Advertisement

Commonsense Christianity

Commonsense Christianity

The Christians Who Choose to Leave “Church”

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.” Hebrews 13:13

If you’ve ever done anything in contrast to the status quo, you’ve no doubt been shot with criticism by those who remain in the group, and are appalled that you would dare to leave.

The Traveler inspirational original charcoal drawing of young woman in Paris France near the Eiffel Tower by Steve Henderson

Throughout life, we travel a unique path, directed by God, that will take us to unusual places if we’ll only trust our Father enough to follow it. The wide path leads to the shopping mall. The Traveler, original charcoal by Steve Henderson.

Advertisement

Homeschoolers are a great example. We smiled our way, graciously, through years of comments from family, friends, and strangers, all of whom attributed any adverse behavior in our children to our decision to teach them away from the publicly funded herd.

“This wouldn’t have happened if they had been in a normal school,” we were told.

Now that the kids are all grown and, unlike many of their peers, extremely avid and competent readers, no one comments on this. (We even had someone, a teacher no less, go so far as to observe, “While I agree with you, wholeheartedly, that most homeschoolers are academically excellent, what about the socialization?”

Exactly.)

Being Different, Acceptably

Advertisement

In our highly homogenized, mass media controlled society, different is aberrant, unique is abnormal, distinctive is deviant, and if you want to express yourself, we are told, then do so in an accepted way, through that year’s “revolutionary” clothes styles, or by reading the book that everyone else is reading because Hollywood is making a three-part movie on it (oops, four parts — the lucrative trend is to split the last book into two films).

So it is with the increasing number of Christians who are choosing to leave the conventional, weekly multiple-group-meeting situation that we have mistakenly come to associate with the word “church,” and strike out on their own — whether it’s through a genuine small group assembling in someone’s home or, like our particular family, nothing fixed at all.

Advertisement

Despite criticism unrelentingly leveraged upon us, unconventionally independent Christians (for lack of a better name) do indeed focus on “how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” and most decidedly, do “not give up on meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” (Hebrews 10:24, 25) Our meetings are simply not in a culturally-accepted, top-down controlled, environment.

There is no commandment to Christians that we shalt attend regular weekly meetings in a fixed physical place, in association with prescribed denominational entities that propound “correct doctrine.”

If anything, we would be better off listening to Stephen, ascribed as being the first Christian martyr, who earned this distinction by speaking truth to people highly reluctant to hear it, and remember that, “The Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord.'” (Acts 7:48-49)

Advertisement

Facebook Flak

The quote at the head of this essay, Hebrews 13:13, struck my eye during a Facebook conversation that made a distinction between Christianity and church attendance, and as was expected, the writer received flak for his position, with Hebrews 10:25 predictably trotted out as the major argument for his abandoning his stance and crawling cravenly back into the pews.

Opalescent Sea inspirational original oil painting of ocean waves by Steve Henderson, licensed prints at art.com, allposters.com, amazon.com, framed canvas art, iCanvas, and Great Big Canvas

God is not confined to any building, creed, or denominational doctrine. Opalescent Sea, original oil painting by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at Amazon, Art. com, AllPosters, Framed Canvas Art, iCanvas, and Great Big Canvas.

Advertisement

In our brief online interaction, the writer mentioned to me Hebrews 13:13, which, in my reply, I mistakenly attributed to the apostle Paul until I took the 15 seconds I should have initially to look up the source of the verse (Note to independent individuals: do not make mistakes, ever. You will be flogged for them and told that the reason you make them is because you homeschool. Or give birth at home. Or avoid genetically modified food. Or sleep in on Sundays.)

The context of Hebrews 13:13 is an exhortation by the writer to trust God, remember those who are hurting, live honorably, and make our sacrifices not those of human ceremony, but those that focus on doing good and sharing with others.

“We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat,” the writer says in verse 13:10.

Advertisement

“The high priest carries the blood of the animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.

“Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.” (Verses 11-13)

The disgrace Jesus bore was exacerbated by his being rejected by His own people — “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:11)

Shunned by the Group

The perfect Jew in every way, Jesus was spurned, shunned, and sent to the cross by leaders in the religious establishment, and the irony is that the very people responsible for shepherding and teaching God’s word, totally missed seeing the Writer of it.

Advertisement

This is not to say that all leaders are bad — Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea come to mind — nor does it by association lead to the conclusion that the conventional church, and those who lead and attend it, are bad or wrong. What it does say is that convention, and the status quo, are not correct simply because they have always been that way, and those who decide upon a different path are not automatically apostates, or fools.

These are the Christians who are questioning church policy, asking where a particular doctrine can be found in Scripture, and increasingly, ultimately determining to leave. In doing so, they are out of the camp, away from the group, and a major result in their lives is being viewed with suspicion, censure, and disdain, if they speak up; ignored, if they don’t.

Advertisement

One might observe that we are disgraced.

So were the first Christians, who left the establishment of their day to strike out to follow this wild, radical man who was rejected and cursed. But they persevered in this new Way, this Way that all believers are called to seek out and follow — whether or not we attend a “real” church.

It’s not where we are on Sunday morning. It’s how we live — and for Whom — all week long.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where my heart goes out to my brothers and sisters who are choosing an extremely narrow, difficult, but highly fulfilling, path.

Posts complementing this one are

Advertisement

Contemporary Corporate Christianity

“I’m a Christian, but I’m Not Religious”

You Don’t Belong to Any Church — You Belong to God

Advertisement

Are We Making Asses of Ourselves?

posted by Carolyn Henderson

Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. (Psalm 32:9)

I’m sure you’ve heard the term, “The Perfect Will of God.”

As used within Christian circles, it sounds like it’s written, with capitals at the head of each word. Generally, it’s uttered with a sense of fear — not the reverent kind — because the primary impression is that if we don’t do things exactly right, if we don’t hear and obey God’s every personalized word (which aren’t audible to the majority to us, incidentally; nor does He write Post-It notes and leave them on our refrigerator door), then we will miss this Perfect Will of God for our lives and will Mess Up.

Advertisement

Three Horses inspirational original oil painting of horses in mountain meadow by Steve Henderson

We are human beings, children of God, and we can learn from His voice in a way that an animal never can. Three Horses, original oil painting by Steve Henderson

And God will be angry with us — as He frequently is in 21st century conventional establishment Christianity. As punishment for our not following His words that we begged to hear but couldn’t quite catch, He’ll not bother with us, or turn His back on us, or leave us to struggle through the ramifications of our lamentable decisions.

Advertisement

The general result, for many Christians facing a decision — big or little — is that they don’t do anything at all, because, they reason, it’s better to make no decision than the wrong one.

We all have known more than one Christian who has agonized between A? or B? or B? or A? prostrating themselves on the floor in tormented prayer begging God to speak to them, please, and let them know which way to go. This perversity on the part of their god is inexcusable in light of Christ’s encouragement in Matthew 7:7-12 that we ask, seek, and knock and we will receive, find, and have the door opened to us:

Bad Parenting

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” Christ asks rhetorically. “Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?”

Advertisement

Or if he asks a question, fervently and anxiously, will pretend to not hear him at all? Such is the behavior we attribute to God — who is justified in doing so, we say, because He is chronically offended by us — but this attitude is at variance with Christ’s conclusion,

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

The Blue Poncho inspirational original oil painting of girl and baby goat by Steve Henderson

Our good shepherd does not leave us to wander around fields alone, without His guidance. The Blue Poncho, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

Advertisement

The quote at the head of this chapter is from the 32nd Psalm by David, who begins the work with the ringing praise,

“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.”

One wonders how many Christians would feel free to stand up and say, “I’m that man! (or woman) God does not count my sins against me!”

Accepting God’s Acceptance

It’s a promise we have difficulty believing, especially because we have a lamentable habit — as humans — of not being perfect, something that we hold against ourselves but God does not, any more than we reject a three-year-old for being too selfish to purchase for us a birthday present.

Advertisement

When we hyper-focus on The Perfect Will of God, a concept that is not found, in the Bible, the way we misapply it (nope, not Romans 12:2 — read the verse, and the one before it along with a few after it, without the prescriptive attitude concerning TPWoG), then we are frozen into inaction, dependent upon step-by-step, moment by moment directions, for everything we say and do.

In short, we are asking to be like a horse or mule, unable to think for ourselves based upon information we are given, choosing, instead, to let God do all the thinking without any input on our part. It reminds me of the Hebrew people in the desert during the Exodus, when they saw and heard God’s might on the mountain and they trembled in fear:

Advertisement

“They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.'” (Exodus 20:19)

Looking Anywhere but Toward God

Lamentably, we can have much the same attitude today, when we look to our pastor to interpret Scripture for us, or follow an author’s every piece of advice because he “speaks for God,” or worship, literally worship, another human being because of his “godliness.” It’s much easier to look to someone else, more “in tune with God,” to lead us than it is for us to turn directly to our Father Himself, and trust that, in His guidance of us, He takes into account our frailty.

Advertisement

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” This verse of comfort is the one prior to the horse sentence, and it is an assurance that,

1) God won’t abandon us to depend upon our own limited ability to understand, because He does and will teach us,

but

2) In His teaching of us, the goal is that we learn, and in learning, we are able to participate more fully in the decision-making process. Every first-grade teacher has the goal that his or her students will take the alphabet and the phonics and eventually turn them into reading, and only a very bad, impatient, and insecure teacher would punish a budding reader for messing up on a word.

Advertisement

God is far and away the best first grade, high school, and post collegiate teacher any of us could ever dream of having. And He isn’t teaching horses.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. One of the most damaging misconceptions we battle as Christians today is the concept that God really does not like us, and is constantly finding fault with everything we think or do. That’s pretty lousy parenting.

Posts complementing this one are

Contemporary Corporate Christianity

Advertisement

Three Things God Wants Us to DO

What Chickens Teach Us about God

 

Advertisement

Please, Think Twice about Passing out the Bible Tract

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22)

I ran across a bawdy joke the other day that is definitely not the thing one shares with acquaintances or distant relatives.

Provincial Afternoon inspirational original oil painting of two girls in meadow reading by Steve Henderson

The message of Christ is so beautiful that it is worth taking time to present it — verbally or on paper — in a manner that people can grasp, reach out to, and understand. Provincial Afternoon, original oil painting by Steve Henderson, sold.

Advertisement

But it was too good to keep to myself, so I passed it on at the dining table, around (adult) children and spouse, who appreciated it, and the spirit in which it was given. Nobody was shocked, and we all moved on, seamlessly, to dessert and, afterwards, the dishes.

It goes without saying that there’s no need to write the joke down here, since this is not the appropriate venue for it, and while it didn’t offend my family, it would definitely offend some (not all) of my readers. In others words, there is a right place and time to say certain things to certain people, but in alternative places, at different times, and with other people, one tells a different joke, or no joke at all.

Right Place, Right Time, Right Words

Advertisement

The apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, discusses how he adjusts his message — the gospel of Christ — so that those hearing it will best be able to receive it:

“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.

“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.

Ending the Day on a Good Note inspirational original oil painting of 1940s nostalgic woman in victorian home listening to victrola by Steve Henderson

In the same way we do not all listen to the same music, read the same books, or eat the same food, we do not respond the same to a one-size-fits-all message. Ending the Day on a Good Note, original oil painting by Steve Henderson.

Advertisement

“To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.

“To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.”

As a friend explained recently, it’s not so much what we say, as how we say it — and no matter how valuable the message, if we give it in a manner offensive, confusing, incomprehensible, or unintelligible to the listener, then the meaning of our words does not get through.

An Insistent, and Irritating, Christian

I am reminded of my college days, when I was exploring the concept of Christ, whom I had vaguely heard of through my childhood but did not understand or know. An intensely fervent Christian figuratively pinned me to the wall and forcefully kept me there with his words:

Advertisement

“You MUST accept Jesus Christ, or you will die in hell, burning there for eternity. He loves you and is calling you to be His.”

At that time (and to this day), I could not put sentence 1 and 2 together in any logical, reasonable, compassionate, or understandable manner, and I was resisting. Quite fortunately, the man eventually left, and another Christian, quietly listening in the background, came forward and said,

“Don’t let him pressure you. And don’t feel like you have to accept what he is saying. Keep focusing on God’s love, because that’s what is worth looking for.” He then proceeded to talk about other things. In the subsequent weeks, he was there — a safe person — to answer my questions, which he did so in a measured, reasonable fashion, and always with a willingness to admit he didn’t know something when he, well, didn’t know something.

Advertisement

In the end, my conscious decision to become a Christian was strongly influenced by the behavior and words of the latter, thoughtful Christian, and if I had been limited to the words of the insistent dogmatist, I would have, like many seekers and searchers of truth and love, rejected the concept of Christianity.

This isn’t to say that the overbearing Christian wasn’t passionate and sincere in his beliefs, but he was extremely foolish in the manner in which he expressed them. Inattentive to body language, oblivious to conspicuous signs of distress in his listener, he plowed forward with his argument, using the same words he used with everyone he approached, whether or not they understood, grasped, or accepted them.

Advertisement

Hardened Hearts, but Whose?

If they didn’t, his general response was to shrug his shoulders and say,

“Oh, well. Their hearts are hardened and they resist the Holy Spirit. I guess they’re just unredeemed, and unredeemable, sinners.”

This is not at all Paul’s attitude, and it is ludicrous to think that he would quote Jewish law to a Greek, or use Aristotelian arguments upon a Jew.

And yet, this is what many Christians insist upon doing when they quote Scripture to an atheist, or thrust a tract into the hand of a stranger, not even bothering to find out anything about the person receiving it. The general attitude, upon the part of the speaker, is — “I’ve done my part, and I’ve spoken the name of the Lord. Scripture will not be quoted in vain.”

Advertisement

This is more superstition than reality, and if we asked ourselves, “What is my goal? To speak the words? Or to phrase them, and comport myself, in such a way that the person hearing my words will have a decent shot at understanding them?” we would adjust our parlance in accordance with the person and circumstances of our listener.

The first involves only opening our mouths, the second our hearts and minds.

Releasing ourselves from a one-size-fits-all approach allows us to moderate, and finesse our actions, freeing us to genuinely smile and say “Thank you,” to the person who just sold us our groceries instead of, “Jesus Loves You!” We agonize, because we didn’t use the word “Jesus,” or “God,” or “The Lord,” but in all honesty, if the person has been hurt by a hammerhanded approach to Christianity (and we don’t know this because we don’t know them), which option would get across the real message — the love of Christ — better?

Advertisement

And isn’t that the message we’re trying to impart?

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. Posts complementing this one are

“Jesus Loves You!” Enough, Already

Do You Long for the Love Christianity Promises?

Grasping the Goodness of God

 

Advertisement

“Foreigners” Are God’s Children, Too

posted by Carolyn Henderson

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.” (Ruth 1:16-17)

As a Christian who does not have Jewish roots, I look at all the wonderful miracles God has done for His Hebrew people — parting the Red Sea comes immediately to mind — and am tempted to hang my head, thinking, “That’s not for me, because I’m not officially one of His people.”

Mesa Walk inspirational original oil painting of woman dancing in desert by steve henderson; licensed prints at amazon.com, art.com, allposters.com, great big canvas, icanvas, and framed canvas art

What is a foreigner, anyway? Someone who doesn’t dress like us, talk like us, believe like us? And is that such a bad thing? Mesa Walk, original painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed prints at Amazon, Art. com, AllPosters, Great Big Canvas, iCanvas, and Framed Canvas Art.

Advertisement

For this reason, I love Isaiah chapter 56, firmly entrenched within the Old Testament, in which God says,

“Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely exclude me from his people,” (verse 3), subsequently expounding that those of us who “bind themselves to the Lord to serve him, to love the name of the Lord, and to worship him . . . these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.”  (verses 6-7)

It’s Not a Social Club

God’s family is not an exclusive club, and belonging to it does not require economic, cultural, racial, political, or educational qualifications. (This is an excellent thing for Christians of Gentile heritage — who were brought into the flock from another pasture [John 10:16] — to remember. There are still more sheep, in other pastures, who don’t look and act in accordance with the 21st conventional interpretation of Christianity, and we might think about extending the same grace to them that has been extended to us.)

Advertisement

The passage at the top of this article from Ruth is a beautiful declaration of loyalty and love from a woman who would have been considered, within the Israelite culture during the dark time of Judges (“When everyone did as he saw fit,” Judges 17:6), to be a foreigner indeed — a heathen, a pagan, a much-detested Moabite who deserved no part or parcel with the promises given to the Hebrew nation.

That Ruth made such a statement to her mother-in-law, Naomi, after the latter, in Moab, lost her husband and sons (one of whom was Ruth’s husband), and was returning to her homeland of Israel, says a lot about, not Judaism, not the Hebrew people, not even God Himself, but about Naomi.

The Book about Naomi

Advertisement

Although the book calls itself Ruth, it is as much a story about Naomi, who says, “No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” (Ruth 1:13, English Standard Version)

Into the Surf inspirational original oil painting of child and woman at ocean beach by Steve Henderson; licensed prints at amazon.com, art.com, allposters.com, great big canvas, icanvas, and framed canvas art

Like Ruth followed Naomi, we follow, and imitate, Christ not because we are afraid of Him, but because He loves us, and we crave that love. Into the Surf, original painting by Steve Henderson, sold; licensed prints at Amazon, Art. com, AllPosters, Great Big Canvas, iCanvas, Framed Canvas Art, and vision art galleries.

Advertisement

Suffice it to say, the relationship between Naomi and her daughters-in-law does not resemble the typical cynical interpretation of the tension between a mother-in-law and the wives of her sons. In addition to the pain Naomi feels on her own behalf, she bears added torment by the hurt that descends upon those in her care.

This is a woman who loved, and was worthy of being loved, and Ruth responded to that love by giving up her culture, her religion, her national identity, and her very self to follow Naomi to a strange land, one that was hostile to a Moabitess. But the love of Naomi, the guidance she gave Ruth, and Ruth’s willingness to follow and obey her mother-in-law’s words, led to a result that is comforting and beautiful to all God’s children, regardless of whether our heritage is Hebrew, or not:

Advertisement

Ruth eventually married Boaz, a worthy and godly man who was a close kinsman to Naomi, and through this marriage, Ruth became the great-grandmother of David, Israel’s mightiest king, through whose line came Jesus, the greatest King, and brother, of all.

We’re Foreigners Too, You Know

Ruth — the foreigner, the outsider, the non-Jew, the Moabitess, the sheep from another pasture — is one of the great names in Biblical history, one of three women mentioned by name in Matthew’s genealogy. (The first was Tamar, who bore sons from an incestuous encounter instigated by her father-in-law Judah; the second was Rahab, a Canaanite whose name is unfortunately too often appended with, “the prostitute.” I find their inclusion less a lesson about sin, sin, sin, as about grace, mercy, acceptance, and God’s love for His children. These women are great not because of who they were, but Whom they belonged to.)

Advertisement

Ruth’s statement of faith is essentially the one that all Christians are called upon to make to our Lord, Master, King, and beloved Brother, Christ. Like Ruth, we make this declaration in response to the love that we receive at His hands. If Naomi had been a foul person spewing deceitfulness and hate, there would have been no reason for Ruth to make the declaration she did, and indeed, it would have been foolish on Ruth’s part.

But Ruth’s actions were a result of love bestowed upon her, and she was able to keep those words because Naomi cared for, and cared about her. This is a good reminder, to all of us who are Christians, that this is why we sought out, turned to, and made a decision to follow Christ — not because He nitpicks at us for our endless indiscretions and mistakes — but because He loves us, unconditionally, His ratty, ragged people from another pasture, an outside culture, a heritage that includes a lot of juicy, salacious stories, some of them not as far back in history as we would like.

Advertisement

But we are His, precious in His sight, beloved children who are no longer foreigners because we are His people, and where He goes, we go; and where He stays, we stay; His God is our God, and His Father is ours as well.

Thank You

Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity. Within conventional Christianity, we talk about “love” a lot, but focus more on sin, convinced that God won’t get close to us until we get our lives together. That’s not how it goes, you know.

Posts complementing this one are

Two Reasons Why the World Hates Christians (the comment thread on this one is fascinating)

Advertisement

Contemporary Corporate Christianity

Three Things God Wants Us to DO

 

Previous Posts

Do We Treat Fellow Christians Like Servants?
"And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him." (Ephesians 6:9) We like to say that a sign of civilization is that we do not have slaves. It's an odd misconception,

posted 1:50:23pm Mar. 27, 2015 | read full post »

Are You a Brave Christian?
"Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand." (Ephesians 6:13) [caption id="attachment_1532" align="alignleft" width="361"] How many of us, in our minds, live a movie? It's more imp

posted 1:29:24pm Mar. 25, 2015 | read full post »

Is God Keeping You on a Short Leash?
"You hem me in -- behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me." (Psalm 139:5) Have you ever felt as if God were keeping you on a very, very short leash? [caption id="attachment_1526" align="alignleft" width="349"] Reins are for horses and leashes are for dogs, but the principle is the s

posted 10:38:46am Mar. 20, 2015 | read full post »

Without God, We've Got 10 Minutes, Tops
"The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." (Genesis 2:7) I never see this verse without thinking of the AWANA program, regarding which, after 10 long years of heavily participating in it, I still

posted 2:09:55pm Mar. 18, 2015 | read full post »

The Christians Who Choose to Leave "Church"
"Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore." Hebrews 13:13 If you've ever done anything in contrast to the status quo, you've no doubt been shot with criticism by those who remain in the group, and are appalled that you would dare to leave. [caption id="attachment

posted 12:55:26pm Mar. 13, 2015 | read full post »

Advertisement


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.