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Why I Turned My Back on Religion
(It’s been suggested that this type of message should come with a warning. OK, here it is. Consider yourself warned. No one is making you read any further. You do NOT have to read this article for it may challenge you far more than you care to be challenged. Please bare in mind that, though Jesus came to comfort the afflicted, His message clearly afflicted the comfortable, enraging them to the point where they killed Him. He said (my paraphrase) He did not come to bring peace but a sword that would cause commotion even among family members. I cannot be held responsible for any spiritual sensitivities that may become disrupted as a result of your reading any further. It’s your choice. God bless you no matter what you decide.)
I’ve been asked a time or two if I’ve turned my back on religion. The question stems mainly because I no longer have any formal affiliation with a traditional Christian denomination. Actually, I prefer the 24/7 version of Christianity that chooses to meet in one another’s homes a la the Book of Acts. I especially appreciate Acts 16 and the story of how Paul started the church at Lydia’s house, only to promptly leave without establishing any of the modern trappings of “Churchianity.” That appeals to me, a guy whose thinking runs along the line of, “If Jesus didn’t teach it or exemplify it, we need to ask where it came from.”
Since there are three sources of doctrine referred to in Scripture – those of man, those of demons and those of Christ – I challenge Christians everywhere to ask the tough questions about their group’s teachings and demand your leaders to SHOW YOU in the Bible where our Lord instituted this or that doctrine. Or, on the other hand, was that doctrine manmade or demonically-inspired? Do this. As a Truth-seeker – Truth itself being the Person of Jesus Christ – such an exercise will undoubtedly open many eyes. Unless, of course, one has made the conscious choice of checking one’s brain at the proverbial door.
As I’ve often said before dismissing groups to whom I’ve ministered, the church service starts – that is, the service OF the Church – when we LEAVE the building, NOT when we enter. The Church, the ekklesia, the “called out ones,” is the Bride of Christ. That Bride is a living organism, NOT a mere man-made organization. Despite my seemingly non-traditional approach to Christianity – a growing trend, I might add, among people of ALL denominations – I DO attend church services as the Spirit leads, essentially attending much more often than many of my chrsitian brethren, in case anyone’s keeping score.
In fact, over the past five years, I’ve ministered weekly to college students and have spoken in Baptist, Methodist, Charismatic and First Christian churches. I have wonderful minister friends from every conceivable denomination. I even spoke from the pulpit of a Catholic cathedral at my grandmother’s funeral. I’m currently teaching a series on Cults at a 300-Member Cowboy Church on Thursday nights for 16 weeks (two 8-week sessions). Yee-ha, y’all! It never ceases to amaze me that I’m asked to speak and I willingly go where He calls me.
“MICHAEL, WHY HAVE YOU TURNED YOUR BACK ON RELIGION?”
Religion: the word itself stems from the Latin word religare: re (again) ligare (to bind). My wife, the Registered Nurse, attests that this is where the word “ligature” comes from; a word that means “the act of tying or binding.” For every thing we are asked to do by our spiritual leaders…every ritual that we are asked or obligated to take part in…we have every right to ask, “Excuse me, Pastor, can you show me where Jesus instituted that in the Bible?” If it’s NOT required by the Head of the One True Church – Jesus Himself, who said He came as an example – then we MUST not check our brains at the door and blindly submit either to demons or manmade traditions. Obedience to such is nothing less than demonic Religious BONDAGE. The spirit of the Pharisees, that same demon that motivated the most religious people in town during the days of Jesus’ ministry, is alive and well and living on planet Earth.
I don’t debate these issues with anyone in order to prove myself correct and have them join “my church.” Think about that…I don’t HAVE one! I debate so that, hopefully, we can reason together and break the shackles that anyone has placed on us. Remember the Latin: re ligare, to bind again. Jesus came to set free, not bind us again to the Law of sin and death. Those that He sets free are free indeed!
Ask your minister the tough questions about your group’s doctrine. Reason together through Scripture until you determine whether Jesus requires it or performed it Himself. Personally, with an eMail ministry such as this that reaches so many people, I KNOW I’m going to get asked tough questions sooner or later and that forces me to study, pray and read all the more. The minister you ask will probably appreciate you keeping him sharp. He will thank you…or he will hate you!
I’m sorry if my convictions are perceived as having turned my back on the Church. I’ll grant that I HAVE turned my back on Religion, on “Church-ianity.” But NOT on Christ. Not on the Body. Just this evening, I spoke with a Hindu lady to whom I said, “I’m not trying to convert you to Christianity. I’m trying to convert EVERYONE to Christ – including Christians!”
This is MY message to the Church, to Christians of ALL denominations. We are too often settling for Religion over Relationship with God. He’s NOT impressed by our rituals, self-righteous acts, or our ability to keep denominational rules – not even the 10 Commandments. Frankly, NOBODY does keep them, no matter how hard we try. The Ten Commandments, Paul said (2 Cor. 3), came with glory, but they are fading away, just as surely as the glory of Moses’ face also faded. The NEW Covenant not only has MUCH greater glory, but it’s glory that “lasts.” The Ten Commandments did not last forever; they were designed as a temporary “ministry of condemnation,” designed to show people what sin was, that they needed a Savior, and ultimately, lead people to Christ when He arrived on the scene.
But I digress.
QUESTIONS I GET ASKED
Do you attend church?
Considering I AM the Church (and SO are you), I’m attending 24/7, you?
Do you visit traditional church buildings?
Yes, I do, including 4 straight years at a College gathering that met at 6PM on Sunday’s. A few months ago, 6 weeks at a Methodist Church and, right now, at a hispanic pentecostal Church being utilized by the Cowboy Church.
Do you doubt the sincerity of traditional church-goers?
Do you doubt their salvation or love of God?
Do you doubt their understanding of their group’s manmade doctrine?
Nope. But therein lies my concern. LOTS of it was never taught by Jesus or any of the early apostles and, I believe, much of it only serves to make God’s children slaves to Religiosity. Therefore, we should ALL hate it regardless of where we find it, from Islam to Methodism to Pentecostalism. Pastors and priests, I implore you, no matter how badly your people may strive to be religious, for it’s man’s nature to do so in an attempt to score points with God – something none of us can do – help them to find and nurture a vibrant, REAL relationship with Jesus. God established the sacrificial system Himself so that we COULD enter into relationship with Him. Jesus WAS that sacrifice, once and for all.
What about “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it Holy”? How do you fulfill that obligation?
For starters, that’s the Law again. Romans 14:5 tells us, “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Psalm 118:24 declares, “This is the day the LORD has made;We will rejoice and be glad in it.” Translation: Whether it’s Halloween or Christmas, June 3rd or November 8th, a Friday or a Tuesday…THIS is the Lord’s Day. We should encourage and strengthen each other at all times as Hebrews 3:13 instructs us: “…exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”
Hebrews 10:24 tells us not to forsake the assembling of yourselves together as is the manner of some; is that YOU?
Many who use that verse do so as a means of brow-beating folks into coming to church, thereby returning the New Covenant teachings to the Law of Condemnation. Let’s examine the verse together: “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works (much like Heb 3:13, already mentioned), not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together (two or more, I addressed that and do it often, daily in fact), as is the manner of some (yes, some Christians will not gather with others for many reasons; many traps have been set to distract us in these evil days), but exhorting one another (again, just as Heb 3:13 says), and so much the more as you see the Day approaching (Jesus said of His return that we should comfort one another with these words, I Thess 4:15-18).
Frankly, I don’t feel that I ever DO forsake the assembly, especially since I seek out those who are assembling in case someone there should desire to know the One that I know, much like a physician going to work at a hospital. Sometimes I find those assemblies in church buildings; other times in homes or at business luncheons. Two or more of us can be found anywhere. In fact, I look for opportunities to get together with the saints of God from any corner of the vineyard. Me and Jesus makes two. Me and my wife certainly do as well. Me and any other believer can be found virtually any place I go.
Example? I was once attending a youth football championship when a young athlete was injured and awaiting an ambulance. He was unable to move his legs. With only the coach and the boy’s mother kneeling at his side at mid-field, I felt compelled to run out and pray for the boy. I recall lying on the grass next to him, while tears rolled down his frightened black face. He was walking and playing the next day, thank God! My point is, after the game, the crowd of about 300 gathered around the coach at the end of the game and he asked that I pray again. I asked that everyone join hands and I prayed. I’ll never forget the looks on many of their faces afterward as they stood staring at me. I also recall several voices mumbling ‘Amen’ as I prayed. There was at least one other Believer in Jesus in that crowd.
What about baptismal pools?
That one is simply funny to me. Where was the baptismal pool for the Ethiopian eunuch? I’ve conducted baptisms in swimming pools, Jacuzzis, bathtubs, rivers, lakes and church buildings.
Isn’t there a danger of people leaving traditional churches in order to “be alone with God” on the golf course or in a deer blind?
Answer: Christians already DO those things! The potentially negative situations one can come up with regarding those who gather at home vs. those who gather in church buildings are exactly the same for either side. The facts reveal that 53,000 Christians leave Western churches worldwide every week, MANY doing so in order to actually “find God.” They aren’t leaving Christ, just church buildings.
We’re human BE-ings, NOT human DO-ings; let’s strive only to know Him, NOT by adhering to a particular group’s rules and regs, but through His inspired Word, that best-selling, least read book of all time; the Bible. Adherence to the teachings of the Master is, after all, our mutual major problem, in my opinion.
We are instructed to “speak the Truth in love.” My heart’s motivation – the very thing that gets me out of bed DAILY – is to set the captives free. Time and again, I’m given that privilege by God while on the job or traveling the highways and bi ways. What joy to see lives changed and eyes opened to what I contend this Christian life is really all about: Christ! Let’s get involved with God’s program! Nothing’s more exciting than taking part in the things that Jesus said we would do and fulfilling His Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). That’s real living, if you ask me.
CRISIS OF BELIEF
Someone reading this right now is struggling with their very own, very REAL, crisis of belief.
Perhaps you’re a denominational minister who, deep down, knows SOMETHING’s gotta change. All I can say is, like me, if you want something you’ve never had, you must do something you’ve never done.
Maybe you’re a baby Christian who’s been thinking, “Is this it?” after attending church services?
Maybe you’re hurting, wounded, tired of hoping that maybe THIS will be the next church service where everything changes.
Maybe you’re tired of church services and are entertaining thoughts about switching over to, let’s say, Mormonism, because you like their marketing or your Mormon neighbors have impressed you.
Maybe you’re snug as a bug in a rug and comfortable as can be with where you are. For starters, God’s more concerned with our character than our comfort. Make sure you’re NOT being deceived. Secondly, if all’s well with YOU, chances are real good that, on Sunday mornings, you’re surrounded by people for whom their spiritual needs simply are not getting met. Remember, Christianity is NOT about us – it’s about everybody AROUND us. These are thirsty souls; are you withholding a vast supply of water from them?
There are surely those who’ve read this article for whom the words ring true and, deep in your spirit, you’re shouting “AMEN!” to what you’ve read.
If this is you, write me. Let’s correspond. The road you’re about to travel is not that easy…but it’s thrilling! Ask yourself if you’re satisfied with your Christian life right where you are. If there was more to this life than what you have found, do you want it? If there’s the slightest chance that, like Peter, James and John on the Mount of Transfiguration, you might be content to say, “Lord, it’s good that I should be here” and “build a camp” right where you are, or are you willing to acknowledge that and go deeper with God?
I’ve been where you are right now. There’s nothing to lose and MUCH to gain by stepping out of the boat and onto the water.
Jesus is already there, I promise.
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