Last weekend I was reminded that it had been approximately nine years since my family started attending church. Being reminded of this also brought to mind the fact that it’s now been a whole year since I stopped regularly attending church. I’ve only been twice in the past year, and an attempt to ease in via a smaller home-group earlier this year lasted only a few weeks. Talking about it face-to-face isn’t something I’m all that comfortable with as I can never guarantee on the neutrality of the other person. If I discussed it with someone within the church, I fear that their primary mission is to get a lasso around my waist and drag me back; but discussing it with someone outside of the church may not work as there wouldn’t be a common frame of reference. At least by articulating everything in the written word, I can have my say before anyone interjects.
Firstly, although it’s been a year since I attended church, it didn’t automatically mean I’d lost whatever faith I had. Church was becoming routine. As months went by, it was the same liturgy, same songs, same people, same dynamic and I swear some of the sermons were recycled from previous years. Even when something new was introduced, it was only new in the sense that it was new to us – for example, whenever we learned a new song in the music group, it still sounded like everything else and followed a tried-and-tested formula. I do understand why they have all that routine and ritual, but it got to a point where, for me, it became a major hindrance. In order to feel spiritually refreshed, I couldn’t simply close my eyes, place my hands palm-up in my lap and whisper “come, Holy Spirit”. I’ve never been able to let my heart rule my head, so I needed to explore and understand my beliefs in order to feel that spiritual-refreshment, but I just found myself stuck in a never-ending loop that didn’t seem to be going anywhere.
To try and keep my foot in, so as not to abandon it completely, I started attending a smaller home group earlier this year. It wasn’t the first time I’d joined a home group – the previous time I stayed for the first few sessions which were more social and interactive, but it later became syllabised and standardised in line with all the other groups: a committee-approved Bible Study from a worksheet. I wasn’t comfortable with this impersonal approach, even less so with the thought of taking it in turns to lead, so I made a silent exit. When I joined a different home group earlier this year, anticipating a different approach, I found the syllabus remained and kept in line with the recent sermon topic: worship and the Holy Spirit. I’d always struggled with the formulaic nature of worship, even more so with the Holy Spirit, and so began looking at them from different angles. Unfortunately, in the standardised home group setting, there were a lot of closed questions that had right and wrong answers - without sounding too paranoid, it appeared like home groups were there to ensure the congregation were all kept in line and not developing any independent rationales during the week. Once again, after a few sessions, I made a silent exit.
With hot-topic issues like women bishops, gay marriage and young-earth creationism making the news, I sought to find answers for myself.More recently, with hot-topic issues like women bishops, gay marriage and young-earth creationism making the news, I sought to find answers for myself. I’m sure many are aware that not all Christians believe Darwinism is incompatible with the Bible – I didn’t believe so either. I began to look at the Bible in the context of its original audiences and how, in the New Testament, Jesus used parables (stories) to explain the incomprehensible. If, for example, the creation as written in Genesis was just a story written to provide a bare-essential answer to a question we couldn’t comprehend even today, then what if the Bible is all just wisdom in parable-form that, over the centuries, has been misinterpreted as historical fact?
That’s when it clicked. If I wanted to make sense of the Bible, I had to really hack through the layers of history, symbolism and parable in order to find the underlying message; just like the early Christians had to. When I did so, some of the most confusing and contradictory concepts made more sense to me; but at the same time, raised some challenging questions – particularly regarding the anthropomorphising of God. Is God a personal and human-like entity with a personality, or is “God” abstract - a name we give to unattainable perfection? To be a follower of Jesus, is it imperative to believe that Jesus Christ is God incarnate… or is it better to live by his example?
Do I still consider myself a Christian? That depends on your interpretation. I’m not a Christian in the traditional praising/worshipping context, I am in the sense that I try to live my life by what Christ symbolises – love, compassion, forgiveness, peace, knowledge, truth etc. A bit of a hippie, really.
Thanks for reading – if I took this to anyone within my church, I’d have probably been branded a heretic or something – I don’t think they’d go as far as burning me at the stake.
Filed Under: Testimonials