Where is the Church that Jesus said He would build? Where can I find the abundant life that He talked about? Where can I fit in and find real, unforced relationships? Where is the living water that my soul so desperately craves? And, possibly most important of all, why do church wounds go so deep and take so long to heal?
–Pastor Chris Jackson
from Chapter One: Have You Ever Been Hurt in the Church?
Loving God When You Don’t Love the Church: Opening the Door to Healing (Kindle Edition)
As I mentioned yesterday, I’m going to review Pastor Jackson’s book in stages, mainly because I haven’t finished reading it yet. Since I’m reading it on my Kindle Fire, I’m simply going to address the parts of the book I’ve highlighted, such as the quoted text above.
I rarely read Christian oriented books anymore. I tend to be drawn more to Jewish publications in book, blog, and website formats. To read Jackson’s book, I have to push past a lot of what I call “Christianese” and past a lot of traditional Church doctrine. I’m attempting to set aside the temptation to review this Pastor’s theology, and instead to focus on what he has to say about loving God but not “the Church”. I don’t think I’ve been entirely successful.
For instance, in the quote above, I have to push past the fact that Jesus (Yeshua) never talked about a Church, but instead, he spoke of an ekklesia, a grouping or community, a Kehilla (Heb. “congregation”) of disciples.
Where is his Kehilla today? Pastor Jackson asked a more profound question than I think he could have realized.
But he asked another very important question. “Where can I fit in?” This is something Derek Leman blogged about just yesterday. For me, that’s one of the $64,000 questions, and I’ve been looking for an answer. In my case, in any immediate and practical sense, the answer is probably “nowhere” or at least nowhere within driving distance.
But what about the “church wounds” he mentions? Am I “wounded” by the church? Is that why I’m avoiding going “church hunting” like a pack or rabid pit bulls?
Not exactly. Oh, I admit, it wasn’t any fun having the Pastor of the church I used to attend devote an entire sermon to refuting every single thing I understand about the Bible from the pulpit. I think I’ve made my peace with that and him, but it also convinced me that I would be an antithetical element in just about any Christian church in my area (as far as I know). In that sense, I have been left rather “gun shy”.
Of course, as I’ve already mentioned, even if I found a church that would accept me into community and one that wouldn’t drive me crazy, I still have my long-suffering Jewish wife to consider. My attending church every week was like hammering nails into her temples each Sunday morning (not that she’s ever complained nor has she ever discouraged me from going to church).
How can I do that to her again?
Pastor Jackson also encourages his readers to separate God from the Church, or at least any pain caused by people in the local church:
He loves you. He’s longing for you. You are the Church. You are the apple of His eye, and He is pursuing you with the passion of a desperate lover. He is not the church that hurt you!
Strange how “apple of His eye” and “lover of your soul” are terms from the Torah and Siddur that specifically describe God’s relationship to Israel, the Jewish people. But then, Derek also recently blogged about how Christians typically read all of the Bible as if it were addressed to Gentile believers rather than the Jewish people.
But I digress (again).
Yes, losing faith in the Church (or a local church) does not mean you must lose faith in God, but how long can faith be nurtured without community to support it? I don’t think I’m avoiding community because I feel hurt. I’m avoiding community because I’m incompatible with community and even if I weren’t, my being in community would have a profound impact on my home life. Solve that, Pastor Jackson.
At the end of the first chapter, just like the subsequent chapters, Pastor Jackson added some study and application questions:
- What are the primary hurts you are carrying from church?
- Are you willing to embrace a path that leads to healing?
I think I’ve answered the first question and the answer to the second is complex. Healing, even if I’m hurt or damaged in some sense, doesn’t necessarily mean reconciliation. It doesn’t mean returning to the church I left nor attending another, if for no other reason than my Christianity is a wound my Jewish wife must bear.
In Chapter 2, Pastor Jackson tells story about returning to his hometown and getting together with a friend. Jackson innocently asks about a mutual acquaintance and the conversation turns tense. Apparently this mutual friend did something unforgivable, he became a “covenant breaker” and was teaching his children to become the same thing.
My friend was silent for a moment as he considered the best way to break the terrible news to me. “No,” he said slowly. “He left the church. He disagreed with the leadership about somethings and decided to move on. Now his children are being taught that it’s okay to break covenant and bail out when things don’t go their way.”
-ibid, Chapter 2: The Left Behind
Break covenant? What covenant? That is, where in the Bible does it say that we non-Jewish believers are part of a covenant that specifically requires regular church attendance? Jackson doesn’t address the answer, so the concept of Christians having a covenant to attend church must be understood by him. Too bad that I don’t. There are still many parts of Christianity that seem so mysterious to me.
But the implication is that at least some Christians would consider me a “covenant breaker” for also not going to church. After all, I disagreed with the Head Pastor of the church I used to attend on a pretty regular basis, which led to some lively conversations in his office. We kept things friendly, but we really did (and still do) conceptualize the message of the Gospel in fundamentally different ways.
Though I’d probably disagree with Pastor Jackson in many areas as well, he tends to ask good questions:
I wondered why it is that we Christians can be so quick to write people off when they make decisions with which we disagree.
I’m just as guilty of writing off the Church as some people are of writing me off.
Jackson said he wishes “that every guest who visited my church would fall in love with us and never want to leave. I wish they would experience God, make lifelong friendships, receive training in the area of their giftedness and make an impact with us for the Kingdom of God.”
There’s a lot I could address in that brief statement, but the most relevant words he wrote were “experience God.” Theological and doctrinal differences aside, that’s at the center of our faith, experiencing God and then living out that experience day by day, helping others to experience Him, too.
Another good question:
What happens after people get left behind? Where do they go? Where are they now?
I suppose that Jackson would see me as being “left behind” by the Church. So where do the disaffected and the disenfranchised go and what do we do?
According to Jackson’s research, some just go to a different church, others, like me, stop going to any church and do something else with their Sundays. And some “are experiencing more fellowship in the local pub than they ever experienced in the local church.”
Jackson said that “the devil” didn’t take these people out, they were gunned down by “friendly fire” from within their churches.
They weren’t just interpersonal relationships that involved me — they were much bigger than me. They involved church-philosophy issues and relationships between spiritual leaders that disintegrated and, in the fallout, damaged hundreds of lives.
That part doesn’t particularly map to my experience since the only people who were affected by my leaving church were the Pastor and me (well, and my wife indirectly). I doubt anyone else at church particularly noticed, or if they did, any concerns passed quickly. I’d become kind of a pest with my odd questions and observations in Sunday school (although occasionally someone said they appreciated something I’d said). I certainly wasn’t part of anything like the disaster Jackson described in the above-quoted block of text.
At the end of Chapter 2, his questions were:
- Do you still have hurts from areas where you were never heard?
- If so, do you need to process those hurts with someone who can help?
- Even if you currently feel like the wounded man in Jesus’ story, are you willing to be the Good Samaritan for someone else who has been wounded like you?
Pastor Jackson has a habit of taking scripture and using it allegorically to describe an unrelated situation. The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) was Yeshua’s metaphorical story to answer a scribe’s question about who his “neighbor” was. The neighbor was the one who showed mercy to the man attacked by robbers and left for dead. Yeshua told the scribe to “go and do likewise,” that is, go and show mercy to those who need mercy.
This answers the third of the study questions. Even if we feel wounded by past church associations, we should show mercy to the wounded we encounter rather than, to extend the metaphor, pour salt into open wounds.
I don’t relate to the first question. I was heard, at least by Pastor. I just wasn’t believed. I was the elephant in a roomful of gazelles. I didn’t fit in and I refused to turn into a gazelle. I make a better elephant than a gazelle.
I did process all this with a friend who accurately predicted how it was all going to end. And as you all know, I process a great many things here on this blog.
Who can help?
I don’t know. I’m not even sure what needs help or what help would look like.
Just like my participation in church, my situation and Jackson’s book are an imperfect fit. I may find, as I continue through his book, that it’s no fit at all, again, like me and church. I guess I’ll have to wait and see.
I’m going to stop here, even though I’m much further along in the book than the first two chapters. I’d like to keep this blog post from becoming unmanageably long. I’ll have more to say next time.