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.