’t the weird, radical fringe.
It’s not about a church either. Been there done that and had the church flag to prove it.
It’s about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s it. Either you believe in Him or you don’t. I’m not going to get in your face and yell at you. I’m not even going to debate you. If your mind is set against it then what words could I possibly use to convince you? Really, unless you have a relationship with Christ, how can you possibly know? This is something you have to experience. I can’t open my Bible app and read you the thees and thous and hope that some spooky magical spiritual spell will cause you to turn from your heathen ways.
I was in the weirdness of a church for way too many years. It wasn’t until I left that I was able to remove all the clutter that separated me from a true personal relationship with God. It wasn’t in the yelling, tongue-speaking or Bible quoting but in the stillness of God’s presence. It isn’t some Eastern meditation crap either. It’s discipline to sit still and actually listen to God. It’s not about asking a bunch of stuff for Him to do either. I had to unlearn a lot of things I was taught and a lot of things I thought I knew about God to finally find who He is to me.
I’m a believer. Pure and simple. If you don’t like it I’m not going to hate you for it. This is me and who I am.
Church. I don’t need it. Shocking I know. I spent many years doing the church thing and feeling worse when I left then when I walked in. I’m done with that feeling and not going back to that. I’m not saying church isn’t important. Some people need it. Whatever folks need to survive I am not going to judge. Some people need a preacher to stand up behind a pulpit to give their interpretation of the Bible. I have learned that people will slant it the way they want. That’s human nature.
I believe that God loved this world so much that He sent His son to die for my sins. Now I can’t explain everything about God. How can God have a “son” and how the Holy Ghost is a part of this trinity? Sometimes you just can’t explain everything. I save the theological debates for people who are into that kind of thing. I don’t have a doctorate degree in theology. My only experience is my own and real life.
You can think what you will about all of this but you haven’t walked in my shoes. No, I’m not perfect and I have sinned. We all have. I have done the stone casting before the stones fell back on me. Christians have a difficult time admitting that they are wrong.
Maybe I’m splitting hairs here with the definitions of Christian and Believer. To me there is a difference. When I Google “Christian vs. Believers” there are a lot of folks out there who score the term “Christians” higher on God’s food chain than “Believers”. I know the difference. I have lived it. I want no part of Christian.
Sorry if I rocked your boat about this. That’s okay, I believe that Jesus can walk on water to pull you back into the boat.
In 2010, I left the church. Church had been a major part of my life and my family history for 46 years. I have shared with you in the past two weeks of this series, my experiences of growing up in the church. I do not write about my experience for anyone’s sympathy or for you to pray for me. I do it to share my journey and how I was able to maintain my relationship with God in spite of these experiences.
There were a lot of things that made life in the church very frustrating for me. I grew in fear of the church and the belt. It was a very strict and judgmental life. Someone once condemned me to hell when I slipped and told that I had seen “The Empire Strikes Back” at the movie theater. If you read the “Advice to Members” last week you will know that going to a movie theater was on the list of don’ts. Yet the person who said I was going to Hell had a cable subscription to HBO. It didn’t end well when I called them out on it.
What I have recounted to you in this series were all contributing factors that led to my point of decision to leave the church. So what was that one thing that caused me to leave the church?
This one thing is something that wore me down over a number of years. It wasn’t just one single event or one moment. It was a building of frustration. It was the frustration of attending church every Sunday and leaving feeling worse than I did when I came. This cycle repeated every Sunday for many years. The sermons did nothing and the worship changed nothing. It was the most frustrating experience of my life. It was the definition of insanity which is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. Maybe it was just me but I have a feeling a lot of people have experienced this frustration or are currently facing it.
I spent years hearing loud preaching and services where the “Spirit” moved but once the service was over it changed nothing. I hated my life. I told God many times that this wasn’t the life I was meant to live. I fought it and I tried to push my way through, still believing in all the hype. It took a toll on me.
During this time, I went through a divorce and found myself at decision point in my life. I won’t deny the fact that I was broken and needed to be fixed. One day I went to watch the movie “Robin Hood” at the theater. It was the with Russell Crowe as Robin Hood. There was a line in that movie nudged me into the course my life would take. Robin Hood’s father said to Robin Hood “Are you ready to be who you are?”
ARE YOU READY TO BE WHO YOU ARE?
I was ready. I made the decision that I was not going back to the church. The funny thing was that I had expected it would be a struggle and people from the church would do everything possible to reach out to me and pull me back. They did not. It was totally not what I expected and leaving the church was easier than I had ever imagined it would be. Since I left the church, I can honestly tell you that I am better than I was. I have a feeling that my frustration probably showed and perhaps it was best that I left.
Of course, when you sort through the pieces of your life and the experiences of the church, you have to sift it and find the things that were good. Too many people have left churches like I did and went to the other extreme and rebelled against everything to do with the church and God. For me, I realized that my relationship with God wasn’t the relationship with the church. No, it wasn’t a perfect experience but if you read about the people in the Bible, they weren’t all perfect either. They all had their own dysfunctions to overcome. When I looked back at the past, I was thankful that at least I had a basic foundation of a having a relationship with God even if the church wasn’t the best experience. One thing I still think about is that there is nothing I can do to change what happened. There’s no sense to blame anyone for it. I had to make my own way now.
I always remembered that, although my father was strict, I never remembering him lying or being anything but having integrity in what he did. Yes, it was always about the church and what the church said growing up but now I had to make my own way. I had to unlearn some things that were wrong about the church. I did that but I have tried to do that with the same integrity. I found myself as living my life as a believer – not a Catholic, Baptist or Pentecostal.
There are two things that helped me more than anything else in this pivotal change in my life. One was that I remarried a wonderful woman who has become the true definition of what God meant when He created a helpmeet for man. She has made me become a better version of the me I always wanted to be. I can not stress how important it is to be with the right person. It makes a huge difference.
I guess you can read between the lines here and see that I divorced and remarried. As I told you last week, the church was debating the issue of divorce and remarriage as I left. I can’t speak for this whole debate or for everyone that has ever divorced and remarried but I can tell you that it was a new world for me. I was given a second chance to be a better husband and that is something I don’t take lightly. Regardless of what people may think, you can’t really judge it until you’ve gone through it. It has been a change for the better.
The second thing that helped me was a spiritual retreat I took at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia. The monastery is under the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (OCSO) which is more commonly known as “Trappists” monks. It is currently the full-time home to approximately 48 monks. I spent a few days with the monks at the monastery and learned a lot about myself and God. After a lifetime being around loud preaching and Holy Ghost tongue speaking, I had an amazing experience in the quiet and reverence of God. I will tell you that I’m not Catholic and I know nothing about all the rituals they went through at the monastery but I can most definitely tell you that I have no doubt about feeling the presence of God there. It was like nothing I had ever felt before. There were no revival meetings and there wasn’t any tongue speaking or shouting going on. It was quiet. It was simple. I was able to search the depths of my soul. It takes great discipline to sit in complete silence. In today’s world of social media and constant noise, it can be a little unsettling to simply sit quietly. Try sitting quietly for 10 minutes and see how difficult it is. It can be quite a challenge.
During my time at the monastery, I wrote down some things that I will share with you. The very first thing was that “The Lord will work out His plans for my life.” (Psalm 138:8).
One night as I spent a time of silence and searched my soul about my experience with the church and trying to make sense of it all, I took my pen and wrote these words:
“I wasn’t in the weirdness, I was with you. Loving you and guiding you for your life ahead. While the man-made ordinances were peculiar, you did learn of me in spite of that. Your heart became fond of me. Your desire to server me was above all other things. That’s where I was. I never let you down. Your dependence upon those other things let you down. Some were true but many were not. The main things came to the surface.”
Since leaving the church I have visited other churches. I don’t have a phobia against churches but I refuse to be in bondage to fear of a man-made church. I have also spent many times alone in churches that are open during my lunch hour. My “church” is just times I have alone walking nature trails or spending time in a quiet place. I think church has become too much “stuff”. It has become a spiritual pep rally or a bunch of activities. It is no longer simple and just about a person’s relationship with God. Throughout my life I have seen people who have no clue about maintaining balance in life. They will get “saved” and then they are extreme Christians and totally gung-ho about it. Some call them “too heavenly minded and no earthly good”. I don’t know about that but there can be extremes in anything. I have also seen people that will only get serious about church when their relative is in jail and they need help from the church. I guess you could say that I needed a break from all that.
I won’t say that I will never go to church or be a part of another church ever again, I just know that – for now – I am better off without it. Things are less cluttered and more clearer than they have ever been.
If you are attending church I would certainly not discourage you or tell you to stop. That’s your choice to make. I would never criticize anyone for going to church. That’s not what this series has been about. This is about people like me who have been disenchanted with the church and those struggling with living a life of frustration. God more real to me now than He ever was before.
Thomas Merton wrote a prayer that I have kept with me during this journey. He prayed:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does, in fact, please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
A cult is defined as “a small religious group that is not part of a larger and more accepted religion and that has beliefs regarded by many people as extreme or unorthodox.”
I spent most of my life with such a group. Although some would disagree me, I can tell you that the church I knew was indeed in every sense a cult. When you’re a part of cult you don’t know you’re in one. My experience with church involved a group called the Church of God of Prophecy (COGOP). What I am going to tell you is my own personal experience with COGOP. I am not speaking for everyone only my first-hand knowledge and life in the church.
When you’re a part of cult you don’t know you’re in one.
If you are not familiar with the Church of God of Prophecy (COGOP), it is a Pentecostal denomination spinoff of the Church of God which occurred in 1923 when there were some issues with leadership and finances. You can Google COGOP for more historical information but I will tell you from an early age, I was taught that COGOP was “the” one true church. We were the “bride of Christ” and exclusive. In fact, this was regarded as fact because the church even had their own flag. The flag was a symbol which meant we were chosen. We even said pledges to the flag. (Sound like a cult yet?) When I would ask about people in other church denominations, I was always told that those people had not “seen the light yet” and “their eyes have not been opened to the truth.” Of course, we were the only ones that had the truth.
The church had some strict teachings. It was a list of more don’ts than dos. In fact if anyone violated any of these teachings, charges were brought against them and they would be “turned out” of the church. It’s funny when I tell these stories around some today who flatly deny this ever happened. I was there when a group of men in the church brought up these “charges” against members they witnessed had worn shorts in public or was seen smoking. After a first and second motion in a church conference, these members were removed from the church membership roll. Yeah, it happened. I was there and witnessed it first-hand.
ADVICE THAT REALLY WASN’T ADVICE
The church also had what they called “Advice To Members” but don’t let it fool, it was not viewed as “advice” but something every member was expected to comply with or could face charges.
Here’s what the “Advice to Members” entailed:
As a member, you count one and should attend every regular service as far as possible. Remember no one can fill your place, and the service will be that much hindered without your presence. Show love and fellowship to everyone without partiality. Don’t wait for others to greet you, but you greet them. Show special courtesy to strangers who may attend one of your services. As a rule, take part in the singing. Be ready for vocal prayer when called on or prompted by the Spirit. Be ready for testimony when such is in order. Stand by your pastor or appointed leader and assist him in every way you can. Always pray silently for the preacher while he delivers the message. Always live a consecrated life at home and abroad so no one can justly think or speak of you as a hypocrite. Guard your conversation. Be careful what you say about a brother, sister, or anyone else. Don’t be a critic and try to find something in others to criticize. Examine yourself occasionally and see if you are in the faith. Don’t yield to discouragement or despondency. Be cheerful and happy and try to make others the same. Spend as much time as you can in secret prayer. Give yourself all you can to intercessory prayer. Daily prayers and study of God’s Word are necessary and very important for the spiritual welfare of each child of God; therefore, everyone is urged faithfully to maintain, as far as is possible, family worship at home at least once a day. The Scripture gives strong precautionary principles regarding adornment to satisfy the pride of life. Paul uses the terms “modesty,” “shamefacedness,” and “sobriety” as the guiding principal for the New Testament Christian. Human nature is such that adornment can become a hindrance to one’s personal relationship with Christ. Furthermore,”…caution should be taken in the wearing of ornaments for the decoration lest we would offend the conscience of another brother or sister.” An overriding principal for such matters is found in: Romans 14:13 Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. To be a stumbling block is to do something that may cause one to fall back into sin. Matthew 16:24-27 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. Total commitment, even unto death, is necessary. Cross bearing is a willingness to suffer and die for the Lord’s sake just as he suffered and died for our sake. Cease making self the object of our life. 1 Timothy 2:1-10 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity. I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. Live a good and holy life, with special emphasis on its source, which is a deep reverence for God. God desires the salvation of all people. The Bible also indicates that God chooses some (not all) to be saved. He chose those He knew would believe and follow Him. Christ gave Himself as a ransom. Through His death, He bridged the gap between God and man and made salvation available to all. 1 Peter 3:17-18 For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: Jesus is an example of how we should live as a Christian. We are to be ready to suffer for doing good. 1 John 2:15-17 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. This doesn’t mean the world of people or the created world, but rather the world, or realm, or sin which is controlled by Satan and organized against God and righteousness. You should not permit yourself to be trapped by worldly attractions. The Bible says, “Neither give place to the devil.” Dabbling with worldly amusements like professional ball games, horse races, stock car races, wrestling arenas, skating rinks, motion picture houses or drive-in theaters, bowling alleys, and going swimming where men and women both use the same bathing area would give the devil a foothold or place in your place. Always tithe your income and put it in the church treasury. Make freewill offerings other than your tithes. Younger members should not keep company or associate too intimately with worldly outsiders. Because of the ever-increasing number of broken homes, separations, divorces, and remarriages, the greatest care should be taken with much prayer and consideration regarding proposed matrimony. A member who may have a living companion should not marry another under any circumstances, even if divorced. Neither should a member marry anyone who has a living companion although such a person may be divorced. Children are a heritage from the Lord. Those who have children are responsible to teach them an early age to reverence the house of God. This should be done by setting a good example before them and by instruction them with such a good spirit that they will have a strong desire to serve the Lord. MINISTERS are to meet all the requirements in being examples to the members by keeping their children under reasonable control at all times and by restraining them from running about over the house of God, especially while the services are in progress. The White Wing Messenger is a very important part of the Church of God. It should be ready regularly by every member, and your interest in advertising the church should be so great that when you have finished reading your copy, you would pass it along to someone else. Every member who possible can, should subscribe, and each minister is asked to be a “paid-up” subscriber and an earnest worker for our church paper—the White Wing Messenger. These are the last days and perilous times have come, and it will require much watchfulness and humble prayer for you to so live and act that you will never bring reproach on the worthy name of Christ and His church that you so much love.
Never form too close an intimacy with the opposite sex even if they are brothers and sisters in the Lord. Give no place to the adversary. Abstain from the very appearance of evil. Hebrews 13:17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. Though out the New Testament we are taught to have respect for authority and to exercise order and discipline in the Church. These kindly instructions and advice are given by those who are watching for your soul as they much give an account, and it is hoped they will be received with the same meek, gentle spirit in which they are given.
I never witnessed any charges brought against anyone for not taking part in the singing yet extreme weight was given to other areas in the list. The church in my day was very difficult to figure out. When I was dating, this list ruled out almost everything I could do on a date. I posed the question once about what I could take a girl on a date and do you know what the answer was? I was told “You can take her to church.” Yeah, try that for a pickup line and see how many dates you get.
Seriously, though the church took fun out of everything you could possibly do. For folks that went through a divorce, if they wanted to remain members, they would have to either remain unmarried or wait for their ex to die before they could date anyone else. There were a lot of divorced people praying for their exes to die – for Godly reasons of course!
PUT A RING ON IT
In the 1990s, the church went through a huge transition. Although it was masked under a cloak of top secrecy if you weren’t present to hear it, the church began allowing members to wear their wedding rings. You would not believe the fuss that went on about this. Many people said that the reason the church was relaxing its stance on wedding rings was because they were losing members. I don’t know if that was true or not but that was the talk going around. Now, I will admit to you that I had a difficult time with the ring issue. After years of being taught against wearing any kind of jewelry, I was dealing with this issue and decided I was going to wear my wedding ring. I met with my pastor at the time and informed him that I was going to wear my wedding ring. You would have thought I had done the most unthinkable thing possible. He looked at me and told me how disappointed he was in me with being raised in the church and was “floored” by my desire to wear my wedding ring. He also asked that I would wait a week before wearing them to church so he could prepare himself and the congregation. I learned later that he had a secret clandestine meeting with the other men of the church and asked them if I should continue in any leadership roles in the church. They apparently had no problems with it. The next Sunday I came in with my wedding ring and almost every eyeball was looking at my ring finger. I even got the ire of an anonymous caller who would leave hateful messages on my answering machine about it. Yes, this is the “true” church doing this. Amazing. The ring controversy finally settled down and others started wearing their rings.
The ring issue was a huge example I experienced of the double-standard in the church. People were lightning quick to criticize me of something yet they had their own vices. The church wasn’t doing a good job of reaching the lost because they were losing the found.
The ring controversy created a rift in COGOP and eventually a group called “The Concerned” split off to form their own group which many call THE Church of God (don’t forget THE in the title). There were also others that split off to form various groups as a result of the schism over the rings as well as the debate over divorce and remarriage.
Divorce and Remarriage was another big issue with the church as well. When I left they were considering changing their stance on it. They liked to quote the scripture on how God hates divorce but neglect the fact that God loves the divorced person. And if you want to know the “truth” just ask someone. Especially on the issue of divorce and remarriage. Each person will give you their own slant and their own scriptural reference to support what THEY think is the truth. They called it “rightly dividing the Word” but it always divided into the person giving the interpretation at the moment. The subject of Divorce and Remarriage was such a big deal that there was even an article about it in the New York Times:
Many COGOPs have tried to be more relevant to people and more “friendly” instead of the strict teachings they have been historically known for. Some have renamed their churches to more seeker-friendly titles such as “Harvest Fellowship” or “Liberty Fellowship” and so on. While they are still under the COGOP umbrella, they want to dispel the rigid disciplines of the past. At the time I left COGOP, it was more likely that you will find each church is autonomous of another. Some in rural communities are apt to keep the hard line of the past. It varies from church to church.
ALL HYPE AND NO SUBSTANCE
When I reflect back on my time in the church I can tell you that I never witnessed miracle. Never saw blinded eyes opened. Didn’t see people raised from the dead. Not one deaf person was healed. No one ever got up from their wheelchair and started walking. Nothing. I never saw it. I heard STORIES about these and I believed the stories I was told. I believed these things could happen so it wasn’t a lack of faith on my part and I certainly wasn’t a doubting Thomas. I was in all the way. I WANTED to see these things but in all of my 46 years I never saw it – not first-hand anyway. All the church seemed to be was a lot of hype with no substance. I heard a lot of loud preaching and people who would get my emotions worked up. I have seen people holler and run the church aisles in the spirit. Lots of emotionalism. Did the church fail me? Yes, I think you can see that it did. I still believe in healing and miracles but I don’t need any yelling preacher to get me hyped up about it.
As I told you last week, I really tried to believe everything the church was telling us but it just didn’t work. Not for me. It is really quite disenchanting when you had a “man of God” preaching love from the pulpit and telling racially insensitive jokes when not on God’s stage. That’s very disturbing to me and I am ashamed to have ever been involved in a church like that. Yes, I tried to believe it all and accept it but it didn’t work. I got to a breaking point from the expectations and hypocrisy to force me to discover my true relationship with God. It wasn’t about the “advice to members” or wearing rings, it was about relationship. Did you know that God doesn’t care about a person’s perfect church attendance record? Being a part of a strict church isn’t equal to being a Christian. I eventually have un-learned that the hard way.
I saw some good, a lot of bad and lots of ugly during my COGOP days. One of the ugliest moments I recall was when my father was appointed as a pastor at a church in deep South Georgia. They didn’t take too kindly to having a new pastor or anyone not related to someone in their church. One night we were in the car home from church a group of church members followed us out and attempted to run us off the road. I remember my mother telling me to lay down the back seat as they approached us and swerved close to us. It was a scary moment and one that will instill a sense of fear in your life. So, yes, I have reasons to be critical of the church I left and why I left it.
While there was a lot of bad experiences, there were a some good things about my life in the church. The best part was the friends I made through the years. Most of them are still with COGOP and I have no problems with that because they are good people and they are trying to be a positive influence in today’s version of COGOP. I keep in touch with a few of them. We all have our own crosses to bear and our own journeys to travel in life. This is mine. Next week I will tell you about how I sorted everything out and reveal the main reason that I left the church.
Okay, this isn’t a joke. In fact, the Pope recently made the following statement:
“There are those who say ‘I am very Catholic, I always go to Mass, I belong to this and that association. There are many Catholics who are like this and they cause scandal,” he said. “How many times have we all heard people say ‘if that person is a Catholic, it is better to be an atheist’.”say ‘if that person is a Catholic, it is better to be an atheist’.”
It took me a while to find the actual statement since it was reported different ways in the media.
So is it better to be an atheist or a bad Christian?
There was a time when I would have said it was better to be a bad Christian or a hypocrite because at least they were in church and might learn to do better. I’m of a different opinion on this today. If you continue to practice bad behavior you will never change. At least an atheist comes into this honest about the whole thing. Is it better to stay either way? Absolutely not. What the Pope was trying to say is that the bad Christians give the church a bad name and do nothing to convince anyone to be a part of the church.
In fact didn’t even Jesus say that He would prefer that someone be either hot or cold? If you are lukewarm He would spit you out. (Revelation 3:15) Jesus expects people to be all in or not at all. Halfway doing it doesn’t do anybody any good.
And who did Jesus have the most problems with? The Christian Leaders. Specifically the Pharisees. They were all about doing things for show but their motives weren’t always pure.
In my lifetime, I have seen my share of church people and a lot of the negative side of people. It isn’t pretty and no surprise that people have no use for attending a church. For me, it has taken a lot of time and deep soul searching to separate truth from the hypocrites. Separate the dark side of church from who God really is to me personally.
You see, I used to “drink the koolaide” as they say. I attended every Sunday and carried out my responsibilities. The problem was that I was dying inside. I left church feeling worse than when I came. It was terribly frustrating. I won’t say it was all bad but I was bad. I was a total hypocrite. And good at it too. That’s not what I wanted to be or the life I wanted to live. It took me a long time to unlearn the things that I was taught that was wrong. I came to a startling revelation that there were many things that the church taught that wasn’t what God had intended. Denominational leaders had taken some things and made it the extreme of what it was intended. Much like what the Pharisees did in the Jesus’ day. Did you know that some wore the actual law on their heads (and still do)? Talk about legalism to the extreme!
So is it really better to be an atheist than a bad Christian? Well, I’ve never been an atheist but I have experience at being a bad Christian. It has been a painstaking experience reprogramming from the things I had learned. I won’t say it was ALL wrong but I really had to deal with the legalism. It would have been a lot easier to learn it the right way in the beginning. Today, I can tell you that my relationship with God is much more personal and meaningful than it has ever been. Time alone with God is much more fulfilling than sitting in a church pew for an hour on Sunday morning.
Are all Christians hypocrites? Absolutely not. In fact, there are many examples of selflessness, courage, moral action and reform and many other positive influences on the world. These are sincere believers transformed by the resurrected Christ and are models of what a good Christian is supposed to be. Sadly, we tend to focus more on the bad apples rather than the good fruit.
The point that the Pope was making in his statement is that none of us are perfect. Just because we call ourselves Catholics, Christians or whatever religious title we want to wear, we have ALL sinned. We ALL need that amazing grace every day to do better and be better people. We aren’t better than someone else because we go to church or belong to a religious group.
I often say that I was brought up in a church home but it took me a long time to discover God personally. I’m glad I did. It doesn’t make me perfect I just hope it makes me a better person.