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.
We were asked a frank question. I gave a frank response and related two of many reasons I no longer have an interest in satisfying membership requirements.
“You shouldn’t hold a grudge,” said the inquirer.
Sigh. I should have known better than to condense thirty years of experiences into two events. If I were holding a grudge, I wouldn’t attend church at all. It’s not a matter of bitterness and grudges. It’s a matter of dignity. One of my pastors had a saying: There is nothing to be learned from the second kick of a mule. Apparently, I’m really dense. I had to be kicked four times in a row before I learned what I should have learned the first time the 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’ve learned that there are more ways of serving God than activities within a church building. I don’t have anything against the additional requirements for joining a church. It works well for some. It simply did not work for me and over time satisfying those requirements became irrelevant.
The people who sit on church pews have been kind and loving. Receiving the same from those who stand behind pulpits proved rare. 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 compassion must be tempered by wisdom or you will find yourself in a never-ending abusive relationship. At some point, you have to have some respect for yourself and say, “Enough, I will no longer attempt to be part of something that loves me in word but hates me in deeds.”
Frankly, there is nothing that has shaken my faith worse than organized religion. If I had taken my eyes off of Jesus, I seriously doubt I would be a Christian today. The first time I walked away from the church a dramatic life-changing experience that I cannot explain in words and shall never forget brought me back. The second time I found myself on the outside looking in; I was driven out of the church along with two-thirds of the congregation by the pastor’s 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. As I studied the Gospel a light came on. Organized religion hated Jesus too. In fact, hatred has been in the church from the day Cain worshipped by Abel’s side and then murdered him in the field. Abel paid a high price for having God’s approval.
Every pastor who treated me hateful had first acknowledged that they recognized the call of God on my life and that my doctrine was sound. The price I paid for God’s approval was not as costly as Abel’s but still painful. Eventually, and I suppose inevitably, the Cains’ in ministry destroyed my desire to serve God in the church.
Accepting that corruption in the church is nothing new and should even be expected was a small consolation for the suffering I had endured. Nor did it compensate for the opportunities I lost. For my faith in God to be restored, I needed to know why God tolerates Cain at the expense of people he approves. I found my 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 the Cains’ who hate us because they know God approves of us. Their hatred teaches us, trains us, disciplines us to worship God instead of mortal men.
It no longer hurts that the church loved me in word but not in deeds. I understand that am a stranger and a foreigner here. Sometimes it’s lonely, but my eyes are on the good shepherd. I’m willing to wait and even die in faith believing God will have a place for me when his kingdom comes. I am a member of the church. The church Jesus is building where Cains’ will never tread.