There is a growing movement among believers that rejects the idea of institutionalized churches altogether, due to corrupt doctrines, abuse of the membership, avarice amongst leadership, and a host of other issues. If you have ever encountered a believer that has experienced these things, they will tell you horror stories of abuse – emotional, spiritual, and even sexual. These people have been damaged to the point that they reject traditional churches altogether.
At one time I thought I would become one of those people. I wanted to escape. I knew that what I read in the Scripture compared to what I observed happening in many churches did not match up. People were hurting, angry, and disappointed. Instead of gaining a greater relationship with Christ, they lost everything-financial security, loved ones, and their own faith in what should be a joyous experience-fellowship with other Christians.
Each time I thought it was going to be my last Sunday attending church, I was confronted with:
Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)
24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
But the Scripture in Luke 17:21 states that the Kingdom of Heaven is within us, and John 14:26 states that we have received a comforter-the Holy Spirit. If that is the case, (and I believe the entire Word of God) why should it matter if I go to church or not, if the Kingdom of Heaven is within me? And since I, as a believer, have the Holy Spirit within me, I don’t need the “spiritual covering” of an institutionalized church.
What I prayed for was a greater understanding.
What matters is that Christians communicate and assemble at any and all times. As a matter of fact-if you are a Christian attending church on Sunday with an occasional bible study sprinkled in, but not seeking out Christian fellowship and purpose during the rest of the week, you are having an anemic relationship with fellow believers, and you’re missing an important part of your faith-walk. Your growth is stunted.
Hebrews 10:25 is not meant to be interpreted to mean “going to a church building”- assembly (or meeting) can be an assembly of two, twenty, or twenty thousand.
Matthew 18:20 (NIV)
20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
No one can tell me, if I meet a friend for coffee, and we are praising the Lord, speaking of His goodness, and discussing His Word, that we’re not “having church”, after all-Jesus is in the midst.
I know there are some who have been deeply wounded by churches and “church folk”. Some of the damage may be unspeakable and seemingly irreparable. I went through a period when I thought I would never step foot in another church. But as I healed-that changed. The healing wasn’t easy. There were some churches that I had to leave and never look back. I had to leave people who I cared about and prayed for. But the one thing I noticed is that God always gave me a desire to locate another fellowship even in the midst of my pain.
What I want anyone reading this to take away is that if you are someone who has been betrayed by the very institution that you thought was a safe haven-first seek out the Lord in your decision to leave or stay. But if anything is going on in that church that is not scriptural or is in direct contradiction with the Word of God or you are being abused spiritually or physically – by all means-leave. BUT UNDERSTAND…
Hebrews 10:24-25 still stands. While you are seeking another church fellowship, find other believers, break bread with them, pray and worship with them, search the Scripture with them. As members of the Body, we cannot stand alone. Rest assured the Lord will lead you to the right church home. And the fact of the matter is that true Pastors are under-shepherds of Christ. And all Christians need to be under the teaching of a shepherd who will guide them through the Word into greater understanding and deeper relationship with Christ.
Understand also, that you may be led to stay put. In the midst of your travail, if that is what God has you to do, it is because there is a purpose for you there in that season. It doesn’t mean you will be there forever, but he will not spiritually release you until you have gained all you must. Remember Jeremiah 29:11. You are safe in His hands.
I am grateful for the bravery of those who are taking a stand against corrupt spiritual leaders. I find comfort in knowing that I am not the only believer who observes these disturbing things happening in some churches today. But I’m not going to “throw the baby out with the bathwater”. Total rejection of the traditional church isn’t the answer. I believe that it is the responsibility of believers who know the truth to speak it, and change the atmosphere wherever they are.
I want to draw your attention to Hebrews 10:24-25 again. More than anything, we meet to “spur each one another toward love and good deeds” and to “encourage one another”. If you are doing this whether in church or with fellow believers outside of church, you are being obedient to the Word.
I am thankful to have found a place that I can call my “church home”. We are not perfect, but we are striving together-iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17). It is my prayer that all believers who are searching will find a safe haven-a sanctuary, so that they can worship, pray, and search the Scriptures together. Then Christ will be in the midst.