I have never really liked church. This is rooted in being a pastor’s kid, always being in church, and watching my dad deal with untold masses of irrational people. When I moved out of my parent’s house, I did not go to church for several years.
During this time I was at a Christian college. This did not help my opinion of Christianity. My college years were filled with annoyance at Christianity in all its glory around me.
Then an odd thing happened: I realized that I did not like church because I understood it very well. So I had two options
- Leave it
- Try to help it
I had gone through several years of leaving it, and I tried hard to not let church idiocy bother me, but it did. Sitting on the sidelines being irritated was not turning out to be a healthy option. That’s when I came to the dreadful decision to be a pastor.
I switched my major and made plans for seminary. Here I am now, closing in on sixteen years of being a pastor.
I am the pastor of an odd church. The church I am at was founded to be a little odd. It cut out all the frills of churchiness and focused on Bible teaching. I fit in to that system. I have maintained that goal and maybe even furthered it.
We have no youth ministry. We sing from a hymn book. My sermons run about 45 minutes. Every church gathering during the week has a pretty solid chunk of time devoted to Bible teaching. We have no rituals, fancy clothing, candles, choirs, Christmas programs or Easter cantatas. We don’t do small groups, fund-raising, or busy work.
I hear many people tell me how nice that must be. “I would love to go to a church like that.” I hear this quite frequently, yet my church is rather small. Church without churchiness just doesn’t cut it for most people. I get it, and to a certain extent that’s fine. I’ve never been opposed to there being multiple churches to choose from.
It is my opinion, and a main reason why I lead my church the way I do, that church is largely messed up and distracting from the goal of knowing and following Christ.
I have been reading Leo Tolstoy lately. In his book, The Kingdom of God is Within You, he launches on the church in chapter 3. In a discussion on heresy and church he says these quotes (I encourage you to track down the book and read this chapter at least. This site has a good chunk of the chapter, but not all of it. Click here for a taste):
Heresy is the obverse side of the church. Wherever there is a church, there must be the conception of heresy. A church is a body of men who assert that they are in possession of infallible truth. Heresy is the opinion of the men without who do not admit the infallibility of the church’s truth.
All effort after a living comprehension of the doctrine [of Christ] has been made by heretics.
To assert to one’s self or of any body of men, that one is or they are in possession of perfect understanding and fulfillment of Christ’s word, is to renounce the very spirit of Christ’s teaching.
The churches as churches, as bodies which assert their own infallibility, are institutions opposed to Christianity.
The churches. . . cannot but persecute and refuse to recognize all true understanding of Christ’s words.
Tolstoy’s experience in church lead him to believe that churches all think they are the only ones with the Holy Spirit, the only ones with “truth.” To question that truth is to be a heretic. Churches have to be exclusive to the truth in order to guilt you into coming and giving them money to maintain their institutions and traditions.
Tolstoy is speaking directly about the Russian Orthodox Church, Catholicism, and Lutheranism, but throws in all branches of Protestant theology as well. He may be overstating the case a tad, not all churches are like this, but certainly the majority are, if not by direct statement, at least in action.
Let the Church stop its work of hypnotizing the masses, and deceiving children even for the briefest interval of time, and men would begin to understand Christ’s teaching. But this understanding will be the end of the churches and all their influence. And therefore the churches will not for an instant relax their zeal in the business of hypnotizing grown-up people and deceiving children. This, then, is the work of the churches: to instill a false interpretation of Christ’s teaching into men, and to prevent a true interpretation of it for the majority of so-called believers.
I think this is true.
If the church taught people to pursue Christ, churches would go out of business. So, the church interposes itself in between the individual and Christ. “You need us to get to God.”
If churches don’t give people that “religious feeling,” people think they are not being godly. People go to church for the feeling, not for learning who God is and how to pursue Him. It’s risky business to set people free.
This is the central tension I have always felt as a pastor. I am here to help people come to Christ. I am not here for me, for my legacy, for my achievements in church building. Nor am I here to fill you with false hope and happy thoughts. I am merely a guy trying to know Christ who wants you to know Christ. I try to keep everything else out of the way of that goal.
I really wished this worked! But it doesn’t, at least not according to man’s wisdom. I don’t have numbers, buildings, money, or anything of temporal measure. I will let God judge the spiritual results.
In the end, I see the problem, and I think Tolstoy did too. Whether I am actually addressing the problem in a constructive way will be revealed when I give an account to my Lord. Until then, I do hope you find Christ and pursue Him. It’s pretty much why we’re here.