Following Jesus Apart from Religion
by Jim Gordon
Those of us who are living outside the walls of religion and institutional church have found a freedom we sometimes cannot explain. At least we cannot explain it in a way that people who still attend a church building seem to understand.
The problem is those who still attend the traditional church do not accept the fact that everyone is different and sees things in various ways. They usually want to stay away from us or talk about how we have backslidden and fallen away from God because we do not do what we have traditionally been taught was godly.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. We are worshipping and loving God just as much as before, only in a different way. We have not left the Church (Ekklesia) but we have left the building (church). Jesus is building His Church out of ‘living stones’ and not with brick and mortar.
My wife and I left the church because we felt the system was not the way God intended and we became unsatisfied with the way things were going. Yet, we never left the true Church which is made up of all of those who are believers.
Each of us has an equally important part to play in the body, yet no one is the head over anyone else. Each of us are functioning parts of the body and we are all needed and important. Of course, only Jesus is the head of his Church, not a pastor.
Those of us who have left the traditional church are often told we need to attend because we should not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. Yet this verse does not mean we have to be in an organized, pre-planned service led by a pastor and a worship leader. It is saying we need our brothers and sisters in Christ. Whether we meet on a Monday at a café, Tuesday in a home, Thursday at a bar or Friday in a park makes no difference. Jesus said for where two or three gather together in my name there I am in their midst.
For us true and meaningful fellowship happens each and every day when God brings us together with a brother or sister, or when we meet up with another couple for dinner. It also may be a time of one-on-one fellowship online with a brother or sister hundreds of miles away yet bonded closely through the Spirit.
We are so conditioned to think of the church building and its scheduled events as the main way of fellowship and learning. We are told in the Bible that when we come together each of us should have a word, or a song, or a praise, but how often does that actually happen within the institutional church? Being outside the walls, my wife and I have found this to be the norm. We all talk, we encourage one another, learn about each other, pray for one another and we support and care for each other. Fellowship is everyone having a part to play and everyone being open and talking about who God is to them. It seems that sitting quietly in a church service does not fulfill what God intended fellowship to be among his children.
A vitally important thing to remember for those of us who have left the church organization is that we should not have a feeling of ‘us vs them’. We need to keep in mind that those who attend church are doing so because they love God and feel they are doing the right thing. We are all children of God, whether we are in the institutional church or out of it. We are all various parts of the Church that Jesus is building and we each need to follow the leading of the Spirit for ourselves.
As people of God, we are to love God and love others. We cannot do that in our own strength but by the power of the Spirit within us. Sadly, it often seems we have a problem loving our brothers and sisters in Christ and an even greater problem loving those who see things differently.
I pray that all of us can keep in mind that we are children of God, saved by grace and living in His kingdom now. Whether we are ‘in church’ or outside the walls, let us focus on our love of God and for one another. The world needs to see the love of God in action among those who follow God. They do not need to see arguing, fighting and the disrespect that is sadly, so familiar among Christians today.
Jim Gordon and his wife left the institutional church after spending over fifty years within the system. Jim wanted a way to express his thoughts and concerns about the religious system and why he and his wife decided to leave the institution but not their faith in God. Jim can be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org