Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity


Unchurched, or Church Free?

posted by Carolyn Henderson
When we walk with God, it's important to get outside, away from walls on each side. Dream Catcher, original oil painting and licensed open edition print by Steve Henderson.

When we walk with God, it’s important to get outside, away from walls on each side. Dream Catcher, original oil painting and licensed open edition print by Steve Henderson.

We are a society that parses words, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing — consider the difference of implications between “anti-abortion” and “anti-choice” — and how we phrase things makes a huge difference in how our listeners or readers interpret our message.

For instance, lately in the news there are articles about couples choosing to not have children, and they refer to themselves as “child-free,” as opposed to “childless,” because they don’t like the impression that they are missing something, somehow, by the latter term. As the mum of four, I know that they are missing something indeed, just as I and the Norwegian Artist missed out on a different type of lifestyle because we chose to make less money and spend more time tracking down random socks and incomplete board games without all the pieces. You can’t have it all, and we’re fine with that.

Making A Conscious Decision to Pursue an Alternative

Within the Christian community, there is an unpleasant little term, “unchurched,” that seriously needs a modern counterpart, given that there are a number of committed Christians these days — like us — who for various reasons, no longer attend weekly worship services or participate in a community church establishment:

Churchfree.

Like childfree, it implies a conscious decision to go about things a different way, although in our case, our conscious decision came after years and years of trying to fit in, adapting ourselves into a paradigm that the leadership community had set up, and resisting as we were gently, but inexorably, nudged out of the fold. What began as a three-month sabbatical from it all grew into a lifestyle that we embrace, and that works for us.

Many of today's church establishments have little patience, or room, for non-conformity. Diaphanous, original oil painting and licensed open edition print by Steve Henderson.

Many of today’s church establishments have little patience, or room, for non-conformity. Diaphanous, original oil painting and licensed open edition print by Steve Henderson.

With more than 75 combined years of sitting in church pews, the Norwegian Artist and I could hardly be considered “unchurched,” which implies, incidentally, that we are “un-Christian.” If you could get us to walk into a church, any Protestant church, on a Sunday morning, we would fit right in, singing the proper songs, putting on the appropriate face, turning to greet one another in the allotted time, listening and looking interested during announcement time, maybe (but it’s really, really unlikely) writing notes about the sermon onto the back of the bulletin.

We are completely and totally versed with proper church etiquette, so we are not “unchurched.” We are simply not in a church building on any given Sunday morning because we choose not to be.

The Numbers Are Increasing

And we are a growing population of committed, frustrated Christians, who fully recognize that there is no such thing as a perfect church, so that’s not why we’re staying away. But we are bored with the routine, not interested in joining a series of groups, and tired of being pressed into a mold. As I mentioned to one pastor (yes, I, a lowly woman, expressed my opinion to a leadership male), “If we were rounded up and sent to jail for attending these services, would our sacrifice be worth it?”

Danged if he didn’t shake his head, lightly, “No.”

Immediately afterward he launched into the “no church is perfect” spiel and encouraged me to “be patient.”

It Takes All Kinds of People

Our lifestyle choice obviously doesn’t work for everyone, and we didn’t approach it cavalierly — as I said, we have 75 combined years of trying to make this work. It is, however,  the best choice for us, and many others like us, right now. In our own case, we added homeschooling, homebirth, and building our own home to the mix, so we’re either really, really weird or really, really independent, but that very series of factors made us really, really uncomfortable in the weekly — and now it’s multiple times weekly — community church environment.

At times, I do wish that there were an intimate group situation into which we could fit and thrive. And I do realize that we have to make some adaptations — we have, for many years. We chose to stop, however, when we realized that all the required adaptations came from our side, and if we were ever going to truly fit in, we would have to radically change who we are.

 

 



  • Charles G

    Carolyn, thank you for the reply. Interestingly, much of what I’ve learned I learned outside of a church setting. I guess it could be that I wasn’t being held back, throttled if you will, in learned like you’ve mentioned so I can completely relate. Don’t get me wrong, I like the church I’m going to. The pastor is down to earth and tells it how it is and isn’t afraid to step on people’s toes and such. Also I’ve met people and have made some new aquaintances.

    I’m also reading your book “Living Happily on Less”. It’s really good. May our Father bless you and your family richly.

  • http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/commonsensechristianity/ Carolyn Henderson

    Hello, Charles — thank you for finding me and for your kind comments. I am glad that you have found a good place where you feel accepted and free to be the person Christ is calling you to be.

    As my article addresses, we did not leave the establishment church by choice, and did everything we could do — including compromising who we really were — to stay there. Our leaving was akin to the person on the job who is pushed out, fingernails hanging onto the edge so they don’t fall. We couldn’t see how one could pursue a true Christian existence without a weekly church service. But when we looked around (“church hopped” as people disparagingly say), and found more of the same, we ultimately left for the same reason that we home schooled and had our children with midwifes at home — we did not like the standard options with which we were presented.

    That being said, our faith and growth happened outside of the church setting. That came as a surprise to us. We had no idea that we had been so stunted in our growth for so long, and we literally ate up God’s word in a way we had never consumed it before. There was nothing to stop us — no lifted eyebrow, no gentle admonishment of, “Maybe you’d better think about what you’re saying,” no weekly pressure to walk a certain direction. In the midst of a situation we had resisted for so long, and entered unwillingly, we found what we had been looking for, for a long, long time.

    It doesn’t matter where we are — in a church establishment, out of it, or doing something in between — we are all called to lean on our Father and learn from Him. Outside of a church setting, this is challenging because we do not have a weekly chorus cheering us on. Inside a church setting, however, this same weekly chorus can be dragging us back. Wherever we are, we give our lives and situation to God and have Him teach and direct us.

    May you and your family be blessed in your walk, and may there be much discussion, thought, and prayer about who you are in God’s family, how much you are loved, and what He would have you to do each day.

  • Charles G

    Hello, I found your site today and I’ve read at least 7 of your articles as of the time of writing this. You are incredibly gifted at getting to the truth of the matter and keeping your readers interested. My family and I are currently going to a church establishment and they are very good as they go by Scripture. I for am wouldn’t mind doing as you do and be church-free because I believe my faith is strong enough I know how to find the truth and test everything whereas my family is not (wife and in-laws, sad but true). I’ll be adding your site to my list of frequented sites. May our Father in Heaven bless you and yours richly.

  • http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/commonsensechristianity/ Carolyn Henderson

    Lee: your childhood sounds like that of my Norwegian Artist, except as the son of a Pentecostal preacher, his weekly obligations were less High Church. I imagine the two of you could have quite a talk on the back porch together!

    I fully understand the experience of looking into the eyes of a newborn and saying, “Where did this doctrine of original sin come from?” Its very name clues us to the fact that it is not listed in the Bible in the neat, tidy form in which we receive it. I put it with the Four Spiritual Laws, that insistent little tract that gives us explicit instructions — far more explicit than anything we find in the Bible — about how to get to heaven. In other words, I move beyond it, and explore the God, the Gospels, and Scripture, without its influence. Or rather — I am in the process of moving beyond it, and seeking the truth of who God is without man’s doctrines and opinions, regardless of how old those opinions are (Wikipedia tells me that we have Irenaeus, of the 2nd century, and Augustine, to thank for this pervasive belief).

    Because, like you, I am church free, it is easier to explore concepts that we would be shut down, and shut out, for when looking into in more conventional settings. This — not God, not truth, not hope — is the evil of religion, this dictating of our thoughts and insisting that we all believe a certain way, or it is not truth. That the birth and existence of a child brought you growth is not unusual — children point us to truths that we adults would not otherwise be able to see.

  • Lee Picton

    Fewer children were more churched than I. My dad was an Episcopalian priest, so without question I attended church 3 times on Sunday (early service, Sunday school, and adult), sang in the choir, went to youth group (on Sunday evening), did stations of the cross every Wednesday during advent, went to catechism before confirmation, and was confirmed by the presiding bishop when in high school. At no time did I ever feel any religious sentiment, even at confirmation. At college, went to one service out of duty, and except for home vacations, and my own wedding (performed by Daddy), never attended a church again, except for weddings and funerals of others. I suspected I was an unbeliever, but the final nail in the coffin was when I delivered a child and had to confront the doctrine of original sin, and the realization that all of it was a staggering lie. I was an atheist and had been since the age of seven. What a relief to have the world finally make sense. I am not just unchurched, I am church free. And since the internet have discovered that not only am I not alone, I am in the company of millions and millions, with numbers growing daily. There is hope yet that mankind may someday be free of the evil of religion.

  • Donna Whitfield

    I have experienced the Us versus Them thing, which was never my desire, by the way; unfortunately, I’ve found the way church is set up, that’s how it usually works. Thankfully I am past that struggle, and have learned to allow God to speak to individuals Himself and pray for them to find their own way into his loving arms and the freedom he so graciously offers us. There’s so much I don’t pretend to understand, even now, but it has been a blessing to find out that I don’t have to understand or try to convince anyone else. We each are only responsible to our God for how we live. What a relief! I love Him!

  • http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/commonsensechristianity/ Carolyn Henderson

    A good post, Linda. Like you, I interact back and forth with Christians in various venues, and I find many well entrenched in conventional church who are constantly feeling bad about themselves, constantly questioning Christ’s love for them, constantly critiquing themselves because they are not good enough. This hurts.

    May you continue to be blessed in your message and love to others — as we put to death the Church of Law and discover the rich grace and mercy of the Church of Love.

  • http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/commonsensechristianity/ Carolyn Henderson

    Oh, yes, Donna! It’s an incredible journey — on a very narrow, winding road — but as you observe, it takes us to beautiful places. It takes time, retraining ourselves out of our training, accepting that our relationship with God is very personal, and that fellowship with other believers comes in many formats — and that God, when we give Him the lead — will bring people into our lives.

    Those of us who have chosen to leave the establishment are in a minority, and it doesn’t have to be an Us versus Them thing, but as more of us choose different roads, may there be and increase in wisdom, discernment, and grace within the true church of Christ, which represents His followers, not a building or a denomination.

  • Donna Whitfield

    It’s taken awhile, but after many, many years of being “churched” and not having a clue who God intended me to be because I conformed (mostly against my will :) ) to what spiritual leaders decided was the best (or only) way to follow God, I am finally learning who I am and who I want to be in this very personal relationship with my God! It’s a wonderful thing to learn, with His help, to be free to follow him in the way he leads! Thank you for sharing.

  • http://saltoftheearthflorida.org/ Linda Buchelt Spaulding

    Agreed. I find myself pastoring these very individuals. You can read my story at:
    http://saltoftheearthflorida.org/lindas-story/

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  • http://thiswomanwrites.areavoices.com/ Carolyn Henderson

    You are welcome, my friend — I am glad that this touched a chord. We spent many years feeling like 80-percent Christians because we just couldn’t fit into the system, and even when we left it, part of our minds would say, “You’ll be complete, someday, when you find a way to go back.”

    No more. We are where we are because God has put us there, and we marvel at each day’s journey. The very frustration we felt in trying to fit into the system is what prompted me to start writing about it, because I realized, “We’re not alone. There are others out there, marginalized, and many of them have no desire to go back, or find a substitute. But they’re tired of feeling alone and unimportant.” I write to find seekers, and let them know — keep seeking, keep asking, keep striving to know more of God — you’re not on a path to the right path, you are, right now, on the right path.

  • Anonymous

    I love you, sister! I could not have expressed this for my husband and I any better! Thank you for your candid, honest truth!

  • http://thiswomanwrites.areavoices.com/ Carolyn Henderson

    Hi, Faith — I’m glad that you found me over here. Last year at FASO, when I began exploring the concept of deception and deceit in the world of art and the world of business, things began meshing for me — I began to see how my life as a Christian, and a businessperson, a writer, and wife/partner to the Norwegian Artist, were intrinsically related. You can’t talk about routing out deceit, or thinking independently, or valuing your privacy, or pursuing what you do with integrity and honor, without it coming, full circle, back to your belief system — and when you’re a Christian, you realize that it really is ALL Christ, not just dropping the name of Jesus here and there to give yourself the illusion that He matters to you, but doing the hard stuff: trusting Him, believing what He says, and asking Him to align your life in accordance with that belief and His words.

    While I am church-free at the moment, I don’t advocate people storming out the doors en masse — but I do encourage those who stay in a regular church environment to take it back for themselves, and not allow a leadership segment at the top of the pyramid to dictate how everything is run. We were simply not interested enough to put the energy in, when too many people in the local flock were satisfied with the status quo.

    I have not read the book you read, but Jacobson’s book, So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Any More (with Dave Coleman) was one we read in the earlier part of our journey. It provided insight at the time when we needed it, but then we were ready, mature, and grown-up enough to walk the path Christ was setting before us. It’s great that people are finding alternatives, but one must always be aware when the alternatives are pushed so hard that they become the ultimate answer — it’s like insisting that everyone homeschool. Some will do it, and do it well. Others will thrive in private or public school settings, but the options, and additional ones, must be open. The Organic Church movement seems to be big on the alternative setting now which is nice, but it’s not something we have found ourselves drawn to. As Christians, we must be free to walk the path Christ sets before each of us, and if others do not understand or accept this path, then that’s just part of the walk.

    Thank you for finding me, and for writing such thoughtful commentary — despite the mysterious three boxes. It looks like your comment came through just fine!

  • http://faithdance@gmx.org Faith

    How fascinating to read you here! So far I have been reading your articles on FASO and always find them very interesting. Now I am discovering your Christian side in addition to the artistic side. And I am fascinated that we have a lot in common.
    I would not call my self “churchless” but I have come to a place in life where I am at peace not to go to church every Sunday, partly because I realized that I do not need more “left-brain information” but deeper fellowship with God and fellow travelers. And I am a person you finds that more in one-on-one or small group settings.
    So, I was wondering if you know “The God Journey” where Wayne Jacobsen enourages people to pursue intentional community and living “inside the love of an awesome Father and outside the box of religious performance”?

    P.S. There are three boxes above this one, but I am not sure what to put in there. There are no hints.

  • http://thiswomanwrites.areavoices.com/ Carolyn Henderson

    Tom: This is fascinating. The concept of hell is indeed a controversial one, and I appreciate the information that you have shared. I will keep this in mind as I read, meditate, study, and continue to learn.

    I like your last sentence, and while I don’t think that the first part is going to happen in a mass exodus anytime soon, I do hope that the last part will do so. Because whether or not the first part happens, the second part shapes and creates people who stand up, speak out, think for themselves, and grow. They may find, as my family did, that the standard church experience hinders them in this process; they may also use their growth and maturity to effect change from the inside.

    I think of it like homeschooling — we ourselves had no interest in working with the public school system, because we find it pretty much broken, so we pulled out. We have no problem with the people who are still in the system — if they are aware of its problems and actively working to do something about it. It may be a losing battle, but the first part of winning any battle is awareness on the part of the people in the midst of it.

    The book of John repeatedly tells us to love one another, and I confess I have difficulty doing this with people who approach me and say, “You’re not a Christian because you’re not in church.” I came to the conclusion that, in my life, I wasn’t going to turn this into the equivalent of the Mommy wars — moms at home versus moms working outside the home — so while I can’t help it if pro-church service people attack my position, I won’t lash out at theirs (which you haven’t, in your comment, by the way).

    Your words exhibit a strong confidence and comfort in your relationship with Christ, attributes that cannot fail but come through in your daily interaction with people. I wish you joy and peace, and I thank you for reading my article, and taking time to write such a thoughtful, measured reply.

  • Tom H

    I’m an exchurcher. I believe the inspired written word of God is sufficient. I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, but I left it when I was a young man to seek the truth elsewhere. I experimented with psychedelics and Asian philosophies, and then I tried the Protestant Church for awhile.

    Eventually I studied church history and realized the church is just the remnant of the religious arm of the Roman Empire. The word “church” is not even in scripture. It is a mistranslation of the Greek “ekklesia,” literally “out-called,” correctly translated “ecclesia,” referring to those called out of all nations to be the body of Christ.

    The church tortured and killed people for reading scripture because the church did not want people to know the truth about universal reconciliation and the salvation of all mankind.

    The church failed to suppress scripture by killing people with fire, but the church intentionally mistranslated scripture to deceive people and control them with fear of torture in fire forever.

    The common misconception of “hell” is a lie perpetrated by the church supported by forgery in the popular translations of scripture.

    The word “hell” is an Old English word used to translate the Greek “hades,” literally meaning “un-perceived” or “unseen,” which refers to the “unseen” state of a dead soul.

    “Gehenna” was confused with “hell” by intentional mistranslation twelve times in the Douay-Rheims Catholic Version and the King James Version in the following verses: Matthew 5:22,29,30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15,33; Mark 9:43,45,47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6.

    “Gehenna,” the ravine of Hinnom southwest of Jerusalem, was used by the ancient apostate Jews to sacrifice their children in fire to Moloch, an Ammonite god.

    “Gehenna” was later used to burn the corpses of criminals condemned to death as it will be in the coming eon.

    Christ did not use the English word “hell” when he spoke of “Gehenna.”

    Christ referred to Isaiah 66:23,24 when he spoke of “Gehenna.”

    “And it will come to be, as often as the new moon comes in its monthly time, And as often as the sabbath comes in its sabbath cycle, All flesh shall come to worship before Me, says Yahweh. And they will go forth and see the corpses of the mortals who transgressed against Me, For their worm shall not die, And their fire shall not be quenched, And they will become a repulsion to all flesh.” (Isaiah 66:23,24)

    “Hell” is obviously not “the lake of fire” because “hell” will be cast into “the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14).

    Even the adulterated versions of scripture say God is the savior of all mankind who will reconcile all through Christ so that God may be all in all.

    “we rely on the living God, Who is the Saviour of all mankind, especially of believers” (1 Timothy 4:10)

    “through Him to reconcile all to Him (making peace through the blood of His cross), through Him, whether those on the earth or those in the heavens” (Colossians 1:20)

    “Yet now Christ has been roused from among the dead, the Firstfruit of those who are reposing. For since, in fact, through a man came death, through a Man, also, comes the resurrection of the dead. For even as, in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified. Yet each in his own class: the Firstfruit, Christ; thereupon those who are Christ’s in His presence; thereafter the consummation, whenever He may be giving up the kingdom to His God and Father, whenever He should be nullifying all sovereignty and all authority and power. For He must be reigning until He should be placing all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy is being abolished: death. For He subjects all under His feet. Now whenever He may be saying that all is subject, it is evident that it is outside of Him Who subjects all to Him. Now, whenever all may be subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also shall be subjected to Him Who subjects all to Him, that God may be All in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:20-28)

    “out of Him and through Him and for Him is all” (Romans 11:36)

    Get out of church and into the word of God.

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  • http://thiswomanwrites.areavoices.com/ Carolyn Henderson

    Yvonne — one of the reasons I began writing about the subject of commonsense Christianity is because I was looking for the Lost Sheep of Israel — that’s you and me, and people like us, who have either been marginalized out of a church setting, or, if a person is still in it, they just don’t feel like they “belong,” or that they have any gifts, ideas, or abilities that anyone would want or need.

    This is a sad loss of a large segment of Christ’s church. Many of us have left because we do not feel that independent thought is recognized or encouraged, so that means that many, many independently thinking Christians are going through the day, thinking that they’re worthless or unneeded. We need one another, and as we communicate and grow together, we learn how to reach out to the people back in the pews — our brothers and sisters who think that we are lost — and bury our differences so that we can work together to show Christ to a lost world.

    It’s amazing how, when you tell people that you don’t attend church, one of the first responses is, “You are leaving the body of Christ!” This is like telling a homeschooler, “You don’t educate your children!” There are many different personalities, and many ways of doing things, and those of us who are church-free, are pursuing an alternative where we are not given many to choose from. I love getting together with my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I do so when the opportunity presents itself — in person, over tea, on the Internet. Just not in a church pew, anymore.

    I’m glad you found me! — Carolyn

  • http://www.ryvonnecolclasurefineart.com R Yvonne Colclasure

    I too am a Church Free Christian. I long for the day I find a church (or group) that is open to the presence of the Holy Ghost once again. I do miss the worship services, but I put in my worship CDs while I work in my studio. I am glad to know I am in Good Company. Thank you for a place to come for comradery.

  • http://thiswomanwrites.areavoices.com/ Carolyn Henderson

    Lori: I recently read in an issue of Voice of the Martyrs how one pastor in a closed country, where people cannot meet together safely, creatively solved the problem: he picks up six or so church members at a time in the van, they drive around singing and learning, sharing and listening, and then he drops them off and picks up six more. This way, they just look like people driving around in a van, and not like a church. A very imaginative, creative approach.

    Our issue in this country is not that we can’t meet together, but that when we do, it’s frequently the same old thing, or worse, a promotion of new and improved ways of doing things that mimic what we’re seeing in the corporate world, and many people, like you or me, feel as if we don’t fit in. I am happy that you have found a good place where you can ignore what bothers you, and still pull out of it what you need. We, in a very rural area, have few options, and they all pretty much look the same. After awhile, we just got tired of adapting and changing and putting up with things, and found that we returned home in a more depressed state than when we arrived. As I mentioned, we would love to find an option — and it will be along the lines of the creative pastor in the van — but for now, our option is to connect with Christians as we can and do outside of a conventional setting.

    It reminds me a bit of homeschooling, or home birth, both of which were looked down upon initially, and the people wanting to do them were told, “You just need to make what exists work.” But they didn’t — they said, as we are saying, “This just isn’t working. Too many people aren’t listening. And for us — me and my household — we’ll strike out on our own and see where it takes us.” We’re not out to drag people with us, but we are there to encourage others who have found the same experience as ourselves, and we want them to know that they’re not reprobate losers who are ruining everything for everyone else.

    The family of God is filled with all sorts of people who think all sorts of ways. I wish you the best of a beautiful day in your beautiful house — even when it’s messy, like mine, it’s filled with good things, good people, good memories, and good times! — Carolyn

  • http://Www.loriwoodward.com Lori Woodward

    Sounds good to me Carolyn. I totally understand where you’re coming from. I prefer meeting with Christian friends for fellowship and prayer on occasion. I’ve never really fit in well with a congregation because I was not able to have children and I run a business. My house is a mess too. I just won’t ever fit the mold.

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