Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

Must We Obey Church Authorities?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Obedience, subservience to authority, submission, docility, accountability — these concepts are so prominent, and so interwoven within many Christian circles, that you’d think they were the foundation upon which Christ taught.

The Priest's Secret drawing by Steve Henerson

Whom do we obey, and worship? It’s a question all humans must find an adequate answer to, but for the Christian, the answer is, God alone. The Priest’s Secret, drawing by Steve Henderson.


In other words, a good Christian does what he or she is told.

“Jesus was passive,” someone told me the other day, “and He taught His followers to be the same.” My speaker was expressing frustration with contemporary Christians, and Christianity, and while I agree with his assessment that followers are actively taught to be passive, I disagree that it is Christ who gives them this message.

Men say this, and they’ve been saying it for a long time.

Agnes Grey is a novel by Anne Bronte, the youngest of the three Bronte sisters (think Emily, and Wuthering Heights; and Charlotte, with Jane Eyre), that follows a young woman as she serves as governess to a series of horrendously atrocious children. Like her sisters, Anne made observations about the religious — Christian — environment of her day, and this passage describes her character Agnes’s assessment of the local rector, or pastor:


“His favourite subjects were church discipline, rites and ceremonies, apostolic succession, the duty of reverence and obedience to the clergy, the atrocious criminality of dissent, the absolute necessity of observing all the forms of godliness, the reprehensible presumption of individuals who attempted to think for themselves in matters connected with religion, or to be guided by their own interpretations of Scripture . . . supporting his maxims and exhortations throughout with quotations from the Fathers: with whom he appeared to be far better acquainted than with the Apostles and Evangelists, and whose importance he seemed to consider at least equal to theirs.”

Contemporary Thought


Published in 1847, this paragraph — so contemporaneous that it’s astonishing — is a sober awakening that the pressure to conform, obey, comply, acquiesce, and passively accept what we are told has been around a long time, and the message of 167 years ago is still being preached today, in Jesus’s name.

A friend sent me an article about Christine Weick, an outspoken, seemingly ordinary Christian, who crashed an ecumenical-fest at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., which was sponsoring a joint Islamic call to prayer in the Protestant, Episcopalian church. According to the article, leadership determined that sending prayers up to Allah from a Christian church would show the world that two different religions could “approach the same God” as one body of believers.


Making her way through multiple levels of armed security (how interesting — civil police in a religious setting; it reminds me of Christ before Pilate), Weick stood in front long enough to make this speech:

“Jesus Christ died on that cross. He is the reason we are to worship only Him. Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior . . . We have built . . .  allowed you your mosques in this country. Why don’t you worship in your mosques and leave our churches alone?”

Where Is the Diversity?

It’s a good question: why are we — no, not we, but leaders in establishment churches — so adamant about blurring significant discrepancies in our belief systems and pretending that they don’t exist, as opposed to truly allowing us to  “celebrate our differences”? As I mentioned to a reader recently, demanding to know whether or not I would vote to protect “homosexual rights,”  we don’t have to agree with one another to get along, and indeed, forcing one person to acquiesce to the beliefs of another, discounts and disparages the conscience of the first.


The New Hat inspirational original oil painting of woman in 1940s nostalgia setting by victorian dresser by Steve Henderson

Ordinary people, preparing for the day, ready to walk out in the public arena and speak up for themselves. The New Hat, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Most sensible — ordinary — people know enough to cheerfully agree to disagree, focusing upon what we do share in common, but self-appointed world religious leadership, in its push for “ecumenical unity,” chooses to ignore commonsense, with the plausibly obvious result that the people, the masses, the sheep, the laity, the non-leadership, will be upset, resulting in less unity, not more. Leadership is not too stupid to realize this; the question is — are we too stupid to understand that we are being played?


Weick’s civil disobedience, lauded in the likes of Martin Luther King, is not so honored when it comes from the mouth of an ordinary person, speaking up and out, but this is what Christians — through Christ — are commanded to do:

“Teacher,” some Pharisees in a crowd once said to Jesus, “Rebuke your disciples!”

“‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.'” (Luke 19:39-40)

Speak Up and Out

Whether or not Weick was correct to crash a private party (it was “invitation only” — how inclusive), she spoke up, and this is something that belief in Christ does not forbid us to do — in the general public, at the church annual meeting, to the pastor directly. Indeed, the interesting thing about speaking up is that, generally, what we say is far more innocuous than the punishment received for saying it.


Jesus experienced this when he responded to the high priest questioning Him about his disciples and his teaching in John 18:19-21:

“‘I have spoken openly to the world,’ Jesus replied. ‘I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.”

In response to this speech, “one of the officials nearby struck him in the face. ‘Is this the way you answer the high priest?’ he demanded.”

I’ve always thought — “How ironic. You just slapped God.”

But such is the arrogance of mankind, that it makes its decrees, and demands that all follow. Men of power are not below twisting and distorting Scripture to their own ends, putting themselves in God’s place and demanding the submission we owe to Him. It is up to each individual Christian to read Scripture, knowing it well enough to identify when it is being misused, and to determine whether or not a man — a pastor, a priest, a vicar, a rector, a Pope, an elder — ever has the right to say, “Obey me!”


Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where my constant message to fellow Christians is this: Read the Bible for yourself. Pray for wisdom. Trust that God can, and does, teach His children the truth.

Posts complementing this one are

Questioning Convention: It’s Part of Growth

What If You’re Too Timid to Be “Bold for Christ”?

The Misfit Christian (If you speak up, this is what you will find yourself to be.)



Stay Alert — Burnt Toast Is the Least of Our Concerns

posted by Carolyn Henderson

We are the infelicitous owners of a truly dreadful toaster.

It has one setting — burnt and black — no matter where we turn the dial, and lately it has decided that it only wants to toast one side of the bread. Those who enjoy edible food items keep an open and vigilant eye, the perfect toast requiring that one pop the slice mid-term, turns it around, and re-establishes watch.

toaster photo Steve Henderson Fine Art

At our house, if one does not watch, and be wary, the toast burns. Staying alert is a lifestyle choice. Photo credit Steve Henderson Fine Art.


Now not everyone in the family is as wary and vigilant, and while I don’t want to descend into sexism, the women in the family tend to enjoy superior breakfasts.

Because we watch, you see — trained by years of keeping all sorts of disparate information in the backs of our minds: what we’re running out of in the cupboards, how high the laundry pile is getting, whether the arrow in the car is point to E or F, what is the very last day we can wait until paying the king’s, er, property taxes. It’s not that men don’t think about these things; it’s just that women (at least in my family) tend to think about them more.

Genderism aside, the men in this family consistently do not remember their toast until the smoke arises from the appliance. The women smile, discreetly, and pass the butter.


Now burnt toast doesn’t seem to have much to do with Christianity, unless we want to descend into 19th century sermons of Burn or Turn, a truly appalling interpretation of God that causes people to be afraid of our Heavenly Father. But there is a better teaching to do with toast:

“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (1 Peter 5:8-9)

Were I to momentarily stray into irreverence, I would rephrase it thusly:

“Be alert, and keep an eye on the toaster, because the Foul Thing is devoted to burning anything that goes into it. You. Must. Keep. Watch.”


Stay Awake

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 16:13:

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.”

Jesus, in Matthew 24, focuses on the concept of believers staying awake, beginning with,

“Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many,” (verses 4,5),


“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come,” (verse 42)


“It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns.” (verse 46)


The World Is Not Our Friend

In the same way that people in my household who want decent toast do not leave the room or drink tea, dreamily incognizant  of the evil appliance on the counter, Christians must keep — in the back of our minds at all time — the awareness that this world is not our home, heaven does not exist down here right now, and the world of men — its politics, educational institutions, corporate entities, medical establishment, legal system, media, entertainment industry — are not set up to proclaim, honor, obey, or celebrate God.

Allow me to add, in a separate paragraph for emphasis, to the list above — its religious arena. Just because a person, a denomination, a group, a magazine, a charitable organization, or a business announces that it is Christian and teaches the way of Christ — does. not. mean. that. this. is. so.


Lady in Waiting inspirational original oil painting of woman at Victorian beach house by Steve Henderson licensed prints at iCanvasART, Framed Canvas Art, and

We are to be constantly aware, constantly watchful, constantly awake. Lady in Waiting, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed print at Framed Canvas Art, iCanvasART, and


There-in is where many Christians are allowing the toast to burn, abstractedly inattentive to warning after warning in the Bible about wolves that enter the sheepfold, false teachers who promote bad doctrine, apple trees that bear Twinkies:

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:15-16)

Allow me to be irreverent again and rephrase:

“Watch out for people who say they are Christians but really aren’t. They may look trim in a suit, and speak convincingly and well, but if they’re ridiculously, absurdly wealthy from the checks that people send in, and their lifestyle looks like that of a corporate CEO, then start asking questions,”



“Don’t be so ready to accept news from an anchor who gives the illusion that he believes in God, but shows no evidence of actually doing so. Words are cheap and easy to say,”


“Be wary of joining or supporting political movements because you are told that they are Christian. Walk away from anyone who tells you to hate an entire group of people — a country, a religion, a culture. Jesus never advocated anything remotely like this.”

Bullying — What’s with This?

Lately in the news, there are articles about celebrity pastors bullying from the pulpit, something I touched upon in We Don’t Need Celebrity Christian Permission to Stand up for Ourselves. That this problem not only exists, but is disturbingly common — individual believers in Christ being manipulated, coerced, attacked, and/or controlled by a leader — is a sign that too much toast is burning.


“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves,” Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 10: 16. “Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Ask questions. Be wary of to whom you give your trust. Don’t believe everything you’re told. Don’t DO everything you’re told.

Keep an eye on the toast in the toaster, because believe me, that appliance is not your friend.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I like my toast just very barely browned on each side, but hot enough to melt the butter.

Posts complementing this one are

Are You Awake?


Once You’re Awake, Now What?

Is It So Bad to Be a Lone-Wolf Christian?



Is It So Bad to Be a Lone-Wolf Christian?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Self-defense is a good thing to know — many women wish we possessed enough simple martial arts skill that we could tumble an assailant to the ground, whimpering.

But physically defending ourselves isn’t the only arena of importance, and even if we can’t find, or afford, a class on Jackie Chan basics, we can — and should — develop a means of protecting ourselves from the verbal, social, emotional, and manipulative attacks of others. Mental martial arts is within the grasp of all of us.

Purple Iris inspirational original watercolor of flower in meadow by Steve Henderson licensed print at Framed Canvas Art and

There is beauty in the single flower, set apart from the rest in the meadow. Purple Iris, original watercolor painting by Steve Henderson, sold. Licensed print at Framed Canvas Art.


The other day I made a comment on an article about church culture, along the lines of,

“If you don’t like where you are, and no one is listening to you, then why are you staying? Pick up your checkbook and leave.”

The response was expected, another reader reproving,

“This sounds like a Lone Wolf Christian stance, advocating that people leave the fold.”

Well, yes, it is — although I smile at the irony of a Lone Wolf departing the sheep fold. Really skillful wolves stay in the flock, mingling with the sheep, and gently prodding them along the nice, wide path that leads to outrageously green pasture kept weed-free with generous application of pesticides, herbicides, and chemical additives. There’s plenty to eat, but it’s not particularly nourishing or healthy, but no one tells the sheep that.


And the sheep don’t ask.

Group-Think versus Independent Thought

The Lone-Wolf Christian is an aspersion cast upon anyone who questions the status quo, and for many people, being hit with this charge is enough to shut them up, because the idea is strong, and strongly reinforced, that there is nothing worse than leaving the group and walking off, all by oneself. After all, we collectively remember our public school experience, in which the losers on the playgrounds are the ones who wish they could spend time in the library, as opposed to following the leaders in whatever games they propound. One wonders why these former are considered the losers.

The opposite spectrum of the Lone-Wolf Christian, however, is the Go-Along-With-Whatever-The-Group-Says believer (not quite as catchy, you know?), and in a society that prides itself on a history of bold pioneers setting out in wagons to forage a new life away from the conventions of the old one, it’s odd that we would embrace fitting in, whatever the cost, as such a virtue.


But “no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him,” Jesus tells his disciples in John 13:16.

“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

What is Christ’s example?

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)

Seriously, this guy never fit into the culture around Him.

Eschewing the Approval of Men

But the approval of man was not something Christ sought:

“Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.” (John 2:24)


It’s intriguing to note that in the context of this last verse, Jesus had been clearing the temple, and He was approached by “the Jews,” representative of the religious establishment, demanding to know under whose authority He was doing these things. He was upsetting the status quo, causing people to ask questions, and interrupting the flow of money, this latter, as it is today, potentially the biggest offense.

Indeed, when you ask yourself, “Just why did the religious leaders dislike Jesus so much?” you can’t get a better answer than John 11:48-49, in which the elite cartel gets together and discusses The Problem:

“‘What are we accomplishing?’ they asked. ‘Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.'”


Follow the money, and you will be led to what resides within the hearts of men.

Wolves IN the Fold

This is not to say that all churches are bad, nor that all who speak in Christ’s name are doing so falsely, although it’s always wise to remember Christ’s warning in Matthew 7:15:

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”

Lady of the Lake inspirational original oil painting of woman in gold skirt in mountains by Steve Henderson licensed prints at,, Framed Canvas Art, iCanvasART, and Great Big Canvas

It’s very difficult to think, concentrate, focus, and meditate in a group setting, and there’s nothing wrong with going off, by ourselves, to someplace quiet. Lady of the Lake, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, Framed Canvas Art. Amazon, and Art. com.


It is to say, however, that our churches are just as much a part of our culture as our universities, our media, our political arena, our medical establishment, our corporate mentality, and in the same way that these areas can be, and indeed have been, infected by the iniquitous corruption of the world of men, so the wolves, and their teaching, can enter the religious arena.

It is the responsibility of all Christians to stay awake, be vigilant, and ask questions, and when the church service starts to look like a pop concert, or a business seminar, or a team-meeting at work, it’s time to ask, “What is going on here? Is this necessary, Biblical, or helpful?”

Initially, you’ll just be called difficult, obstreperous, possibly disobedient if you are a woman, and this should be enough to quiet most people down. If not, a gentle admonition from a leader, to not stir the waters, so that the weaker members of the fold won’t be damaged, may finish the job.


But once you start asking questions, and looking for answers to them in the Bible as opposed to the reassurances of men, you don’t stop, even when you do shut up, and if the group in which you operate is not open to discussion or change, you are left with the choice to stay, and accept the situation, or leave.

And once you leave, you get that appellation of Lone Wolf.

If this is where you are, be encouraged, because,

1) You are no more than your Master, the ultimate Lone Wolf,

2) He has a history of calling people out to new land,


3) You won’t stay alone. He has other sheep, in other sheep pens, and He puts His people together.

It just won’t look socially normal, traditional, conventional, and expected. Very little about following Jesus is.


Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I and my family were called away years ago, and we interact with God’s people daily, in the oddest, most disparate, but singularly encouraging ways. We keep looking forward, and have no desire to go back.

Posts complementing this one are

We Don’t Need Celebrity Christian Permission to Stand up for Ourselves

Questioning Convention: It’s Part of Growth


Is Your “Personal Relationship” with Jesus Dysfunctional?

The Misfit Christian (my book for the Lone Wolves)


No Fear — Experience Christ’s True Love

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“Jesus is love.”

How often do we hear this? If we’re around Christians, or within Christian circles, then we’ve probably heard it a lot. At the same time, however, it wouldn’t be unusual if we were confused, because, though people talk about Jesus, and His love for us, from the moment we grab a bulletin at the church door, actually living as if we believed it were true is a different matter.

Seaside Story inspirational original oil painting of little girl reading with woman on ocean beach by Steve Henderson licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art

“There is no fear in love” — it’s worth repeating until we truly believe it. Seaside Story, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed prints at Great Big Canvas, iCanvasART, and Framed Canvas Art.


Do YOU know anyone who worships and follows Jesus as if they really, really believed He loved them unconditionally, all the time, and without condemnation, disapprobation, and disapproval?

“Love cannot live with fear.”

What a great statement, although it’s not a Bible verse; rather, it’s a line from P.D. James’s Death Comes to Pemberley, a modern-day mystery that follows the life of Elizabeth (nee Bennet) and Fitzwilliam Darcy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice fame.


While it’s such a good line that Jane could have written it herself, you’ll be happy to know that someone else who writes about love, the apostle John, penned the sentiment much, much earlier than either James or Austen:

“There is no fear in love,” 1 John 4:18 reassures us, continuing,

“But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

What Is God Really Thinking?

Disappointment, disapprobation, disapproval, exasperation, irritation, impatience: none of these emotions have anything to do with perfect love, and yet, within the minds of too many Christians, they are the very embodiment of what God feels, whenever He looks at us:


1) Because we don’t have enough faith.

2) Because we didn’t read the Bible that day.

3) Because we didn’t say “thank you,” first during our Quiet Time Prayer Time.

4) Because we didn’t have a Quiet Time Prayer Time that day.

5) Because we skipped church.

6) Because we had an uncharitable thought about someone else.

7) Because we did something, anything, that human beings do every minute in the process of just breathing, and we weren’t perfect.

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” one Christian quotes Matthew 5:48 to another, theoretically to encourage, but given that none of us is perfect, or can be, while we live on this earth, all this advisement does is remind us of how we have failed, yet again.


So why did Jesus say it?

Considering that the sentence concludes an entire chapter (Matthew 5) beginning with the Beatitudes and progressing through a series of statements about fulfilling the law; not committing murder, adultery, or divorce; and loving our enemies, one can pretty much conclude that being perfect is

1) Something to shoot for


2) Something we’re not necessarily going to hit.

Perfect Love Is . . . Perfect

And that’s why we focus on that perfect love — the love that DOESN’T have to do with punishment, punishment being something that we do not experience, or expect to experience, within the love of Christ, because as the apostle Paul reassures us in Romans 8:1,


Evening Waltz inspirational original oil painting of couple dancing on beach by Steve Henderson licensed prints at Framed Canvas Art and Vision Art Galleries

In a perfect relationship, each partner trusts, loves, and delights in one another. We can do that with God — because He does it with us, first. Evening Waltz, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed print at Framed Canvas Art and Vision Art Galleries.


“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

Yes, I know, Revelation 3:19 tells us,

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline,” but it’s wise to remember that because our heavenly Father is just that — heavenly, perfect, all wise, all good, and compassionate — it’s a sure bet that He’ll do a better job raising His children than we do ours, and really good human parents don’t give the impression to their children that they (the children) are hopelessly incompetent, irretrievably unsatisfactory, abominably imperfect, and distressingly defective.


Wise, mature parents recognize that children will have issues, and perverse is the mother who knocks down the baby and tells him to walk all over again, from the sofa, because he’s not steady enough.

Or the father who returns the wretchedly hand-sewn pillow, the product of five-year-old fingers, because it doesn’t look like something from Pier One Imports.

God’s Parenting Skills

Awful parents, we agree, create a climate of fear, unease, anxiety, and discouragement by yelling at their kids, withholding affection to bring about desired change, and expecting more than can possibly be given. (One of my favorite examples of perverse leadership was a sports coach who withheld praise to those who finished second, or less, in a heat, convinced that the children would be so desperate to earn her approval that they would try harder — how can one try harder than one’s best? — next time. A wiser person would recognize that eventually, you give up trying to please someone who cannot be pleased.)


Despite the wisdom of sensible human parenting, however, we as Christians walk fearfully and in chronic trepidation around our heavenly Father, punishing ourselves, mentally, in His name when we don’t meet standards that we have set up: we must be patient, all the time, our words never sharp, our actions never misguided, our faith — this is the big one — never unwavering, or else God will walk away from us, because we deserve no less.

But this has never been God’s way, He who loved us first (1 John 4:16).

In a weekly children’s program years ago, I helped 6-year-olds lisp through 2 Corinthians 5:21:

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” and if they didn’t have the slightest idea of what they were saying, neither did their adult teachers:


God. Loves. Us.

He loved us first. He loves us last. He loves us always.

We cannot alienate Him from us because of our human imperfections, but we can alienate ourselves from feeling secure in His arms by allowing fear to creep into our relationship. His perfect love doesn’t go away — we just don’t realize and recognize that it is there.

“Love cannot live with fear.” — P.D. James.

“There is no fear in love.” the Apostle John.

Let Jesus — and His perfect love — drive out your fear.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I am overcoming years of religious miseducation by discovering, daily, who God is, and why He’s worth worshiping and loving.


Posts complementing this one are

Angry Jesus: I Don’t Want to Follow Him, Either

Child of God: You Are Much Beloved

Isn’t It Enough — Just to Believe?


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