Recently a Christian brother called Dave left me a comment on my blog which led me back to his blog. I had no knowledge of him prior to that and so having exchanged a few impressions with him, I was overwhelmed and overjoyed to discover the similarities in our spiritual journeys and the confirmation of what the Holy Spirit has been speaking into my life for the last few years. Please read his testimony of why and who led him to leave the Church System. What is a God-send? Dave is. Thank you Dave for taking so much of your time to write such an honest and personal account of your journey into the “wilderness”. One day you will know the impact that your comment has had on my spiritual development. May the Lord continue to bless you and keep you as you follow Him and His voice in your life. What an inspiration!
Dave has wanted to leave me a comment on my post “Why did I stop going to church? Because I was looking for Jesus and I could not find him there” (https://mercedesphere.wordpress.com/2011/04/05/you-are-always-on-their-lips-but-far-from-their-hearts/), but unfortunately as it was too long the blog would not accept it, and so I am printing it here below. I never want to forget what reading his words did to my spirit. I hope it also speaks to and blesses many of the people who follow my ramblings. Here it is:
Comment by David @ http://www.truthforfree.com/
Excellent post Mercedes!
I am totally encouraged through the things I’ve been reading on your website and especially this blog post of yours touched my heart. There is no doubt that the Spirit of the Lord is directing your steps and I have been blessed through your obedience to the Lord and the love and truth of Jesus that is shining through your testimony! Thank you sis! To see how the Lord is leading you is just so awesome! Your “exodus” (the way you describe your heart in the matter) reminds me very much of my own. I left behind the traditional church thing in 2001, not long after the passing of my father. I’ll never forget sitting by my dad’s bedside in the hospital when he grabbed my arm and looked straight in my eyes and said, “Son, beware of men who seek to set themselves up as fathers in your life.” He continued, saying, “I raised you to be a son of your Father in heaven. Follow only Him.” What was so profound about those words is that dad really didn’t know much of what had been going on in the church I attended at the time. Dad lived in Seattle, 240 miles from me, and I never really shared with him about the heavy “fathering” and “covering” doctrine that had swept into our church. All these pastors were imposing themselves on me as “spiritual fathers” and, for a time, I was buying into it… until the Holy Spirit made me ill about it and begun to show me what was really going on. When my dad spoke those words, it was the Spirit of God speaking right through him to me. It was incredible! It was just what was needed to begin to pierce through the deception that was trying to overtake me. I wish my dad was alive today so I could share this freedom I now have with him… But I know he knows because he is now with the Lord and I will rejoice again with him one day. 🙂
Like you, I left good friends behind – several who couldn’t understand my decision to leave. The truth is though, I didn’t really leave them behind intentionally. I tried to keep in touch with many of them, but when they couldn’t qualify me by a visible attendance to the program, some of them acted as though I had deserted Christ. It was a painful experience, but in time I would come to see it as just another opportunity to pray for others and forgive those who sometimes misunderstand me and pre-judge without knowledge. Though I later would find out that there were indeed several people who had opinions about me (opinions which turned into rumors), I know many simply didn’t understand and felt sorrow that they weren’t seeing me around anymore. In all honesty, I wasn’t “bitter” or “hurt” and I didn’t leave because I was “backsliding”… When I left, I was in good standing with pretty much everyone. I was friends with all the pastors, I was part of the church worship team, I had even helped with two church plants working right alongside the head pastor. I never hid things from anyone. I was always honest about my feelings and my impressions about how I felt the Lord was guiding me. But when the Lord started pulling me away, it was hard. I struggled for months over the issue before I left. I knew (with a deep kind of knowing and conviction in the depths of my being) the Holy Spirit was leading me, but my mind still battled the whole thing because this decision was so opposite everything I had always thought I was supposed to do as a Christian (I grew up in church… spent 30 years of my life there).
I also knew that people would misunderstand and judge me and I knew that would be difficult, painful and frustrating. But how could I deny the conviction of truth that I knew the Holy Spirit had put in my heart? The last few weeks at the church I attended usually ended with me leaving early. I would often feel sickened in the service. Suddenly everything looked like plastic to me; lifeless, droning, and artificial. I now know this was because my spiritual eyes were beginning to open, but at the time I wasn’t sure what was going on. As I drove home I would sometimes break into tears and I remember crying out to God, “What’s wrong with me Lord? Why can’t I just enjoy church like I used to? What’s wrong with me?” I remember sharing this anguish with another close friend from church… Do you know what his response was? He said, “Maybe you have a demon Dave…” Well, if that was true, it seemed I was delivered the day I finally got out for good! 😉
I love what you wrote: “I am aware that some of you out there are of the opinion that I am in a bad place, that I am struggling. Well, let me put those rumours to sleep, let me nip this misconception in the bud. I am not struggling, I am not in a bad place. I AM FINALLY FREE!” That was my heart too and eight years later it is still my heart! I am still free and have no regrets (other than the fact that I wish more of my brothers and sisters in Christ understood). When I left, I was warned by various persons in leadership that, because I was leaving the covering, God would turn me over to deception, error, bondage, strife financial ruin, and all manner of trouble. The truth is, none of those threats have come to pass. In fact, I have experienced more joy, blessing and spiritual growth in my life these last eight years than in the 30 years prior. I have come to discover Christ as my sure Rock and Foundation, my strength, my hope, my joy, and my motivation to continue walking closer to Him each day.
That’s not to say the road hasn’t had its challenges, but they are simply par for the course. I know this already too long, but I feel like sharing a bit more… Perhaps this will encourage some of your readers or help some of them understand the mindset of a person, like myself, who decides to follow the Lord outside of the traditional church environment.
After a couple of years had passed following my stepping out of the church routine, some friends of mine that had moved out of the country while I was still in church came back to America to visit me. We all went camping. This particular brother in Christ used to be my old roommate. We (he, his wife and myself) had a great week camping in the mountains, but near the end of the trip the issue of church finally came up. They were both very concerned that I had decided to leave behind church world… My friend’s wife was literally crying in frustration and raising her voice; trying to express her frustration and confusion… I knew that in both of their minds, they basically believed I was deceived and stumbling in some way. The whole event put a total damper on the great week of camping that had just passed. My friend’s wife said something interesting to me… She said, “I’m sorry… I can’t understand this Dave. You seem like the same guy I’ve always known. You seem to be in love with Jesus. I hear you pray and it’s so sincere and I feel the Spirit of God as we are hanging out together… but I don’t understand how this can be possible when you are not in fellowship and not in church.” That was my opportunity to say, “Listen sis, your answer is right in front of you… The church and true fellowship is not four walls and a Sunday service. It’s what we’ve been enjoying all week. The fellowship we have is because we are in fellowship with Christ. That is not dependent upon any religious meeting or meeting place. The church is who we are in Jesus and wherever two or three are gathered, He is in our midst. I’m the same guy, but yet I’m not the same at all, because now I understand that my life is only in Christ and I am free in Him. I can enjoy fellowship with any member of His body any time and any place and there need be no division between us because of a denominational difference or whatever. Christ in us is the glue that pulls us together! You guys are my family in Christ! We are both part of His Church… no building required.”
She seemed like she began to understand but I could tell it was hard to process. Here my friends were acknowledging that they were witness to genuine spiritual fruit in my life and that we had all been enjoying real fellowship in the Lord throughout the week WITHOUT CHURCH, yet there was so much anxiety that four walls and a religious program were left out of the mix. What blows my mind is that Scripture very clearly illustrates the existence of fellowship among believers WITHOUT the existence of physical church buildings and institutions. Jesus said when as few as two or three of you come together He would be there. Believers often gathered together in their homes to share meals and pray together. Sometimes (Scripture records) they met in other places like by the riverside, or public places like Solomon’s Porch, or the synagogues (at least until they were thrown out of these places (like Jesus also prophesied would happen). Meeting “places” never dictated fellowship. Fellowship existed regardless of meeting places because they understood they were all part of the same body of Christ and so the gathering place made itself apparent wherever believers found themselves opportunity to meet. In other words, the place itself was utterly irrelevant.
Why is it thought to be so important today? Can’t believers see how silly and insignificant our over-emphasis on institutions and programs are? Jesus never once mentioned such a thing or stated that His followers needed to belong to religious organizations. This is not to say that it is wrong for people to participate in organizations if they so choose, but why do Christians allow this to divide them? Why does it have anything at all to do with how we qualify fellowship and validity as a believer/follower of Jesus?
Ok, I know I’m preaching to the Choir here sis… But maybe someone else reading this will stop to think about it. It breaks my heart to see how too much concern over religious organizations, institutions and meeting places divides sincere believers in Christ, as it did with my friends that I just shared about. That was several years ago. Sadly, I don’t talk to either of them very much anymore, but we do connect now and then and there is love so I trust, in time, God will work it out.
Going back a bit before that last story… It was about 10 months after I stopped attending church, I got a very discouraging letter from one of the elders. This was a man who had absolutely no personal involvement in my life other than to see me at church once a week for a couple of hours in the service. Now, many months have passed… I have not talked to this person even once or seen them in person, yet I was now receiving a letter of rebuke. There was no love in the letter at all, just presumption, accusation and anger. He told me I was obviously out of God’s will. He also told me that I was deceived and being influenced by the devil. Then he tried to appeal to me and tell me how that he had been in the same place as me before in his younger years, burned out on church, but eventually wised up to the truth. Sigh… The fact is, I wasn’t simply burned out on church… There was so much more to the story than what this man so arrogantly presumed, but I guess this was to be expected. I knew he didn’t really have a clue what was going on in me. The letter so upset me that I went out for a walk to pray. In fact, the tears just started to flow as I cried out in frustration to the Lord. For 10 months I had not received a phone call, a letter, a visit, an email or anything from a single person in that church (the people whom I always thought were supposed to be my family and friends) and now the first contact I get was harsh rebuke.
I said, “God, what the hell is wrong with these people? (pardon my blunt, yet honest, reaction) Where is their love? Where is their understanding of the truth? Why do they judge and act through presumption? Why do they lash out instead of reach out? They are so stinking religious Lord!!!” Over the next few days, I received two more letters… the next more venomous than the last. As I was praying and telling the Lord my frustrations, it was like Jesus calmed me and then let me see my own religiosity and how judgmental and religious I had actually been to different people over the years. My heart broke. Suddenly, instead of hating this guy, I felt God’s love and compassion for him. I wrote a response, amazingly without anger… After a couple of days, he wrote back and apologized for his presumption and extended me the opportunity to get together. I don’t know if it was the Holy Spirit cautioning me or just my own apprehension after that ordeal, but I did not accept the invite. I had been around the leadership manipulation thing too long to fall for it now. I sent a friendly response and left it at that.
You have to understand too that I had spent the last 10 years in this place, walking close to church leaders… I got to see them behind the scenes. Some of these men were fantastic preachers; skilled in orating the Scriptures and expounding upon the Greek and Hebrew texts of the Bible. They were also generally likable people. But they also had their dark sides… Some of them very dark. One of the sister churches had a pastor who was an amazing preacher, but he was also secretly sleeping with one of the frequent visiting female ministers… and he eventually left his family and the church for another woman. One of my friends on the worship team was a gifted musician and looked so sincere an worshipful as he led songs, yet the pastors knew of his repeated problems in fornicating with a woman who was another man’s girlfriend. The leadership continued to cover it up. Other people on the worship team, I also found out, were let go because they were not faithful tithers… So, apparently, sleeping with another man’s woman (not to mention out of wedlock) is okay, but failing to tithe faithfully is an unforgiveable sin? This only scratches the surface. Being close to leadership I was witness to a number of false teachings, bad behavior and frustrating mindsets… and not just among pastors in my church, but I noticed the same among pastors of other denominations in the area (because I had friends who were in leadership in those places too). The garbage that goes on in church organizations today is truly disgusting beyond belief, yet most average church folks don’t have any idea and wouldn’t believe it if you told them. Trust me, I know! So, the few of us that witness some of these things first hand or follow a sincere unction of the Lord to remove ourselves for whatever purpose God sees fit, have to still endure the religious accusations of others who just think we are folks with a chip on our shoulders or rebellious or deceived or bitter or you fill in the blank.
Getting back to the story about this elder who rebuked me and how the Lord actually used this experience to soften my heart and teach me to forgive… One thing I did do after the Lord touched my heart over this circumstance, I began to call people on the phone that the Lord showed me I had hurt with my own religious pride and ignorance. I asked a number of people to forgive me and I shared with them that the Lord had begun a new work in my life. Most were responsive, but some I could tell the wounds were deeper than I imagined. It was something else to discover that the religiosity I was now coming to hate so much, had been equally a part of my life and caused damage and pain to others.
For this reason I still have compassion for church folks, because I know many of them don’t know what they are doing. Over the months I struggled with various things, like whether or not I should find another church or even start one of my own (I never really wanted to do that, though some friends had prodded me to do so… I kept my heart open to whatever God wanted, but I never felt any release to do anything like that). The Holy Spirit seemed to keep His thumb on me and so I waited… and waited… and waited. Sometimes I’d go try a church…. and I felt the same “sickness” there… It was almost overwhelming for me to realize that this church thing was really done for me. In other words, I couldn’t imagine ever being content there again. To some of the people I knew from church (that knew I was no longer attending), I know they saw this as me being idle and having an isolationist attitude. I would sometimes hear the rumors going around about “poor Dave, who isn’t in church anymore…” “Yeah, I guess Dave has a real problem with leadership…” “Did you hear that Dave doesn’t tithe… what a shame that he is so deceived… Just look what it’s led to…” There were many times it was very frustrating because I had been so accustomed to “hearing from God” by way of a pastor, or a book, or something like that, that I discovered I didn’t really have a clue how to hear the Lord.
It made me more desperate to hear Him. This is why now, when I get letters from people who have left church and are struggling, I tend to think… AWESOME – STRUGGLE ON!!! 🙂 It’s hard sometimes, but it was the best thing for me. It made me desperate for God and more dependent on Him than ever before. And as I begun to sense His voice speaking to me, I grew more confident in Him. Now, I wouldn’t trade my relationship with the Lord for all the church attendance in the world! 🙂 So now, some of us decide to move on from typical churchianity, yet we still have to deal with that question people ask… “What church do you go to?” For a long time, I kept trying to think of something clever… Something that would answer the question without opening a big can of worms (cause I hated having to get into it every time). For a while I just used the “I’m not going anywhere right now…” (which left the impression that I was “in-between” churches and so they left me alone) but it felt kind of dishonest to put it that way… Eventually I just answered the question, “I don’t attend church,” and let the pieces fall where they may. Sometimes I would say, “Hopefully, the same One you do.” (because anyone who belongs to Him is truly part of His body; His Church)
God has been good and doors have opened to share in positive ways. I guess I don’t worry about it too much anymore, but part of the reason why is because most folks who know me from church days know I don’t attend anymore. But now and then it comes up and I just try to follow the Lord’s lead. When I was still into the church thing, I remember feeling like that was my “second family”. I really thought these people cared about me and were really tuned into God. Some of them I think did, but I was surprised to find how few remained my friends after leaving. One brother and I used to be quite close. In fact, he was an elder in the church. We used to get together often, eat out, and I would sometimes watch his house when he’d go away on mission trips. We talked about everything and prayed together… If I missed a Sunday, he called me during the week or even would drop by to see how I was doing. When I left, he was the first one I told. There were tears in his eyes. That was the last I saw of him. I would try to call and make arrangements to get together, but he was always busy or would nervously cut the conversation short. Now we never talk. The guy I thought was my brother, just vanished. Others I thought were friends, turned to gossip about me. I’d see people in the store and they would do that thing where they acted like they didn’t see you by looking away real fast and then walk away. It really hurt. One thing I remember that really frosted me was, just before I left church for good, I remember going back on occasion to visit. Someone would walk up (someone I didn’t really know very well) and tell me how they had missed me. I remember thinking, “Missed me? Why didn’t you call me to tell me that? Why didn’t you come over or at least write me a note?” I’ve come to discover that the facade of “family” that most institutional churches put on, is just that, a religious facade. Most of the people have no idea they’re doing it. Many are sincere but sincerely ignorant. I still love them. I miss them too. But there’s nothing for me inside those four walls anymore. I don’t need to get all gussied up on Sunday morning just to hear a sermon (that I’ve really already heard many times before). I can’t see the point of hanging out with a bunch of folks who are squinting their eyes, weeping and singing worship songs about “take my life and use me Lord”, “Lord let your love flow through me”, when the minute you walk out the door it’s like they just turned off a switch. And those songs about “come into this Temple” and the greetings that say “welcome to the House of the Lord” just don’t gel with me anymore (or Scripture) because those four walls are NOT His Temple and that is NOT the House of God.
I know, I’m preaching to the choir… 🙂 I used to love being involved with street outreach… Some of the best days of my life have been spent on the streets, hanging with the undesirables of society (that’s another reason your article resonated with me). But I remember when I and a couple of close friends tried to get community outreaches scheduled, there was a mile of religious red tape. The elders had to “pray about it” for six months and then nothing would happen. My buddy Mike tried, week after week, to get permission to schedule a block party at the church. Our church sat right in one of the most impoverished sections of town, yet we had absolutely NO influence on the community. Mike even told the leaders that he would provide for everything and oversee the entire event… The elders continued to sit on this for months… Finally, they approved an event. It was a massive success and so much fun. We fed the neighborhood, helped them with yard work, and had a huge barbeque in the church parking lot. It was really a blast. Of course, everyone thanked the pastors for having this event and I watched them smiling in approval as though it was their idea all along. Well, you’ve seen all this same stuff too so I don’t need to go on. I’m very happy to be free from it. 🙂 But of course, while I may be free from religion, I remain a happy slave of my Lord and friend Jesus Christ (that’s the way Paul put it in Scripture). I am truly blessed to be His child and every day is another opportunity to grow closer and live freer. God is soooo amazing and so wonderful! I pray that my church friends who don’t understand me, one day I hope they will understand for themselves. What they think of me isn’t important. I pray that Jesus will break through for them so they can know the same freedom that you and I are now experiencing!!!
Hang in there sis! You are right on track! I can sense the love of Christ in your writing and the passion you have to follow in His way no matter what the world around you thinks about it. You write very eloquently and I have really been encouraged by everything I’ve read so far. I know others are being encouraged too. The truth is shining!!! God bless ya bigtime!!!! Sorry for the novel (hehehe), but I hope it encourages you and others all the more! Keep following Him!
In His grip,