I’ve been thinking a lot about the carnage that has come out of evangelicalism. More specifically, Reformed theology, Calvinism, the homeschooling movement, the purity culture, and complimentarianism.
Who has suffered the most? I believe without hesitation, that the children raised in these systems have been and continue to be, its greatest casualties. We continue to receive emails from parents who have been broken by the system and who have grown children who have walked away from the faith and sometimes into atheism or agnosticism. Some of these children cut their parents off for a season. Some, permanently. It’s painful, but I think necessary for the child to figure out who they are apart from how they were raised. Some feel as though they have been brain washed their whole lives. And maybe so. Did we present one set of beliefs and hold them hostage to those beliefs, living in fear that they would somehow be corrupted by the world or even worse, another church with different theology?
I’m thinking too of the many who homeschooled like we did. Many believed they were raising up little warriors for God. Girls were taught that their value before God hinged on their presenting themselves as virgins to a man. And if they weren’t virgins on their wedding day, they were damaged goods, considered less than. They were also taught that their entire identity as women was gauged by their constant submission to a man, regardless of how abusive the relationship might become. They were compelled to follow that man, helping him to achieve all of his hopes and dreams while she stayed home and had babies. I’m not saying that staying home and having babies is bad, I’m thankful I was able to stay home with my children. But what if I had a choice to pursue my dreams too?
So not only were they held hostage to our theology, but to our worldview and political agendas as well. We presented a life and a God that fit neatly in a box. Our children lost their identity, if they had ever known it to begin with. I see one of the biggest results of being raised like this is anxiety and sometimes depression along with it. They don’t know who they are. They don’t know what it’s like to be belong to something, only how to fit in so they can be accepted.
So they leave. Leave the church and sometimes their families. And many leave their faith and sometimes stop believing there’s a God.
I came from a broken home. Deserted by my dad. Raised by an abusive alcoholic. I was a shattered human when I met Jesus. So why was I able to have an adult relationship with my parents and care for them when they died? What’s the difference? Why are kids who were raised in homes where divorce didn’t happen, where mom stayed home to cook and clean for them and sometimes homeschooled them, walking away from it all?
This is Part 6 of a multi-part series I’ve called Rethinking Religion. Here’s a look at the entire series thus far:
I urge you to read these in order because each post assumes a reading of the previous posts.
The Apostle John, in his first letter, makes the statement: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). It would be an understatement to say that this verse has been misunderstood and misapplied throughout much of the church’s history. Those in top-down religious positions of authority have wrongly used this verse to insist we must continually be on high alert and constantly confess their sins in order to receive forgiveness up to that point in time. John MacArthur explains 1 John 1:9 this way,
“It is a subjective, relational kind of forgiveness. It is the restoration to a place of blessing in the eyes of a displeased father. …it is a spiritual washing to rid you of the defilement caused by sin in your daily walk. The verse is speaking of an ongoing pardon and purification from sin, not the cleansing and forgiveness of salvation.” If We Confess Our Sins, Emphasis Mine
He continues by adding,
“The pardon of justification and the washing of regeneration do not eliminate the need for you to deal with the subjective reality of sin in your life.” If We Confess Our Sins, Emphasis Mine
MacArthur insists that 1 John 1:9 is referencing an accumulation of sin caused by my daily walk. In other words, as I live my life, sin accumulates and requires periodic confession in order to be restored to a Father who has become displeased with me in between my confessions because of accumulated sins. For him, it is a “subjective, relational kind of forgiveness” that depends on my faithfulness to repeatedly and continually confess all of my sins in order to receive “ongoing pardon and purification.” In his own words, I become defiled and unclean just be living my life every day, apart from continual confession of sins. For MacArthur, the forgiveness and pardon you received at conversion doesn’t “eliminate the need for you to deal with the subjective reality of sin in your life.” In short, you’re forgiven but not really.
Desiring God Ministries adds a new layer of confusion by insisting:
“You’re not saved through faith alone. Be killing your sin.” Twitter 10/14/2017
“I define a leader as anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.” – Brene Brown
Institutional religion has successfully redefined and recreated leadership in its own image. 2,000 years of institutional religion has given us the CEO version of leaders and leadership where a leader is someone in charge who is to be submitted to and obeyed and failure to submit and obey is met with punishments in various forms such as public shaming, shunning, and excommunication, etc. In this type of institutional top-down authority structure, power flows down while money flows up and conformity to the pre-set rules is met with rewards while non-conformity is met with punishments. The institution must survive regardless of who gets hurt along the way. We’ve come to call this good and acceptable leadership. We’re wrong.
There are a couple of passages in Hebrews 13 that those within institutional settings often quote to us as proof texts for submitting to leaders and obeying leaders because (it is reasoned) the leader is in a power position and the one(s) in charge who must be submitted to. The passages in question are Hebrews 13:7.
“Bring up church membership and watch people squirm.” –Ed Stetzer
Isn’t that the truth? I squirmed just typing that and you probably did too as you read it. Formal church membership can be an explosive subject because people either see no need for it or they have a deep-seated emotional investment with it. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who is truly neutral to the idea of formal church membership. We seem to either run from it as an unnecessary burden that can in some instances be abusive, or we run to it with robust fervor because we’ve convinced ourselves those who aren’t a formal member in an institutional church are either sinning or fringe Christians who don’t really get it, or both.
In this post, I want to talk to you about formal church membership. It’s a subject that keeps presenting itself to me on this journey God has me on, so I want to address it. My views on formal church membership haven’t changed much in the last 44+ years but more recently, I’m seeing a trend in many institutional churches that is alarming. Allow me to say at the outset that I’ve pastored churches that have formal church membership and I’ve pastored churches that don’t. I’ve been on the inside of both systems and I’ve seen the positives and the negatives of each. I’ll talk more about that in a minute. First, let’s review where we’ve been in this Rethinking Religion series.
Review and Rewind
This is part five of a multi-part series I’ve called Rethinking Religion. If you haven’t read parts one thru four yet, you can use the links below to do so. In this post, we’re going to continue building on what I introduced in parts one thru four as we tackle the subject of formal church membership. What is formal church membership? Is formal church membership required of me? Is formal church membership a Biblical mandate that I am compelled to obey? If I choose not to become a formal member in a local church, am I sinning? Should I feel guilty? To refresh your memory, I’m presenting this multi-part series in the following order and there is more on the way:
This is part four of a multi-part series I’m calling Rethinking Religion. If you haven’t read parts one – three, I encourage you to read them before reading this one because they build on one another. Here’s a glimpse of what I’ve written so far:
I’ve previously noted that the directive by Ignatius (ca. 110 AD) was firmly in place in most local assemblies by the middle of the 3rd century (250 AD). By that time, Ignatius’ words, “Follow your bishop as Jesus Christ followed the Father… Let no one do anything in the church apart from the bishop… Holy communion is valid when celebrated by the bishop or someone the bishop authorizes” were considered the norm and assumed to be directives originating in scripture. But they are not. Tradition and tradition alone has given us this model. It is nowhere in the New Testament.
“The clergy-laity tradition has done more to undermine New Testament authority than most heresies.” – James D. G. Dunn
This is part 3 of a multi-part series I’m calling Rethinking Religion. If you haven’t read parts one and two, I encourage you to read them before reading this one because they build on one another. Here’s a glimpse of what I’ve written thus far:
Ignatius (ca. 110 AD) said this:
“Follow your bishop as Jesus Christ followed the Father… Let no one do anything in the church apart from the bishop… Holy communion is valid when celebrated by the bishop or someone the bishop authorizes.”
I’ve previously noted that this directive by Ignatius was firmly in place in most local assemblies by the middle of the 3rd century (250 AD). It was assumed to be a biblical directive, but it is not.
We’ve already shown that the top-down authority structure that is present in most modern institutional churches is a man-made product of tradition that started as early as Ignatius. The one pastor authority model that we unquestionably accept as a biblical one, is actually something that has been handed to us by religious history and tradition and we accept it without question. Not only do we accept it without question, but we’ve also complicated it by adding layer after layer of hierarchical organizational strata where pastors are over pastors, and those pastors are over other pastors, and the higher the structure rises, the more sophisticated the honorific the titles become. Our church authority structures more closely resemble corporate America than anything in the New Testament. We’ve taught tradition as the commands of God for so long, it doesn’t dawn on us to look past the traditions, open our New Testaments, and ask hard questions, questions that threaten 2,000+ years of those same entrenched traditions. But with so many leaving the institutional church, not because they’ve left Jesus, but because they feel the church has, it’s time to ask why. Will Ignatius’ words, “Let no one do anything in the church apart from the bishop. Holy communion is valid when celebrated by the bishop or someone the bishop authorizes” stand in the light of scripture, or should we jettison it as tradition that has proven harmful to the practice of the one anothers within the assembly and to the priesthood of all believers.