Quoting a friend whose thoughts often help me discern my own:
"Doug and I spent our morning at home rather than at church this morning - the first in a break, length of time TBD. We spent part of our afternoon with friends processing church (i.e. what our experiences have been, what we think is the ideal for church, where church has been a challenge, what could be done differently, etc). A phrase that one of them used is "[I] have the heart of a reformer." This resonated deeply with me! If there is a resistance to change, if the assumptions are that we have it right, questions cannot be asked, and discussion is unnecessary - I’m out. I believe that the church is (as are all people in it) in process, unfinished, and called to keep reforming."
-Rochelle Matthews Stoltzfus
The last sentence is so true to me. Since re-entering my faith years ago after many years of agnosticism and reliance on doubt, I’ve never once felt comfortable in the physical buildings we call “church.” The amount of division amongst churches (denominations), the idea of membership to a specific church and the brand loyalty that goes with it, the lack of open discussion about anything biblical without judgement, the closed systems of hierarchy and politics, any implication of gender specific roles of any sort, the absolute lack of discussion about homosexuality beyond potentially misinterpreted versus, the threat of damnation as reason why we should love God.. This is just the beginning of a long list of ideas and situations I’ve seen and experienced that make me cringe at the thought of them, knowing in my heart that none of them have anything to do with why God loves us or wants to be a part of our lives.
Today, Kathleen and I were discussing some of our own discouragement with churches and we eventually concluded that people are greatly misunderstanding God’s desire for us to be part of “church.” God did not design a square building with a mandatory cross inside where people must meet on a weekly basis to be saved and do God’s work. God’s church is the people who believe in God. God wants us to be a part of a community of people who believe in God. Sure, this community can meet in a building and call that building a church, but that’s a human made construct. It’s not God’s design. We can meet anywhere with anyone regardless of their background or beliefs so long as we’re pursuing God by serving and loving others.
I’m not saying that churches shouldn’t exist. There are great things these human designed buildings of people can accomplish by gathering resources and using them to serve others. But I absolutely do not believe that our churches are the only way, much less the right way to be a part of God’s church.
I do agree with Rochelle that “if there is a resistance to change, if the assumptions are that we have it right, questions cannot be asked, and discussion is unnecessary,” I feel like I’m out. As though I have no reason to put effort into a system that doesn’t even accept my questions. But I’m not out. Even though I feel like I do little to make change now, I think it’s important for people who want to see these changes and ask these questions be a part of what resists them. To continue putting pressure on the idea that we as people think we know any absolutes about God or what God wants.
You can’t believe in facts, in things that can’t change. God asks us to believe in him. Therefore, we really will never have it right. Discussion and debate are always open. Don’t ever stop asking questions.