I suppose it was inevitable. Sooner or later, someone was bound to ask, “Why haven’t you become members of the church?” My husband would not have a problem satisfying the requirements to become members. I do. Therefore, when the inquirer posed his question, my husband deferred answering the question to me.
He asked an honest question. I gave an honest response, which included two of many reasons I no longer have an interest in satisfying church membership requirements.
“You shouldn’t hold a grudge,” said the inquirer.
Sigh. I should have known better than to condense thirty years into two events. It’s not a matter of bitterness and a grudge. It’s a matter of dignity. There is nothing to be learned from the second kick of a mule. Apparently, I’m really dense. I had to be kicked six times in a row before I learned what I should have learned the first time a mule kicked.
When I began my Christian walk, I loved the church and wanted nothing more than to be included in its activities. I even desired to spend my life serving God in the church. But the path God led me down caused “in the church” to fall by the wayside. And I learned there are more ways of serving God than being included in activities within a church building.
Yes, I was a credentialed minister, but God calls people to ministry, not a committee. Ministers can do no more than recognize a calling and confirm it. My calling has been recognized and confirmed many times, and I had fulfilled the man-made requirements mandated to hold ministerial credentials in my church. The individual churches within my fellowship are self-governed and have additional man-made requirements to become a member. I would consider joining a church again if I could be sure another mule wasn’t waiting to kick the life out of me. Church membership works well for some. It simply has not worked for me.
The people who sit on church pews have been kind and loving to me. The majority of people who stand behind pulpits have not. Years and tears taught me their hateful actions were rooted in fear and insecurity. My anger with them eventually dissolved into pity, and pity blossomed into compassion. But wisdom must temper compassion or you will find yourself in a never-ending abusive relationship. The Apostle Paul rebuked the Corinthian Christians for gladly putting up with ministers who enslave you, exploit you, take advantage of you, push themselves forward, slap you in the face (2 Corinthians 11:19-10). I have gladly put up with such ministers in the past, but, at some point, you have to develop some respect for yourself and simply say, “Enough.”
There is nothing that has shaken my faith in God more than church leaders. If I had taken my eyes off of Jesus, the good shepherd, I seriously doubt I would be a Christian today. The first time I walked away from the church, a dramatic encounter with God brought me back. The second time I found myself on the outside looking in; I had been driven out of the church along with two-thirds of the congregation by a pastor’s cruel insensitivity. I had no plans to return, but the sheep that remained pleaded with me until I relented.
Shortly after I returned, God led my family to an independent church and me to a Bible study on the Gospel of Luke. I had an epiphany while studying Luke’s gospel. Church leaders acknowledged God was with Jesus, yet they hated him. In their eyes, Jesus did everything wrong. Church leaders fasted. Jesus ate and drank. Church leaders mourned. Jesus laughed. They expected Jesus to dance to their tune. Jesus refused.
I know how it feels to be out of step with church leaders. Every pastor who treated me hateful had first acknowledged they recognized the call of God on my life. Their behavior can be traced in the Bible from Genesis to Revelations. Hatred has been in the church since the day Cain worshipped by Abel’s side and then murdered him in the field. Abel paid a high price for God’s approval. The price I paid was not as costly as Abel’s, but it was painful.
Accepting that corruption in the church is nothing new was a small consolation for the suffering I had endured. Nor did it compensate for the opportunities I lost as I struggled with sinful men. I searched for a reason God tolerates Cain at the expense of people he approves. I found the answer in a difficult scripture:
“In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” [Hebrews 12:4-6, NIV].
The sin Jesus struggled with is the same sin Christians struggle with today. The sin produced by modern-day Cains’ who hate us, because they know God approves of us. Their hatred teaches us to worship God instead of his shepherds.
It no longer hurts that church leaders loved me in words but not in deeds. God made right any wrong, real or imagined, committed against me when he opened the door for me to write a faith blog on a newspaper website. Cains’ robbed me of the opportunity to address a few hundred in the church. The high traffic website allowed me to speak to thousands.
The day will come when God separates the sheep from the goats and the chaff from the wheat. I am willing to wait and even die with faith God will have a place for me when his kingdom comes to planet earth. I am a member of the church, but not the edifices built by men and ruled by their whims. My membership resides in the church Jesus is building where people are treated with dignity because Cains’ are not allowed.