I doubt the Church.

I doubt the Church.

It’s been hard to write, talk, and even think about God as of late. A major life change snuck up on me, devastated me, and left me questioning everything. To be honest, I’ve been wrestling with hopelessness, doubt, and fear on a fairly constant basis the past month. Even as I’ve been able to get my head above water, and as I’ve reconnected with God, I’ve still been pretty hopeless about church. I’ve been haunted by thoughts like, “Maybe it’s time to let the Church die. Maybe it’s a waste of time to try to keep these institutions running. Maybe we need to abandon the Church as we know it.” I am struggling nowadays reconciling institutional Christianity with Jesus. This could just be my 8 wing acting up (for Enneagram nerds) or maybe I am just bitter, but the American Church models and breeds capitalism, white supremacy, nationalism, and it may do some good, but is it worth it prolonging its death for that?

I’m still wrestling with these questions.

The Way of Christ is not meant to be conventional or logical, but instead powerfully subversive and Spirit-led. I want to follow Jesus to be a holy fool, a disciple, a peacemaker, and I don’t see the institutional Church being able to support such callings. The American Institutional Church rarely breed “fools for Christ” (1 Cor. 4:10) but rather pushes people with the seed of Christ to continually deny the radical notions of the gospel. Pieces of the Gospel can be found in the American Church, but it is laced with various poisons that make it unsustainable. The Liberal Church has idols of success, intellectualism, and… being white. The Conservative/Evangelical Church has idols of tradition, moralism, and exclusivism. Both are quite toxic and some days I think it’s better to just let it all die. Pull the plug. Abandon ship.

I’m tempted to protest church, exhorting God’s people to sell the steeplehouses, close down the institutions, meet in homes, and encourage each other in the Way of Christ. After all, following Jesus as a community, as a people, is the only way I’m convinced one can follow him. I cannot help but think that perhaps church-as-we-know-it more actively opposes the Holy Spirit in her building of koinonia than supporting and welcoming her. I struggle to see how much of this could be part of Christ’s vision for his people.

Is it fair to doubt the Church as much as I do? Perhaps I am self-deluded and my passion for a high ecclesiology is actually idolizing a certain ecclesiology, a certain expression or way. It may not be fair to the Church, and it probably is a limiting view of Christ and the Holy Spirit. I am sure that’s all true to some degree. That’s partially why I haven’t given up on institutional Quakerism.

I am convinced that God’s grace can reach into any moment, any experience, and even any institution. The richness of the gifts in Quakerism holds me in this peculiar Society. I have not found a vision of the gospel more compelling, more transformative, than that of Friends, and though we may have loosened our grip on some aspects of this vision throughout the branches, it is still part of our spiritual DNA. I’ve seen the Society come alive in this power, at QuakerSpring, at Friends of Jesus gatherings, and of course in Peru at the World Plenary Meeting, where Friends from all branches came together to worship and fellowship, offering their tradition’s gifts. I have had glimpses of revival, and I want it.

Maybe God will lead me out of institutional Quakerism one day, and maybe God will let the institutional church crumble. The truth is, I have little idea on what God is up to, and I have little authority to speak on what God should do… but I’m confident that I have been animated by the grace of Christ, and it is hard for me to deny the Spirit leading me to Friends. So what does being faithful and believing Christ’s good news mean for me right now? I deeply sense that it is to continue being nurtured and edified by the Society of Friends, and to call forth the gifts of Quakerism that we’ve lost sight of. Is that the answer for other Quakers, and for other Christians sojourning in denominational structures? For some, but definitely not all. But for myself, I feel my spirit leaning on some rather obscure Scripture verses, giving me hope for the Religious Society of Friends and the Church as a whole:

God, your God, will restore everything you lost; he’ll have compassion on you; he’ll come back and pick up the pieces from all the places where you were scattered. No matter how far away you end up, God, your God, will get you out of there and bring you back to the land your ancestors once possessed. It will be yours again. He will give you a good life and make you more numerous than your ancestors. God, your God, will cut away the thick calluses on your heart and your children’s hearts, freeing you to love God, your God, with your whole heart and soul and live, really live.But only if you listen obediently to God, your God, and keep the commandments and regulations written in this Book of Revelation. Nothing halfhearted here; you must return to God, your God, totally, heart and soul, holding nothing back.

—Deuteronomy 30:3-6, 10 (The Message)

For myself, Friends, the Church, and all who know the love of God: may we not be halfhearted, and may we hold nothing back, so God’s presence would be welcomed among us to restore, revive, and redeem.

 

11 thoughts on “I doubt the Church.

  1. where two or three are gathered, He is there..don’t forget that..may be better to worship/fellowship with a few kindred spirits than in a more traditional “church”..that’s kind of where I am at.

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  2. Recie Young says:

    Jesus preached the Good News of the Kingdom… not the good news of the Church. The Church is NOT the Kingdom of God. I rather think the Church as Jesus intended it to be is a natural, organic byproduct of Kingdom faith and living. Jesus came to bring the Kingdom that rules in Heaven to earth. We will never know the glorious benefits of such government… such GLORY until we stop emphasizing Church while ignoring the KINGDOM that is its source and power.

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  3. I share all your misgivings about the church, including the Quaker brand of it (just another one of those Principalities ala http://sneezingflower.blogspot.com/2006_09_01_archive.html ) and at the same time feel that it, and its failings (like us and ours) are there to [somehow] serve God’s purposes, so that perhaps we’re called to gather there to butt heads with our fellow inmates just for the practice of seeing our neighbor as ourselves: ignorant, wrongheaded, pigheaded & whatever else applies including ‘well-intentioned’ (in our way, so far as we’re able to ‘know what we do, whatever other limitations may be hidden in our fine print(?)’

    ?

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  4. Greg says:

    Perhaps, it is you, who will bring revival and rise to your true calling. For I believe you speak with an authentic voice, for Jesus did not come…to establish a church. For he said “greater things than these you will do”.

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  5. “The Kingdom of God” is like a weed growing up through our sidewalks… but we think it must be like a sidewalk; so what we call ‘a church’ is what people make when we try to ‘build’ “the Kingdom”, as if we could get “The Temple” right if we only had the proper blueprints this time…

    as if we lived on a chessboard, and kept trying to figure out what kind of crazy direction this “up” was, anyway. But every now and then we’d see things from a little bit ‘higher’. Doesn’t something like that happen, so far as we’re alive and paying attention? And secret as seedlings underground, until that happens?

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  6. Chuck S says:

    About to leave for FGC, a huge example of institutional Quakerism. NOT a church. As a Christian, I do not feel welcome there. I seek the transformative power of Christ in that place, and in past Gatherings, I have found it. God is present, I have that faith. Be still and know that I am God. But as a Christian, I feel in the minority. And today, I am not looking forward to going. I asked if there was worship under the care of Christian Friends, I was told, “Go worship with the nuns across the street at the convent”. Feel hurt, dismissed and rejected in the “liberal” Quaker movement, although I know God I’d present, I know ther’s that of God in everyone, and that there are others understand the transforming power of Christ. I will continue to explore my connection with God, and seek Friends who do not consider Christianity a silly notion. Maybe I have a ministry to carry there to FGC. What is that ministry? Am I just operating out of my ego? Maybe. Time to let go of the hurt and follow God.

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    • Who did you say Jesus would worship with?

      I admit, I was disconcerted when at a Yearly Meeting one of my favorite people there was turned out allergic to the very idea of God…

      But I like what ‘God’ said in one of Raymond Smullyan’s dialogues: that “I have no enemies” — because anyone who thinks of himself as God’s enemy simply doesn’t know God.

      (Becoming acquainted with God can be a long, sometimes painful process; but God knows what it takes to reach that point (meaning that we don’t! Job wasn’t merely getting unjustly thumped-upon; he needed all that to be able to say, “I had heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees Thee.”) Patience with self & others, yes?)

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  7. Howard Brod says:

    “I have at last seen the enemy, and it is I”.

    The Spirit that touches me in silent worship is the same universal Spirit that was manifested in Jesus and has been available for eternity. Whether someone else calls it Jesus or calls it nothing at all – matters not. It is always Present for all no matter what it is called.

    I have come to realize that when I feel a sense of lack in others, it is really a sense of lack in me that I am coming up against. And its time for me to concentrate on the words of Jesus: “By their fruit you will know them.” Wherever the fruits of the Spirit (Galations 5:22-23) are manifested, there you will find the Source of all life waiting to be your friend. Hold on to that, my Friend, and let go of everything else.

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  8. I am also very muddled on the Quaker church right now. On the one hand, I’ve known some Quaker folks who are so New Age as to either not know the Bible or to downright hate it. In addition, Quakerism often doesn’t leave room for all present to use all their gifts. But on the other hand, there isn’t the problem of suddenly being waylaid by someone who thinks she has a cruel word to say to you from God. I tend to feel safest in Quaker churches with very very very old people. The younger they are, the more worried I get.

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  9. I hear and nod to all you have said here. I also have landed in a friends community. They call themselves evangelical friends. I have loved many things that I have found there in the past ten years, having come from a nondenominational background that one could call “Bapticostal”. but at some point i realized that my relationship with Christ was not exclusive to this community. Or the building, or the speaker or any of that. I came to that conclusion as I struggled in that community not having a particular last name or position at the local Quaker university. My own calling was to seek spiritual formation for children, which has been a rich endeavor, though it has come through a traditionally catholic context, using montessori methods. Most recently, I have realized how very monochromatic my Friends are. everyone is white. and that is an imbalance. and the only diverse groups that seem to really stick around are those who can mesh well with the white culture of our community. but church i remember is every bit understood in the relationship between Gomer and Hosea as a metaphor for Christ’s relationship with the church. we are imperfect. we cannot seem to quash our nature. He loves us anyway.

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  10. Your musings are familiar to me and well articulated.
    I see now that church has no power but what we give it. Dead or alive. The only thing that crumbles is false beliefs and outgrown rituals. I try to keep Christ-spirit in the forefront and have naturally come across other people doing the same, maybe our own little church!

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