WHY WE QUIT
George & Eileen Anderson
(Please don't get all huffy about our use of the word 'church'. We know, and you know, what the Bible means. But we're using the word in the way it is commonly and wrongly used - 'the religious organisation'.)
Sometime around 1978 we quit church.
And where once such an action would have been dismissed as rebellion and backsliding, today with tens of thousands of believers having left any form of religious organisation, it is being recognised as a phenomenon of Christian life. So ministers and elders are giving serious thought to how they might stem the outflow, and they suggest many ideas for re-vamping the church to bring about yet another counter-reformation.
We want to say:
'Don't change the system; walk away from it'.
Because new wine will not go into old wineskins.
Why did we quit church?
Not because of bad experiences. Oh, to be sure, with a combined total of 83 years of religion between us (then!) we knew a fund of religious horror stories. Anecdotes of events in the various groups we'd attended that ranged from the side-splittingly stupid to the immoral and dishonest.
But we never dropped out because of them. Bad experiences are par for the course wherever you find people.
So why did we give up?
Bear in mind that we both come from deeply religious families. We and our children were active in church life. We had followed a path that led from a serious, calvinist-oriented beginning, through middle-of-the-road evangelical organisations, to a growing and successful charismatic church.
But we quit. Why?
Simply because we had accepted the religious structure at its own evaluation; we had given it our best shots; we had taken seriously the stated and implied concept that it was the area in which the Lord worked.
And after years in that environment we could no longer ignore the fact that church was a continual source of disappointment, compromise and frustration.
Except, perhaps, in the initial euphoria of some new work or change of leader, the rules and the pressures and the protocol and the shibboleths prevented what we understood as God's will in our lives from being done fully.
Even corporately, goals were only achieved - if they were achieved at all - by ignoring, opposing, or quietly subverting the very system that churches stand for.
We could not honestly support a religious system and follow the Lord's leading at the same time.
The very fact that the church is a construction makes it (and its members) strive to perpetuate its existence. It therefore becomes a kingdom of man, using human means to survive. It depends on very earthly systems of organisation and funding and monuments or else it would rapidly become as extinct as the mighty dinosaurs which once stamped so impressively across the earth.
We were tired of long hours spent trying to fan sparks of enthusiasm in reluctant believers. We begrudged the thousands of dollars going towards administration and buildings and endless in-house activities. We saw how Christians were encouraged to accept the lead of ministers and elders, rather than actual and dynamic direction from God.
So we left.
With no rancour. No dramatic gestures.
Once outside, we experienced two strong feelings. One was relief from pressure. Our diary had always been full. There had been few spare evenings. Sundays had never, ever, been days of rest, no matter how much (or, on occasion, how little) we might have enjoyed them. No longer did we have to conform to the standards of dress, language and behaviour common to 'our' group.
The other feeling was of a distinct let-down. Church life produces a high. A buzz. If you disagree - abstain for a month and note your reactions.
The togetherness, the in-phrases, the uplift of music all had combined to form a powerful stimulant. Going cold turkey gives painful withdrawal symptoms.
But what we had not lost was the presence of God.
He was as important to our lives as ever. Perhaps more important. Because now we didn't have to distinguish between the emotion generated by prolonged 'praise and worship' and the real yet unspectacular business of everyday life with the Lord.
Nobody made demands on our bank balance. Nobody, that is, except the King.
Expensive? Very, sometimes. But it's easier to be the proverbial cheerful giver when the command comes from Jesus the Messiah rather than some speaker in a pulpit.
Once we were out of the religious kingdom, our evangelism took a new turn.
Let's be frank. We had problems with evangelism in the past. No, we hadn't been hesitant or shy. Both of us had known the reality of an encounter with King Jesus, so we had little hesitation in telling outsiders that they could know God personally.
Our problem (helped by what we had learned as calvinists) was that even if salvation needs a response from the individual - there must be a prior work of the Holy Spirit to prepare the person. Call it conviction of sin; call it what you will. In times of revival that work of the Holy Spirit is intense.
It seemed sadly minimal in our church days.
We made few converts. Often enough it seemed that we made them entirely by ourselves; God wasn't involved. At best they followed us to church, learned the drill, slotted into the system and simply sat there.
Frankly, it wasn't good enough.
However, when we walked away from church, to our surprise people came to us. It was as if the gospel had abruptly become good news.
Perhaps it always was. Just that somebody made '...and now go to church' the bottom line and spoiled it.
Even the hardest mission field in the world - relatives and neighbours - opened up. What had we to offer? Everything or nothing, depending on your viewpoint.
We had no standard approach. Certainly no systematic follow-up or bright welcoming meetings.
If the Lord Jesus didn't become a continuing reality in people's lives, that was the end of it. But, quite simply: he did.
If converts (no longer 'our' converts) stopped smoking or began washing, it was because their King told them to. We didn't put our middle-class values on them.
And if these converts went and told others about Jesus it was because he was real enough and important enough. We hadn't taught them the 'each one reach one'' technique.
Then there's fellowship... When we were involved in church life we knew literally hundreds of believers. It was good to meet them on Sundays (and Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays), hug them, exchange blessings and a scrap of news before or after the service or other activity.
Such a shame, though, that there was never enough time to get to know them. In depth, in some real-life setting.
When we dropped out of church, there were numbers of believers who didn't want to know us any more. (Yet further evidence that something calling itself church has taken a biblical term and applied it to itself with no authority to do so. Little wonder there is confusion when the word church is used; does it mean a building, a denomination, a membership roll - or those outcalled from the Kingdom of Darkness and united across time and space by a supernatural and sovereign act of God?) Some admitted our action unsettled them, threatened them. Others decided we had turned our backs on the Lord. Still others honestly had no time to spare if we couldn't meet them in church.
But we discovered friends. People who made time.
Some are drop-outers like ourselves. Others are churchgoers - from across the denominational spectrum. Our time is no longer spent in 'our box', piously longing for the day when 'we shall all be one'. Rather we are living in an enjoyment of the oneness that began at the Last Supper and has been attacked by religious institutions ever since.
All this, however, is peripheral.
Outside church - outside the camp, to quote Hebrews - one is totally free to be obedient to the King. Messages don't get filtered through ministers, elders, committees, denominations and the whole rigmarole of religion. Jesus is Lord, actually, immediately, practically and personally.
He is perfectly capable of bringing people together in greater or lesser numbers. He can speak through other believers without their putting pressure on us. He can organise 'chance encounters' that form part of a complex network or string of coincidences that can't be taken over by folk with a weakness for organising.
King Jesus is able to rule.
Which is why we began by saying: 'Don't change the system; walk away from it'.
Are these the 'end times'? Surely there has to be a period in the world's history, before the return of the Messiah, when God's people finally see through the bright and beautiful religious system that has held them in thrall and kept them from being more effective than, say, a government relief agency or social club.
There has to be a time when the gospel is preached with no ulterior motives, no desire to create sub-kingdoms or to make money.
There has to be a time when simply knowing Jesus the Messiah is enough motivation to get us through life - and death.
Every possible permutation of religious organisation has had a fair crack of the whip over the last two thousand years. Now it's time to walk away. Not look back. And make ourselves available and answerable to none other than the Almighty God.
George & Eileen Anderson, PO Box 946, Whangarei, New Zealand.
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