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Posts Tagged ‘church’

by Jim Gordon

I realize not everyone will agree with all the articles on this site. We all are in a constant state of learning and changing. No matter what your lifestyle, what you choose to believe, how you accept things, none of us will ever completely agree with anyone else.

As believers, we would not expect those who do not follow the christian faith to agree with everything we think and say. Yet, we also know that other christian people will not agree with everything either. We have so many denominations in the christian world, yet none of them will agree completely. But this is all OK, we are all individuals who see things differently.

I think those of us trying to follow Christ should be able to accept one another. Same with believers and non-believers, learn to talk with each other about how we see things and still be respectful and kind. As believers we are to be known by our love, but unfortunately, that just is not the case most of the time.

No matter if we are gay, straight, christian, muslim, jew, hindu, atheist, asexual, baptist, methodist, charismatic or whatever label people put on us, the underlying fact is we are all human beings. We all deserve to be treated with respect and be accepted. Each of us should be able to live our life and make our own choices without being condemned by others. We should be able to discuss our differences respectfully, and none of us should try to force our views and choices on another.

Unfortunately, there has been a lot of name calling and disrespect among different groups of people over time. Christian people saying God hates gays, and atheists are of the devil, people being afraid of muslims, one denomination wants nothing to do with another denomination…this is all wrong and sad.

If we could look past the labels and see each other as people who overall want the same thing, to be happy, to be loved, be healthy, get our bills paid and enjoy life, I think things would be better even with our differences. This is not to say we have to agree with everyone and associate with everyone and be happy together, that just is not going to happen. There are too many different thoughts, ideas, beliefs, lifestyles and personalities for us to agree on everything and be totally comfortable with everyone, yet accepting each other and respecting each other in spite of our differences certainly is a possibility.

When you read about the life of Christ in the gospels, you see someone who loved people. He did not disassociate himself from any particular group, nor did he turn away anyone or think he was better than others. Jesus showed the love of the Father by caring for people, talking with people, eating together, healing people and not condemning them. The only crowd he had a problem with was the religious leaders of the day who thought they were so much better than everyone else because they focused on the rules. Their reasoning was they did not do the ‘wrong’ things and they did the ‘right’ things. They did not associate with the type of people they thought were less religious and unworthy of God’s love. Jesus was always getting on their case for being so religious they were no earthly good to the Kingdom of God.

Speaking of all the different views and lifestyles, I can remember when I was young and growing up in the organized church, how I always stayed with people of similar belief. I do not know for sure if I was actually taught this or it was just a common belief I picked up, but I felt I needed to stay away from people of different views and lifestyles. I still see this in the church today, a separatist mindset.

Sound familiar? So much of the traditional church setting is based on separation from those who think differently. This usually brings a feeling of superiority, being separated from those who need to see God’s love in action, and living a Pharisee-type lifestyle. (Pharisee: strict observance of religious ceremonies and practices, one who adheres to laws and traditions, self-righteous or hypocritical person).

Compare that to the life of Jesus we read about in the gospels, a person who loved people, he was not condemning or unkind, hung out with those who the religious crowd did not want anything to do with, spent time eating and drinking with the non-religious crowd, and truly cared for others.

I know we all see things differently. We will not all agree on things and we all have no way of proving our point in regard to spiritual matters. Yet I think it is time the christian ‘religion’ comes to an end and Christ-like people begin to daily show the love and acceptance of God to everyone whether we agree or not.

Jim Gordon and his wife left the institutional church after spending over fifty years within the system. Jim wanted a way to express his thoughts and concerns about the religious system and why he and his wife decided to leave the institution but not their faith in God. Jim can be contacted by email at: jimgordon731@gmail.com

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by Jim Gordon

I remember when I was young, I was in a church service just about any time the doors were open. My whole spiritual life depended on whether I was at church or not. If I did not go, I felt guilty and made sure I was there the next time. I was always active and participated in many church activities. I felt it was my duty and responsibility to do all I could for the church. I felt that was the only way I could serve God and do what pleased Him.

After many years of being in the organized church system, my wife and I became disillusioned with the religious organization and became a part of ‘The Dones’. We no longer attend a traditional or organized church, and no longer put any hope or trust in religion.

Does this mean we no longer think it is right to be part of a church? Not at all, that is a personal choice. Yet for us, we no longer are a part of it and we are very satisfied with the decision we made to leave. But that does not mean we expect everyone else to think the same way. We have several friends who feel the same way we do about organized religion, yet they want to continue to attend services.

In our case, after leaving the organized church I have noticed a feeling of separation between church goers and non-church goers. After all the years we spent in the organization and all the friends we made, once we left it has been a struggle to overcome a feeling of us and them. Obviously, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and there should be love and acceptance between us no matter if we attend church or not.

If you still feel drawn to the weekly organized meeting, I do not see anything wrong with it. Although we do not believe the church system is designed as God intended, there were very many good things that came out of our time being involved. If you are going to be a part of a local church, keep in mind some important facts.

When going to church, you are not going to God’s house. God does not live in buildings made by human hands. Christ builds His Church from living stones, which is us.

The pastor is not God’s mouthpiece. He or she is only a brother or sister in Christ, and their message is only their opinion. We have the Holy Spirit within us and He is our teacher and guide. We need no one else. It is good to hear other opinions and ideas, yet it is the Spirit that is to be our teacher and guide.

Bringing the tithe into the storehouse is not giving money to the church, and is no longer a requirement. We give out of love as we determine in our heart to give. If you give at the church you attend, you are not giving to God, but to support the organization and pay the bills.

Sunday is not the “Lord’s day”. Every day is the day the Lord has made, and no one day is more important than another.

The Bible is not to be held in the same regard as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The written word is inspired by God but written by men. All the translating men have done over the years, and men deciding which books are inspired and which are not, make it pretty clear that the bible is going to be flawed.  It is clearly stated that Jesus is the living, inerrant Word of God. The written word is a guide to lead us to Christ, but as Jesus told the Pharisees in John 5:39, You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me. They put the scriptures (written word) above the Living Word (Jesus).

When we are told not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, it is not talking about an organized church meeting. It is talking about loving and accepting one another, depending on one another and encouraging one another. We do this in many different ways each and every day, not just on one particular day.

When you go to church, do not fall for someone telling you God is going to show up and the Spirit is going to fall on this place. God is everywhere and the Spirit fell upon mankind 2000 years ago. The Spirit of God is within us and with us all the time. He is not sitting on a throne up in the sky waiting for us. He goes with us each and every day, everywhere we go.

Realize that worship is not singing a few songs, raising your hands when the worship leader tells you to and reading a few scripture verses together. Worship is daily praising God, trusting God and letting Him be Lord of your life. To worship God in spirit and truth involves loving Him with all your heart, soul, strength and mind.

And do not give way to a prideful spirit, thinking you are more spiritual or a “better” Christian because you went to church. Going to a service is a choice, not a requirement and you are no better if you go, and no worse off if you do not go.

Remember, each of us are living stones and equal parts of the body. We are the Church and Jesus is the head of his body. As his Church we are to show God’s love every day to everyone we meet. If you want to attend a local group of believers there is nothing wrong with that. Enjoy meeting with other believers, enjoy the atmosphere but remember you are the Church, you have the mind of Christ and the Spirit of God lives within you. We are to go about our daily lives under the leading of the Spirit, loving God and loving others whether we attend an organized church or not.

So, rather than looking down upon one another: those who attend church thinking we who have left the organization are backsliding from our faith or have walked away from God. Those of us who have left church think those who still attend are stuck in a man-made institution and following doctrines and interpretations of man. Rather, we should realize that we are brothers and sisters in Christ and each of us are loving God and doing what we feel is right and best at this point. We should be loving and accepting of one another and let the world see the love we have for one another, even in our differences. As John 13:35 reads, by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Jim Gordon and his wife left the institutional church after spending over fifty years within the system. Jim wanted a way to express his thoughts and concerns about the religious system and why he and his wife decided to leave the institution but not their faith in God. Jim can be contacted by email at: jimgordon731@gmail.com

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by Jim Gordon

1 Corinthians 3:16,17 – Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.

The old covenant days of the temple are over. According to the new covenant, we are God’s house and his Spirit lives within us. Many people say the traditional church building is where God lives, but this verse tells us that God is more personal than that. God can no longer be contained within a building. We are his dwelling place.

Each one of us who are saved by grace are now the temple of God. It is difficult to get away from the thought that God is up there somewhere, or that we have to go to church and wait for God to show up. This kind of thinking is now obsolete.

These verses point out that the temple of God is holy, and that is what we are. We are his temple and that makes us holy. Not by any works we have done or can do, but by the work that Christ has done. It can be hard for us to accept the fact that in Christ, we are holy and righteous. We are kings and priests. We were sinners, but the old sin nature was crucified with Christ. It is now dead and we are new creatures in him.

We need to stop being so negative and depressed because we feel like we have let God down and unable to live a holy life. Actually, we cannot live a holy life, but God, through the grace of Christ makes us holy. We are the righteousness of God. It is him, Jesus our all in all, who lives within us.

Our spirit is now holy and righteous in God’s sight. Our mind is still being transformed and our body is still a work in progress, but thanks be to God our spirit has been made perfect in Christ.

Start focusing on the fact that God is right here within us through his Spirit. We do not have to go to a building looking for Him, we do not have to wait for Him to show up at a special service. Right now we are in his presence. He is the vine, we are the branches. Just rest in him and allow him to live through you to touch those around you each day.

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by Jim Gordon

Often times in the past I have talked about modern day church and the way it is way off base from what it was meant to be.

It is not that I am against church, but it is a matter of being clear on the proper meaning of the word. Not that we have to be politically correct in description, but I feel we need to be clear on the matter in regard to our way of thinking.

Normally when the word church is mentioned, we think of a building we go to on Saturday or Sunday to learn about God. We also think in terms of how much we go to church as being a guide to how spiritual we are, or how close we are to God. We think of the doctrines, rules and regulations placed on us by the church as ways to make us better Christians.

We need to reset our thinking. The Church is not a building. The Church is the bride of Christ, all of us who are saved by grace. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit. The building is just a place where we can meet and conduct spiritual meetings and social events. Doctrine, rules and regulations are the old way of living, it was part of the law which Jesus fulfilled and brought to an end. We now live by love because of his grace.

Our thinking in regard to the word of God is also flawed. When we think of the Bible we think of a book and call it the word of God. The Bible never calls itself the actual word of God. The true living Word of God is Jesus. In the gospel of John it is stated that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God; and the word became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus is the Word of God. There is certainly nothing wrong with reading the Bible because it teaches us about God and leads us to Jesus, the Living, Inerrant Word of God. Our focus is to be on the fact that the Word of God is alive and living within each of us and is not just words printed on a page.

Although sometimes it may seem unimportant how we think of church and the Bible, it is very important that we understand what is really meant. The old mindset of a building and a book need to be replaced with the fact that the Church are those of us who are redeemed through the blood of Christ and the Word of God is Christ Himself, alive and living within us by his Spirit.

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by Jordan Hathcock

I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am. – John Newton

Here we are folks! We made it through the insane, sorrowful, confusing, defeating—and whatever other negative shit you can think of—year of 2020! Look, it has been a historic year and it’ll go down in history, no doubt. A lot of loss from all social aspects. Some experts are saying we might not see the end of the tunnel until 2024 (please god, I hope not). Alas, if you are alive and kicking, it’s something positive to take into the new year of 2021. Let’s breathe for f-sakes! I like to share with you my own “spiritual roll call” for this upcoming year. I think it’s healthy to step into a state of mindfulness when it comes to our wellbeing. So, let’s bring the awareness, baby!

Here is my “list” of where I am at with my spiritual (everything is spiritual, right Rob Bell?) life. Just going to lay out some “big” concepts with my inerrant (haha j/k) two cents. I hope it’s of substance and a possible help to whomever is reading this “blog”. Contemplation can definitely bring us into a more calming presence which hopefully brings about a more peaceful way of life (fingers cross for 2021). Enjoy my Spiritual Roll Call!

God

*Who* (or what?) is God really? Father? Mother? Being? Universe? Alien? Trump (seems to be for some but I regress hehe)? The who and the what don’t really tickle my fancy as much as the how? I definitely have come to a place where I see the Divine as more of an experience than a exact substance. How is God moving and breaking through my life seems more relative than the ontological details. At the same time, I love swimming in the Jesus tradition. The story of Jesus still captures my imagination. Yes, that stems from a lot of culture and family upbringing–we are all products of our environment. Yet, there is something still so new and relevant with the Jesus story that resonates with me more now than ever. The Spirit of Abba seems to be forever guiding me—with her wings of love, grace, mercy, peace and justice…oh my! 2021 needs some of that…

Church

Being raised in a pretty dogmatic tradition, it‘s pretty amusing to see myself back participating in a brick and mortar church. I don’t think it’ll never not find this to be hilarious (in a good way). As a person who is pretty anti-authority, it’s ironic to see myself being part of a Christian church. I am even part of the members board?! Elder Hathcock anyone?? Being raised L.D.S., the title of elder is pretty cringing (no offense). But that’s the paradox of it all! I get that some people are just not going to step foot in a church ever again (for good reasons). Those who find themselves in the physical church have their reasons too (don’t ask me what those are hehe). It’s easy to point fingers and bring our judgments to the nones, dones and the active. All I trust in is that community matters. We are all connected and I think it’s super healthy to help each other out. And I guess I like how the Jesus commonwealth feels best (shoot me).

Scripture

Can we really trust in ancient stories? Can we experience them in a way to better enrich our lives and those around us? Well, I don’t know for sure—but it seems like in the Christian tradition—we see more harm being done with the Bible than good. But this can be done with anything really, right? I mean look at the smart phones we use everyday? Technology is an amazing gift (especially through this pandemic). But we see the other side as well. Social media is just one click a way to a world of division and hostility. But it also can be used for just the opposite. Kind of what the Bible does, right? We can either take this book and use it to seek and destroy each other or we can let it help us point to divine healing and liberation. I will take the later. Quote me on this: I will never use scripture to judge or condemn anyone…woooweee!

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There you have it. Some of my perspectives that will hopefully bring about some healthy change in my little bubble and beyond. It’s good to name and claim it once in awhile when you are looking to be transparent, I think? Maybe your spiritual roll call will lead you into a presence which will produce new heights for this 2021 year. Let’s do this!

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by Mike Edwards

I’m convinced belief in a benevolent God makes you kinder. We often treat others the way we think God treats us. How has God’s threats of punishment helped you break away from bad habits or behaviors you long to change? Grace or authoritativeness doesn’t guarantee change, but I believe we best change because of God’s or friends’ love and acceptance. Below is John Sander’s article on the topic in a book recently published Open and Relational Leadership: Leading with Love.  I also included a link below *** of my article in the book.

The Leadership of a Nurturant God

By John Sanders

Christian leaders should imitate the leadership style of the God who nurtures.

The pastor plopped his Bible down on the table, pointed to it, and said, “I want to know why you put a question mark where God put a period?”

He was upset about my book that surveyed a range of views that Christians hold on the topic of the destiny of those who never heard of Christ. He believed that biblical teaching on the topic was clear, simple, and singular. He did not like it that I rejected his position and, instead, endorsed a range of different views that in one way or another gave hope for the salvation of those who have never heard of Jesus.

The values underlying the different approaches taken by the pastor and me arise from what social scientists call Nurturant and Authoritative values. Nurturants believe it is best to empower people by affirming and loving them. Nurturants prize values such as listening to others, perspective taking, and humility. Authoritatives believe that followers must first obey the leaders before the leaders show acceptance to them. Authoritative leaders need not listen to others because they are the ones in charge and questioning the leader means challenging their authority. They think that perspective taking and humility are signs of weakness. Leaders should simply say, “Because I said so.”

Open theism is a variety of Nurturant morality while much of evangelicalism and conservative Catholicism are versions of Authoritative morality. The Apostle Paul implored Christians to “be imitators of God” (Eph. 5:1). Richard Kearney says, “Tyrannical Gods breed tyrannical humans.” We imitate the deity we believe in and there are those who believe in an Authoritative God and those who affirm a Nurturant God. Both Gods seek to create humans in their image. I claim that the overall biblical portrait is that of a nurturing God and that Christian leaders should emulate these characteristics. Some examples will show how this works.

Many biblical texts show that God is both responsive to our input and open to our prayers. For example, when God announced his intended judgment on Sodom, Abraham questioned and negotiated with God (Gen. 18). An Authoritative God would have told Abraham: “I am God so shut your mouth.” Instead, God patiently listened and considered Abraham’s concerns. In another story God and Jacob have an encounter and God wants to leave but Jacob (whose name means “grabber”) grabs onto God and wrestles all night long with God. In response, God blesses Jacob and gives him a new name—Israel, which means, “wrestles with God.” God approved of what Jacob did. In Exodus, God asked Moses to return to Egypt and liberate the Jewish people. However, Moses does not do what God says. Instead, he raises five problems with God’s plan. An Authoritative God would have said, “Go now, because I said so. Do not question my plan or authority!” But the Nurturant God was open to Moses’s questions and to each of them God reiterates that “I will be with you.” Even when Moses tells God to go “find somebody else,” God adjusted the divine plan by allowing Aaron to do the public speaking. Thus, God was flexible and adaptive in working with people.

The way God relates in these stories fits with Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13. Love is patient, kind, and not arrogant. It does not insist on its own way. Rather, love puts up with us, has faith in us, and places hope in us. God does not say, “It’s my way or the highway” nor does God display a “take it or leave it” attitude. Rather, God engages us with a give-and-take in which both parties contribute and God practices innovation and employs flexible plans. God works with us like a jazz band which requires improvisation from all the players. At various times, each player takes the lead and the other players have to respond to what the other is doing. Love, says Paul, is not boastful so God does not say, “My music is the only music that matters.” Rather, God delights in sharing the stage and seeing what music others produce. Of course, this involves some risk on God’s part because we may do things that harm others. Love trusts others but we can, at times, disappoint the beloved.

The Nurturant God listens to our input and is flexible in adjusting plans. God empowers us to participate in the vocation of redemption and delegates responsibility to us for many things. Sometimes we bring God success but we can also let God down. This is how a strong leader operates. Inflexible people who demand their own way are weak leaders. If God is a nurturing leader, then leaders who imitate God will treat others the way God treats us. They will love others by empowering them. They will put faith in others to accomplish a mission. They will hope for a better future.

Philosophers like to speak about God’s “great-making” properties by which they mean power and knowledge. God certainly has these but if Jesus is our best example of what God is like, then God’s great-making properties include love, empathy, humility, and perspective taking. As God incarnate, Jesus “walked a mile in our shoes.” God experienced what it is like to be human.

Genuine leaders are those who learn what other people in the organization are experiencing. In church and in business, leaders should find ways to understand the perspective of others and practice humility by being willing to learn from others. God does not micromanage the church. Rather, God puts divine trust in us. How is that for confidence? It is what church leaders should do as well. One thing that often prevents leaders from doing this is the fear that lack of control may result in others doing things that bring embarrassment on the congregation or organization. But God takes risks with us and we should do the same.

Another implication of the way God works with us is that churches should reject autocratic rulers. If God listens to us and considers our concerns, then leaders should foster democratic structures in order to hear the voices of others. In much of church history, leaders have been authoritarian, and pastors have been little potentates ruling over their piece of the kingdom. They are in charge and seek to control what others believe and do. Making sure that everyone has a voice and providing for some diversity should be a high priority for Nurturant leaders. In the Bible, the metaphor of God as a king is common. But God is quite an unusual king. A king who values what others have to say, exercises flexible strategies, and comes to us humbly in Jesus. This is true kingship and leadership.

One last area of leadership that I want to mention returns us to the story of the pastor criticizing my work for presenting different Christian views on a topic. If God trusts in us and is open to going in directions we want to pursue (as with Moses), then leaders should expect some diversity of viewpoints and practices. We should make room for a “constrained pluralism” of views and practices. We should be able to agree on some general Christian beliefs and practices. Yet, because we do not know everything and do not possess a foolproof understanding of what God wants, we should have humility in our claims to truth.

Throughout history, many church leaders affirmed the Authoritative God and sought to impose monopoly religion on everyone. They established all the correct beliefs and practices, such as those surrounding the Lord’s Supper, and anyone who thought differently was exiled, tortured, or burned at the stake. The Nurturant approach affirms a few general Christian truths and allows for a range of views. This is not an “anything goes” approach. Rather, it acknowledges that Christians, from the first century on, have always had some diversity. One can favor a particular understanding of say, baptism, while recognizing that other Christians think differently. In short, one can affirm a specific doctrine or practice as the best and tolerate other Christian views. A Nurturant approach expects some diversity while Authoritative religion fosters monopolies, uniformity, and punishes those who do not conform.

Christian leaders should imitate the Nurturant God. God is love and love is patient, kind, and does not insist on its own way. God values our input and invites us to join the divine band and create some music. God does not micromanage and control us. Instead, God empowers us and takes the risk that we may mess up along the way. In addition, God allows for a range of beliefs and practices—a constrained pluralism. Leaders should emulate these important values.

John Sanders is Professor of Religious Studies at Hendrix College. He is the co-author of The Openness of God, and author of The God Who Risks and Embracing Prodigals. He enjoys basketball and kayaking.

*** Does Godly Leadership Require Certainty About God? By Mike Edwards

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by Jim Gordon

As Christian people, it seems our most emphasized event is attending church each week. I know my mom and dad took me to church the first time it was safe to take me out after being born.

I continued with regular church attendance for the next 55 years or so, all the time feeling I was doing what was the most important part of being a Christian. I looked to the pastor as my main teacher and guide, and attended all the events at the church that I could.

Even when I talked with others about God, it was more in tune with asking them to come to church. My whole Christian life seemed to be more about church life rather than living the follower of Jesus life.

It started bothering me over the last 15 – 20 years about going to church each week, year after year, sitting there listening to a chosen few participate and the rest of us just sitting, looking at the back of one another’s heads. Where was the fellowship in that?

Today when we talk about church, what we are really talking about is a religious organization that meets in a building, follows particular interpretations and doctrines and is guided by a select few people. It seems to me the biggest part of this system is getting enough people involved to make enough money to pay the bills.

In the organized church today it seems we strive to pay the mortgage, pay the utilities, pay for insurance, salaries and all the items we feel we need to put on a good performance each Sunday. If there is enough left over after all that is paid, we may put in a little to help the homeless or some good cause the leadership feels is worth it.

In more recent time, many churches have become known for participating in political activism. Some churches I have been in had a reserved section for local politicians where they could sit together and be seen. Some even provide time for politicians to speak and many endorse and back certain political parties and candidates.

I personally feel this is wrong, but although they cannot make their members vote in any particular way, many who belong to a specific church take what they hear from their pastor as gospel truth. Due to this, I believe the churches today should be taxed and pay their fair share like any other business.

I remember reading in the bible that when you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. I read that Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit to live within us and that we are now the temple of God. I also read that the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands, and that we have the Spirit within us and we no longer need anyone to teach us because the Spirit is now our leader and guide. It certainly raised questions about church attendance as I knew it.

Yet when I read forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, I often wondered if we were being told to participate in an organized religious service. What I determined was that the assembling together does not necessarily mean in an organized service on a set day under the guidance of other human beings. It means that we need one another. We need fellowship, encouragement and being able to express our thoughts and feelings with others. That does not need to be in a building, or in an organized service, or under the control of a specific leader. I have found it actually works better outside the walls of church. It comes about as the Spirit leads us to one another throughout our normal day to day lives.

Is it wrong to gather? No, there are plenty of good Christian clubs and organizations where people can get together. The organized church is just another one of those organizations meant to provide support and encouragement for one another.

The church as a religious organization, based on its particular beliefs and doctrines, is not what Jesus was talking about when he said he would build his Church. I believe he was talking about building his followers into a living organism that would spread his love and good works to other people they met along the journey of life. And doing so would mean living life out in the open, day by day where we are in contact with others. I do not believe we are meant to be shut up within four walls of a building expecting people to come to us.

So for my wife and I, we left doing the day to day business of the church…attending the organized meetings, paying to keep the building and system running along with following the pastor, the doctrines and the rules of the church. Yet we did not leave our love for God and for people. We left the organization, we left man led religion, but we still follow Jesus. We, like many others, are doing the day to day business of the ‘Church’ that Jesus is building. Those who are his followers are the Church whether they meet in a building or never walk through the doors of what we know as church today.

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by Jim Gordon

There is an old hymn that says “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand”. This leads me to think about the organized church. As important as the church is in our lives, we have to be careful not to put our hope in it. I have received a lot of help through the church and a lot of good basic teachings. I also learned of salvation but my hope is not in the church. My hope is in “Christ the solid rock”.

There are times when we are alone in our walk with God and without regular fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Many of us have left the organization and are deconstructing our faith and may have to stand alone for a while. Fortunately, we can rely on our relationship with Christ because his Spirit lives within us. The church is no substitute for Christ. It is where we can learn about Him but it is not the goal. The point is that we have a relationship with Christ and not the church, and He is our source of strength.

The modern-day organized church is a place for believers to get together, but it is not the main source. Going to church does not make us Christians, it does not make us better people or more dedicated believers. It is a place to get ideas, different interpretations and encouragement from others, a place to meet other believers and enjoy fellowship, and a place to reach out and help others.

We need to stop putting the focus and emphasis on church, stop putting our eyes on pastors and realize that they are not the answer. We need to put all focus and attention on Christ. It is Jesus who we follow and worship. He is the Shepherd and the rest of us are his sheep. There are no co-shepherds and no intermediates between Christ and us. We are to follow Christ and Him alone. We are to learn from Him and love others equally.

There is nothing wrong with going to church, but do not put your eyes on it and the leaders therein. Keep your focus on Christ. Whether you go to church or do not go to church, Christ is the one we look to and serve. Do not worry so much about going to church, but rather be the Church. It is not a building we go to, but it is the people who love and follow Christ.

If you have been going through the deconstruction process from organized religion like I have, you will learn that you can depend on Jesus to lead you into his truth. He will prove His love and care for you over and over just as he has done for me. Bottom line, let’s be careful that we do not put our dependence on an organization but on Jesus. All other ground is sinking sand.

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by Jim Gordon

Have you noticed how so many of us christian people seem to only include our preferred group. People who think like us and have faith like us. If you think differently, we feel you should stay in your own group with like-minded people, but leave us alone. Sorry to say I used to feel that way, but have thankfully changed my mind.

We seem to find this attitude in every walk of life, but within organized religion or institutional church seems even worse. We all should be accepting of people in general in our daily lives. Yet, we see this so often within Christianity with the wide variety of denominations and interpretations of the bible.

When it comes to including people who we see as completely different from us, African-American, White, LGBT, Atheist, Muslim, Jew and so on, we tend to want to keep each group separate. We think as believers in God we need to separate ourselves and not associate with those who see things differently. Why is it the word inclusion seems to make so many christian people cringe?

Really, behind all the labels we put on people we are all basically the same, so why not associate and get to know people who we feel are different from us? We can learn from one another and get to know one another and find that we really are not all that different.

We see Jesus do this all the time when reading the gospels in the bible. He did not differentiate people based on their religion, belief, lifestyle or nationality. He did not separate himself from those who thought, believed and lived differently. He loved and accepted all people and showed them the love of God.

Obviously loving and accepting people does not mean agreement nor are we going to always get along in life and live happily ever after together. Yet I believe it does mean treating others the same, with respect, kindness, acceptance and with the love of God through the power of the Spirit within.

Inclusion is not a bad word. It is not a bad or unholy way to live. Inclusion is about ALL of us. Inclusion is about living full lives – about learning to live together. It makes the world our classroom for a full life. Inclusion treasures diversity and builds community. It is about our abilities – our gifts and how to share them. Inclusion is the way of God and the way of showing the love of God to all we meet.

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Nine Church traditions that need to die
by Dan Foster , Guest Blogger
(Regularly writes at medium.com)

Growing up as Pastor’s kid in the eighties gave me a front row pew to the kind of vitriol and anger that can emerge from an otherwise lovely and mild-mannered Christian when you say or do something to offend them.

I remember the first time my Father preached a sermon on the topic of sex — something quite ground-breaking at the time. After the service, he stood at the door and greeted everyone as he always did. I remember one little old lady getting right up in my Dad’s face and, waving one pointed finger perilously close to his nose, screeching at him, “If you ever mention ‘that word’ in church again, I’m never coming back.” She couldn’t even bring herself to say the word “sex,” because I suppose she was far too upright and pious for the likes of anything slightly pleasurable or necessary for the survival of the human race.

Photo by Daniel Tseng on Unsplash

My father was a great pastor, but he was ahead of his time. He like to challenge the status quo, make people shift uncomfortably in their pews and, occasionally, he like to slaughter a sacred cow.

The term, “sacred cow,” has its origins in Hinduism, but it is commonly used in Christian circles to describe those elements of church life that have been elevated to such a high level of importance that they cannot be touched, criticized, changed or removed. Above all, sacred cows are not essential to the fundamentals of Christianity, but people treat them as if they are. In fact — truth be told — if you got rid of them, the church would function just as effectively — probably even more so.

Over three decades in the Evangelical church I have done a fair bit of cow spotting. Here are a few common sacred cows that need to be put out to pasture — maybe even slaughtered completely:

The Offering

One of the most awkward parts of many a church service is the moment that an open offering plate is thrust under your nose by an eager and expectant church usher (usually an older man), with the expectation that you will put a wad of hundred dollar bills in it. Okay… so maybe not that much, but the pressure to give is real.

This uncomfortable tradition of ‘sending around the plate’ is usually prefaced by an ‘offering talk’ (that is sometimes almost as long as the sermon itself), where parishioners are exhorted to let the moths out of their purses and fill the coffers of the church for the good of the Kingdom. In the worst of cases, some churches insinuate or even promise that your financial gifts will somehow unlock the blessing of God over your life — as if God could somehow be bought off in such a way. This amounts to nothing more than manipulation.

Should we give? Yes! Christ calls us to be generous and to give to those in need. However, we are also told to give discreetly and without fanfare. In fact, the Bible says, “Each one of us should give what we have decided in our heart to give. We should not give if it makes you unhappy or if we feel forced to give. God loves those who are happy to give.”

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Photo by By Suzanne Tucker on Shutterstock — purchased with license

The Communion Table

I know of a worship leader who made the mistake of resting his guitar up against the communion table at the end of his worship set. The backlash was swift and brutal. The pastor’s inbox was full of complaints about the irreverence of the worship leader. How dare he use the table of the Lord to rest a common musical instrument up against!

True to its form, the church publicly humiliated the worship leader by making him get up on stage an apologize to everyone for his gross sacrilege. He left the church soon after. Good for him!

I heard of another pastor who moved the communion table from the center of the stage to a position off to one side, simply to create a little more space. The pastor was accused of attacking the centrality of the Lord’s supper, leading people astray and presenting a ‘watered-down’ version of Christianity. The following week, the communion table was back in the middle of the stage. From then on, the pastor would move the table just a few inches each week and, over a period of several months, successfully moved it back to one side without anyone noticing.

In some churches, the communion table is a scared cow. In reality it’s just a piece of ordinary furniture. Covering it in a nice white table cloth doesn’t make it sacred. Even the fact that the elements of the Lord’s supper sit on top of it doesn’t make it sacred. In fact, to place such high importance on an inanimate object would be akin to making an idol out of it, wouldn’t it?

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Photo by Joshua Eckstein on Unsplash

Church Music

One of the sacred cows that my father was unable to kill, when he was a pastor, was the pipe organ. The church had an ancient pipe organ that was so seldom used that it was almost purely ornamental. I’m pretty sure that the last human being who actually knew how to play it had passed away a few centuries earlier. Even so, when the church outgrew its ancient building and attempted to shift the congregation into a bigger and more modern facility, they were unable to part ways with the pipe organ. Consequently, at great expense, the entire organ was painstakingly removed from the old sanctuary and transplanted into the new. There it sits as an ancient monument to a bygone era, gathering dust. It sticks out like a sore thumb.

This highlighted to me how we can get attached to certain instruments, styles of worship — even certain songs — to the point of elevating them to god-like status. Music is one of the most-complained-about aspects of church. Every week someone would say the music was too loud, too soft, too fast or too slow. They would complain that the number of old hymns was disproportionate to the amount of modern worship songs. They would say that certain songs lacked lyrical content, theological accuracy or a catchy riff. When it comes to the sacred cow of music, Christians can fire up very quickly.

However, we weren’t even commanded to gather around an organ and sing, were we? Singing is really just one way to worship. It’s not the be-all-and-end-all. These days, my favorite way to worship is actually to sit in silent contemplation. Try that sometime!

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Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Male-dominated church leadership

Once upon a time, the idea that power and leadership was ascribed to men by virtue of their gender alone was widely accepted. In some cultures it still is. However, as the modern, Western world continues its relentless and necessary march towards equality, patriarchal structures and systems are quite rightly viewed as unacceptable and outdated. Still, those who stand to lose the most by the deconstruction of patriarchal systems — namely conservative men — won’t go down without a fight. Nowhere is this more evident than in the church, when some men will fight tooth and nail to protect their turf.

A woman can be the leader of my country, but she can’t be a leader in many local churches. That’s because many Christian churches ascribe to a form of “benevolent patriarchy” commonly known as Complementarianism. This belief gives men the role of authority over the wife and children, and only allows men to be church leaders. Women are expected to submit unilaterally to men, fathers, husbands, pastors.

I remember the very last time I attended a board meeting at my conservative, evangelical church. The group — all men of course — had gathered, and a decision needed to be made that required some legal advice.

“What a pity we don’t have any lawyers who come to our church that we can refer to for this matter,” Said one of the board members.

“My wife is a lawyer,” I spoke up.

“True,” replied the board member, “What a shame she is the wrong gender.”

And the rest of the men chuckled knowingly.

We ought to be disturbed when it is suggested that those absent of male genitals must unilaterally submit and defer to those with.

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Photo by Lisa F. Young on Shutterstock — purchased with license

Church and politics

Many Christians are uncomfortable with the marriage that seems to exist between the church and the conservative side of politics. It is a well established fact that white, evangelical protestant Christians overwhelmingly support Donald Trump and his presidency to the point where “Evangelical Christian” has become a kind of synonym for “Trump Supporter.”

The idea that Jesus is somehow on the side of the Republican Party is laughable. If Jesus is on anyone’s side, it’s the side of the orphan, the widow, the refugee, the poor, the lost, the hurting and the weak.

In my home country, Australia, I believe that the more progressive political parties often have ideas more aligned with the compassion and grace that Christianity is supposed to espouse, particularly in matters pertaining to welfare, foreign aid, equality, asylum seekers and the environment. Yet, it is kind of an unwritten rule that Christians should vote for the conservatives.

Yes, I have had friends walk away from the church because they can’t reconcile why the church supports political parties that turn away the refugee and oppress the minority.

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Photo by ehrlif on iStockphoto — purchased with license

The Building

Let’s be clear. The Bible never mentions a building called ‘Church.’ Never. In fact, the Bible never speaks of church in those terms. The buildings came later when the state got a hold of the church, under Roman Emperor Constantine in 312 AD.

On the other hand, Jesus said where two or three are gathered He is present. Two or three — not 40 or 150 or 6,000. Not in an auditorium with a speaker, a band and dozens of rows of chairs. When Jesus spoke about the church, he was talking about people. People are the building blocks of church, not bricks and mortar. That is why church began in the humble homes of believers and that is why church can still continue in the humble homes of believers even as we are forced apart on occasions such as global pandemics.

Jesus never instructed believers to buy land, build buildings, establish a weekly worship service, create a liturgy or institute a sacrament. He simply commanded believers not to forget Him; to live together, and to eat, and to remember. A building is not needed. It might be helpful, sure. But real Christianity is a fully portable experience.

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Photo by Skull Kat on Unsplash

Children’s Sunday School

At various times in the Gospels, Jesus’s disciples are seen to try to keep children away from Jesus, because Jesus was — in their opinion — far too busy and important for kids. Yet, in Matthew 18:10, Jesus commands us not to look down on children, but to welcome them.

Therefore, it strikes me as odd that many churches segregate children to some far-removed corner of the church property so that the adults can worship God in peace and quiet. Here, during an hour of glorified babysitting, we teach children to be good little boys and girls. We teach them to be nice, obedient and compliant.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for children’s Sunday School lessons, but I think the whole system needs an overhaul. Better yet, here’s an idea. How about we design worship services that are inter-generationally friendly so that we can all participate together? We ought to stop patronizing children, and start to treat them as people who have a things that they can teach us, and meaningful contributions they can make.

No wonder my kids found church so boring, because — let’s be honest — young people are drawn to risk, challenge and adventure, but these things are often discouraged in the local church. Instead, many congregations offer a safe, nurturing community — an oasis of stability and predictability. Studies show that women and seniors gravitate toward these things. So not surprisingly such congregations are over-represented with women and seniors.

Richard Rohr, in his book, “From Wild Man to Wise Man,” says it like this:

“Real spirituality should emphasize movement over stillness, action over theory, service to the world over religious discussions, speaking the truth over social niceties, and doing justice instead of self-serving. Without this, spirituality becomes characterized by too much inwardness, a morass of unclarified feelings, and religion itself as a security blanket. This prevents a journey to anyplace new, and fosters a constant protecting of the old. It is a no-risk religion, just the opposite of Abraham, Moses, Paul and Jesus…”

As long as we present the Christian faith, inaccurately, as something less than the great, challenging, risky, dangerous, treacherous adventure that it was meant to be, we sell out. And children will find their adventure elsewhere.

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Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

Pews

In the small village of Okeford Ftizpaine in South West England, locals are up in arms after their parish church made the decision to sell off their 150-year-old, antique Victorian-era wooden pews.

As comfortable as old wooden pews are, I would not personally object being able to sit on something more modern and easy-on-the-backside, especially during the weekly sermon by the local vicar.

Not the people of Okeford Fitzpaine, though. They would rather keep their old pews. However, it turns out the removal of these ancient bench seats is rather a matter of necessity as the sanctuary requires more flexible furnishings to allow space for people who are… how do you say it nicely? More rotund than the average human.

A recent report by the church committee concluded: “We have had occasions at weddings where the couple have been too large to be able to walk side by side down the aisle. With different chairs we would be able to widen the aisle.” They also added that the the pews were not suited to the “human form of today” — presumably that means the larger human form.

Even so, it beats me how a church community could somehow think that uncomfortable, 150-year-old wooden pews were so essential to church life that they are worth fighting for — as if single chairs might somehow the instruments of Satan.

Burn the pews, I say!

And while we are at it, let’s get rid of rows all together. I say that because rows divide and differentiate. Rows promote the consumerist mindset. Rows promote the brainless acceptance of information without critique. Rows perpetuate the hierarchical model that places an expert up the front to mediate between us and God. How about we meet in circles instead — around tables even? Tables invite connection. Tables invite conversation. Tables invite friendship.

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Photo by Kyler Nixon on Unsplash

Marriage

In 2017, the satirical Christian website Babylon Bee published an article entitled, “Woman In Singles’ Ministry Gets Married, Promoted To Real Christian.” The article gently pokes fun at the idea that getting married is basically a ‘level up’ in Christian circles.

The reality is that the popular view of our day is that singleness is a bad position and marriage will cure it — that being single is not sufficient, not adequate. It’s something you need to change because it’s wrong. And, if this is the popular view in our society, you can bet your bottom dollar that it’s the popular view in the church. At first, we make fun of single people (mainly while they are young), but only for a while. As they get older, we begin to wonder what’s wrong with them. Are their standards too high? Eventually, we end up pitying them, as if they were destined for a miserable life.

Somehow, we arrived at the idea — the myth — that singleness is bad. It’s the reason my Mum started suggesting suitable partners for me as soon as I turned 18. It’s the reason why I signed up to a dating website when I was in my early 20s. It’s the reason why people in the church ask, “So, when are you gonna find yourself a nice girl?” It’s the reason why half of you are trying to match-make for your single friends. Christian are often guilty of treating singleness like it’s a problem that needs to be solved — despite the fact that Jesus and the Apostle Paul were single men.

In fact, the Apostle Paul comes along in 1 Corinthians 7 and lifts up singleness as a legitimate way to live, in a way that would have shocked the world in which they lived at the time. Suddenly Paul is calling singleness a gift. A gift! Imagine that! In so doing, Christianity was the first religion that held up singleness as good. So, the church ought to quit making it out like married Christians are on a higher level, somehow.

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Photo by Richard Jaimes on Unsplash

It’s time to kill the sacred cows

Call me a heretic if you like, but I don’t think that Jesus is impressed by our attempts to clutch at power, to elevate some and to put others ‘in their place,’ to resist change, preserve the status quo and uphold ancient practices and models that are superfluous to the fundamentals of Christianity.

And I really don’t think that Jesus cares too much about the form of our worship — our buildings, our furniture, our music, and our religious traditions.

So, why do we elevate these things to such a high position that we would be willing to fight over it? I’ve seen churches split, people hurt and relationships destroyed over these trivial matters.

They are sacred cows! Now let’s slaughter them!

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