I have had a “bee in my bonnet” for the last week, and I think I should share it. The ridiculousness of people using religion and their “beliefs” to demean, belittle and just generally judge people has my head about to explode. I mean this isn’t new, but it sure seems to keep coming up in my world recently. I’m angry about it. It’s not right and it needs to stop.
As someone who has fallen victim to this ridiculous behavior, I have one thing to say to the Christians that hold themselves in such high regard as to think they can judge another’s journey, “JUST STOP IT!” Not only are you creating a negative reflection of Christ, but you are damaging the kingdom that God intended and Jesus died for. You make all Christ-followers look like jerks, and we are not all jerks. Some of us truly are pursuing a life of love, peace and freedom that Christ talks about in the Bible. Some of us really do not want to use the words of Christ to hurt others. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I think their intention is bad. I think their intentions are to save a dying world. I get it, but I do not think anyone was ever freed by demeaning, judging and belittling.
A great example, the ultimate example, really is Jesus. Jesus did not flip script on people that made poor choices or did not live an upstanding life by religious standards. No. He flipped on the religious leaders who made it their job to judge, demean and belittle those that did not meet their religious standards. It was not okay then and it is not okay now. How did Jesus handle people that did not fit the religious mold? He loved them. He showed them a better way by his love and his life. It was not necessary to point out where their shortcomings were because they already knew.
Again, I know this judgment and demeaning personally. All too well. This behavior kept me “under control” for a period of time, but I never felt free to be me. I had to fit someone else’s template. In my professional life, I create a lot of templates. I expect my team to follow those templates exactly. No variations. No adjustments. You fill in the blanks and leave everything else exactly the same. Every final result should look almost identical. This works great in the business world and keeps everything in line. However, people are not all the same nor should they be expected to look or act the same. If God created each of us unique, why in the world would anyone think it would be okay to tamper with that design?!?! Let people be who they are and love them for it! Let people be free to travel their journey and just love them where they are! Isn’t that what Jesus exemplified? If I am going to be asked to fit a template, that template should be of Christ, not some religious organization leadership who is honestly just as flawed as I am. Furthermore, fitting the template of Christ will look differently for everyone because unlike a business template, Christ’s template allows for individuality per his design. There are a lot more blanks to be filled in, so to speak.
I had a great discussion with a group of teenagers the other day. I listened as the talked about their individual journeys. I listened to their struggles and to their feelings about well-meaning Christians trying to direct them. They didn’t feel encouraged or loved. They felt judged. Guess what that did for their desire to learn more about who Jesus is? Well, needless to say, they weren’t drawn to the life of love and freedom because that’s not what they saw. I explained to them that the central themes throughout the Bible are love, peace and freedom. I encouraged them to look for themselves, but I also let them know that if they never chose to be a Christ-follower my love for them would not change. I was completely humbled when one said to me, “I have my Christian friends and family in two categories. The one’s I can’t really trust and the one’s that I can be myself without fear of judgment, like you.” I’m just going to say, I certainly do not think I’m the supreme example. I definitely fail and I am tempted to judge at times. However, when checking my actions, behavior and motives against the character of Christ, I humbly stand corrected. I gladly accept that correction as the correction comes from the designer who actually does have all the answers.
Recently, I stopped attending church. No. I didn’t stop believing in Jesus or engaging in my faith. Nor did I begin to do things that were contrary to my faith. If anything, I think not attending a church actually opened the door for incredible growth in my relationship with Christ. In a word, it led to freedom. I’m not saying that everyone should stop attending an organized church service. I’m just saying that I have found myself in a season where it’s better for me to have a Christ community without the walls of a church. There was a time in my life when I was beginning my walk with Christ anew after some serious failures. During that time, I knew it was imperative for me to be in a church service every time the doors were open. I needed to be surrounded by that structure to keep my focus. As I continued to grow in my relationship with Christ and mature spiritually, I realized that I had developed dependency on Christ and not so much on a religious organization. This growth and maturity took many, many years of healing from all the things of the past. The growth and maturity are good, but when it leads to leaving a church with walls, it’s not generally accepted in the Christian culture.
When I first started exploring the option of a Christ community without attending a church regularly, I was led to scripture that I have heard many times throughout my Christ-walk, Hebrews 10:24-25. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” I sought God’s guidance in the meaning of this scripture. I read commentaries, blogs and studied Greek and Hebrew word meanings. I studied because I believe finding the truth for yourself leads to ultimate freedom. I found it! I found truth, freedom, peace and ultimately an incredible love!
What I discovered both encouraged me and disturbed me because I realized that the scripture did not have the meaning that had been presented to me all these years in the faith. All this time, this scripture (like many others) had been taken out of context and manipulated to mean what the religious organization leader wanted it to mean. This scripture, like others, had been used to control people, to guilt people and to promote religious leaders’ agendas. To say I am outraged would be an understatement!
To get a clear understanding of these verses, I encourage you to read Hebrews 10 and the history surrounding it to get the context. I did this in my research, but here I will specifically break down the meaning and context of verses 24-25. First of all, these verses are not about attending church at all. It is about something altogether different. In verse 25, “gathering together” or “meeting together” is translated from the word episunagōgē which refers to being gathered in Christ or gathering to Christ. This is an indication that when we see episunagōgē as “gathering together” it isn’t referring to attending a church service on Sunday or whatever day you attend. It is referring to something much more substantial.
With the word meaning in mind, verse 25 is saying let’s not give up our hope of gathering to Christ at his return as some have done. In the context of Hebrews 10, many had been confused and discouraged with the whole Jew versus Gentile churches (synagogues) so they had given up the hope of the gathering to Christ. The verse goes on to say “encouraging one another and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” As we refuse to give up our hope of gathering in Christ at his return, we should also encourage each other to keep the faith. As you can see verse 25 has been used to convince people they must attend a church service when the context and Greek does not reflect this meaning at all.
Another interesting definition I found was for the word ekklēsia. This word is often used for the word church as in the place you go for a worship service. However, if you look at the true meaning of this word, you see it is a gathering, an assembly or literally “the called out ones”. By this meaning church is not a place you go, it is what you are. You are a gathering or an assembly when together with Christ and/or other believers. As Christ-followers, it would be impossible for us to forsake this since we are the assembly with God. We are always gathered with him and he with us as he lives within.
When looking at this verse in true context and meaning, you see that it isn’t about going to church, it’s about being church. And if you are being church, you will reflect the love, freedom and peace of Christ in your individual, unique way whether you attend a church in a building or not. What we can take away from Hebrews 10:25 is that we should never give up the hopes and promises of Jesus and his coming which some may do. Further, this verse says, we should be encouraging one another in these hopes and promises. What does encouragement look like to you? Is it demeaning, belittling or judging? I’m guessing that, like me, this is not your definition of encouraging others. In fact, I would think these behaviors represent the opposite of encouragement. Encouragement, to me, means showing love for people for who they are and where they are. Encouragement means offering peace in the face of differences. Encouragement means showing others what a life of freedom really looks like. Encouragement means not only accepting our differences, but embracing them. Offering this encouragement in the light of the hopes and promises of Christ means being able to love someone right where they are and trusting Jesus to make any changes or adjustments that may be needed. Besides, he’s the one that knows what needs to change. We do not.
I do not discount the importance of surrounding ourselves with people that can come together in love and in mutual hope. I do not discount the importance of joining with other Christ-followers to reach out to your community to reflect the love that you experience so deeply in your faith. Nor do I fail to see the importance of gathering with a Christ community. The question is, “Do I have to attend a church service every Saturday/Sunday to achieve this?” I have my answer. No, I do not have to attend a church service in a church building to have a Christ community. To tell you the truth, I am experiencing an amazing connection with my Christ community without it. My Christ community, fellow believers in my life, encourage, inspire, and support one another all while allowing us each to be who we are created to be. No templates to form to. No boxes to fit in. Just being the beautiful, unique person God created you to be. That, my friends, is freedom! In freedom is where one finds the richest of love and the deepest peace.
So, no, I do not attend a church building on a weekly basis. Yes, I do worship, praise, pray, spend time in the Word and connect with Jesus daily. I have not abandoned my faith nor my fellow Christ-followers. I have made the best choice for my growth in my faith. It was a personal choice, and it may not be the best for everyone.
My prayer is that each of you find your true self in your faith, in the light of Christ. I pray that we can journey together as humans with love and understanding not judging one another, but encouraging one another!
Peace & Love,