Chapter Four: ORGANIZED CHURCH HERE I COME
We were told by well meaning believers at that time that we must attend a church denomination. I didn’t understand, and neither did anyone I associated with, that the “church” is actually the body of Christ consisting of true believers in Him, those who love Him and walk with Him. The church is actually all of those who have made Him Lord of their lives and that included me. Not a building. The building is just where believers meet. The church can actually gather anywhere and can be from two to three people or it can be a whole room full of believers. It can be in a building or out under a tree or at our own kitchen table that we meet.
But most folks thought the church was in a building, with a denomination of like persuasion, run by men. I know that not all structure within the church is wrong. Buildings that facilitate sharing God’s life together can be wonderfully positive in the lives of believers. Problems arise when structures become ruled by people and take on a life of their own with rules and regulations and men who declare they hear the voice of God for us and then provide a substitute of themselves for our dependence upon Jesus. When Jesus ceases to be the Person at our center our touch with His body will fade and become a ritual.
At the time of my conversion I had become a member of the Church. I was a member of the bride of Christ. And God used that time in my life to grow in the knowledge of His word. This is a fine way to grow if it is a healthy place of learning more about Jesus and you are encouraged and allowed to leave the building to go out into the market place to spread your light amongst the world. Going “to” church was just something everyone did and accepted as the norm. So, I joined a church denomination and became an active member. This is how I began to grow up in my faith.
The initial church where I cried a lot in didn’t believe my family and I were really Christians because my crying didn’t produce their desired outcome. They wouldn’t let us join their congregation because I wanted my Grandpa to baptize us in water. They said if we let Grandpa baptize us that we wouldn’t really be baptized in the eyes of God. That brought up some rebellion in me and I told them in so many words that I didn’t agree and we were out of there. We left and had Grandpa Dick baptize us in a swimming pool out in the country. We then joined another church that wasn’t so obvious in their legalism. They had fewer rules and regulations and they let me cut my hair if I wanted to and wear any color of lipstick with no judgment, as far as I knew.
The years that followed were ones of enthusiastic fervor for God. I loved going to church and lived my life to attend every service. My husband and I joined a small popular denominational church and became star attendees involved in everything we could find to do. Being there every time the doors opened became a priority in our lives. We both could sing so I orchestrated us practicing and singing beautiful duets together. We had the appearance of a devoted Christian couple who walked together in harmony and sang beautifully together. It was often requested that we sing in the church services at the special song times. To the observer we were the perfect married couple who gazed into each others eyes while we sang harmoniously, just like Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, those old time western singers. This practiced picture of perfection continued in the years to follow and throughout my children’s early years. I had become very good at creating the perfect picture. We were jokingly called the “Barbie and Ken family” within the church. We appeared to be very together and dressed impeccably and were always full of smiles and piety. I made sure that when we entered the church foyer, even if we all had been yelling at each other on the way there about where we would go to lunch afterwards, we were calm and had painted the pious smiles on our faces and had no wrinkles on our clothes. Our children became very accustomed to being cared for in the church nursery and later children’s church because Mom and Dad had put God first and must carry out their ministries to Him. Never mind the fact that all they really wanted was to go play together and have picnics with their Mom and Dad. We were called to sacrifice all that for God.
This practice of practically living within a church building grieves my heart today. No one in the church explained to me how important our time is with our children, and how short the time really is. I didn’t realize it until after they were gone. This kind of mentality is prevalent in most churches of today. It is so out of balance for those who fervently want to serve God. We fail to see that our children are our first ministry that God Himself called us to. They are His church too, and need fellowship and training as to how to love Him with all their minds, hearts, and souls. They need to integrate with adult believers and see themselves just as vital in the community even if they are little people. We are raising the next army of God. Time spent with them IS time spent with God. But so many of the clergy guilt us into “working in the ministry” and it must be in the building and under the pastor’s “covering”. We are told to put the kids in children’s church or the nursery where they won’t disturb adult church service with their noisiness and messiness. God forbid the parishioners should be disturbed by a cooing baby or crying child. Because isn’t the “church” made up of adults only? We might miss a word that Pastor is giving, or God forbid, the Pastor himself might be irritated at the baby’s cooing because he thinks his message isn’t being heard with seriousness.
What message have we sent to our offspring about their importance to the body? Shouldn’t they learn how to interact with the entire body of Christ in community settings too, without segregation? Does it not make them feel as if something is wrong with them that they can’t be accepted with the important adults? When we take time off from church to take our kids on a picnic, we are looked down upon for not being faithful to the church. I loved my children dearly and being a full time mom to them was the most precious time in my life. I believe there is no greater calling than raising our children for God. But when my husband came home from work, I would many times take off to church and missed a lot of family time with them. It brings tears to my eyes to this day at the time I lost because I believed it was more important to attend church than take quality time with my kids.
In my legalism I also made people feel guilty if they weren’t in attendance at church like I was, because they put their families first. I judged their absence as their lack of devotion to God. Anyone who truly loved God, I reasoned, would put Him first and always be in church. How ridiculous this thinking is. Why do we think that the only place to serve God is in the church building? If we live, and move, and have our life in Him isn’t everything we do centered around His plan for us? Shouldn’t we be about His business out in the marketplace where we can truly reach people who are hungry for more of God? But because being in the building is what I was taught and I was a good and obedient student, I perpetuated guilt and condemnation on others because I did not understand. I thought I had all the answers. I was slowly sinking into my box of religion.
Next Chapter, “Deeper Still” in two weeks!!