Posts filed under ‘church’

where we came from

This is the first post in a small progression to get to “where we are now.” “Where we came from” is probably covered in a composite of many posts here, but I don’t think is summed up in one place. This is a bit rambling, so please bear with the length.

The church we used to attend is a conservative, evangelical, charismatic church. A part of a denomination of sorts in reality, though it doesn’t call itself that. The organization is also characterized by a relatively high degree of authoritarian leadership. The pastors are accountable to others at their level and higher in the organization, but not to the congregation in any degree.

Some other characteristics…

Patriarchy, but the group calls it  “complentarian.” Meaning the roles of men and women are different, but “complementary” to each other. Which is a reaction to feminism and egalitarianism. Normal for conservative evangelicalism, but elevated to an exceedingly high level of importance.

Biblical literalism/inerrancy: Par for the course in conservative evangelical theology, and little different from fundamentalism in this regard.

Reformed theology: aka “Calvinism,” with a heavy emphasis on “penal substitutionary atonement”.

Charismatic: A belief in gifts from God exhibited among Christians; prophesy, tongues, healing, words of knowledge, etc. The group claims the distinctive of combining reformed theology with charismatic beliefs. Though the group over time has placed far more emphasis on “reformed,” to the point where “charismatic” is largely in the background.

We stopped going to the church in 2008. At that time I stopped agreeing with the doctrines, having questions in a place where there was no room for questions. It was harder for my wife, who had to deal with both the strains of my changes in belief and the potential for strains with her relationships with people she cared for (and cares for) deeply. To the degree that I questioned the churches system, I was seen as a danger to my wife holding the “right” beliefs. Any significant divergence from the church’s doctrines was seen as dangerous, and my wife was encouraged to “hold fast” to those doctrines. Needless to say, it strained our marriage, and I don’t know what things would have looked like if we had stayed there longer.

I have come to see many aspects of the church as cult-like. There may be a fine line between “cult-like” and a cult, but I don’t think it matters that much. How many cult-like behaviors does a group need to exhibit in order to be considered a cult? I asked my wife at some point if she ever wondered if we were in a cult. She didn’t think so at the time, understandably, and the question itself caused her concern.

The organization had enough problems that a couple of “survivor” blogs were created, where people who felt hurt by their experiences could interact. I was shocked when I read them, finding some validation in the idea that, “I’m not crazy, other people think this way too!” My wife was initially concerned with them being frequented by people who had some bitterness, partaking in gossip. Which to a degree is true, though I felt it was outweighed by the benefit of bringing things to light.

But something strange happened a year or two later. There was a crisis of leadership in the organization, and a whole lot of bad stuff was revealed. Which from an entirely selfish point of view was good for our marriage, because it supported some of my concerns about our involvement with the group, which were still issues between us even though we had already left. It enabled us to be on the same page more, rather than me coming across as only critical (which granted I can be), and her often being on the defensive.

I won’t link directly to the blogs or the organization, but here is a link to a post by a blogging friend who was at the same church I was, though we didn’t know each other at the time. He describes some of the cultish behavior in better detail. “Christianagnostic” on, How Smart People Get Sucked into Cults

So we left, and are glad to have left, and the emotional ties to our experiences there, both good and bad, are fading, and we are in a much better place, both figuratively and literally.

July 7, 2012 at 2:55 pm 9 comments

stress and controversy

I have been writing posts lately, just not posting them. And once a post sits for a little bit, it often describes thoughts or feelings I no longer have. And as such they seem disingenuous or perhaps fictional. So therefore no posts here lately.

We have been attending a New Church which is more progressive than the Old Church we previously attended. Actually, we attend a subgroup of the church which meets at a different time than the main body. This group is generally more progressive than the rest of the church, a bit postmodern and trending toward Emergent. The leaders are very comfortable with people of other faiths and beliefs, not needing things to fit into the black and white categories which is often the case in evangelicalism.

I’ve been commenting recently on a blog run by this group. They have broached some interesting and difficult (for the evangelical church) topics; gay marriage, evolution, and an article by a secular humanist critiquing Christianity. I have been very impressed by the intelligent and nuanced conversations, both from the more liberal and more conservative commentators.

Most of the commentators that is. Not surprisingly there are several who are more fundamentalist in their views. And unfortunately as is often the case, they tend to be the loudest voices, making statements that tend to close down dialog and conversation. Unnecessarily divisive in my opinion.

I think that most people, myself included, have a relatively limited capacity to deal with people with differing opinions. We are willing to be regularly nudged a little this way, or a little that way. But the larger shifts are often too difficult to handle unless absolutely necessary. I think that is why the adversarial commentators react the way they do. That, and maybe they have also been conditioned by the evangelical culture to think it is a good thing to “stand firm” in their opinions rather than listening to challenging ideas with an open mind. Yeah, I know, if you open your mind too much your brain will fall out…

I think the divisions in these discussions are generally better understood as studies in sociology than as a spiritual fight between light and darkness. The spiritual fight excuse gets brought out way too early, and is often brought up because the person is unwilling to contemplate their own faults in a conversation. It seems a cop out. Conversely, from the secular side, the mind of the Christian (or traditionalist) is too often called into question, with statements to the effect of, “Nobody with any sense would believe that superstitious religious nonsense.”

Having the same limited capacity, I unsubscribed from the blog and the comments yesterday. I try to remain open-minded, and be nudged a bit this way or that. But it is not worth it to me to go around feeling angry or stressed about what I read. And I know I am too quick to anger in those situations. In the end, we all tend to find fellowship with people who are more or less like-minded, and we all run the risk of feeling persecuted by those with differing opinions. But we don’t need to be completely locked into those mind sets either. And yes, I have peeked back at the blog since I first drafted this. A new post is up about Jennifer Knapp’s interview with Larry King, how exciting!

You can read a transcript of Jennifer Knapp’s interview, or watch the video if interested.

…and video part two,
part three,
part four

April 28, 2010 at 9:20 pm 7 comments

bread and wine

communionHe who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters.
Matthew 12:25

Years ago my wife and I attended a wedding of Catholic friends of ours. We were cautioned ahead of time by our friend that communion would be offered only to Catholics, she wanted to make sure we knew that ahead of time and would not be offended. So we remained seated in our pew with a number of other a-Catholics during communion. I remember feeling a bit put off, not by our friends choice to be Catholic but by a church that would practice exclusivity to the degree that we as True Believing Christians would not be able to join them in communion.

We didn’t practice communion that way at our old evangelical church. Well not until a few years ago anyway. At some point the invitation to communion was changed to include a phrase to the effect of, “As this communion meal is for those who believe in Jesus Christ and have given their lives to him, we ask that those who do not share our faith refrain from partaking…” Or something like that. I didn’t like when that change was made, always felt uncomfortable thinking of how it would make people feel, and didn’t like the division it communicated. Did God need to have his holiness defended that way? Would we be in danger of giving false assurance to those not saved? I’m sure there were reasons, at that point I was not engaged in a way to try to learn what they were or to try to resolve them.

I was reminded of all this when we were at the service last night of the new evangelical church we have been visiting. I had taken communion there previously once, the invitation was about shared community and I felt OK about that. But last night the invitation specifically excluded those who did not “believe in Jesus as Lord.” So I stayed in my seat. I didn’t really mind, to be honest it protected me from struggling with hypocrisy, after all, why would I partake in communion if that is not what I believed?

It was harder for my wife than for me, highlighting again that I don’t believe all the same things I used to. And I was made more aware of the church as a social institution that is not only about joining in a certain set of beliefs but also about enforcing them. And the rules at the heart of evangelical Christianity speak of exclusivity by design, and a message of bringing people into that exclusivity, not opening the doors to join with others inclusively. That’s fine with me, I don’t need to be making the rules. But it leaves me wanting to say, “That’s fine, I know where I’m not wanted.”

October 4, 2009 at 12:37 pm 27 comments

a kind of a cancer

healing

But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. James 1:6

I was looking at a map for a project at work yesterday and the name of a small town caught my eye. I had once had a business appointment there at the office of a woman running her own business. I got to chat with her a bit during several visits; she was under a lot of stress, her little boy was dying of cancer. As I recall, he had been in remission after undergoing chemotherapy and then the cancer came back. So infinitely sad, my heart still aches to remember.

She was a Christian and held out hope for God’s healing. But it was more than that, she was confident God was going to heal her child. She had been sold on a certain theology in which it is necessary to have full confidence in prayer for the requests to be answered. In fact, she had staked a lot in taking her boy to a healing service by a visiting evangelist who preached that message. Some of you may recognize that theology. The evangelist was the one and only Benny Hinn. I had not heard of him or the theology at the time. It was something that didn’t sound right, but what can you say to a mother whose boy is dying of cancer?

I recently read about the problems perpetrated by men like Hinn in William Lobdell’s book, Losing My Religion. An article he wrote on Hinn made it into the book (a lot of the book is from previously published articles). He writes about how despite investigations of people of like Hinn, despite revelations of misdeeds, corruption, and fraud, people still flock to hear them and give them money, holding out hope for miracles. Truly sickening.

“Sitting cross-legged in front of a big-screen TV, the 11-year-old squints through Coke-bottle glasses at a Miracle Crusade video made more than two years ago in which he starred as a boy who miraculously recovered from blindness. “I liked it at first because I thought I was being healed,” says William in the living room of his aunt and uncle’s home. On the screen, Hinn bends down to William, his hands on the child’s face. “Look at these tears,” says Hinn, peering into the child’s eyes. “William, baby, can you see me?”

Before more than 15,000 people in a Las Vegas arena, William nods. In a small voice, the boy says: “As soon as God healed me, I could see better.” Hinn, an arm wrapped around William, tells the audience that God has told him to pay the child’s medical expenses and education. People weep. Today William is still legally blind and says his sight never improved, and that his onstage comments were wishful thinking.

The woman’s little boy passed away not much later. I still think of them from time to time. I hope her difficult life was not made harsher through the experience of that “healing” ministry. I hope that it did not rob her of any comfort she and her husband and their boy had in his last days. I hope they have made peace with their God, and somehow found comfort in the midst of their tragedy.

Sitting back in his chair, Hinn shakes his head over how tough his job has become. He says being a pastor in the healing ministry is a profession he would never choose for himself, but he is called to it by God. “It’s not been a pleasant life,” Hinn says. “[People] think we’re in it for the money. They think that God doesn’t really heal, so these guys are just fooling the world. I’d be a fool to be in this for the money. If I did not believe God healed, I’d quit tomorrow and go get a job.”

September 29, 2009 at 10:27 pm 7 comments

friends vs. doctrine

CL_bwI have read a lot of stories of people facing a terrible backlash from friends or family when leaving Christianity, or even just a particular church or ministry. Many feel, or actually are ostracized by those around them. I have been blessed that has not been my experience in the church at all. While in some ways I believe the doctrine of the church does not provide an adequate framework for dealing with issues of doubt and asking certain kinds of questions, I have never had cause to doubt the sincerity of friends of mine as they have sought to help me.

Last week we had dinner with a family who are among our closest friends from church. Despite the changes in beliefs that I have experienced, we enjoyed and benefited from our time together. As we were driving home I remarked to my wife that, “Friends are more important than doctrine.” Not that doctrines may never be relevant in friendships, but often doctrines are unneccesarily divisive. That should be a no-brainer for me, but it is something I am learning more lately.

I was freshly reminded of this lesson when I received the email below a couple of days later from the same friend:

To: J.
From: C.
Subject: did you catch me?

J., I hope you’re not quitting [blogging] on my account. C. found your blog (you might say randomly) last week as she was looking for back yard bible club info. I sat down tonight and read most of it, except for your June posts. If you are uncomfortable with me looking at it I will stop. If you feel or think you cannot be blunt or honest because one of your conservative christian friends may read it and be offended I can stop reading. You have not offended me. I am sad of course. I understand your need to express what you are thinking and feeling and blog world seems like a good place to do that.

In the beginning of all this (beginning for me) it was a bit shocking. I don’t know if I know many people that have so clearly deconverted. Of course I wouldn’t want you to be someone you are not or believe something for the sake of those around you. It’s o.k. to be you J. I’ll still love you. I’m still going to pray for you and C. If I ask you corny or seemingly shallow questions about when was the last time you were at church it’s not so I can notch it on the wall and pray that somehow you make it to another service. We obviously differ at many levels and on many points but we can still interact right? I’m looking forward to Wednesday when we can talk about what we can talk about. Does that make sense? Again, if you want me to get off your blog, I will. I’ll understand. I might even still buy you bkfst. C.

I told him, “yes,” he could continue to read, as long as he is willing to comment from time to time, call me on the carpet if needed. It’s worth the trade off for me, sacrificing the relative freedom of writing in anonymity to be able to live a less anonymous life. And how could I say no to an offer like that anyway? ;^) I have a lot to be thankful for; I can’t imagine a more understanding or gracious message.

July 22, 2009 at 5:32 pm 35 comments

do you eat with sinners?

dinnerRecently attended a church small group meeting, focused on evangelism.

The meeting included a nice prayer during worship, “Oh God, please be our rock and our protection in this time when our government is coming against all that we believe in.” I then prayed, “Oh God, thank you for all President Obama is doing to mend the problems caused by the last administration.” OK, I didn’t really say that…

We watched an evangelism course video. I imagine the content was similar to evangelism programs in other conservative evangelical churches. Make friends with people, be humble, overcome fears, preach the gospel rather than only demonstrating a Christian example. The lesson was on “becoming a friend of sinners.” I felt like I have a lot of experience in that, being apostate and all myself.

At one point the speaker asked, “When was the last time you ate dinner with a sinner?” He then qualified that he meant “unbeliever” or “the lost,” because “we are all sinners.” I wonder why he used “sinners” in the first place then. I have to think it is because that is really the thought process going on, separating the world into “sinners” and “saved”. My wife answered, “Tonight, I had dinner with my sinning, unbelieving husband.” OK, she didn’t really say that, but she could have been thinking it! We exchanged smiles a few times through the message, so she seems to have a peace with my not being on board with the content.

There was a part where Christians in the video were interviewed and asked why it was difficult for them to interact with sinners. They looked extremely uncomfortable. Some of the answers were, “not enough time, uncomfortable with people with a different life style, all my time is spent with Christians.” I would say it is difficult because they really want to be friends with them and not be forced to alienate them with their religion. Or maybe that was just me when I was a Christian.

The speaker asked why people “don’t want to be around us.” He said that people were friends with Jesus because he accepted them, so we should too. He then asked, “Why aren’t people more upset with us? Because after all, that is why Jesus was killed.” The answer is because we compromise and don’t tell people the truth about God’s wrath, because we do not want to offend folks. It seemed schizophrenic, do people want to be around Christians or don’t they? You can’t have it both ways to make two different points in your talk.

We were asked to write names down of people we could “reach out to” (meaning preach to), like friends, co-workers, classmates, people we once knew, etc. I thought that was too easy, I have lots of friends who are sinners. I just wrote down the names of everyone who comments here. Just kidding.

Overall, it was a relatively easy meeting to attend, but I ended up not sleeping well, feeling anxious, and I think the meeting was a part of it. It is stressful to listen to a large amount of material I don’t believe, looking to fit it into a cognitive framework I can understand, where I disagree or don’t and why. There are good reasons for learning opposing view points, but the intellect needs a break too.

So that’s a little insight into evangelism for those of you who have not lived it. Probably an unpleasant reminder for some. There is a great web site HERE about the alpha evangelism course, by someone who writes in great detail about what it is like to be evangelized in those meetings. The posts are quite long, but worth at least a quick read. They are insightful and funny, other-side-of-the-pond wit. I used to help out with Alpha meetings, so I read them with a lot of interest.

May 6, 2009 at 4:06 pm 28 comments

sermon breakdown

images1Here are some quotes and comments from the Easter sermon at my church yesterday. I found the content upsetting. A recent comment on this blog mentioned that I was “chased away” by a certain kind of thinking in the church. I agree with the commenter, and it was a helpful reminder as I processed through the material from this sermon. I would rather be chased away from this stuff than to sit on the fence with it. And I’m sorry, but this post is something of a rant. Maybe I’ll double back later and look for more constructive elements to pursue.

The sermon basically went, for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son. And I would sacrifice my life for one of my children, but I wouldn’t for someone unlovely. But God did.

The second half, maybe half an hour, was essentially an extended altar call to take advantage of having “unbelievers” in attendance. The altar calls at this church seem to have drifted over the years more and more into emotional appeals and away from expository teaching. Maybe that’s the church, maybe it’s just me. Probably a combination of both.

There were so many quotes to choose from in this particular sermon! I cut the number way down to make this more readable. Reading the quotes, think of a lot of yelling in the delivery. Because WE SHOULDN’T WORSHIP GOD WITHOUT BEING PASSIONATE!!! Even if it means sermons sometimes YELL THINGS THAT ARE NOT TRUE, which is ok, BECAUSE WE ARE DOING IT FOR JESUS AND YELLING IT MIGHT MAKE YOU BELIEVE IT WITHOUT THINKING TOO MUCH!!! LIKE WE DO!!!

The quotes:

Quote: “You may look around you and think that the people here were well suited to Christianity. But you are surrounded by people who were unlovely, worldly and rebellious. There is no one beyond the love of God.”
Paraphrase: You know and we know that you are a bad person. God knows it too. But really, we were bad people at one time too, so we can relate with you. You still are a bad person, but we are not like that anymore.

Quote: “Do you think you are innocent and righteous? … Would you, innocent, righteous one, stay in your seat if I showed a video of the hidden moments in your life here on the overhead screen? What do you think, no one knows about your life? God knows! Nothing is hidden from him, but he loves you anyway.”
Paraphrase: I know you make the assumption that you think you are innocent and righteous. You must, or else you would believe what I believe. That’s how I know you are arrogant before God.

Quote: “For those in this room who do not believe, turn from that unbelief and experience the love of God for you.”
Paraphrase: Believing is somehow strangely a choice you make, not actually what you think. And I know what you need to believe — the same thing I believe, so do it.

Quote: If you say, “I have not believed,” or, “I no longer know if I believe,” you can make that choice to believe right now. Friend, as long as you are alive it is not too late to believe. Will you believe, so you would not perish?
Paraphrase: Again, you can choose to believe what I do. Did I remind you it is the only correct belief? And I called you “friend”, so you don’t have to think about whether or not this is true, you can just trust me that it is even though I have never met you. Just like when you buy a car from a used car salesman!

Quote: “An action is required, and that is to believe and respond in faith. Confess, “I believe, I surrender.”
Paraphrase: How many ways can I tell you, belief is a choice, rational thought and decision making need not be involved. Submit to me, I mean the bible, I mean Jesus…

Quote: “Only foolish scoffers think to laugh that Jesus said he would return soon 2000 years ago and has not returned yet. It is because of his incredible patience that he has not yet returned, because of his love for those who do not yet believe. Whoever does not believe is condemned. You condemn yourself by not believing in the name of the only son of God. Every person we meet will live eternally in heaven or as a dreadfully lost soul. Friend, you will live eternally, you will not return to a place of nothingness.”
Paraphrase: Jesus couldn’t be wrong, so I can make up what he must have meant. And friend, did I tell you about the used car I bought from a trustworthy salesman?

Quote: Friend, if you will receive Jesus you will live forever with him. I do not say this to intimidate you with fear, but if you do not believe in Jesus, you will spend eternity separated from him.
Paraphrase: Friend, you can believe me. Remember, I’m your friend? And I wish that this wasn’t manipulative, but I can’t help it, because it is what the bible says.

April 13, 2009 at 12:27 pm 2 comments

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