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We are not the gatekeepers for Christ

I do believe in rules.  In most cases, the rules and guidelines we are given as a child, the frameworks we are encouraged to live within, are meant to guide us into a successful adulthood.  And in more ways than one, my country would not exist as it is today were it not for rules.  People have come here for hundreds of years in attempts to escape the rules of their own countries, and we fought a revolution on this soil to overthrow rules we did not like.  When that battle was won, we promptly established more rules; they just happened to suit us better.

The same thing happens in the Christian community.  If you don’ t like how they do it in this church, you move on.  If you can’t find a place you like, just create something new.  I can’t fault anyone for church hopping in search of a community that feels like home.  After all, that’s what fellowship is supposed to be about, a family of people who support you and encourage your religious growth.  That can’t happen if you’re uncomfortable with the teachings of the church.  And even within the same denomination, what is being taught can vary from congregation to congregation.

We’ve all been handed the same rule book, but we are free to interpret it as we choose.  As we will.

And that’s the thing: as Christians, we are not truly united under a single set of beliefs.  It’s no longer enough to say you’re a Christian.  The follow-up question is typically some variation of, “What kind?”, because the denominations and sects and splinter groups are so numerous.  The core element of Christianity is there, i.e., “I am a follower of Christ”, but what that entails can be different for every group.

Some Christian groups focus more on the rules than on Christ.  I certainly agree that there are things we should and shouldn’t do.  I don’t steal from people or murder them, but those are pretty easy for me to avoid.  However, I have told countless lies, have tons of bad thoughts, and frankly, I don’t always WANT to do the right thing.  Sometimes I want to do the exact opposite of the right thing!

Fortunately for me, my faith is not based on perfectly following rules.  My faith is built on my relationship with Christ.  Unfortunately, many Christians not only construct their religious lives around rules they cherry pick out of scripture, but they also make up rules of their own.

There is experience within my own family of falling victim to a church community that built itself around the rules of its leader rather than on Christ, and members followed that leadership with cult-like obedience.  The rules he laid down were at best twisted forms of Christian doctrine.  At their worst, they were not founded in Christianity at all, but rather designed to instill fear and maintain his personal power.  The rules were malleable, as suited his needs.  If he were caught breaking his own rules, he had justifications at the ready, but congregants who broke them were dealt with swiftly and publicly.  He abandoned or reversed rules that no longer served his purposes, but despite these inconsistencies, this leader was heard and followed.  

This leader’s goal was not to grow his church by bringing people to Christ.  His goal was to maintain his own influence and control within that small group.  He was a Christian who turned people away from Christ.  Those who questioned his rules were loudly condemned and driven out.  Those who stayed would not risk listening to their own doubts; they were too afraid that his version of truth was the right one.

Doubt, questions and uncertainty are as much a part of my everyday faith as trust, hope and joy.  But it isn’t God I’m uncertain about, it’s the myriad voices that try to sway me to their version of the truth.  It isn’t God I doubt, it’s myself, and whether I’m listening to the right voice.  That’s a scary thought for me, because there are people who will interpret biblical rules in a way that suits their own needs.  There Christians who don’t seem to be followers of Christ, who use the Bible to push their own agendas.  Instead of drawing people into the faith, these Christians use scripture to drive others away.  Though it’s difficult to drown out all those other voices, I have chosen to give sway to the voice within, the one that tells me to study the Bible, to study the life of Christ and to aspire to live by His teachings.  

What Jesus taught me is that we’re all welcome.  We don’t all answer His call, but we’re all invited.  He did not preach hate and intolerance and judgement.  A shepherd does not beat and scatter his flock.  He gathers them together and protects them.  He seeks to add to his flock, to see it flourish and prosper.

Christ taught that there is one rule above all others, which is to love the Lord your God.  Second only to this is the rule to love your neighbor as yourself. 

How can you love your neighbor if your heart is filled with hate?  Where is there room for Christ if your heart is filled up with hate?  Hate belongs to another, one whose wish is to deceive and confuse and shake people’s faith.  One whose sole desire is to beat and scatter the flock.

It makes me heartsick to see Christians turn people away from God.  I just can’t understand why a Christian would purposefully, maliciously, hatefully, and sometimes even gleefully, ostracize another and work to exclude people from the faith.  How heartless to push someone away from what you believe is eternal salvation and toward what you believe to be eternal agony.

As a Christian, it’s not my job to create or enforce rules that keep people out.  Likewise, it’s not my job to make people believe what I believe.  I can only walk my faith, share my beliefs and welcome everyone with open arms.  The rest is in another’s hands.

There isn’t a human being on earth who is qualified to be a gate-keeper for Christ.  Not a single one.

Items of Interest:

Grace by Bekka (Moonlight & Sunbeams)

We Got It Wrong on a Wednesday by Tamara (a deeper story)

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29 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thanks for the kind mention. You give good words here– thank you.

    August 27, 2012
  2. I am so glad you wrote this. It is sad but true that more and more churches are beginning to rule their congregations just like cults, spreading fear and even hatred. My friend told me recently that her church actually teaches that God hates some people (!) right from the womb!!!! I couldn’t believe it. More of us need to find the courage that you have shown here, and begin to speak up. It concerns me, also, how powerful a group of ultra- conservative fundamentalists are becoming politically. I believe we women, in particular, stand to lose our freedom if we are not vigilant.
    Great post!

    August 27, 2012
    • I am not in a church community right now, but the church I’m drawn to is not like that. I think the majority of churches are probably inclusive and welcoming, but it’s sad to think that any of them would be that way. That is clearly the human influence on the church.

      It’s difficult to go against our natural inclinations; we want to protect and hold tight to our own, while pushing away that which we don’t understand. We are prone to all kinds of negative emotions and actions, and one of the hardest things we are asked to do as Christians is to love others above ourselves – to reach out to them, help them, comfort them, give to them what we would keep for ourselves.

      Thanks for commenting! I don’t write very much about my faith, partly because I’m not yet very comfortable talking about it, and partly because I’m never very sure of myself. I appreciate your support!

      August 27, 2012
  3. KJ #

    Great post! Thanks so much for having the courage to share your story. I agree that there are far too many who drive people away with rules rather than focusing on living Christ-like lives. I know I fall short so often, too, but the older I get, the more I am more interested in getting my own life right than worrying about what others do.

    August 27, 2012
    • I fall short all the time! Even in saying that I think it’s terrible what some churches and Christians do, I am pointing a finger and judging them. Believe me, I thought about that. But I’m not speaking out of hate, but out of compassion – for both sides, even. No one comes out of that kind of situation unscathed. Preaching hate and intolerance only feeds the negativity within you, and that’s a sad thing. That’s a great way to be, or try to be – work on yourself and be the best you can be. You can’t change other people, you can only be a good example to them and hope they change themselves.

      August 27, 2012
  4. An insightful post, little one. Inclusive, instead of exclusionary. Spiritual instead of *Religious*. They’re the I-dotting, T-crossing, accountants of Christianity, adding up sins, real and imagined, to see who gets to go to Heaven. It’s no surprise that their group is always at the top. It’s good to see that you are influenced by what Christ says, rather than some church leader claiming to speak for Him. I’ll take helpful and kind over judgemental any day.

    August 28, 2012
    • Thank you for taking the time to comment!! I was actually wondering what you would think about this one, since we’ve talked about it before. I didn’t even think about it that way, how those kinds of people/groups have put themselves at the top. That’s pretty convenient, huh?

      I have heard some really great church leaders, and the church that I was last a part of is still in my heart, and I feel the pull a lot here recently to go back there. I do think you have to search for the congregation and leadership that feels right for you. Unfortunately, some people get sucked into a harmful church atmosphere. It’s really sad.

      August 28, 2012
  5. Your post is perfect. I wouldn’t change a word of it. It’s so important for all of us these days to find a middle ground, and not let ourselves be cajoled into believing the hyperbole of a very small group of people who are convinced they have all the answers. I truly believe the majority of people feel the same as you, but they are the ones who quietly go about their lives, helping others without fanfare, and ignoring the voices of intolerance and hate. Your post is a breath of sanity in crazy times.

    August 28, 2012
    • Thank you so much for your help with that and for being a sounding board (I used a little bit from my email to you, actually). It’s a little different, but I’m much more satisfied with it now.

      I agree that it’s really a smallish, but very vocal segment of the Christian population that can cause so much pain for others. Mostly I go about my life, very quietly, but it was so sad to read about someone who was struggling to get close to God because they were victims of this kind of thing. People in my family have not recovered from the devastation – and it really was a kind of emotional and spiritual devastation that was caused from that one man. One man!! Some people never recover.

      August 28, 2012
      • That’s so sad that your family was affected so much by someone they looked up to. What a breach of trust.

        August 29, 2012
        • That’s a good way to put it. It is so much about trust – we believe and have faith in what we can’t prove. We trust. And when that is shattered…that is pretty awful. I think people can associate that breach of trust with God, rather than keeping it focused on the person who did it.

          August 29, 2012
  6. Can you tell me why people who are Christians are so willing to hurt people and brainwash their own children into the religion from an early age rather than allow them to come to a decision on Christianity based on a rational, reasonable analysis of the merits of the religion?

    August 28, 2012
    • Hi Jessica. I don’t really know why anyone would want to hurt anyone else. I’m sure some people enjoy it, maybe the power they feel like it gives them. I think it makes some people feel better about themselves (their own faults and weaknesses) when they are pointing out what they feel is wrong with someone else. I don’t believe that all people who are Christians want to hurt other people.

      As far as children are concerned, a Christian wouldn’t consider that brainwashing. Neither would a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Sikh, a Hindu, an atheist, etc. They would consider that teaching. People teach their children about what they believe in, by word or by example. So people teach their children about religion the same way they teach them about morals, ethics, manners, etc. You wouldn’t wait until they were teenagers to teach them to say “please” or “thank you”; it’s just natural to teach them when they are young.

      August 29, 2012
      • But the question is whether your teachings are true or not – is the question. And not just “true to you” or that you accept it on faith. I am going to take a wild shot in the dark guess and say that you were born to a Christian family in a nation with a Christian majority – would I be wrong in saying so?

        Considering that, if you were born into a Jewish family, you would be more likely to be a Jew, if you were born into a Muslim family, you would be more likely to be a Mulism, if you were born into a Buddhist family, you would be more likely to be a Buddhist. It has nothing to do with whether it’s true or not – you trust the authority figures you were raised with and there is an evolutionary reason for that – generally, this is how you keep from getting hurt and survive to adulthood.

        You should wait to teach your children religion until they grow to adulthood because, unlike manners or useful information, there is no reason to try to rape the souls of children with religious doctrine before they can make sense of it. It’s propaganda and it’s wrong.

        August 30, 2012
        • You are actually wrong about my family upbringing. Christianity, or any religion, was not taught in my family or even really discussed until I was in my 30’s. And if we do discuss religion now, it is generally brought up by me.

          I understand your point, I just don’t agree. I just see it in a different way than you do. I believe that my religion is the truth. So if that is what I believe, then there is no way that I would withhold what I consider to be vital information from my children. I understand that you believe I’m off my rocker, or deceived, or some combination. And that’s ok. I respect your right to teach your children what you believe is true, and I would teach my children what I believe to be true.

          I don’t think this is a question of truth. I think my beliefs are truth. You think your beliefs are truth. One of us is right and one of us is wrong. We won’t know for sure until we die. In the meantime, there is probably no way we’d be able to change each other’s minds. So our job is to respect each other and treat each other with kindness. Which is exactly what my post was about.

          August 30, 2012
          • Fair enough, but for the majority of people in the English speaking world – that is the case. It’s usually apt, but I guess not in this case. But why would you believe if you haven’t been indoctrinated into it?

            But can you prove your religion is true to others? Can you objectively prove that your religion is true? The thing about reality, is that it’s real no matter how many people believe it’s real or whether you believe it’s real. Your religious beliefs, on the other hand, are not truth because no one in the past 2,000 years has been able to prove them to be true. Once some can do that, then obviously, the question of whether it’s true or not is a moot point.

            I am not going to teach my children what I believe is true, I intend to teach them what IS true. If I am wrong, I will admit it. If it’s a personal belief, I will prefix it with that statement. However, I am adamantly against indoctrinating children into one’s personal beliefs. My children aren’t Thelemites, my children have yet to decide for themselves – I’d like for them to be Thelemites, but as long a they believe things for the right reasons, I can live with that much.

            If you teach your children your religion is true, you are not respecting them nor treating them with kindness. You are brainwashing them, plain and simple.

            August 30, 2012
          • I can only say that there are plenty of things that researchers and scientists believe to be true, but have still yet to prove to be true. And to use your own argument, no one has ever been able to prove that God does not exist.

            I’m glad to hear that you are following your own convictions about child-rearing, and not just randomly condemning me for mine. You strongly believe that children should be able to choose for themselves, and so you are not forcing your anti-religious views on your own children. I can only assume that means you never speak of religion to or around your children, positively or negatively. That’s important, because we teach our children in every way, by our manner, our facial expressions, our tone of voice, our choice of words, our contempt, our praise. I think it’s admirable that you are not influencing them in any way about religion, but following your own strong belief and letting them choose completely on their own, based on reason alone. Many people say one thing and do another.

            I’m sure you will be happy to know that I am childless, so I won’t be abusing any of my own offspring, brainwashing them, raping their souls, or anything else you’ve accused me of so far.

            August 30, 2012
          • Here’s the thing… the burden of proof is on the person making the claim. In all of the centuries that Christianity has been around, the Christians have never met the burden of proof.

            My views are not “anti-religious”, I am a Thelemite… but my religion teaches “Convert not” and that people should come to the Law of Thelema RATIONALLY and for RATIONAL reasons. I do speak to my children about religion but I do tell them on a regular basis that they should not participate until they are older. This way, they can come to their own conclusions.

            Ah, so when you talked about converting your “children”, that was a view of what you PLAN to do, not what you are actively doing. So, even though you plan to harm children if you have them, you aren’t actively harming children now.

            August 30, 2012
          • You did a great job of replying to Jessica Sideways there. I would add my thoughts in that thread but it’s already been filled up with too many comments. I have a hard time believing she’s very sincere in her objections. Looks more like trolling for a fight. Logically, her arguments are about as weak as any I’ve seen, theological, existential, or any other.

            It’s most fascinating to hear such arguments from someone adamantly acknowledging that she’s a Thelemite. That one’s more out there than Scientology and even less relevant to any substantial debates. I’ve never heard a leading skeptic even TRY to mention it.

            A man named Aleister Crowley had a vision over 100 years ago and claimed to have all of life and universe solved. It’s a disconnected hodgepodge of random beliefs that caves in on itself in about 5 minutes of investigation. But Crowley wouldn’t care what Jessica says anyway because he believed women to be secondary creatures intellectually and rationally. He was a bigot too. Probably better that children aren’t taught such views to be truth.

            You did the right thing by addressing the arguments and not attacking the person. Crowley was always spoiling for a fight, so no surprise his admirers resort to character assassination. I’m glad Jesus set the right example. Love everyone regardless of race or gender and deal with ideas rather than petty or confused arguments.

            August 31, 2012
          • Thanks for your feedback, Clay, and support. I didn’t know her religion to look it up until last night, and wish I had known that from the beginning. I struggle to understand how one argues against Christianity on the basis of absolute truth (or lack of proof), yet follows a belief system based on a vision, that has it’s own multiple unsubstatiated, unprovable dieties, etc. I still feel a little mean about my last comment to her, which was written out of frustration, but it’s too late now.

            Thanks for your help, and for taking a look at this for me.

            August 31, 2012
  7. You don’t know how lovely it is to come home after a few days away and read that, it was brilliant. Amen to it all, I agree with every word, and God bless!!

    Lorna

    August 29, 2012
    • That makes me happy! I was actually thinking about you the last three days, that I haven’t seen a post from you in a while, wondering how things were going with you. I think there’s a new one in my email, just haven’t gotten through the last couple days of posts in there. Thanks for taking the time to give some encouragement here, especially since you must be catching up, too!

      August 29, 2012
  8. The thing to remember is that when we try to set our own little rules or conditions for how we deal with God, we violate a direct commandment of scripture, which is Deuteronomy 6:16′s “Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God, as ye tempted him in Massah.” Massah was a reference to how the children of Israel made continual demands of God in the wilderness to prove His power, faithfulness and goodness to them. By continually demanding through Moses that God provide them with food, meat, water and other things when they wanted them, it was not so much that they were challenging God’s power, God’s ability to lead and deliver them, even though they certainly were doing so. Instead, they were challenging God’s sovereignty. They were putting their own collective self-will up against the will of God, and insisting that God had no right to behave towards them as they pleased. Instead of submitting to the reality that they were God’s people and that they were to serve Him, Israel insisted that God serve them instead. This is a classic mindset of the false pagan and animistic religions of the time and place that Israel was living in. God was calling Israel out of that false religious mindset, out of the world (the term “ekklesia” which implies a group that is called out or set apart from the rest and was in the New Testament translated to be “church” was also applied to Israel), and commanding them to respond to the true and living God, but Israel’s uncircumcised, unredeemed and faithless hearts refused to do so. It got to the point where the Israelites actually complained about the lack of variety in their diet, as if the wilderness was some all you can eat buffet and God was their busboy and short order cook! As a result of their refusal to acknowledge God’s sovereignty and their status before God, that entire generation save Joshua and Caleb perished, sometimes in the most horrible of manners, without ever setting foot in the Promised Land.

    September 2, 2012
    • Hi and thank you for your comment. You make such a great point! One of the things I have such a hard time with is obedience. Like being told I am a sinner, I have bristled at being called out on obedience. No one wants to consider themselves a sinner – at least I didn’t. “But, I’m just a little bad; I’m mostly good, even. I’m not a SINNER!!” But if you’ve ever told a lie, then you’re a sinner. So there you are.

      It’s hard to think of ourselves as being less than we want to be. With obedience, I struggle with the idea that I’m being chastised, and with the idea that what I do now is not enough. Which I know it isn’t, but do I want to face that fact? Absolutely not. Obedience is letting go of my (non-verbalized but all too real) demands and expectations of God and realizing that I am the one who should be taking orders. Obedience is letting go of control and high command over my life and handing over the bridge to someone who can do a much better job of it than I can.

      Perhaps worst of all, obedience is then following the orders I’m given. It’s tough for us mere mortals to give up what we hold so close to us, what we treasure more than anything else – ourselves. It’s tough to put God first, others second and self third.

      September 2, 2012

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. All of the Bible and the Whole Message « Transient Reflections
  2. All of the Bible and the Whole Message | Barbier Family Blog
  3. Day 4: Finding Your Source | Finding God in 365 Days
  4. All of the Bible and the Whole Message | RJBNet

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