The village church

Review of Loving God When You Don’t Love the Church, Part One

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”.

churchOf 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!

-ibid

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:

  1. What are the primary hurts you are carrying from church?
  2. 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.

chris jackson
Pastor Chris Jackson

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.

-ibid

leaving churchTouché, Pastor Jackson.

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?

-ibid

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.

-ibid

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:

  1. Do you still have hurts from areas where you were never heard?
  2. If so, do you need to process those hurts with someone who can help?
  3. 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?

Good SamaritanPastor 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.

Advertisements

18 thoughts on “Review of Loving God When You Don’t Love the Church, Part One”

  1. While I still believe we ought to discuss the fundamental question I posed earlier today in the comments to yesterday’s “Pesky Challenge” essay (which I’ll re-iterate below for convenience of discussing it in comments here), I’d like to note that the challenge you outline today exists also for some Jews within what would be considered the MJ movement, because not all supposedly MJ congregations have truly embraced the MJ paradigm. Thus those Jews who *have* done so can feel just as much out of place as you felt in your former semi-Calvinistic Baptist church community. And certainly there have been cases where MJs have been hurt and rejected for not toeing the party line as taught from the pulpit. I believe Chaya has from time to time reported such experiences in her former sojourn within what she has called the “messy-world”. I have certainly had such experiences. Therefore I suggest that the problems of “fitting in” or finding a place in which to do so are pretty widespread; though one could argue that some places are less amenable to doing so than are others.

    Reiterating now that fundamental question:
    … so far what has not been explored in this discussion is the question of what purposes may be or ought to be served by “fellow-ship”, beyond the trite notion of a random group of “fellows” who are “all in the same boat”. I suspect that the darshan who wrote Heb.10:25 about “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” (as KJV puts it), in order to encourage one another, had something more in mind. We might consider this specific circumstance as well as the general doctrine that had been developed from it to invoke some measure of guilt over not being a regular participant in some organized religious community.

  2. I’m enjoying seeing you interpret and retrofit (where such retrofitting can reasonably be done) things this pastor says. And he seems like a thoughtful guy, even if he sometimes asks questions more profound than he fully realizes [one, and the title of the book, to which I respond in my mind with, The Separation of Church and Faith (the name of a book by Daniel Gruber)]. I think he did a decent job of applying the Samaritan parable (as you showed), while misapplication of Bible can often be very frustrating.

    I’m wondering something now.

    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.

    Wasn’t the friend who “accurately predicted” the same friend who you say is concerned about you not being IN “a fellowship” lately? I wonder if your friend is struggling with “not loving” going to something like church but also afraid of “breaking covenant” (although he might configure that in different words, like not wanting to “forsake” assembling). In other words, maybe he’s trying to come up with satisfactory answers for himself when he voices observation on you.

  3. @PL: I did answer your question in my “Pesky” blog post. It makes sense that Jews can also experience some dissonance in Messianic Jewish congregations since they’re not all cut from the same cloth, so to speak. I know Messianic Jewish congregations struggle with what level of observance to adopt and I can only imagine that individual Jewish members encounter the same issues.

    @Marleen: The matter at hand for him is being in fellowship and being patient. He’s in a congregation where he doesn’t always share the same views as the leaders or other members, but he’s taken his time in letting himself be accepted before making any statements about his opinions. I think he wants me to join him at his congregation, which meets on Shabbat, but having looked at their website, they seems sort of “Torah-light” and “One Law-ish” so I doubt I’d last too long in that environment.

  4. “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

    James wrote, “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?”

    You wouldn’t believe some of the crazy stuff that goes on in the church-world. It has become popular for some churches to make new members sign a “covenant” (a.k.a., a contract) stating they will not speak against any of the leadership or members, that they will tithe to church, and on and on it goes, including stuff about attendance.

    Why would you need to sign a contract except to manipulate people into being under control – and possibly for use in lawsuits???

    I think this practice started in megachurches and has filtered down to some of the smaller churches with stars in their eyes to become megachurches.

    So no, James, I don’t think you’d fall into the category of “covenant breaker.”

  5. One I understood how the New Covenant actually worked, I realized that Gentile believers only benefit from the blessings of the New Covenant because of the faithfulness of Messiah. Technically speaking, we aren’t named covenant members because Jeremiah 31:31 only mentions the House if Judah and the House of Israel, that is, the Jews. I agree that there’s nothing that “covenants” Christians to attend church services, but as you say Linda, some churches have unusual practices. Normative Christianity in general doesn’t seem to have a good grasp of what the New Covenant is and that it is not with the Church.

  6. No, James, I don’t think you did address my question in the “Pesky” essay. Perhaps you didn’t quite realize the ramifications of Heb:10:25 — as much for what it does *not* say as for what it does say. For example, it does not say anything about attendance at a formally organized “assembly”; it merely addresses meeting together, which maybe done quite informally, house by house to share meals or merely a “cuppa tay”. Nor does it say anything about how many are required to constitute the act of “assembling”, nor how frequently; though its Jewish readership would tend to meet regularly in a minyan — and it is precisely in this regular thrice-daily prayer context that these readers would fellowship, unless they were avoiding minyans altogether to avoid the social pressures being applied against Rav-Yeshua messianists at that time. Hence the exhortation in this letter may be recognized as an encouragement to continue in regular Jewish prayer — despite social pressures and perhaps as a means to combat them by their demonstration of good faith. Note that I’m envisioning that these minyans would not necessarily comprise solely messianists, but would include also other Jews with other views. I am using a definition of “us” or “ourselves” that draws the boundaries differently from the Christian view of “us and them”. As such, it is a bit harder to generalize the letter’s advice to apply accurately to non-Jews. It certainly cannot be used to demand regular church attendance, nor to compel guilt feelings for not doing so; nor does it justify the recent practice of formulating “fellowship covenants” that make “covenant-breakers” out of dissidents who disaffect rather than continue in conflict.

    As for your comment to Marleen that you don’t think you’d last very long in your friend’s group that seems may be Torah-lite and OL-ish: You managed to last two years in an evangelical church environment. Could this be any worse? Are you expecting that the likely arguments in which you might engage there would be more vehement, perhaps, than those in your former evangelical Sunday School classes? .

  7. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.

    Hebrews 10:23-25 (NASB)

    PL, I read this as connecting holding “fast the confession of our hope without wavering” with “not forsaking our own assembling together,” as if the writer of the Hebrews letter was telling his Jewish readers that assembling together and encouraging one another would help them “hold fast to the confession of hope”. That’s probably what most Christians would take away from these verses, the idea that associating with other believers helps each individual “hold fast” to their faith.

    So they might imagine not gathering together could result in letting go of the “confession,” that is, letting go of faith, which is what the Hebrews writer was apparently trying to prevent his own audience from doing.

    You’re right. Christians don’t meet in a minyan to pray three times a day and thus don’t have that sort of regular and consistent fellowship.

    The question is whether I can reasonably be seen as in danger of losing my faith because, on a face-to-face basis (as opposed to online), I’m something of a lone wolf?

    Regarding my comment to Marleen, I’ve worn down my ability to tolerate religious community that stands in dissonance to my own views so I don’t know that I’m ready to accept the same sort of challenge again. In many ways, it was actually a relief to walk out of church for the last time.

    Still, it’s possible I may take my friend up on his invitation just for the sake of the experience. I should note that his wife, who is also a Christian, chooses to go to a different congregation that is more of a traditional church.

  8. James, I have read tons of your articles and have been enjoying Thomas Lancaster’s teachings, also, due to your influence. (I hope you never abandon this blog.) So I was tracking with what you were saying and where you were coming from about the New Covenant.

    I have a strong feeling that in the context of the quote from his book, he probably wasn’t referring to the New Covenant of Scripture of which Jeremiah foretells at all, but to a “church covenant” such as I mentioned. “Covenanting” (a.k.a., contracting) with the local assembly and then leaving in some sort of discord could cause one to be viewed as a “covenant breaker” in their eyes. This is certainly what it sounds like to me. I don’t agree with this practice, but that’s beside the point.

    In your case, you never joined your local assembly you were attending for obvious reasons, and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have practiced this anyway. All the Baptist churches I know of offer standard membership in traditional Baptist fashion rather than a trick-covenant meant to control people. That’s what I meant when I said, no, you’re not a “covenant breaker” for leaving. 😉

  9. Terms like, “covenant breaker,” are from the shepherding movement of the 80’s, which is likely what this author was involved in. It was/is cult-like, controlling and abusive. Other groups have taken on the same practices. This is also common now in Neo-Calvinist churches that just use different terminology.

  10. @Linda, many churches, especially Neo-Calvinists, require members to sign multi-page legal contracts which their own lawyers have created to protect the church from lawsuits by abused members. Usually they waive their right to legal address of clergy misdeeds, agree to not leave during, “church discipline,” and leaving the church unless to join a likeminded one is considered, “forsaking assembly,” which invokes their almighty, “church discipline.” Staff members have their severance pay held hostage so they sign non-disclosure agreements. In addition, the prospective member is not informed he/she should have their own attorney peruse this legal agreement prior to signing. The church agrees to little; the contract is entirely one-sided.

  11. @Pl, @James, visiting is one thing; usually everyone is very nice and tolerant of visitors. The problem is the evangelical paradigm that has carried over to MJ and even more in HR, that there must be likemindedness at all costs. The problem isn’t this or that bad apple, but a system that is predictable in that it doesn’t tolerate much latitude in differences and finds a thinking, questioning person a threat to insecure leadership.

    Just had a thought: I don’t know what the university situation is like in your area, but you might find fellowship in academic religion classes, where you won’t find censorship or a requirement for doctrinal purity.

    As an aside, I was in an online discussion and a rabbi in Boise said the Father from the Greek Orthodox church near his office believes in blood libel, and refused to listen to any sort of reason, as he claimed history was whitewashed.

  12. Yes, Chaya, that’s the very kind of thing to which I alluded. It empowers wolves to devour church members and is very popular among megachurches where kingdoms are built, but whose kingdoms are they?

  13. Just had a thought: I don’t know what the university situation is like in your area, but you might find fellowship in academic religion classes, where you won’t find censorship or a requirement for doctrinal purity.

    Chaya, I would hope that would be more true in other universities than in the one where I was taking a class in religions of the “West” and an Orthodox priest was greatly welcomed until he talked about actual faith rather than ritual and so on; THEN, he was roundly run out. [This is also the context in which I first confessed my faith in conversation (outside the classroom) with Muslims who were evangelizing the campus for Islam.] This pastor/teacher never said anything anti-Semitic and only ever spoke positively about Jews and Israel; yes, it’s very different from examples of Orthodox individuals I’ve seen on YouTube.

  14. I have a son who took an economics course at our local junior college (where he also had just taken classes while he was still in high school). He had an economics course taught by a high school teacher before, so he knew what an economics course should be like. The college teacher (at an “introductory” level, so it could end up being the only economics course a lot of people ever took) didn’t really teach things that mattered, but taught what would seem to me to be right-wing evangelical conspiracy talk. Very Christian compatible. But one day, after he got home from watching a bit of video in class, he watched the rest of the video that had been presented in class. Toward the end, there was a claim that Jesus is a fictional person.

    My son reported the teacher for teaching junk in class (the fake economics portion) — not to mention real content being absent. The teacher was reprimanded and promised the school administration as well as the students he wouldn’t do it again.

  15. This is surprising. Sure, professors/instructors are free to spout their own personal politics/etc., but you always have a syllabus, text, and it has to fulfill requirements.

  16. There was an assigned book, but that isn’t what dominated the time for people who attended classes day after day. However, each student was required to give one in-class presentation, and my son’s contradicted point by point what had been going on. It was a well-reasoned talk with illustrations, and he wasn’t punished for it. He got an A in the class and had fun with all this, but I wouldn’t say there a was an ongoing sense of free-flowing interaction or fellowship.

    It COULD happen in some circumstances I think. He (who doesn’t know anything of this co conversation I’m in) was just saying a couple days ago (he’s graduating this spring from a nearby university) that teachers should stop saying (as they usually do at the beginning of each semester) that they want to have a lot of conversational participation with the students. They know it isn’t going to happen.

    None the less, there was an official way for students to get together outside of class to help each other learn, and my son was adept at finding those who would really look into things and interact together (and not just copy something mindlessly off the internet to get the homework done). Then they would get together on their own and make sense of everything (and make friends).

  17. By necessity, classes have to operate within certain parameters if, for no other reason, to avoid total chaos. Imagine enrolling in a class on the study of Shakespeare’s sonnets and having a student continually bring up The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. If you sign up for a Bible study in an Evangelical Christian church, you should probably be prepared to be a student in that class within certain theological and doctrinal limits.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s