Giving up belief in a teaching you can’t believe any longer can give a sense of freedom and relief. No need to pretend any more.
And it can be exhilarating to leave a church that you feel has been unhelpful or even oppressive. A new world lies before you.
But freedom has its own dangers. Fortunately there are principles that can guide us as we negotiate this new life.
Leaving the shelter of the church
Leaving an unhelpful church can be exhilarating and give us a sense of freedom, but we also lose something.
Churches – services, Bible studies, activities – provide discipline and structure. They ensure we don’t just drift.
Services (generally) give us opportunity to think about the scriptures and our relationship with God. Often we will be reminded of things we need to do differently, probably things for which we need to ask God’s forgiveness.
Hanging out with other believers, after church, in home groups, or just in life, means our lives are mixed with the lives of other Christians. We may learn something new, or observe a model to follow (or not!). Sharing in the journey can be a great encouragement.
Even if we see no alternative to quitting, leaving the church can take all that away. We can be left much more to our own choices. There probably won’t be the same inputs from our Christian brothers and sisters.
It is easy to drift, just go with the flow.
Some of us may want to drift right away, walking away from Jesus as well as the church. But many others still love Jesus, still believe in his teachings – this can sometimes be why they left church.
So how do churchless Christians continue the discipline of walking with Jesus?
Bob Dylan has a word for every occasion
The lyrics of Dylan’s Absolutely Sweet Marie on the Blonde on Blonde album (1966), include this line:
“To live outside the law you must be honest”
I have no idea what Bob meant by this lyric, but I have found the saying helpful in thinking about faith reconstruction.
Living outside the “law” ….
The law, whether the Jewish Torah or modern day societal law, gives us a standard to live up to and some sanctions or punishments if we break the law. It tends to compel us to obey – think about how drivers slow down when they see a police car.
Now the church isn’t so controlling as that (well most of them, anyway!). But it has some of the same effects.
So it can be tempting, when we escape from that situation, to throw too much overboard. To think it doesn’t matter any more what we believe, or do.
But we leave the church and change our Christian beliefs not because there’s no truth, but because there’s a different truth, which we are still seeking out
So if we intend to keep walking with Jesus, we need to replace the structures and disciplines of the church with some of our own structures and disciplines.
…. we must be honest
- We can keep learning! We can read, listen to podcasts, find a group of like-minded Christian friends and keep discussing and sharing.
- The Holy Spirit is our friend! We can ask our friend for guidance. I have found this helpful in working out tricky doctrinal questions for which I didn’t feel I had the answers.
- Prayer is essential. We all know it, but we all still find it difficult. Without the discipline of the church, we need to find our own discipline and our own rhythms. We may sometimes wonder if God is listening and answering, but asking is better than giving up.
- We keep reading the BIble, but we read it through different eyes. Through the lens of Jesus, and a loving God, and with the help oif the Spirit.
- It can be tempting to believe what we like, or what seems good to us. But that needs to be tempered with awareness that God may not always think the same way we do. (You may have observed that already!) Again, discipline is important to ensure that we submit our thoughts and ideas to God and accept correction.
- We may have found the church, or one particular part of it, unhelpful, but there are still lots of good people out there. It can be helpful to stay open to what christians and churches are doing and saying.
- We don’t have to walk this journey alone. There are many like-minded people. If you can’t find any near you, look online. Find a spiritual misfits group, or a forum. We can even have a conversation on this blog!
To live outside the law we must be honest. And to thrive outside the institutional church, we need discipline …. and fellow travellers.
If that’s you, I pray you’ll find what you need for a refreshing journey!
And if that’s you, I’d love to read a comment about your journey so far.
Photo by Dominika Mazur, modified by unkleE.