“Outside input from well-intentioned people is usually based on WHAT to think according to their own social engineering. We need to learn HOW to think, how to exercise our brain, consider other perspectives, ask questions, deep listen, fact check, and learn to trust in truth again” (Cathy O’Brien).
Am I a Sheeple?
In my experience, although I am devout to the Christian faith (meaning I believe in one God, one way to the Father, one way to salvation – Jesus Christ, and I believe the Bible is true), I reached a place in my life during my 30s that I needed to know WHY I believed what I did (or didn’t). Was it just because I blindly allowed the adults in my family and churches and schools to tell me WHAT to think and believe, or did I truly believe those things?
I needed to understand and KNOW it wasn’t just a generational hand-me-down, so I went on a quest to seek the truth by taking a “break” from everything I had known. I put the Bible down, withdrew from church, and stepped away from all the influential voices that could sway me one way or the other. I asked God to speak to me in a very real way without “all that.” I said if He could help people find Him in the remotest parts of the jungle without the Bible and our fancy Western religious institutions, then He could do that for me too.
And He did. I needed to clear my mind of all the interpretations and stories and teachings I had grown up with so that I could pick the Bible back up and actually read it with my mind, using my own critical thinking skills and asking the Holy Spirit to teach me along the way. During my “no Bible” hiatus, God was faithful to use music, animals, His creation, and other people to speak new life into me again.
My hiatus allowed me to discover that I did believe the fundamental truths I had been taught, but I also discovered I did not believe in the delivery methods of the message or the dogmatic black/white/no room for gray mentality that permeated my generation as a way to control us and swear our obedient allegiance to the cause.
I stepped away from the “church-at-large” (meaning the denominational buildings you see on every corner of our city) and instead went on a journey to discover what it meant to actually BE the church the way the New Testament describes it.
It was also during this “sabbatical” from religion that God brought many people into my life who had a relationship with Him and held to the core theological fundamentals I had come to resolve in my own spirit. But they were not raised in the Deep South with it’s Bible Belt mentality steeped in strong denominational culture. The main difference I experienced with them is what I call true James 1:27 Christianity, which states “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” .
James 1:27 Christianity
- They fiercely loved people and actually invested in their lives, even at great personal cost.
- They met people and showed genuine interest in them. The first thing out of their mouth wasn’t, “So, what church do you go to? What do you do for a living?”
- They knew who they were in Christ and thus lived their lives free of guilt.
- They did not speak “Christianese.” They simply lived like Christ and spoke very plainly about Him, salvation, and how it was all relevant for our culture today.
- They did not preach a Gospel rooted in emotionalism, name-it-claim-it, or roses-and-tulips. They simply told the truth – being a Christian is not easy, and it will not solve all your problems.
James 1:27 isn’t just about orphans and widows. In the context of the chapter, James speaks about steadfastness, seeking godly wisdom, unwavering faith, humbly understanding our own physical mortality, understanding temptation, being doers of the Word, bridling the tongue, and being slow to anger.
Our little community who was seeking something beyond the weekly church programs and social gatherings were given opportunities to interact with and discover God in the mundane tasks of our daily lives. While the lessons were always backed by the Word, there was something about beginning to understand that Jesus came to this earth to walk among us, not be setup on some high pedestal to be worshiped as His end goal. His final command before His ascension wasn’t to “go find ways to worship me,” but rather to “go make disciples” (Matthew 28: 19). I find it interesting that when asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied “to love God” (Matthew 22:37), but then further expounded by saying, “and the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Essentially, Jesus’ priority for us above all other priorities is “Love God. Love People. Go Make Disciples.”
The Eye-Opening Return
When I returned to the “church buildings,” I saw everything from a completely different perspective. I visited various churches throughout the city and would sit on the outskirts towards the back as I needed an overall perspective of what I had been a part of for nearly half my life. And what I experienced and saw shocked me. I had been so wrapped up in the “culture” I didn’t even see what outsiders saw.
Don’t get me wrong – I certainly am not saying all of my faithful weekly church-going friends should stop going to church – but what I am saying is maybe some need to be challenged to back up for awhile, do their own soul searching, and return with a fresh perspective too. Below is a list of things I never noticed while I was entrenched as a “weekly attender” (keep in mind that not all churches run according to my experience, and I am in no way insinuating they do – but if you find yourself scratching your own head as you read through this list, well…if the shoe fits….just sayin):
- Most people I had grown up with from childhood to current day were divorced (including myself) and/or on second, third, and fourth marriages
- “Three songs and a sermon” was still prevalent with strict adherence to “the time”
- “Worship” reminded me of my attendance at other music venues throughout the years such as rock concerts, karaoke and/or local musician nights at various nightclubs, coffeehouses, and bars (minus the alcohol, drugs, and profanity). People swayed to the music, eyes closed, hands raised, and all in a very dark sanctuary with nothing but the stage lights pumping with the beat of the drums and the riffs of the electric guitars. The band and lead singers led the crowd through each rise and fall of emotional states.
- Some of the “ministries,” “Sunday schools,” and/or “small groups” were nothing more than a cliquish social club focused on the next outing, the next study, the next the next the next. Gossip disguised as “prayer requests,” activity disguised as “service,” and Bible studies disguised as “discipleship.”
- Young women were dressed inappropriately, with no apparent parental leadership to guide or educate them.
- Most sermons were delivered by very charismatic, motivational personalities forever speaking their Christianese, cliche phrases, which again led the crowd into the various emotional states I referred to in my comments about the worship music.
- One church I actually got sucked into for about a year before I realized it was teaching false doctrine (at which time I abruptly left). The focus was always on faith and healing and the gifts of the spirit and prophecy and “modern-day prophets” and “a word.” The same frenzied emotional states followed here as well.
In conclusion, are these churches filled with well-intentioned people? Absolutely. Do most even realize that the focus is on the weekly “ritual?” Probably not. In an attempt to be “relevant” and “seeker-friendly” and “accepting of all people,” well-intentioned leaders have fallen “down the rabbit hole” so to speak in a desperate attempt to keep up with the 21st century and all its technology and remarkable paces.
But remember, absolute truth is absolute truth – it never changes regardless of what century we live in or what is going on in the world around us. Sure, it’s ok to repackage truth in a way that a new generation can understand in their own language and culture, but we must be careful we don’t turn the repackaging itself into teaching people WHAT to think (which is according to OUR social engineering). How do we get back to learning how to think? How might we use God’s Word and the various gifts He has given His children to exercise our brains? Are we teaching our children and congregations how to consider other perspectives without compromising truth? Do we encourage questions? Do we listen to others for the purpose of truly hearing them, to understand them, rather than to quickly answer them? Do we check out the facts of a situation before we blindly believe them? Do we even know WHY we believe what we believe, and is it the truth or are their elements of deception woven throughout it?
Jesus told us that if HE was the One setting us free, we would be free indeed (Romans 8:36). Are we trusting in Him to set us free, or are we trusting in our weekly religious activities? These are hard questions, and while the answer at first seems to be easy, when you begin your own journey of really searching your heart, you may find there are some things you have been blindly following most of your life.