Churchless

When it comes to finding a church in this area – there are two deal-breakers that we look out for: hymns as worship music and an emphasis on Complementarianism. It seems like every church we run into is either hymn-singing or currently teaching on Complementarianism, usually both. It’s getting ridiculous really. The other day, we counted out the churches listed in the directory in the newspaper: about 60% of them were Baptist.

We used to be Baptists, until preaching the gospel of gender roles became more important than “Christ and him crucified” (as Paul would say.) Since gender roles were contingent on marriage, being single just wasn’t something that the Church spoke to other than: “You better marry so that you don’t burn and get yourself sent to hell.” Since in some churches I was the only millennial, they toned down that message somewhat and only spoke about marriage to married couples. Number of sermons ever preached on living a Godly single life: zero.

As to hymns – they’re just not our cup of tea. We got into Contemporary music worship churches and developed an appreciation for them. Hymns – not so much.

So we’ve been trying churches – over here, over there, close-by, far away … and nothing feels like home. Home is a place where you know you’ll be accepted no matter what. Home is where you feel like you belong. Thinking back to all the churches we’ve visited over the years, the more Complementarian they are, the less they’re like home. The more hymns they sing, the less we feel like we’re talking the same language. It’s just not home.

To all these frustrations – there’s only one Biblical answer: “Don’t give up meeting together!” (Hebrews 10:25) Which is the least helpful thing to say.

For one, it’s a sentence fragment taken out of context: “Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 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.”

The Day has been approaching for millennia. Even Paul thought that it would be at any moment. The real point of the passage though, is encouragement. He even said so earlier on in the same book: “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.”

Do you know what would really be encouraging? An Egalitarian church with Contemporary music. But there isn’t one. We looked under every rock and behind every tree. What we’re left with is the most discouraging church we can find and it is under every rock and behind every tree. Churches that tell me that single people don’t matter as much as married people. Churches that tell me that it’s not enough to be married, but to a biblical family instead. That God’s ideal is for husbands to lead their wives and for wives to submit to their husbands. Churches that sing old songs as if God could never approve of anything that’s new. And for all of this – the only answer can be: “Don’t give up meeting together!”

I used to think that a long drive would be worth it to find a great church. But that’s back when I thought a long drive was fifteen minutes. Out here – an hour or so is probably the minimum driving time it would take – rain or shine, snow or ice – which means getting up extra early to drive an hour or so only drive to get there and an hour or so drive to get back. Want to plug into it’s ministries or try the Sunday and Wednesday evening services? Be prepared to show up an hour early or add a second trip later on in the day or in the week. The miles add up. But others will quickly remind me: “Don’t give up meeting together!”

Who calls these meetings anyway? Wearing clothes you don’t like, singing songs you don’t like, putting up with sermons that some small still voice inside tells you that they’ve got something in them all wrong. That doesn’t feel like home to me. When I’m at home – I play the music I like – some older pop songs, some newer rock songs, sometimes something in Spanish. But hymns? Never. When I’m at home, I wear what’s comfortable. I certainly don’t dress up as if I’m going to a wedding once a week, every week. I clean up very well – but sometimes I don’t feel quite myself when I don’t wear the things that I usually would. Now I get it, some people are naturally great at dressing up, anywhere and everywhere they’ll dress slightly formally. I’m not one of them and I’m not going to try to be something I’m not.

As to the sermons – it’s more like a gut instinct that there are bits here and there that’s gone wrong. It’s what happens when something doesn’t match the narrative in the Bible. It’s what happens when you hear an off-color joke from the pulpit. It’s what happens when the lesson drawn from Scripture is taken out of context. It’s what happens when a statement is prefaced with “The Bible clearly says …” and never paired with a verse reference that actually says what people say it says. It’s subtle too, it won’t always be an obviously heretical statement, but more often than not, it’ll be somewhere where people are left to fill in the gaps themselves and can only come to one conclusion. It’s also what happens when part of the story is emphasized, and as a result, other parts of the story are down-played. For well all know well: “For God so loved the world …” But what verses came before that one? After it? What goes on in the chapter in which that verse is found? The one before? The one after? It’s what happens when a teaching involved multiple verses culled from different books of the Bible and strung together to form a coherent teaching, taking each verse out of it’s own context.

“Don’t give up meeting together!” That’s easy for you to say. You don’t attend churches that you can’t stand. Take your perfect church, and imagine it has disappeared from the face of the earth. Imagine that the kind of churches you can’t stand are all there is. Imagine that people who are happy with those kinds of churches smile and nod as you list all the reasons why it just wouldn’t work out. Imagine that their response is: “Don’t give up meeting together!” It makes you feel as if you’re the odd one out, the one who can’t see how glorious and amazing everyone tells you their church is.

I think even God would be okay if we took a vacation away from all of that for a little while, time to rest, recover, and find him in the everyday 24/7 ebb and flow of life. I think we need to learn that God just isn’t at the church, but he’s here for us where we are at. Who knows, given enough time maybe a small Egalitarian Contemporary Worship kind of church will plant itself out here in the middle of nowhere, but until then, we’ve reached the limit on as much as we can stand of Complementarian Hymn-singing kind of churches that are a dime a dozen out here. So that’s why we’re church-less … again. Oh, and please don’t say: “Don’t give up meeting together.” It doesn’t work.

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6 thoughts on “Churchless

  1. I don’t think it’s just Millennials that struggle with these issues. We are blessed to have found a church like you describe. But it’s probably more than an hours drive! I would encourage you to check out the podcasts and tune in to a live stream on Sunday mornings. I think you would very much enjoy it.

    thecrossingchurch.com

    And thank you for visiting my post on Proverbs 31 and leaving a comment.

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  2. Thanks for linking me to your church. I’m listening to a sermon on 1 Corinthians 11 (the first half). It sort of confirms my suspicions … the church says it’s associated with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which leaves it up to each individual congregation to decide whether or not to allow women in ministry. In this way, they are not directly against it, but neither are they for it – so they won’t encourage it. I can hear that kind of fence-sitting stance in the language and terms used – for every step toward egalitarianism, there’s another step toward complementarianism. I checked on the staff page and it shows that while there are some women in ministry, they’re usually in the ‘acceptable’ ministries: women teaching women, women teaching children, and women in caregivers / service ministries. The church stops just shy of full equality by denying women the role of teaching pastor, which, I assume, is the most prominent role of all. That’s what I don’t get – the churches I’ve seen in action all say that women complement men like followers complement leaders, as a gender, women are made to follow men, to help men, to submit to men, as a gender, men are made to lead women, to provide for and protect women, to lead women. The problem with that is that there is no checks and balances on the power of men, so much so that women are often blamed, for not being sexy enough to keep their man, not being attentive enough to keep their man, for provoking their man to hitting her, etc. I always thought that God’s wisdom wasn’t to anchor us into the mores and attitudes of an ancient culture. I don’t think the “headship” of one gender over the other was meant to be enshrined as a principle that must endure. IT was a temporary bandage, like stitches in a wound, that would eventually need to be removed in order for a full healing to take place. Out here, contemporary churches tend to hide behind a complementarian facade – they lure us in with great music, only to sit us down to remind us that we’re not living biblically. I figure that since we’re against slavery, I should at least be consistent and believe that equality must mean that ‘roles’ need both men and women to work as equals, that women are leaders and men are followers, too. “Complements” as it were, in every station of life.

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    1. I’m deeply sorry you got this opinion about The Crossing. I’ve been a member for more than ten years and have never felt complementarianism was being promoted. I would not say women are denied access to main teaching positions, and believe if the opportunity presented itself, they would embrace both genders in this role. Having been a member of no less than seven churches over the past 40 years, I find the teaching here to be the most scripture-based of any I’ve heard. Our focus is “Christ crucified” and the main message is “saved by grace through faith so no one can boast.” Just as phrases in scripture should not be interpreted out of context, I believe a church should not be judged on its denomination affiliation alone. I’ve never walked in lockstep with any church of which I’ve been a member, and although I don’t agree with all of their tenants, I’ve found the leadership extremely open-minded on many polarizing cultural topics. I truly hope you find a church home where all your spiritual needs can be met. If one looks honestly at scripture, it’s so obvious that Jesus held women in high esteem.
      In HIs Grip,
      Lisa

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      1. When Complementarianism became the focus of one of my old churches, they hired a freshly graduated seminary student as a youth pastor. Every meeting, he would ask someone to lead the prayer at the end of my class. Without fail, whenever a young woman volunteered to lead prayer, he’d shake his head and say: “God really wants to hear from the boys.” Eventually the girls got the message – and they quit praying. In the church after that, only men were allowed to take up offering and serve communion. Men were allowed to participate in visible ministries, women were largely permitted to assist in invisible ministries where they were out of sight and out of mind – kitchen, nursery, and even sound technicians as they were at the back of the congregation. Women never preached sermons, collected the offering, served communion, delivered the announcements, or read from scripture – I was given the impression that it was the role of men to officiate, lead, and participate in the worship God, and it was never the role of women. Then I attended a Methodist church where not only were women the ones preaching the sermons, but they did everything else alongside the men. It was then I began to see that the idea that only men may serve visibly for the lie that it was. (Sadly, they sing hymns and I’ve reached my limit on them.) To me, any church that says: “Women may only go so far, but no further.” is a dangerous thing, some churches are blatant about it – like the ones I grew up in. Others are far more subtle, much more difficult to peg where they fall. The complementarianism I know cloaks itself behind words like “roles” and”equal but different” – such ideas fit an ancient society such as the one the Bible was written in, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a timeless truth meant to speak into the future. When I think about the Complementarianism I know – it doesn’t seem like something Jesus would have had in mind – that men are visible and women are not.

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  3. Well, we love hymns. : ) But I totally relate to the complementarian issue! I live in the southeast USA and it can be hard to find an egalitarian church. We were so discouraged (about the gender role issue and other church struggles) that we stopped attending church for a summer. And for over a year, we attended a church – but were not involved in any way. Slipped in and out each Sunday. Leave us alone. haha. Went out of a sense of duty I guess. We were actually in what I’d call a “church wilderness” for several years. Anyways, we did… finally … find an evangelically influenced mainline church and have been there for almost 4 yrs. Strangely though, while this church is egalitarian in the church setting, it is complementarian in its teachings about the home. Odd. But since we can handle our marriage how we want, we are just glad there are full opportunities for women in the church. Oh and this church has a traditional and contemporary service…

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    1. It must be a good sized church to manage two services. Hymns just aren’t my cup of tea, but I wouldn’t want hymns taken away from people who don’t respond to anything else. I’d just like another option. There really is a lack of variety out here – a hymn singing church of the same denomination as the other one is just down the road or around the corner, the two churches usually have a similar order of worship, just different people and different hymns they’ll be singing. I don’t understand why the two churches can’t merge into one and rent out the other church building to a contemporary start-up that needs a meeting space.
      I always wondered if this wasn’t a “church desert” … I recently heard about a church in this area that belongs to an egalitarian denomination. They’re in search of a new pastor. They had four applicants. As soon as they saw that one of them was a woman, they put her application at the bottom of the pile. Just because the other three are men, they will be given priority and primary consideration over her own qualifications. They’ve been taught to think that only way a woman can be called to leadership is if there is no eligible men, like Deborah in charge of Israel, women are better than nothing, but men are better leaders than women because that’s what they say the Bible says. If that’s one of the egalitarian churches, then I can only imagine how much worse the complementarian churches are.

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