18th October, 2012
I haven’t always been in the church. As a young and naive 12-year-old Seventh Day Adventist kid, I decided I wanted to discover the world and what it had to offer. I was in for a rough and deadly ride.
Sex, drugs and rock-n-roll was only part of it. There is an underbelly. The loneliness, the fear, the self loathing, feelings of being lost, feelings of escape, feelings of suicide - all there waiting for anyone who wishes to tangle with the dark side.
"(T)he church had not only become my mother, it had become my god."
While in the world however, I didn’t expect this - God did not leave me. All along He was there and thankfully gave me a final call to come back to Him at the age of 21. I grasped at the opportunity and He took me in like the prodigal son of old. No judgement, just big love. 1985 was my new birthday.
Attending church was like being close to God. Church life was just as much my saviour as Jesus was it seemed. Don’t get me wrong, I was having a true conversion and Jesus guided me through many minefields - much to learn and much to unlearn. The problem for someone like me though, was coming from such an extreme lifestyle to a clean, vegetarian; suit wearing one. I embraced it with white knuckles. I never wanted to go back and so immersed myself in Adventism lock-stock and barrel.
I so wanted to put distance between myself and the world that I turned from it in ways I now see were not helpful. I was wrapped up in my own personal journey that I could not see that it wasn’t all about being saved. Immersed in church life, I became unwittingly devoted to getting a reputation as a ‘good clean Adventist young man’. I found acceptance and status in my new world of comfort and the church, like a mother, gave me a warm place to grow.
Conservative members were quick to ‘teach me’ the ropes. I was heavily into our doctrine (which I still am) and embraced certain lines of thought on offer if you wanted to be a true SDA - how to tie a Windsor knot, veganism, tithing, quietness in the sanctuary, spending three hours a day with God, the evil of drums and the wicked world out there. Church life made me want to stay forever and never change the system of belonging and reward. I was somebody now but in the world I was nobody.
But alas, the church had not only become my mother, it had become my god.
It would take being in the church for a further 27 years to see more clearly God's plan for me. I have now transitioned from being church-centric to God-centric. I no longer feel the need to gain all comfort from my church, as important as that is. It is God who comforts - the church helps but I no longer feel the need to breast-feed.
In my journey, I saw how easy it was to get ‘stuck’ in a maternal relationship with the church. The truth is, many of us don’t come to church to be transformed, but to participate in comforting rituals that have changed little since our childhood (See David Murrow's Why Men Hate Going to Church, p. 24). One can get stuck and not progress because there is strong reward for participation and sameness. High achievement can be seen as having a position in the church that gives a sense of purpose and status. The feeling is that God is blessing if we and our children are in the church and they are doing well at school and marry other Adventists producing perfect babies.
I became disquieted; surely this was not the ultimate? I started asking questions. I began to gravitate away from a domestic church life and found myself asking God what the next step was? I had a growing dissatisfaction with the status quo, unhappy to just float along in a cocoon insulated from the world. Are we to just keep coming to church once a week going through the motions? Is being happy and comfortable in the church my goal? Is it all about personal piety and waiting for the Second Coming or is there something else that needs to be done? The world was calling me once again, but in a different way. I had a deep sympathy for the lost and could no longer justify that the world was a place to be feared and resisted.
My foray into the world helped me see certain things more clearly than if I had never left the church. I’m not advocating we become part of the world to gain this insight but we do need to be in touch with it. I would be lying if I said I didn’t secretly wish my fellow church compatriots had time in the world for a bit of it to rub off on them. My experience in the world for all of its danger and wickedness has made me know extreme good and extreme evil which is a thing I find church lifers struggle to understand. You can’t know what it’s like to be lost, without hope, without God unless you have been there - it’s horrible. To be rescued by God from this nightmare is an experience some will never know. I have never forgotten the hole from which I was dug.
Passion for lost souls runs deep with those who were once lost themselves. They know what it’s like and so they see great potential and have great urgency to bring sinners in. When the church was my mother and god, the world was the enemy. People coming into the church from the world with new ideas meant change and change meant danger. If you are trying to change my church, you are trying to change my GOD and HE is unchangeable!
We need to ask ourselves; Is this the reason why change is met with alot of opposition? If the church has become our god then those who seek change are trying to change God! In this sense, church-centric people resist the world so strongly that they lose passion for the lost settling for a small selfish vision of comfort and reward.
"If the church has become our god then those who seek change are trying to change God! In this sense, church-centric people resist the world so strongly that they lose passion for the lost settling for a small selfish vision of comfort and reward."
An old song I used to listen to came on the radio the other day. I never really listened to the words when I was younger but I was blown away by the depth of meaning of Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd. The song asks;
Did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts? Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze? Cold comfort for change?
Did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?
For me the song can be easily about those who are stuck in a church-centric culture. It talks of the exchanges that are made in order to stay safe. Have we traded our Bible heroes for modern day ghosts of success? Have we coveted the useless ashes of fame and popularity for the trees of heaven? Did we prefer the cold comfort of an ordered lifestyle rather than life-giving change? Have we missed the best offer in the world by trading a walk on part in God’s war for a safe place with a narrow view?
A little old lady said once;
"We are soldiers of Christ; and those who enlist in His army are expected to do difficult work, work which will tax their energies to the utmost. We must understand that a soldier’s life is one of aggressive warfare, of perseverance and endurance". - (6Testimonies, p 140)
If church is our god, then we are in a cage. There is a war going on right now and the battle noise is getting closer. Being gently rocked in the cradle by our god-mother is not realising our full potential. Church life is important but there are souls lost and dying outside of our walls – who will go and who will say, “here I am Lord, send me!”?
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