Why this believer stopped “going to church”

Legalism and Fear

I went to “church” since before I was born.  Sunday school and then Sunday service was the minimum.  I grew up thinking God would be mad at me or disappointed if I missed a Sunday.  My mom sure would have been – she wouldn’t let it happen.  I can see her angry eyes and hear her angry voice reprimanding us for taking too long to get ready, or wearing the wrong clothes...  Looking back, it was obviously embarrassing for her for us to be late, and she was trying very hard to make us on time and look the part.  I want to say early on that I’m not trying to make my mom out to be a “bad guy” – she was doing her best to train us up in the way we should go, and nobody is perfect.  I don’t hold a grudge over it, but I want to share my experience and thoughts on this issue. 

I’m sure this is a common theme for many, if not most, churched families across America.

“The least you can do for God is go to church,” I remember hearing her say more than once.  It was a scary thing – not only would my mom be furious, but God would be, too.  …I always wanted to skip “church” – and why wouldn’t I; I wasn’t a believer!  I didn’t accept the gospel of Jesus Christ until I heard it for the first time when I was 18 years old.  Yes, I went to “church” for 18 years, was raised a Christian,  and never heard the gospel!  Attending “Church” was a weekly exhausting struggle.  I went to school 5 days a week, did homework on the evenings and weekends, and then had to go to Sunday School?  I just wanted to play!

Even for over 10 years after putting Faith in Christ and moving out on our own, my wife and I were still afraid God would be angry if we stopped going.  We went from one “church” to another trying to find the right place where we could fit in and “serve God”.  I tried serving several times and places, but couldn’t fit in with the crowd.  Everybody had a specific role like ants in a colony, and I just couldn’t feel accepted and useful – I was more like a burden on people that didn’t want my help.  The young adults our own age wouldn’t as much as look at us let alone invite us into their group and talk to us.  Even the pastor’s kids didn’t talk to us.  I even remember being laughed at and embarrassed by a pastor for not helping the “right way” – which was very discouraging.  I know that pastor, and if he knew how discouraging it was I’m sure it would have hurt him as much as it hurt me...  eventually I stopped trying to “serve” and settled into being a paying spectator.

Once we had kids, “church” really became a struggle for us, too – that’s when I could finally see the struggle my mom went through.  We kept going to “church” but fought every week to show up on time, look acceptable, and keep the kids quiet – very much like my mom did to me and my siblings.  My wife and I wanted to stop going because it was exhausting.  It was something we believed in secret, as if our friends and family would judge us as heretics, backsliders, unsaved, selfish, … just fill in the blank.  It was probably true that they would.  I even believed it about myself – I had to go to “church”.

Out of Tragedy: Grace

We had a profoundly serious tragedy in our lives, and that made us rethink a lot of things.  It really ripped our hearts out of our chests, it pulled down this curtain in my mind that I didn’t even know was there.  It allowed me to, or perhaps forced me to, see everything in a new light.  It was a miscarriage that also almost took my wife’s life.  I remember telling my wife it’s like I was Paul – I was blind, but my scales were removed.  I could see, and I couldn’t “unsee”.  Priorities were abruptly changed.  I was quite literally brainwashed before, and now I could no longer be fooled.  Among other things, after being a believer for 15 years I decided something wasn’t right about the message I was hearing from popular Christianity.  It was something we both could feel before, and wanted to fully comprehend, but we couldn’t really put our fingers on it.  But now we really started homing in on it.  One message was “God loves me unconditionally”, and the other was “if you don’t behave the right way, God will get angry, show you his wrath and punish you, even to death if he so chooses.”  The first was “God remembers your sins no more,” and the second “God keeps track of your sins, and you will give an account for them.”  “God forgives your sin” and “God punishes you for your sin”.  Diametrically opposing gospels.  The mixed gospel of grace and works, and the pure gospel of grace.

Before the miscarriage we had this pull against church, and against that mixed grace gospel.  Something that most (dare I say most… perhaps I should say many…) Christians would probably say was Satan polluting our minds.  Afterwards, we NEEDED to unplug and have a season of rest from all of the labor.

We did a lot of looking online to learn more about what we felt the Holy Spirit was leading us towards.  We found Bas Rijksen on YouTube and learned more about grace.  His provocative videos made a whole lot of sense.  Videos like “Putting God First Place in Your Life: A Mistake You Don't Want to Make”.  That’s heresy, right?  You need to make sure God’s first place, above your marriage, above your career – of course!  But after listening to him it’s easy to see he’s right!  If you don’t see that we’re supposed to encounter Jesus in everything we do, then I encourage you to watch that video. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQx1oCbNIFg

We experience God in every moment.  Not just when we go to “church”, read our bible, pray, or sit silently in his presence.  We experience him when we make dinner, work at our jobs, have a chat with a friend, and even when sitting on the toilet!  We do life with him in everything.  Think you can escape his presence?  Ask that to Jonah.  (hint… you CAN’T!  Wherever you are, God was already there working on something.)

We experience God always because he’s in us – he IS our life. 
Colossians 3:4a: When Christ, who is our life

You’re not putting God first in your life, with your marriage second, your children third, then your career, etc.  That mindset is entrenched in legalism (such a heavy and underrated word!), and those that are in that place have a hard time seeing that.  If you don’t escape, you’ll either burn yourself out trying to please God, or you’re entirely missing the point.

I’d like to give an attempt to dismantle that mindset:  Exactly how much time do you spend with God to put him first?  1 second?  5 minutes?  An hour…. 12 hours?  At what point can you say “Alright God, I’ve put you first and now I’m moving on”.  That’s a difficult self-imposed dichotomy to get yourself out of.  There is built-in cognitive dissonance there.  As Christians, we live in the spirit.  If you’re not living in the spirit… well I imagine you’re living in the flesh. 

Let’s turn this into percentages.  You give God 0.5% of your time in the morning (approximately 5-7 minutes), and 0.5% at night maybe, and spend the other 99% of your life living in the flesh?  Ah, but you say you give him 3 hours of Bible time in the morning?  OK, so you give God less than 15% and claim he’s first and most important?  What about the 85%?  That’s still almost 6 times more living in the flesh than in the spirit.

Proverbs 3:6: In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths

The verse doesn’t say put God first, acknowledging him in the morning, and then live your life apart from him.  God’s not first place, he IS your life: 100%!

Walking in the Spirit

We learned a lot more from Bas, some of which I’ll bring up in this article, but before that I want to move to Paul Gautschi.  He’s the man who created the “Back to Eden” film which you can watch for free online – I highly recommend it if you’re at all interested in gardening. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6rPPUmStKQ4&t=295s

His words and his demeaner really spoke to me – deeply.  So much so that I watched many of the other videos he’s in – all I could find.  He leans on a cane to walk, but he leans on Jesus to live, and lives in Jesus he does.  He’s a wounded Vietnam Vet who was crippled by agent orange, and again now he walks with a cane because of that.  He said most of his friends were killed by it, and he’s one of the few that still live, attributing it to his bountiful garden God gave to him.  And still, through his hard life, he keeps a smile, rejoices in the creator continually, and tells everybody about God’s goodness and grace.  He has the fruits of the spirit.  He understands grace.  He’s always speaking to the creator.  He lives 1 Thessalonians 5, especially verses 16-18:
Rejoice evermore.
Pray without ceasing.
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

Paul also helped me to see that “going to church” isn’t the only place to experience Jesus.  Praying before eating and before bed wasn’t the only place, either.  It was in ALL THINGS.  Paul had a profound impact on me in this area.  I hope you can reflect on your walk with God and see that you’re always talking to him, and if not, I suggest making that change.  It’s a blessing to be in constant communication with the Father.  Just thank him for everything and see how your mind changes.  Thankfulness is a seed that brings forth contentment and joy.

Back to Bas.  Actually, let’s go back to before Bas…  Let’s give a brief overview of our experience with “Church”.

My History With “Church”, and My Salvation Experience

I was born into a Lutheran “church” – like I said before, a Lutheran “church” that didn’t preach the Gospel.  An interesting thing to say when the only part of the Bible the pastor preached out of was the 4 gospels!  I was told I’m going to heaven because “God loves me”.  A false gospel if I’ve ever heard one.  We know from 2 Peter 3:9 that God’s not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.  We know from John 3:16 that God loves the whole world.  If we went to heaven just because God loves us, then everybody would go!  That church preached universalism as far as I could tell.  I was taught a strange combination of universalism and a life of continual somberness… BOY THAT WAS CONFUSING...  I even went through Sunday school the entire time, vacation Bible School, trips to the ELCA (Evangelical Luther Church of America) concerts and events, the Lutheran equivalent of catechism: “confirmation”, “True Love Waits” classes to teach me chastity until marriage, and church camp for two years.  Never hearing the full gospel… Just that God loves me and has a plan for me.  I only heard the Gospel at 18 when I was working on an assembly line, building heater assemblies for cars.  What a divine appointment that was listening to a radio talk show my sister told me to check out (Thank you LouEsta, and thank you Bob Dutko!).  That was a wonderful day – my life was completely changed in a moment.  God took out my old heart and gave me a new one in an instant.  I could feel it happen.  Instantly my mind changed on so many things.  My worldview flipped upside down.  His grace was overwhelming, and it was, and is, absolutely amazing.

Even after accepting Christ, my wife and I still got married at that “church”; probably because I wanted to please my mom.  It wasn’t until abortion was brought up and we found out our pastor was pro-abortion – also at the same time finding out the pastor thought the Old Testament stories are all myths – that we decided to find another “church”.

We then went to many “churches”…. Calvary Baptist, Grace Baptist, Metro South Church, Elevate Church, Cross Point Church, Heritage Baptist Church, CrossWalk Monroe, and Monroe Missionary Baptist Church.  We even visited for a single service or a few services at other churches: Lewis Avenue Baptist Church, Solid Rock Church of Monroe, Redeemer Church, Stewart Rd Church, Union Street Baptist Church, First Baptist Church, and Bible Fellowship Church.  I’m certain I’m missing some… but that’s 8 “churches” we went to for a long stretch of time, and at least 7 “churches” we visited.  This happened over the course of around 10 years.  I say all of this to make it clear that my opinion isn’t based on a one-off experience.  We saw how things were done all over the place.

There is a consistent pattern that I was able to see.  I’ll jump to the point here and then expand on it.  This is going to be offensive to some… and I apologize for that.  I don’t intend to be offensive.  I do want to emphasize my point of view, though.

Business as Usual

The pattern is: “church” is a business performing a play like a theater!  It has actors (pastor, deacons, lay-readers, choir, etc.) who read from a script (sermon, the Bible, announcements) to satisfy a playbill (bulletin and sermon notes).  Everybody plays their part, even practicing all week in some cases, the same as the week before.  The audience (congregation) sits, stands, claps, cries, laughs – just like a play!  The audience (congregation) pays a fee for a seat (offerings and tithes) at the theatre (church), for a play (service).  …and what happens on Monday??? Everybody (used very loosely here because it’s obviously not everybody) goes back to their regular lives, thinking they put God first (check the box and move on), and doesn’t live out their faith.  I can’t help but think Satan has his hand in this!  Parents still curse at each other and try to guilt/shame/pressure their kids to be different, they are still isolated from neighbors, mean to the person on the phone or in the other car - or, on the other extreme, they go to “church” Sunday morning for Sunday School and Church Service.  They also go, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday evenings for prayer meetings, bible studies, vacation bible school, etc! and spend little to no time LIVING!  They make the pastor happy to see their faces, which gives them both an encouragement to keep it up, and an accountability partner which makes them feel stuck.  They think God is happy because of their sacrifice.  I don’t want to overgeneralize this.  I know a great many people go each week, or several times a week, out of genuine joy.  I don’t mean to discount that.  But my experience is my experience and it can’t be discounted, either.

The point here is everybody is expecting (and paying) the “Theatre” to be the church for them! 

What really tipped me over the edge was considering the “church” budget.  At one of the “church’s” we went to, they had a financial meeting at the end of the year.  I was able to see the budget, bring it home and really check it out.  95%+ of the literal $1 million yearly budget was used INSIDE THE CHURCH mostly for salaries, benefits, and bonuses to people!  Less than 5% went to missionaries or spreading the gospel in some way, or community outreach.  It’s mainly used for, as I said, salaries for various people, but in addition: for paying the utilities (water/electric/gas), paying for the new roof, the septic tank fund, paying for landscaping, parking lot renovations, additions to the building, mortgage debt, pensions for previous pastors and funding the current pastors’ pension, life insurance for various people, 401Ks, car allowances and insurance payments, the mortgage for the pastor’s house, paid time off including vacation travel expenses, bonuses, music copyright licensing fees, Audio/Video equipment, building repairs.. I could go on!  The overhead is TREMENDOUS!  That’s $950,000 a year, in ONE “church”, being … wasted on things that didn’t have to be.  It honestly hurt my heart.

Especially considering most people say nothing to anybody else except:

Person 1: “hi how are you doing?”

Person 2: “great, how about you?”

Person 1: “no complaints here”

Person 2: “perfect, great seeing you again”

Person 1: “you as well, see you next week”

…and then giving a handshake with a smile, they move on to the next person to “greet” in the same meaningless fashion.  THAT’S NOT FELLOWSHIP!  Even so, the pressure’s on to “say hi” to people for 15 seconds in the middle of the play (it’s part of the act, repeated each week, by the way).  Because if you just sit, everybody looks at you like you’re just not friendly (must be some sin in your life!) – so even YOU have to put on a show for a moment to be socially acceptable.  That fakeness was extremely difficult, forced, and awkward for us.

I certainly don’t insist that people should meet in home churches (though I do recommend something along those lines), but please take a moment to consider the overhead costs...  You already pay your mortgage.  You already pay for utilities and renovations.  Inviting people over is free-to-almost-free.  If you do communion in what I would consider the Biblical sense, meaning more than just a crumb of bread and ½ tablespoon of juice, you provide a meal every so often which is far less than 10% of your income (and compensated for when you visit other’s home’s) - or even better: have people bring food for themselves or to share (potluck style), then even your food bill doesn’t go up much if at all!  Again, small home gatherings are free to almost free!  Consider where that $1 million budget could go!  What can be done with it?  Funding an outreach?  Funding a missionary?  Paying for food for the homeless?  Helping your neighbor, or brothers and sisters in Christ with their medical bills, or a car repair, or a mortgage payment?  Funding an orphanage… or even spending it on your own family, or so you can retire earlier and spend your time volunteering or creating free content for others to benefit from or so you can mentor/disciple the next generation like the Bible tells us to!  It’s all better than wasting it on bills that could have been completely avoided in the first place!  You can listen to the Holy Spirit and do with that money as you are persuaded to do.

Freedom in Christ, or BACKSLIDER?

Again, my wife and I have thought this for a while but kept going to “Church” because the pressure was great.  Family expected it, and family was central to us.  We didn’t want to let people down or be judged and shunned.  We were just following the mold of “good Christian”.  Honestly how many of the many sermons on the freedom in Christ to … fill in the blank… eat certain foods, wear certain clothes, celebrate certain holidays (or not to celebrate, etc.), have you heard?  Now how many have you heard on the freedom in Christ to not attend “Church services”?  I’ll bet a preacher has NEVER preached on that, unless it’s tongue and cheek.  They’d lose their congregation, and their job (as lead actor and director), if they did!  They are always trying to grow their congregation.  Their goal in general is to get bigger, not smaller.  Just listen to a couple of pastors talk.  The question comes up “how big is your congregation?”

People even use Hebrews 10:23-25 to try to guilt people into coming to church:

Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

Let’s all be aware that’s the only verse that even remotely comes close to commanding us to “attend a church service”…

I used to think “well, case closed: God wants us to go to church!”  but that’s only the result of the brainwashing I was under.  If you think carefully for yourself, you’ll see it doesn’t say that at all.

We knew “church” on a weekly basis simply couldn’t be “required”, nor could sitting quietly in a pew be something God even desires of us.  And I had a nagging feeling it meant something different than what everybody preaches it to be.

Consider this: what if the scripture is teaching us to remind each other about the assembling of ourselves together at the resurrection as a means of exhorting (encouraging) each other.  If you’ve lost a spouse, or a child, or a friend as the end comes near, it would be very encouraging to remind each other “Hey, we’ll meet them again, it’s not goodbye forever – we’ll be assembled together at the resurrection – and SOON!  Your son isn’t lost forever.  Your husband isn’t lost forever.  You WILL see them again!  I know it’s hard for now, and I’m here for you as much as you need to help you through.”  I say this to make the point that many passages in the Bible can be taken in multiple ways.  Again, this is the only passage like this, and it should be considered before the doctrine of weekly “church” is created.

But even if it does mean we should regularly meet together – does that map out 1 to 1 to going to “church” every week or in some people’s case “go to “church” 6 times a week”?  In fact, there were no “church” buildings when Hebrews was written!  People met in each other’s homes.  And we don’t know how many met at a time.  Being at homes, it must be small groups.  Perhaps the author of Romans is telling us to simply visit each other – go on outings together, spend some time with each other.  Catch up with each other.  Get to know your neighbors to encourage them.  Call each other on the phone and ask how they’re doing.  Not “go sit in a pew for an hour, watch a play, listen to a lecture, and then go home”.  Vastly different!  And this is the way the passage should be understood if you ask me.  All too often we take our pre-conceived ideas of what the Bible is saying into our Bible Studies instead of letting the scripture speak for itself.  He’s just saying: “hey – visit each other, and lift each other up with encouragement.  Don’t live a life segregated from other believers.”

Calling it Quits – and Finding Freedom

So, after thinking all of this for a while, and after that life changing event I mentioned earlier, and then after my wife became pregnant again: I was walking on eggshells trying hard to make my wife as comfortable as possible.  I loved her and wanted the best for her.  We had a lot of stressful things going on in our lives during this time, so we skipped some church services to destress a little.  (my goodness was that freeing!!)

After the baby was born, we decided to stop attending “church” for a while longer because it was flu season.  After a miscarriage your mindset changes and things aren’t taken for granted as much.  We were terrified of our brand new son catching a cold and losing another baby…  But then 2 and a half months after he was born, the COVID lockdowns started in Michigan, so we didn’t go to “church” for even longer.  Many months passed, and a strange thing happened: while everybody was feeling trapped by the lockdowns, we felt freed by them!  We weren’t rushing angrily with our 4 kids to try to get them to scarf down some breakfast, get cleaned up, get dressed, go potty, rush out of the door, arrive (inevitably) late to “church” (go potty again), sneak in quietly, leave the service in turns taking the kids to the bathroom a few times including to change diapers, feeling embarrassed by our kids talking too loudly or flipping through papers or drawing on the pew with a crayon (…yes, that happened…), feeling guilty about ruining our kid’s nap’s, rushing home to get the starving kids lunch and arriving home to a messy kitchen because we didn’t have time to clean it up before we left.  And then with naps and dinner and cleaning up for that, our Sunday was completely gone! And we’ve long since lost our patience with the kids and made Sunday into a nightmare for everybody.    With work Monday-Friday, and Sunday taken away from us as well, the only time we had to accomplish projects around the house was Saturday and then we had no day of rest.  It was so much nicer to stay at home and watch a bible story online, or read from the children’s bible, or just talk to them to disciple them directly.  No fuss, no stress, just peace, calm, and happiness.  We could walk and talk the fruit of the spirit, instead of throwing the fruit basket out of the window!  Which this brought happiness towards, and connection with, the kids instead of anger, fear, and anxieties.  That’s right, “church” brought those negative emotions to our family.  I’m sure we’re not alone!

What is Church?

By now I’m sure some of you are wondering (or perhaps are irritated at) why I continue to put quotes around “church”.  It’s because (drumroll please!)… A BUILDING IS NOT A CHURCH!  A PLACE IS NOT A CHURCH!  A MEETING IS NOT A CHURCH!!

We, Christians, Believers, followers of the Lord Jesus Christ – we are the church.  The church is people!  Jesus causes US to be without spot or wrinkle, not a building!  Church is a family of believers.  You don’t say “what FAMILY do you go to”…  In reality, people refer to “church” as a place of business without even realizing it!

Church is mainly about Christian fellowship.  Christian fellowship is about connecting with each other.  THERE IS ZERO CONNECTING WHEN SITTING QUIETLY IN A PEW LISTENING TO A SINGLE MAN SPEAK.

Christian fellowship is about encouraging one another to press forward.  Encouraging them to do the right thing.  Encouraging them with God’s word when they’re having a hard time.  To encourage, you need to hear the problems of your brothers and sisters!  Are you hearing problems sitting in a pew?  NO!  You need to sit down with people, maybe over a cup of coffee, or tea, or whatever you like to drink or eat (which IS communion!) and TALK, or more importantly LISTEN to each other!  The best times my wife and I have as Christians is when we have like-minded Christian friends and family over walking in the unity of the faith, talking about life, problems, and successes.  Talking about our problems and hearing the other person say “yeah, I know what you mean – that’s tough.  But I know you’ve got this!  How can I pray for you?”

Called to Sit?

Many pastors would have you think you obey Jesus or are serving the Lord when you sit in a pew and listen to a sermon.  I think many times people hear Ephesians 4:11-16 and, because we’ve been taught lies, they think it says something it doesn’t:

11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

They think: well, only some are called to be pastors and teachers… the rest of us are called to sit and listen to them each week.  But that’s not the case!  We’re all called for the work of the ministry.  All 5 groups of people in Ephesians 4:11 are called for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry.  And that for the edifying of the body of Christ.

I’ll repeat it: I read that apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are all for the perfecting of the saints, SO THAT THE SAINTS CAN BE PREPARED for the work of the ministry, SO THAT the BODY OF CHRIST (the church!) can be edified – and all of that until we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God  Paul isn’t listing apostles, prophets and evangelists just to finally get to pastors and teachers to explain what the pastors and teachers are called to do.  Why not also say what the first three are for?  I believe it’s because all 5 groups are called to this.  And note that it doesn’t mean exclusively those groups.  He was just listing groups of people who are called for that.  There could be other God-given ministries that are also called for that.

I believe a pastor is supposed to do two things:

1)     Shepherd other believers as a counselor and teacher.  Or in other words, disciple other believers so they can themselves disciple other believers.

2)     Work himself out of a job.  Eventually each person should graduate!

Should we forever be a disciple of a pastor?  NO!  We should at some point soon be teachers ourselves as it says in Hebrews 5:12.  

12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food,

At some point we should start discipling others.  It’s what we’re called to do in Matthew 28:19:

19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

The phrase “and teach all nations” is translated “make disciples of all nations” in some bible versions.  The idea is you are called to teach others about the things of God.  Because at some point you should graduate from that discipleship school and become a teacher yourself.

The priesthood of all believers:

As soon as Jesus declared his work finished and gave up his life, a wonderful thing happened that I believe many believers don’t fully grasp.  It says in Matthew 27:

50 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.

51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;

The key point here is the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  To fully understand what that means, some basic understanding of the Jewish temple is required.  Only the high priest was allowed to enter the temple’s “holiest of holies”, which is the area BEHIND the veil where God was said to dwell.  The priest was to make intercession, being a mediator between God and man.  He was to offer the blood sacrifices for the people’s sins so they could be forgiven.  The point of Matthew 27:50-51 is that Jesus fulfilled the final role for the high priest.  Jesus is our high priest.  We don’t need other men to do this for us anymore.  We don’t need anybody to perform sacrifices for us – Jesus is the final sacrifice.  We don’t need a man to perform “religious rights”, or officiate religious ceremonies.  We don’t need a pastor to baptize us.  We don’t need a pastor to perform marriage ceremonies.  We don’t need a pastor to “bless the cup and break the bread” for communion.  Jesus is our high priest.  And we, the body of believers, the church, are a royal priesthood ourselves, like it says in 1 Peter 2:9:

9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;

I really like how Peter emphasizes it by saying it two different ways.  A royal priesthood is an oxymoron for Jewish people.  Royal implies kingship.  Priesthood implies priest or prophet.  A man can’t be both priest and King – it didn’t happen in Jewish history.  Then he says it again the other way around: a holy nation.  Holy again implies priesthood or prophet.  Nation implies government/kingship.  We, as Christians, according to Peter are priests AND children of the King.

Any believer is qualified to baptize another believer (whether they themselves are baptized or not).  Any believer is qualified to perform a marriage (whether they themselves are married or not).  And any other religious ceremony that you normally associate with a pastor: any believer is qualified for, and that by birthright into the family of God as a royal priest.

Head of the Church, and it’s hierarchy

Who is the most revered person at Church?  Of course, the pastor.  Think for a moment what some call pastors.  They are called “father”. The pope is even called “Holy Father”.  But in Matthew 23:9 it says

9 And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.

This is because Jesus is the head of the church, not a pastor.

In Matthew 20:25-28, Jesus dismantles the idea of “church” hierarchy:

25 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.

26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;

27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:

28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

Does that sound like most pastors in America?  Not to me!  In many churches the pastor gets a special parking spot – right up close.  A place of honor.  The pastor calls all the shots in every area of the church.  He is the one who is permitted to speak to the church, while others listen.  He says “this is what needs to happen”, and others jump up to make it so.  It goes directly against Jesus’ words in Matthew 20.

Our elderly neighbors, who have been married for longer than even our parents have been alive, wanted to start a bible study for married couples.  They wanted it to be at the same time as Sunday School so more people would be able to attend – it was a church of 500+ people per week.  The pastor not only denied his request for the time slot (giving the reason that it would interfere with his own teaching), but denied his request altogether to lead the study any day or time.  If Jesus’ words were true about not permitting his followers to exercise dominion over each other, the pastor would have done what pastors are supposed to do and council him on what the Bible says about his idea.  He’d discuss his intentions, encourage him, pray for him, and maybe even helped him in his endeavor.  That is what being a pastor should be.  But churches today just aren’t set up for that sort of freedom.  They are set up for hierarchy, contrary to what the Bible tells us should be the case.

Doers and not Hearers only:

James 1:22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only…

Should we sit idle in a “church” listening to (hearing) a man preach?  Or are we supposed to do something?  How many times should we sit and listen to the same sermons?

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Bible gives a prescription for how our meetings are supposed to be organized?  Well, it does!  1 Corinthians 14:26-31

26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. 27 If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. 28 But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged,

Does anything strike you as different when comparing to how we meet today?  Anything that you’ve never seen happen in your “church”?  Paul is encouraging EVERYBODY to participate. Everybody to utilize the gifts God gave them.  What’s more is he is instructing it to happen ONE AT A TIME in an orderly fashion.  Most churches have one speaker while 100 to 50,000 other people listen.  Could you imagine a mega-church following this example?  That would be a LONG “church service”.  It would take over a month of 24 hours a day participation for one meeting! 

However, if people met together in each other’s homes where there are between 2 and, say, 10 families this is much more feasible.  But it seems clear to me, there is no “one” pastor in a meeting that monopolizes everybody else’s time, exercising his gift while others a perpetually silent.  That “pastor” would be getting spiritual exercise for himself, while the others are getting overfed and lacking in exercise.

Something I want to emphasize in all of this is that there is no exact prescription for what our gatherings should look like.  How many people should be there?  The Bible doesn’t say.  Where should it take place?  The Bible doesn’t say.  How long should they take?  How often should it happen?  A lot of mystery.  But we fill in the gaps with tradition and assume it’s what the Bible says… Tradition from who?  The catholic church!  As protestants who have tried to remove themselves from the catholic umbrella, we sure do keep a lot of their traditions.

Back to Grace – Don’t make it difficult:

In Acts 15:10-11, Peter, in reference to the pharisees requiring that all believers be circumcised and follow the law of Moses to be saved, declares that we shouldn’t place a yoke on believers: because WE ARE ALL SAVED BY GRACE:

10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

In other words: Why make things difficult when it’s so simple?

Going one step further a few verses below that, Acts 15:19-20

19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 

Here James is saying new believers (disciples) should be burdened with only these few things.  Is it because they won’t be saved if they don’t?  No, of course not!  Peter just said everybody is saved by grace, not be things we do.  Looking at the historical context, these new believers are an example to unsaved and saved Jews.  For fear of offending the Jews, it was prudent to instruct new believers to follow those rules.  Not for fear of losing their own salvation, but for fear of keeping out unsaved Jews, and for fear of breaking unity with the saved ones.

So, are we required to go to “church”?  That wasn’t even on that superficial list for new believers!  Should we go to “church” for God to love us?  To accept us?  To cherish us?  To give us grace or mercy? 

What then requires us to attend a “service”?  I submit to you that the institutional church is violating Acts 15:19, and behaving in a legalistic, pharisaical manner by adding laws to the law, and propping itself up on the backs of God’s people, for the sole purpose of sustaining itself and those that live off of it.  Not many pastors start churches for this reason, but the end thereof is the same.

Proverbs 14:12:

12 There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.

Let’s not let other people enforce on us what they think seems right.  It leads to death!  We are children of light, we are destined to life.  Let’s walk in it.  Let’s do what needs done to exercise the fruits of the spirit and reject all bondage.  As 2 Corinthians 3:17 says:

17 …where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

Let’s reclaim our title of Church, and take it from the institution that stole it from us.

Back-peddling?

I want to say as a final point that there are people who attend church and get great blessing out of it.  They fellowship with other believers.  They worship in spirit and in truth.  They are edified and edify others.  They participate in exercising their spiritual gifts, and are ministered to by others exercising their spiritual gifts.  For those people, I am happy to say: Please, keep on going.  BUT, please don’t condemn those of us who choose to live in freedom.  Don’t brush us aside as backsliders.  Don’t treat us as unsaved.  We are brothers.  Treat us as such.

Resources

For more information, here’s a list of resources on the Gospel of Grace, the home church movement, and unchurching (taken from the term unschooling).

-        Bas Rijksen:

o   In his own website:

§  I am dedicated to help a generation awake to the realities of Christ's finished work and to activate the sons of God to walk in the fullness of identity and do the works of Jesus and greater.

o   https://www.youtube.com/c/BasRijksen/videos

o   www.basrijksen.com

-        Richard Jacobson:

o   Richard is one of the big names in what was coined the “unchurching” movement.  He creates comics and animations to help teach people what the Bible actually says about “church”.

o   Unchurching is a term taken from unschooling.  With unschooling, children aren’t forced to go to an institution (school) to learn.  They are allowed to pursue their own interests and in turn typically receive a world class education, one not directed by an institution.  Unchurching is similar in that it advocates people don’t go to a “church” building, but instead that people understand that they ARE the church.  This content resonated with me and reassured me I wasn’t the only one feeling this way.

o   https://www.youtube.com/c/RichardJacobson/videos

o   http://www.unchurching.com/

-        Paul Gautchi

o   Paul’s content is really geared towards the backyard gardener, but his demeaner and his teachings are based on his conversations with Jesus.  He has helped me to deepen my reliance on God – to lean on him for peace in my life.

o   https://www.backtoedenfilm.com/contact-paul-gautschi.html#/

-        Francis Chan:

o   Francis started a church in his living room, and it grew to over 5000 people.  He’s known for leaving his church because of his convictions that he was wasting the gifts of the 5000 and elevating his own gift above other’s.

o   One of his story’s that speaks to me is when he baptized a gang member, who after attending for a while left the church and went back to the gang.  When asked why, he said “I thought baptism was going to be an initiation into a 24/7 family, not just something we attend of Sunday.”  Francis said it makes him sick to think that a street gang is a better picture of family than the church of Jesus Christ.

o   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VyZx_SSOyfI&t=6s

-        Paul Ellis

o   From his web-site:

§  I used to be a pastor. For 10 years I led a multicultural church in Hong Kong while working as a gung-ho business school professor. I worked six days a week and I preached on Sundays. Eventually I crashed and burned. Forced to rest, I learned a few things about grace and began to write and Escape to Reality (E2R). Sharing grace treasures with people is now my full-time occupation, and I couldn’t be happier.

o   https://escapetoreality.org/

o   We discovered paul Ellis when researching the “gospel of grace”.  He wrote a great book called “The Hyper-Grace Gospel: A Response to Michael Brown and Those Opposed to the Modern Grace Message”.  It’s available on Amazon if you’re interested.  It’s a response to another book criticizing the gospel of grace.