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But how do I return to church?

Posted by on May 18, 2012 in blog links, books, discipleship | 11 comments

But how do I return to church?

This post is part of a short series based on Jeremy Myer’s (from “Till He Comes“) book project “Finding Church.” Jeremy asked for contributions in the categories of Changing Church, Leaving Church, Reforming Church, and Returning to Church. As I worked through my own contribution, I realized that my story could fit into any of the categories. So, I’m writing a post based on each category.

This post describes my experience “returning to church.” This is the hardest category for me to write about, because my story fits into this category less than the others. This is how Jeremy describes the category of “Returning to Church”: “These are stories of people who returned to church after years of being away.”

Why is it difficult to fit my own journey into this category? Well, as I wrote in the other posts (“changing churches,” “leaving church,” and “reforming the church“), I have left the idea of church as organization, institution, or hierarchy – I’ve left any “church” other than church as God’s people gathered together. I am not returning to this kind of “church.”

Also, as I explained in the other posts, when I was saved by Jesus Christ, welcomed into God’s family, and indwelled by the Holy Spirit, I became part of the church that is the gathering of God’s people, the body of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit. I cannot leave this church, which means that I cannot return to this church either.

So, how is “returning” part of my journey at all? Well, there is one way…

While I am not returning to the organizations and institutions that are often referred to as “church,” I can return to the believers who remain part of those organizations. As I’ve written previously, these believers are my brothers and sisters in Christ just as much as those who are not part of the organizations and institutions. When I share my life with “one another,” that must include them, or I am the one being divisive.

Of course, there’s always the chance that those brothers and sisters in Christ will not want anything to do with me. They may not want to fellowship with me. They may decide to separate from me. There is nothing that I can do about that. Instead, it must be my desire to fellowship with them and live in peace with them. And, I must be ready and willing to “return” to them at any point they may be ready. Or, if I find that I have been the one separating from them, then I must be willing to humble myself, admit my own divisiveness, and “return” to them.

All who are in Christ are part of the family of God together. We are all part of the body of Christ. We are all indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Too many things historically, culturally, organizationally, etc. separate us from one another. It’s time to “return” to one another and, as Paul wrote, be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit.” (Ephesians 4:3 ESV)

Let’s return to our brothers and sisters in Christ… all of them.


11 Comments

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  1. 5-18-2012

    “Of course, there’s always the chance that those brothers and sisters in Christ will not want anything to do with me. They may not want to fellowship with me. They may decide to separate from me.”
    “It’s time to “return” to one another and, as Paul wrote, be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit.” (Ephesians 4:3 ESV)”
    Alan, I should offer a seemingly radical, though frightfully resonant, observation here: true believers will find it quite unacceptable to “not want anything to do” with each other. Where is life, when the hand wants nothing to do with the mouth, or the heart will take no association with the head?

  2. 5-18-2012

    Marshall,

    All of us disobey at times. Unfortunately, many have even been taught that divisiveness is good. I know that I’ve been divisive at times. I can trust God to help us both (all) to return to the unity we have in Christ.

    -Alan

  3. 5-18-2012

    Family may have difficulty with family from time to time. God forbid we should propose or dismiss our own brothers or sisters in the blood of Christ separating from us. We ought think more soberly regarding these thing. Such disintegration and factions do not exist in the One Body of Christ, as Paul has written to remind us.
    [I Corinthians 1 & 3]
    If this is difficult for us to acknowledge, how may we come to agree with John as from I John 2:18-20?

  4. 5-18-2012

    Alan. I believe I heard a cheer go up from the angels
    bleacher section when you posted this.
    Its a home run statement.
    Blessings
    Greg

  5. 5-18-2012

    Marshall,

    It’s possible. I also know that people have been taught a certain way for a long time, and it may take even more teaching, example, and patience for them to understand what kind of unity God is leading them into.

    Greg,

    Thank you. I appreciate it very much.

    -Alan

  6. 5-19-2012

    resonates with me. i too have left the organization/institution, but have a desire to connect with fellow believers whatever shape or form that takes. admittedly im still early on in the journey as i struggle to visit typical sunday meetings. its a challenge because i no longer see church in those limited terms and i have enough of hierarchy, meetings and institutionalism at work :)

  7. 5-19-2012

    Maintaining connection with believers from church settings we find unattractive is difficult. Especially since they do not understand (and may have been part of the problem).

    Still, in the last 24 hours I have been hit from two sides by the same idea of forgiveness and attempting reconciliation (even if it does not entail ‘returning to the fold’). Is this coming from God? I would prefer not to believe so, but it seems to be the ‘still small voice’ kind of message that needs attention.

  8. 5-19-2012

    believers tethered with a religious system frequently suffer displacement from the effectual faith they would most welcome. Recently I’ve come upon a small network of home churches where most attending live in dreadful fear of visitors & strangers & other things. By maintaining one foot in institutionalism, these continue to receive “every man for himself” and “every family to their own” teaching rather than such as Hebrews 13:5-6; they are being cycled in a religious philosophy of unbelief. The Light of Christ is also revealing a very weak “gospel” being spoken in sectarian pulpits and Sunday school classes: as much as a “fill in the blanks” salvation formula.
    Knowing these things, may God prepare our hearts to help others make a genuine return to Christ first & foremost. Returning home to Him is implicitly a return to His ekklesia/church.

  9. 5-21-2012

    Eli,

    I love what I read in your comment: the desire to consider others as more important than yourself. Thank you for the comment!

    Tom,

    That’s interesting. I hope you tell us more about what God does with this direction he’s giving you.

    Marshall,

    I love the way you said this: “Knowing these things, may God prepare our hearts to help others make a genuine return to Christ first & foremost. Returning home to Him is implicitly a return to His ekklesia/church.”

    -Alan

  10. 5-22-2012

    My experience, since returning to the desire for fellowship with believers after many years in a very legalistic group as a young Christian, through about 10 years of not attending anything resembling “church” and then reading Pagan Christianity and getting set free in soooo many ways from my previous concepts into renewed excitement and joy, not to mention liberality…
    Where I live there are many church communities; it is a relatively rural area. They have Senior Luncheons…every month. These are wonderful ways to fellowship with my neighbors, brothers and sisters in Christ who have been in community in their way for many years and cannot begin to see it differently without being scared. I make no attempt to convince them of anything…just eat with them, listen to their stories and enjoy some social time with them, which allows me to continue in what God has led me too and stay in welcome fellowship with these lovely people, who struggle together and take care of each other lovingly, however, with much that I do not subscribe too. So far, it has been several years now and although they are always inviting me to worship with them, I am content to just enjoy them comfortably. I attend a vital home meeting where I participate fully along with several other families and get filled and where the flow of life is plentiful.

  11. 5-24-2012

    Rita,

    Thanks for sharing that story with us! Some friends of ours have also found that a seniors gathering is a great way to begin building relationships.

    -Alan