Let’s face it. Churches are intense groups of folk who claim to have found God and certain that He/She dwells among them. It’s a heady basis for any gathering of people, no matter how saintly. Traditions of millennia have tempered the inter-personal dynamic of many, with a smiling nod of the head or the traditional hand-shake at the door being the only expected behavior of many attendees.
Yet for some church is a lot more; a hot-house of belief where a sense of family is encouraged with all the dangers that entails. When God is seen as the Big Daddy, the leadership, Big Brothers or Sisters, and the majority of folk, children of God at various stages of spiritual growth, then we inadvertently sow the seeds of trouble further down the line.
Over time the family connection takes over from the Divine connection within, subtly becoming the defining stage for our place in the world. Our fellow members become more important to us than those previously in relationship with us. We take our cue from our standing within the family, and especially how we are viewed by the established leadership.
Of course, such psycho-spiritual tweaks aren’t part of the public persona, where freedom in Christ or the Spirit is the name of the game, but they are there nonetheless. The longer we’ve been around a family church the more we play the game, secure in our position in the God rankings, particularly if our particular ‘ministry’ is valued by those who can discern such things.
The pressure within such faith groups is pretty intense with a high level of commitment expected by those around us. Indeed an introductory ‘commitment’ course, of weekly lectures is often a necessary prerequisite for those wishing to join. ‘Better to know what you’re getting into before committing’ goes the standard line. And yet, the high level of commitment required is itself a subliminal carrot that draws us into the tight-knit group. In the depths of our being we want to belong to a group that knows where its going, especially if that destination is the Divine Will itself.
As relational rivalry emerges within the family it is quickly interpreted by those in leadership as the challenge to love as Jesus loved. Indeed it is often seen as the reason we gather in intensity in the first place; the human community where our ‘rough edges’ are removed as we surrender our own desires and will to the greater good of the family. In practice this defusion device works for a while as we knuckle down to carrying our personal cross within the confines of the greater group identity.
Yet, eventually the bubbling undercurrent of ‘not being happy’, once more rises to the top where it will be swiftly dealt with by a sometimes coldly efficient leadership. The usual tactic of choice is to reflect the claustrophobic community concerns of the member back onto the member himself. Having looked for a safe and sincere forum where issues can be raised, the troublesome saint is often disillusioned at the response given viz. a subtle placement of blame upon his own character.
And so the scene is set for another departure, one that usually takes place through the ecclesiastical back door cleverly hidden by the somewhat patronising religious spin placed on it by the hierarchy of the group. ‘God has called Fred and Diane to a new work……’.
When rivalry within a religious family gets to the level of contagion, the group, like many blood-line families often explode and fragment. The number of such splits, especially within the Protestant stream of Christianity is endemic which is often covered up with the lame argument that God loves variety. Indeed He/She does, but not the psycho-spiritual shrapnel of broken lives that lie across the battlefield of religious disagreement.
My observations and experiences suggest to me that it all can’t be blamed on human nature, for such faith groups claim that they consist of ‘new creatures in Christ’. It would appear that the newly inherited Christ nature, loves to fight among Itself. Either this or the fact that we are not as ‘born again’ as we first thought.
May I humbly suggest that it is our mindset regarding faith or spiritual community that is at fault. Let me throw a grenade of sorts into the established model of church. There is only one ‘church’ and that is all who have been welcomed back into relationship and alignment by the generosity of Divine Love. In other words, church or ecclesia, those gathered for a common purpose is the totality of mankind. Some of us realise it and some don’t but all are there, at least in the eyes of a supremely benign and inclusive God.
So do I need to join a church if I follow Yeshua. My suggestion, contrary to much religious teaching is no. You are already in the group that God loves, the community of the redeemed who walk the face of the Earth. All belong to Divine Love and all belong to us. As you dive into the mass of heaving humanity you will join the Christ, the One who submerged Himself in the images of Divine Source. If it was good enough for Him it’s surely good enough for us.