Sorry that this post is so lengthy. There is just so much I feel the need to say on this issue.
Over the last few years, God has been moving me in a way that I never thought possible. For years, I felt bogged down by the idea of church: the traditions, the structure, the tithing, the “quiet time”, the dress code, the 15-times-a-week meetings….
It was just all too much.
And the thing was, I felt guilty for feeling this way. Until now.
You see, I think I knew, the entire time, that something was wrong. Something was missing. Not necessarily with me–not saying I’m perfect by any stretch of the imagination–as I was led to believe for so many years, but with the system.
Before I go any further, let me just say that if you are not open to new ideas and discussion, if you are content with where you are, if you don’t wish to question the way you’ve always done things….you may want to stop reading. These are my views–views I feel were given to me from God alone. So if you only wish to argue, please move on.
You will not change my mind on what I have to say.
For some, this may seem radical. Good. I believe as Christians, we are called to be radical.
Some may see these views as cult-like. A couple of definitions of the word cult are: A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange; a religion considered to be extremist, with its followers living in an unconventional manner. (I realize that there are other more negative definitions associated with the word as well, but for the sake of argument, I will stick with these 2.)
Since the Bible warns us that we will be persecuted, mocked, and ridiculed for what we believe–and since we know that the Christian way is not and will never be a popular one in the world–I don’t know why what I have to say wouldn’t fall under that category, at least in some ways.
Also, I’m not pushing my beliefs on anyone else. This is how I believe, and while I will welcome your thoughts and discussion, I do not expect every person who reads this to agree with me.
As Aristotle said:
It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.
So, whether we agree or disagree, let’s be educated adults, freely discussing without anger, contempt, or bullying.
Now, where to begin?
I feel as if I will burst from all the things I wish to say. There’s so much running through my mind right now, that the idea of beginning to organize these thoughts is almost overwhelming. (And organizing is my strong suit.)
I suppose I will start with a very basic principle, and a constant theme throughout my blog:
Have less stuff.
Pretty simple, right? Not so easy to put into practice in your life, especially in America, a country that runs on consumerism.
But, guess what. That’s exactly what we, as Christians, are called to do in scripture:
Matthew 6:19-21, Luke 12:15, 1 Timothy 6:10, 1 John 3:17, Matthew 6:24, 1 John 2:16, 2 Corinthians 9:7
(Just to name a few examples.)
We know that we can’t find lasting joy in our possessions. We also won’t find it in ridding ourselves of them. Lasting joy comes from Christ and Christ alone. You have to be simplifying your life for the right reason, because, as a child of God, you want to do what He has called you to do.
Decluttering your life goes beyond just your visual world. It has to do with your mind, as well.
We are also called, in scripture, to give up the things, mentally, that weigh us down:
Philippians 4:6-7, Matthew 6:25-34, John 14:27, Proverbs 12:25, Philippians 4:8
(There are many others.)
So, I believe that is where we should start.
It will take a brutally honest inward look at our lives and the things/people/commitments we choose to fill them with, asking if these things matter to us, fulfill us, challenge us, grow us, change us for the better….
Getting to where you want to be can take years. And just when you think you’re there, you’ll find something else that needs you attention. I’ve been working on living with less for about 3 years now, and I still have so much further to go. It may be something I never achieve, but I will not stop trying.
Now–to take this principle even further–let’s look at what Christ says in Luke 18:24:
When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (NIV)
Pretty obvious challenge, there.
Then there’s Matthew 16:24, which states:
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If any of you wants to be My follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow Me.” (NLT)
I think a lot of time in the church today, when this subject is brought up, preachers tend to focus on the giving up of sins or selfish desires more than the actual things in our lives. (Not a lot of us want to give up our luxuries.)
Putting these 2 verses together, however, I think it means much more than that. I think it’s a direct call from Christ to live in a more simple, less frivolous way.
Think about everything that entails!
The over-priced brand names, the new/expensive/gas-sucking vehicles, the outrageously large homes, the weekly mani/pedi, the $100+ trip to the hair salon, all the make-up, the biggest flat screen television, the latest technology, the thousands of dollars spent on spoiling our kids at Christmas time, the countless gifts from baby/bridal/engagement/wedding showers, the $30,000 average wedding cost in America, the packed-full-of-clothes-you-never-wear closet….
Need I go on?
How are ANY of these things relevant to following Christ and furthering His Kingdom?!
There’s a great book out there I can’t wait to read entitled, Not A Fan, which presents a very sad truth: Most of us are not followers of Christ, at all. We’re merely fans of Christ. Being a fan of someone and following them are 2 totally different things, and Jesus clearly says that to follow Him, we must “sell everything we have” and “turn from our selfish ways”.
Does that mean we are to be homeless or live our lives with absolutely nothing?
Maybe for some, but I think Lindsay puts it best on her Passionate Homemaking blog.
She feels we’re not necessarily called to just give up our possessions, but to find a God-centered balance between giving and sharing. Here’s a quote from her blog that really spoke to me and is helping me grow on my journey:
God centered simplifying is letting go of anything that is ruling in my heart. What am I afraid might be damaged? That might be a clue to an idol in my heart. Pray that God would change your heart and give you the grace to offer up your stuff for His use and purposes. If it is not beneficial for the use of others, then it can be discarded. Dedicate your earthly goods to His Kingdom use and see Him work. A God centered simplifying lifestyle is letting go of the stuff that’s just cluttering my life (that hasn’t practically served our family or others in the last 6 months) but preserving the stuff that is useful in the ministry to others.
So, you see, giving it all up and living with less is important, but it can also be possible for us to use what we have to be a ministry towards others. It just depends on what you feel God is leading you to do in your life. It’s about balance.
Of course, in our society, we are so accustomed to doing things completely the opposite of this, that it would be almost impossible for someone to let go of all their possessions instantly. I think the Christian walk is not about that, but about learning to give it all up, or being OK with losing it all. It’s a daily struggle to forego our selfish desires for the desires of Christ. This is why the heading on my blog states, Learning to Want Less. I’m learning, and nowhere near there yet.
There are ways to challenge yourself as an individual to give up certain things you know you can live without, but may feel have become idols in your life.
On Kristy Powell’s blog, One Dress Protest, she discusses how she fasts from fashion by wearing only 1 dress for an entire year. She says:
Fasting is not just abstaining from something for a predetermined amount of time. It’s a spiritual discipline utilized to remove false idols so as to reveal aspects of God as well as myself that are otherwise hidden by previous practices and ways of being….When I cut out all the clothing and fashion consumption….I found myself with lots of empty space and a void to fill….Creating that space allowed me to invite God further into my life. Where I was empty, God imbued me with a feeling of embrace. I was different without all my stuff, and I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about that in the beginning….But these days I experience God and God’s love more fully, more in-depth. I am more open to God and God’s creative possibilities in my life.
I really encourage you to read her blog. She and her husband are such fun and fascinating people with great ideas. They love God, food, wine, chocolate, music, and dancing in their living room. Basically, I wish we were friends.
Anyway, I admire this challenge she gave herself, and hope to find a few of my own in the near future. After reading the above portion of her blog, it brought up another point in my mind.
With all the excess stuff in our lives, we leave little room for God to move us and change us–which will bring me into the final portion of this entry. This is the part a lot of you may not like so much.
But, here goes….
I’ve been reading and re-reading portions of a book entitled Pagan Christianity, written by Frank Viola and George Barna under Tyndale, a publisher of Christian books. This book has changed me to the core of my being, and I believe God put it in my life for a reason. What’s more, I’ve been finding that the message parallels the things God has been revealing to me about having less in my life. (Funny how God speaks to us in multiple ways that all line up, eh?)
So, I’ve come to the following conclusion:
Contemporary Christianity is far too cluttered.
There are too many aspects of institutional churches that are extraneous, unnecessary, frivolous, and conflicting with scripture.
The following quote is from the preface of PC. As soon as I read this, I knew there would be no turning back for me:
The church in the first century was an organic entity. It was a living, breathing organism that expressed itself far differently from the institutional church today. And that expression revealed Jesus Christ on this planet through His every-member functioning body. In this book, we intend to show how that organism was devoid of so many things that we embrace today. The normative practices of the first-century church were the natural and spontaneous expression of the divine life that indwelt the early Christians. And those practices were solidly grounded in the timeless principles and teachings of the New Testament. By contrast, a great number of the practices in many contemporary churches are in conflict with those biblical principles and teachings. When we dig deeper, we are compelled to ask: Where did the practices of the contemporary church come from? The answer is disturbing: Most of them were borrowed from pagan culture. Such a statement short-circuits the minds of many Christians when they hear it. But it is unmovable, historical fact, as this book will demonstrate….Organic churches are characterized by Spirit-led, open-participatory meetings and non-hierarchical leadership. This is in stark contrast to a clergy-led, institution-driven church. My experience in the United States and overseas is that when a group of Christians begin to follow the life of the Lord who indwells them together, the same outstanding features that marked the New Testament church begin to emerge naturally. This is because the church really is an organism. As such, it has DNA that will always produce these features if it is allowed to grow naturally….if the church is following the life of God who indwells it, it will never produce those non-scriptural practices this book addresses. Such practices are foreign elements that God’s people picked up from their pagan neighbors as far back as the fourth century. They were embraced, baptized, and called “Christian”. And that is why the church is in the state it is in today, hampered by endless divisions, power struggles, passivity, and lack of transformation among God’s people. In short, this book is dedicated to exposing the traditions that have been tacked onto God’s will for His church. Our reason for writing it is simple: We are seeking to remove a great deal of debris in order to make room for the Lord Jesus Christ to be the fully functioning head of His church.
I know that’s a mouthful. But intriguing, is it not?
Don’t worry. I won’t give you every detail. I hope to grab your attention with a few quotes, causing you to read the book yourself.
The book addresses issues such as the church building, the order of worship, the sermon, the pastor, music ministers, tithing (and how it’s biblical but not Christian), clergy salaries, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Christian education. In short, it basically demonstrates, through very specific historical detail and scripture references, that we’re doing it all wrong!
One of the main aspects that stuck out to me, in terms of having less, was that of the actual church building.
As I previously mentioned, we can pretty much all agree that, as Christians, we are called to not be weighted down by material possessions–yet look at our churches! Why are we putting so much time and money into our buildings instead of cheerfully giving our time and funds in ways that will more directly help others?
You may think, Well, where are we supposed to have church? The answer: Wherever we are!
Jesus preached everywhere He went, and He wants us to do the same. I feel, that as followers of Christ, we need to spend less time in the church and more time out in the world as He demonstrated in scripture.
As far as minimalism is concerned, let’s see what PC has to say about the monetary cost of it all:
Most contemporary Christians mistakenly view the church building as a necessary part of worship. Therefore, they never question the need to financially support a building and its maintenance. The church edifice demands a vast infusion of money. In the United States alone, real estate owned by institutional churches today is worth over $230 billion. Church building debt, service, and maintenance consumes about 18 percent of the $50 to $60 billion tithed to churches annually….All the traditional reasons put forth for “needing” a church building collapse under careful scrutiny. We so easily forget that the early Christians turned the world upside down without them….It is high time we Christians wake up to the fact that we are being neither biblical nor spiritual by supporting church buildings. And we are doing great damage to the message of the New Testament by calling man-made buildings “churches”. If every Christian on the planet would never call a building a church again, this alone would create a revolution in our faith.
Most people think that this is only an idea–one that can never fully be realized in today’s society. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There are organic churches out there if you look. You could even start your own organic church. The earlier Christians would congregate in homes to worship and teach one another, without the guidance of one pastor or minister. This is totally doable today!
PC brings up another valid point along these lines. Did you know that there is nothing in the Bible that supports the practice of having a single pastor? That’s not the way God designed his church to function. The book states:
We believe the present-day pastoral role hinders the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose. Why? Because that purpose is centered on making Christ’s headship visibly manifested in the church through the free, open, mutually participatory, every-member functioning of the body. As long as the pastoral office is present in a particular church, that church will have a slim chance of witnessing such a glorious thing.
When there is one person–the pastor or priest–who runs the show, so to speak, it just puts the other members of the body at risk for being complacent, stagnant, and passive. We’re all called to be ministers for Christ, so we should all be doing so equally within His church!
These statements are not made as an attack on the pastor. In fact, the church members aren’t the only ones negatively affected by this situation. According to PC, the pastor’s spiritual growth can also be hindered. Think of all the pressure a pastor is under. He must feel the need to keep up appearances in the church, seeing as how every eye is on him at all times. And who can he confide in when he has serious struggles that are too embarrassing to share with someone who looks up to him? It was never God’s plan for one person to carry such a large burden alone.
Imagine if we were to all equally share the responsibility of ministry. A lot of these issues would simply not exist.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean to say this is the answer to all our problems–considering no man-made model is perfect–or that I have the perfect template in mind. However, I do feel that Christ specifically touches on this in Matthew 15:3 (NASB):
Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?
I see this as a warning of the behavior we are called to avoid as a church. So to me, I cannot sit back and do the same things I’ve always done now that I’ve gained this new knowledge. This is not to say that I’ll never attend another contemporary church service. That would be absurd. I will be at peace with it until God reveals where He wants me next. I am merely saying that I intend to search. I long to find that place where I feel God is leading me. It may take years, but I feel it’s what I am called to do. I believe, as PC states:
“There is a vast gulf between rebellion and taking a stand for what is true.”
There are so many other issues this wonderful book brings up that I wish I could touch on, but I don’t feel that this is the place for it. My blog is about my journey towards living a life with less–owning less, eating less, worrying less, fearing less–so that I can have more of what matters most–love, hope, faith, family, relationships, experiences….
Having less tradition and more truth is just one of those aspects I desire to change.
I hope I have not offended anyone by bringing up these points. I only wish to share the things God has been revealing to me lately. I hope that if He’s speaking to your heart on these issues, you will not ignore it. It may seem impossible to function in such a different way, but I can assure you, it is not.
I’m so thankful that I have a place in my tiny little corner of the internet where I can share the passion I have about my God, my faith, and my lifestyle.
Please comment, express your views, and feel free to discuss! I’d love to hear what God has shown you!