I’ve always managed my personal life on the theory that a bad relationship is worse than none at all. Ever since I was a very little girl, my fantasies revolved around falling in love and getting married. (Well, that and saving the world from evil.) Because I cared so much about being in relationship, I actually didn’t date a whole lot, and never got serious with anyone till I met the man I eventually married. I just didn’t have the time to waste. At least when you’re alone, you know you still need something. Like those annoying people who leave a shopping cart in a parking spot at the supermarket, filling that void with a lesser form of intimacy blocks the space where the real thing could enter your life.
As a Christian, it’s part of the deal that I have to be in fellowship with other believers. The church is the body of Christ. The Bible is very clear on this. Like marriage, this is my ideal. But also like marriage, there are worse things than being alone. I won’t settle for the false choices that the current cultural landscape presents. In the liberal church, even suggesting that the main qualification for clergy should be love of God and a personal relationship with Jesus draws the mocking response that those who want “that sort of thing” should become “holy-roller” fundamentalists. In the conservative church, the whole purpose of being in community is obviated if the price of belonging is to remain silent when gays and non-Christians are marked for damnation.
It’s dangerous to be a solitary Christian. We may pride ourselves that we’re too orthodox to endure diversity of opinion, or too compassionate to settle on any particular religious path. Christ endured the shame of being misunderstood and rejected, so none of us should be surprised that this is sometimes the price of living together, inevitably confronting our imperfect understanding and failures of charity toward one another. But…
Is it possible or healthy for an individual believer to cultivate sacrificial, self-giving love for a church community when that community doesn’t understand itself as the body of Christ? Can I be married to someone who doesn’t think he’s married to me?
Can I focus on my personal need to be recharged by a “religious experience” of worship with zealous believers, and ignore that their interpretation of certain Bible passages drives many more suffering people away from considering a relationship with Christ?
As I pondered this blog post today, an email newsletter from Relevant Magazine appeared in my inbox, with Leslie Herron’s article “Church, or Experiencing God?”
It is interesting to note that Abraham had no church affiliation, no denomination and no spiritual designation other then “Man Who Knows God.” His children and his children’s children had no religion either. Abraham had a running conversation with God for well over 25-years, yet God never felt it necessary to tell him how to live, how to worship or how to raise his children through a set of rules. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were without a religion, yet all three had mighty encounters with God.
God told Abraham to leave his country and to follow Him (Genesis 12); Abraham obeyed and was richly blessed for the rest of his life. Isaac was so blessed that even the evil sinners in the land recognized that God was with him (Genesis 26:28). Jacob, following after his dad’s pattern, was quite the deceiver, yet God gave him many children, finances and great favor. Even Esau (Isaac’s favorite son), from whom Jacob stole the blessing and the birthright from, prospered far above those around him.
It appears that none of these three men attended a church. The scripture never mentions that they followed a pattern of what we would consider worship, tithing or sacrifice. None of these men benefited from living in a country that was Godly or from teaching tapes, great preaching or what we would consider spiritual gifts.
Yet, all of these men walked with God in the middle of a grossly sinful and violent culture. They more then survived; they were wildly successful to the point that surrounding kings took notice.
When reading the story of Abraham and his children, it almost feels as if they have no way to know God except through a real experience with Him. There is no Christian worldview for them to be intellectually swayed by; there is no excellent worship service that would draw them in emotionally; and there are definitely no cultural benefits of serving just this One God.
Their relationship with God was raw and real, open and honest. They were rugged men who heard and responded to the voice of One they came to know better and better. They did not base their knowledge of God upon what someone else told them, but rather walked according to who they knew God to be from personal experience.
Read the rest here.
Now, before you start shaking your head and muttering “subjectivism” and “individualism”, let me repeat that I’m not saying solitary spiritual experience is all-sufficient. Only that for me, right now, if I really believe in the grace that I’m trying to sell to everyone else, I have to follow the path God seems to be sending me on, even though it doesn’t fit any socially approved templates. I don’t have the security of other people telling me that they also see the six-foot pink rabbit. But I see him, and if I’m only hallucinating after all, either he forgives me or this whole topic is irrelevant.