When I share with friends and colleagues that I want to leave the church I often hear, “You will always be a part of the church.” I get the comfort and care that is behind this statement. When faced with someone you care for and love you want to heal them, nurture, and respect them. I have taken this statement with that sentiment for quite awhile.
I have pondered, desired, and dreamed of leaving the church almost as soon as I got saved and joined the church. At times my being part of the church was terrifying, lonely, desperate, and utter bliss. I can point to a few important and formative years in which I was madly in love with the church.
The church has been a parent to me in many ways. I never realized this until I started studying family systems theory and underwent a long intense period of therapeutic counseling. In this I realized the wanderlust I held around the church, the love-hate relationship I had with her children, and the fear bound up in my picture of God made me an intimate part of God’s family. Thus, I am part of its system.
Over time I realized that I was not bound eternally to this family. I could extricate myself from its grips. I was not subject to its definition. In this, I could freely participate or not in the families activities. The family would be a part of me, a part of my history. My mothertounge of faith. The church would always be with me…but what if I did not want it to be? What then?
I flipped my shit. I got panicked and lost what peace I had. I held on to this idea of veiled vision. I reached in to The Matrix and got double-crossed. The free association I imagined the church to be was not so freely associated with. A decision I made in my 20’s and one made by my parents upon their 6-month-old child bound me to an eternity of harps, singing, and white clouds. This is juxtaposed with the alternative of red satin curtains, lust, darkness, and eternal damnation. I was fucked no matter what choice I made.
What if I don’t want to chose between either? I am not a fan of singing. I really don’t like to worship. I like clouds but would hope to spend eternity on firmer ground. I also am not a fan of suffering or damnation. I like the color red but do not like satin anything. So, whatever I chose I would be unhappy.
Stuck between a rock and a hard place I silently accepted this quagmire and set out to discover me in the institutional church as a pastor. I was not the best student, nor the worst. I was inspired by some parts of seminary and other parts of the experience left a bad taste in my mouth. I did have a few professors reach out to me and encourage my inquisitive nature. Colleagues and institutional authorities told me that the ministry I sought to do was not really ministry and that there is no place for me in the “traditional” church. I would need to forge my own path.
They were indeed right that I would have to forge my own path. For almost nine years now I have been in some sort of formal or informal process to prove myself to the institution that I am indeed called to ministry and fit to answer that call to ministry. I begrudgingly participated in the process. There were times of great affirmation and moments of deep depression and outright rejection. This soured me on ministry at worst and at best provided the framework for my current evacuation from church.
I never really liked the option of choosing between party Hev or party Hel. I flirted with leaving the church and did so for a period after my first call ended. Spiritual torment followed as I sought to establish a new norm, one that did not involve the two-party system.
I was certainly no longer considering that I would always be a part of the church. I wanted nothing to do with the church. This is difficult when ones world revolves around the insular perspectives of church friends, church colleagues, church partner, church student loan debt, church underemployment, church hope, church dreams, church life, and church is more than it seems.
I respect those that hold a faith in doctrine and creeds. I admire those that pursue a dogmatic faith. I get the need for apologetics in someone faith. I welcome the arriving and formed community around a common faith or hope. I have experienced it all. I have been a multiplicity of Christian ways and beings. None of it works for me. It is toxic.
I suffer as I seek to apply the expectations of church to my life. I am bound by the gospel and cannot live in to it. I do not play well with church. I am abrasive and brash with little to no patience with the dying ways of yesterday’s church. I have minimal space to offer Jesus and his followers’ teachings to rest in my heart. When I hear you say, “You will always be a part of the church” I cringe and shut down. I recoil at your assertion upon me.
I take offense to it and hear, “Its ok. You don’t know but you’ll be back. Your fruit less quest is in vain. All there is to know lies in Christian doctrine. What you do and seek is not really faith.” I don’t have time for the toxic thoughts in my life. I would rather live a life of love and service to an unknown God than to spend a minute trying to stand in the rule requiring God’s presence.
Many years ago I went to a Christian college conference in southern California where Alistair Begg was speaking. He spoke about the Christian faith in the face of the worlds demand of having a“Jesus and…” kind of faith. He spoke in waves about the worlds demands watering down ones faith with the “Jesus and.” You cannot have “Jesus and!!!” he said. “Jesus and” leads to a faith not worth living. I held on to this and it fashioned my faith. Even when I rejected the evangelical conservatism that had sparked my faith I held on to the utter abandonment of Begg’s “Jesus and.” I see this as the cancer in the faith I am rejecting.
The “Jesus and” dares me to reject the church in its entirety. The “Jesus and” is the fabric of which the statement, “You will always be a part of the church” is woven. Both statements assume that Jesus is the way, the light, and the truth. This is something that I do not currently believe.