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A Church of One

I’ve made a couple of attempts to plug in into the “Christian” community here in Colorado Springs, but it’s hard to really express why I’m having difficulty finding a good church in a way that most people could understand.

Churchians are so reared in the societal constructs of what constitutes a typical modern church today (complete with its cliques, social elements, and excessive attempts to pander to the youth) that I don’t think most are capable of recognizing the errors within, much like a fish cannot have water explained to it, since to that fish, it is everywhere.

So when I attend church, I attend as an outsider looking in. There’s always something about the atmosphere, or the preaching, or the people themselves that puts me ill at ease, to the extent that I can never comfortably stick around. People might argue that if I’m looking for the perfect church, I’m never going to find it, but I don’t agree at all that this is what I’m doing, and it just goes to show how the church bubble they continue to inhabit has blinded them from truly being able to understand where I’m coming from.

Part of it is because I’m an introvert and hearing impaired, and hence my spiritual walk is borne out of quiet reflection on spiritual things, while craving the intimacy of small, close knit groups, rather than being part of a larger, noisy congregation, especially one prone to generating cliques that further segregates the body of Christ. Everything is oriented towards the extroverted, and it takes a meticulous harnessing of social skills as an introvert to successfully plug into such a community.

Another reason is that I’ve lived an abnormal life that has made it difficult, if not impossible to relate to people. Very few can relate to one such as myself, who holds to a subset of Christian beliefs that is only held by an extreme minority, who has had to struggle with a disability that further hinders my ability to connect with others socially, and where I remain single while the vast majority of people my age are married with children. Unless Jesus is the true primary focus of a church, the yarn that binds people from all different walks of life together, there is virtually nothing left I’d have in common with Churchians that might help me to forge new relationships and achieve meaningful fellowship.

Most churches today are no longer true places of worship but an unapologetically social construct, a sanitized version of the high school caste system. I think most people who grew up with church having been regular a part of their lives are fair-weather Christians of a sort. They have little sense of what it’s like to be alienated from others, cut off from family or friends, or even abandoned by entire churches, where such alienation is compounded further by physical disabilities. I see a lot of them here, those who live the life of an affluent Christian, whose idea of suffering is when a barista gets their Starbucks order wrong. Their Christian beliefs are watered down and superficial at best, putting on appearances just enough so they remain indistinguishable from the rest of the church community and collective. As with the rest of the world, they will accept you, so long as you behave and act exactly as they do, and don’t make any waves.

I could do this myself, and in other areas of my life I do, suppressing so many aspects of my personality and beliefs in order to have better success connecting with others, even if they can never know who I really am, because if they did, I’d never be accepted. But with church it seems to be a bridge too far for me.

Others will say I chose this life, and thus any failure to fellowship and connect with others is wholly self-inflicted, an attitude that further alienates me even more because they simply cannot see what I do, having never walked a day in my shoes.

The only solution I see here has to be another miracle, just as the miracle that led me to Colorado eventually manifested, I have to trust and believe for yet another miracle that helps me find a way to serve and reconnect to the true body of Christ. And maybe in that, to finally find the love that has eluded me my whole life as well.

Exploring the reality where more than 80% of church members may not be Christians

A long while back I read a Slate article expounding on the conclusions reached in the book Forbidden Fruit, written by a sociology professor and consisting of several comprehensive surveys that were conducted with young adults about their views on sex and religion.  While 80% of teens who identified as evangelicals believed they should wait for sex until marriage, the number who actually put this into practice is a lot smaller.  Only 16% surveyed consider their religious beliefs as extremely important and actually appear to practice what they believe.

Based on what I read, 1 out of 5 evangelical teens don’t even believe sex outside of marriage is wrong.  80% say they do, but roughly 60% of them don’t really have the strength of their convictions.  That leaves only 16% of the demographic of evangelical teens that a truly devout Christian teenager might have anything in common with.

I’m of the view that these numbers probably mirror the state of Christian churches as well.  Imagine picking a church at random and realizing 80% of its members are either apostates or frauds.  To clarify, I regard   You might think you can still find camaraderie within the 20% who take their beliefs seriously, but there’s a caveat to consider here as well: I found when seeking out this 20% they tend to be of the very legalistic sort.  There is a fervor to their beliefs that the rest of the 80% don’t have, but they also exhibit a cold, arrogant, detached personality reminiscent of the ancient Pharisees.  Sadly, I’ve made the mistake of believing these were the real Christians and initially sought their company out in the past, desperate to find people who believed as I did, and perhaps within that circle finding a wife who loved God and sought to live a life pleasing to Him.

Instead I seemed to exist in this weird murky area where I wasn’t sinning enough for the nominal Christians, but I was sinning too much to be accepted by the legalists.  The remnant of believers that I might actually have anything in common with was indeed a lot smaller than the 16% who consider their religion “extremely important,” because it doesn’t screen out for those who take a pharisaical/legalistic  approach to their Christian beliefs.

Note: there’s been some confusion regarding these labels in the comments.  To clarify, I regard hypocrites/frauds as those who pretend to be perfect Christians while either hiding or simply ignoring their sins.  Legalists are those who aren’t so two faced, tend to be more “learned” so to speak, but they lack charity and have a smug sense of self-righteousness.  The real Christians are those who sin, but they acknowledge their sin, and they try to do the best they can to live as holy a life as possible.  They don’t pretend to be perfect, but they strive for it, which is a key difference.

Presuming that most churches have a predominating mix of apostates, frauds and legalists, should I still give it a chance, as long as the preaching itself is good?  It should matter more what’s coming from the pulpit than what the makeup of the congregation is, right?

I have two issues with this: one is that the message from the pulpit tends to define the audience.  People aren’t going to stick around for preaching that pricks them to the heart and convicts them of sin, unless they are willing to lead sincere Christian lives.  More often than not the nature of the congregation will reflect what’s coming from the pulpit.

The second issue has more to do with my introverted (INFJ) personality.  For most people, the disingenuity that exists in many church members is something they can merely observe, but for people like me it’s something that we actually feel.  We don’t merely observe it;  we sense it as well, and with that level of sensitivity comes a great deal of agitation and oppression.  Sitting in for a sermon, I can sense the spiritual wickedness around me in ways that others can’t (others more secular would call it bad energy or vibes).  It is painful to endure and there is no relief from it until I finally leave.

The only exceptions I’ve found was when attending prayer meetings.  I did so a few times at a church boasting over 1,000 members, and while I had no peace sitting in for Sunday sermons, attending the men’s prayer meeting was a different experience.  The nature of these meetings tend to draw the most devout, sincerest Christians from the rest of the congregation, and it was then that I could finally enjoy true fellowship with other believers, even if it was in a limited capacity.  I did find it very telling that despite a church of over 1,000, only 3 people showed up to pray the last time I was there (4 when you include me).

As important as church is, I can’t accept that God would require me to subject myself to agonizing oppression and despair every Sunday just to fulfill my obligations to the body of Christ.  For others this level of spiritual sensitivity is switched off, enabling them to function even in the midst of evil and being in a position to reform the churches from within.  Such does not seem to be the case for me.  That’s why I relate more to John the Baptist and Elijah than I do the likes of Paul, men who dwelled in the wilderness and separated themselves quite physically from the rest of the civilized world.  It was probably the only way they could cope with the wickedness of humanity without going insane.

My experience with prayer meetings makes me wonder if there’s a middle ground to all this that I could pursue instead.  I could attend bible study or prayer meetings rather than participate in Sunday services, though these tend to require you be vouched for by a regular member of the group before joining, which I can understand.  Other times it’s over the top, such as barring people from signing up for ministries to feed the hungry until you’ve been a regular member of the church for at least 6 months.  To set up such roadblocks just to perform charity work is something that’s offended me to no end, and rather than play by those ridiculous rules, I’ve chosen instead to do any charity work independently and directly, without dealing with the oversight of churches and groups I have no reason to trust with my time or money.  Sad, but as I’ve written so many times before: it is what it is.

How churches today abandoned the Christian single

During the time that I attended a service in Colorado, I noticed a few curious things that had me pondering about the state of Christian singles today and how churches treat them.  There were so many groups and ministries that were specifically tailored for couples, families, children, men’s groups, women’s groups and youth groups, but virtually nothing for singles.  Typically the singles group would really be the youth groups: teenagers or college students who are just getting started with life, and even then the central focus isn’t about pairing people together for marriage, but social endeavors to keep the young people happy and staying in church.  And when they stay, they can also be utilized as cheap labor for church projects.  It’s win-win (for the church that is).

We have a culture that promotes and provides an infinite variety of venues for short-term dating, hook-ups and flings, and yet the churches offer virtually nothing to counter that.  They simply refuse or fail to take a more proactive role in helping singles get married, when in fact it should be one of its major priorities.

Why is it so important for Christians to get married?  Marriage provides the training ground to breed new leaders and caretakers for the body of Christ.  We read over and over again that a man cannot effectively lead the church unless he has first had the experience of raising and leading his own family.  Women likewise are more effective caretakers and nurturers because of the experience of raising their own children.  A marriage and family successfully functioning as one cohesive unit provides the skillset needed to run a church as one cohesive unit.

Our enemy (Satan) is well aware of this.  That is why he seeks to destroy these cohesive units wherever he can find them.  If he finds a single, he will try to keep that person single.  If he finds a marriage, he will try to destroy it.  If he finds a church serving Christ as one effectual body, he will introduce cliques to fragment that body and severely weaken its collective power.  Our enemy is all about creating dissension, schisms, cliques and divisions.  Divide and destroy.

For the single, the potential threat of them becoming leaders and a powerful force within the church is removed for as long as they remain single.  In spite of the growing number of singles we are seeing today, rarely does the church ever consider that they may be existing in an unnatural state.  The presumption is that God hasn’t meant for them to get married “at that time,” so rather than find them spouses, singles are instead pushed to do missions, missions, and more missions.  Marrying early, despite no biblical sources to support their premises, is strongly discouraged.  Young women are not urged to marry, but do missions, and if God means for them to have a husband, they’ll find one when the “time is right.”  The idea of marriage is then put off indefinitely, with the focus instead on supporting church projects, ministries and outreaches.  It occurs to very few that there may be little wisdom in perpetuating a lifestyle where both man and woman would have to resist and abide by a constant burn for intimacy and marriage for literally years without relief.

In the meantime, we have singles being given leadership roles within the church that they have no business taking on.  The result are amateurs without a strong marital foundation and the needed experience to draw from to effectively lead the congregation.  (Even David had his lions and bears before he finally confronted Goliath.)  They are novices, and true to the warnings of Scripture, they become lifted up with pride and fall under condemnation.

And yet, the singles crisis is often ignored because it’s couched in the veil of good works.  After all, what could be wrong with putting off marriage just for a little while longer to serve the church?  What’s wrong with a single going on missions and feeding hungry children in Africa and witnessing to the lost? Is this not a sign of true holiness and proof they are putting ahead the interest of the kingdom of heaven ahead of their own interests and happiness?

Except that, it flies right in the face of Paul’s numerous instructions on running the church, where marriage is prioritized before members can begin taking more active roles.  And while he speaks of the virtues of being single, he clearly expressed that this was his own opinion and not God’s, and described singlehood as a gift.  If a man has no necessity, then and only then is he is encouraged by Paul not to marry.  Any man who burns however would not be able to serve God without distraction, precisely the advantage he was supposed to have if God had truly granted him such a gift.  This is the key distinction that too many churches gloss over.  They must be confronted with the reality that there are many Christian singles in the church who remain that way OUTSIDE of the will of God, not because of it.

But rather than prayerfully consider whether the single is single by the gift of God or is merely existing in an unnatural state, the churches instead exploit them.  Without a spouse or children of their own, such singles offer much time to volunteer and money to give.  It is simply not in the church’s own financial/materialistic interest to see such a single get married.  And thus, off to missions they go.

So programmed have members become to this way of thinking that we have a generation of Christian men riddled with guilt and frustration at the lack of prospects and a generation of women who rate their holiness not in having a successful marriage, but in the number of mission trips they embark on.

And yet notably there is another group that eerily shared this same trait: the ceaseless effort to travel thousands and thousands of miles to make a convert in the faith.  They were called Pharisees.

Churches have focused outward, and as a result have ignored the dead bones within.  Singles who remain true in the faith are being left behind, treated as pariahs and exploited for selfish purposes.  The time will come when judgment will begin, not with the lost or in the huts of India, but within the house of God itself.  May the churches consider their ways before then, and repent accordingly.

Why I will probably never attend church services again

Before leaving Colorado I decided to attend Sunday service at Springs Church, headed by Gary Wilkerson, who is the son of the famous David Wilkerson.  David Wilkerson was one of the few Christian voices I truly trusted before he passed away, but I believed his son was equally as passionate and would continue giving out the red meat of the Word that I was looking for.

I walked into the former auto mall that housed the church to find a few booths here and there, one offering plant sales, another offering coffee, and a few more offering signups for community outreaches and the like.  At least I think they did, as I wasn’t really paying attention.

I continued inside the auditorium and sat down just as the contemporary worship music began, led by a group of teenagers basking in the ambiance of glowing lights and smoke (there may or may not have been a smoke machine.)  Instead of feeling compelled to worship, I kept getting the urge to find a cigarette lighter and lift it over my head.

Rock on, Jesus!

Rock on, Jesus!

Maybe I’m getting old, but I didn’t like the idea of following the lead of teenagers with a worshiping style that was so obviously designed to cater to their generation (while ignoring everyone else.)  Ah well.  With worship a bust, I sat back to pretty much observe how the rest of the service would play out.

After the loop of songs ended, a woman got on stage and started talking about community circles (an updated spin on cell groups common to large churches.)  She was the “communities pastor,” and while she was talking the only thing that sprang to my mind was,  “Wow, she’s got some great looking legs there…”

Seriously, I’m a dude, you don’t think I’m gonna notice this? Even my mother complained that her attire was inappropriate, but then my mom represents a backward, primitive generation that isn’t hip and happening like the more enlightened, forward-thinking youths of today, so what does she know. /sarcasm

Anyway, she says a prayer, gets off stage, and the jumbo-tron comes to life, with a bouncy looking youth pastor (yet another woman) reminding the congregation of a few events that would be taking place in the next few weeks, and don’t forget about the youth group meeting every Thursday night too!  (She says, in an especially blonde sounding voice.)  Apparently everyone’s a pastor here, and half of them are women.  Awesome.

Finally the sermon began, and I was disappointed to see it wasn’t Gary Wilkerson giving the sermon, but some jeans sporting guy I didn’t know from Adam.  Because of my hearing difficulties I could barely follow along, but what little I did hear sounded like cotton candy fluff to me.  Something about beautiful stories and hidden stories and not to share every detail of your life to the world, or some such thing.  It might have a been a good sermon really, to be fair, but a combination of fatigue in trying to follow what he was saying, along with the urge to get out of there finally had me tuning out before long.

After the sermon was over and the service concluded, people RAN to their own little social circles to yak it up, and I took a few minutes to continue sitting back to watch people as they clumped together into cliques, with the thought that this was all very much starting to look like high school to me.

The social barriers here were beyond silly.  I wanted to consider this church (or any church I visited really) as my extended family, and within that family I would not only find true believers to fellowship with, but also eventually meet the girl I could someday call my wife.  After all, it’s not like I’m gonna find a devout Christian girl sitting in a hotel bar (except possibly by divine intervention.)

The one saving grace was the men’s prayer group I attended a few days before, where it was much easier to break the ice and talk directly to others as well as making prayer requests.  Sad that despite this being a church of over 1,000 members, only 3 MEN showed up for this weekly meeting.  Figures.

As small as it was, their prayers on my behalf were still enough to give me the good news I was hoping for regarding a close friend of mine.  It occurred to me that I’d be better off bypassing the usual Sunday services altogether, and just showing up for the smaller meetings instead, whether it was a men’s prayer group or a “communities” circle, or an outreach ministry, or whatever.

That’s probably wishful thinking though, as I rather suspect if I had stuck around on a regular basis, I’d be banging heads before long, questioning the structure of the church, the hierarchy, the endless splintering of small community circles that I think actually hurts the church body more than helps it, the improper exegesis of Scripture, the corporate worship style that shamelessly panders to the youth, the fact that women should not be taking on pastoral titles or most other leadership roles, and on and on.  There are elements about modern churches today that have become so predictable in tone and format that any Christian today who watches this parody is probably going to understand exactly why it’s so hilarious (and sad at the same time.)

I can’t be a part of that, and if I tried, I would still feel the disconnect, the ovewhelming sense that I don’t really belong.  For now, the wilderness will continue to be my home.

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