Finding God in the Tension
This is part of my apparent on-going posts on church: If you feel like quitting church, If you've quit church, and When you need bread and the church says no. There's no need to go read all of those, that's just my forewarning of where I'm going, and some back-reading if you're interested.
This week, after the This Is Us finale (what in the world was that?), my husband and I caught the end of a live streamed Q&A hosted by a couple of our denomination's leaders in America. It was a way to connect young people's concerns with responses from church leadership--I think? Whatever the intent, it was a good opportunity for "the church" to address important and timely topics that aren't always brought up or welcome in typical religious settings, and I commend the effort.
The few concerns and questions that we heard from the audience and the careful answers in response, I just felt more of what I usually feel in these types of set-ups and discussions: more disconnected and like I don't belong.
This disconnect really is nothing new for me. I first shared about this tension I felt with church 4 years ago. I can't even believe it's been that long, because I would have thought back then, that it all would have been resolved by now. Or at least starting to? Yet, here I still am, waiting in the tension.
Scenarios like this live stream and hearing views that differ from mine from church leadership just reminds me of the tension and the void I've felt for a long time now, and sort of stirs me to questioning it all again.
So that's where I sat at the end of the live stream earlier this week. Bible, pen, and journal in my lap, praying about that tension and void that stands in the place of "church" for me right now. It leads me to questions that I don't even want to type because they're such a downer, like: Do I belong anywhere?
I let that question be for a moment, and realized perhaps it's fine or maybe better if I don't obsess about belonging. The belonging as I tend to think of it in terms of church and humanity and seeking approval from anything or anyone but Jesus, it's an ongoing struggle for me. "The desire for others' love [and acceptance or approval] can become a substitute savior." (Love Idol, affiliate links used*)
This world is not my home, so feeling like I'm wandering or a stranger or don't belong among the man-made is maybe actually a good thing.
I find myself wondering if it was simpler when Jesus was alive with John baptizing on mere admittance of belief and Jesus preaching about love being the fulfillment of the law and people simply being Jesus-followers because they literally followed Him around. None of this getting-approval or acceptance through membership from a local church.
Church leadership was constantly at odds with Jesus and everything He did. He kept showing up and teaching at the synagogue. He also spent a lot of His time on mountainsides and travelling between towns and in homes, meeting people where they were. And the holy men did not like it.
One of our denomination's founders wrote an insightful book on Jesus' life called The Desire of Ages. She notes this tension between Jesus and the church leaders often, and notes each time how it will continue. We'll continue to struggle with this tension between Jesus' radical love, grace, and truth beyond our understanding, and the rules and burdens based on tradition that righteous men would rather us be tied to.
She writes, "When the Reformers preached the Word of God, they had no thought of separating themselves from the established church; but the religious leaders would not tolerate the light, and those that bore it were forced to seek another class, who were longing for the truth. ... Often those who follow in the steps of the Reformers are forced to turn away from the churches they love, in order to declare the plain teaching of the Word of God."
Yet, many people in my denomination (perhaps any denomination?) would argue that we are the ones with the plain teaching of the Word of God. We are the ones with the true light following in the steps of the Reformers. I have a hard time accepting that when the established church is historically what needs the love and light of Jesus.
Jesus' experiences give me a bit of peace in my struggle, because Jesus gets it. He came to save individuals, and there were religious men that tried to interfere with that personal salvation because they didn't like their power being taken away. While I'm not exactly trying to take anyone's power away, by connecting with Jesus while questioning organized church, I kind of am.
Put another way, "this is what's most annoying and beautiful about the windy Spirit and why we so often miss it. It has this habit of showing up in all the wrong places and among all the wrong people, defying our categories and refusing to take direction. ...God is present both inside and outside the traditional church, working all sorts of everyday miracles to inspire and change us if only we pay attention." (Searching for Sunday)
I'm still left questioning--where, what, why, how, who? Where should we "go to church" and spend our time worshiping God and investing in community? What do we go to church for and what do we have to offer? Why is it what it is and is what it is okay? How do we change it or stay and "be" the church? (Because that's a favorite line: Don't leave the church, stay and be the church! But what does that even mean or look like when I don't agree with the church excluding certain groups of people?) Who is meant to lead or be helped or get involved or come along this journey?
It's really not anything new, this feeling lost. At the heart of the matter, it doesn't concern me too much, because it's just that--a feeling. Which always makes me think of a song I heard a pastor use in one of his sermons to the tune of Yankee Doodle: Feelings come and feelings go and feelings are deceiving; I'll trust alone in the Word of God, for nothing else is worth believing. (Or something like that; I heard it years ago and didn't write it down.)
God is my anchor. His love is my mission. His spirit of truth is my compass. Even if the full picture and all the answers won't be revealed until His return, I know that He is not giving up on me or "the church," and He's not giving up on us His people.
The truth is, as long as there's a panel of faulty men saying who's in and who's out (of church or God's Kingdom), I have a hard time getting on board. I have a hard time believing this form of "leadership" is what God really wants for or from us. He came for the outsiders, and here "we" (as "the church," Christians, Adventists, Americans) are just creating more outsiders.
It's not a label (or a lack of labels) that saves us. It's Jesus. All Jesus. And no man-made divide or boundaries will keep Him from us. Thank you, Jesus!
I'm finding comfort reading Katharina and Martin Luther--about the famous protestant reformer from 500 years ago and his wife. Not only is this the first I've heard of Martin Luther having a wife (a renegade nun with opinions and courage at that), this is also the first I've really considered the context of what it meant for Luther to do all that he did.
I'm realizing what a big deal and challenge it was for Luther to step forward in faith in God over man. To state and act on differing beliefs and new insights that went against an entire institution and governing tradition. To face even his close colleagues and peers. To confront men ready to damn him to actual hell (because they believed in their insight and traditions and their own power that strongly).
"According to Luther, Scripture could, and did, contradict church doctrine and well-established traditions, which made the church wrong. Christ alone was the key to salvation. In short, Luther argued, God speaks to all people through his Word; no mediator or intercessor is necessary between God and man except Christ himself, and Christ speaks 'not to an institution but to the heart.'"
The question that really comes up for me in all of that--thinking of Luther's struggle against church tradition, and Jesus' run-ins with religious leaders, and Ellen White's assurance that we'll continue to conflict with church leadership--if church leadership has a history of being so off, do we really think we have it all figured out today? Can we be so bold as to say that this is how far we've come and we have no further to go in our understanding of God and His Word?
We're not yet with Jesus in Heaven or the New Earth, and as long as we're still here I'm 99.99% sure that we don't have all the answers. (I'm leaving the .01% in case there's an Enoch or Moses or Elijah walking with God among us now.) It's actually quite probable that pride in our assurance that we have things figured out will be the first sign of our fall when we realize we don't have all the answers.
Knowing this actually gives me peace. Even in all of that uncertainty and questioning and constantly bringing that before God, I am certain of the biggies, because the Bible makes them clear over and over and over.
Here are just a few, off the top of my head:
1. Jesus loves us and gives us salvation through Him.
2. He tells us to love. Love Him and love others.
3. He's not giving up on any of us. Not even the people or groups of people we've personally already written off.
4. God's role is to be God, and man's role is to need Him. (And, just to be clear, Man is not God; and even though God's Son became man, He is still fully God.)
5. And that brings us back to 1: Jesus' love and salvation for us.
This has kind of been a more rambling post than usual, so where does this questioning leave me?
Still in the tension.
All's quiet even in the static right now because God's just being with me. We're in the tension together, and He's here waiting with me. I know He won't leave me alone here, and He assures me this tension isn't all I'll ever know. This is just a season and He's with me in it and through it to the end. Which is really the beginning of forever with Him.
And I'm good with that.
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if you feel like quitting church
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