Done

eye-magnifying-glass.jpgJoshua 24:14 “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”


Colossians 3:1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory….15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I don’t believe in God anymore.

Well, not THAT God. Possibly your God. Possibly the God I’ve been toting around for some time.

Which one do you mean?

That one. Look closer. And quick, because I’m throwing it out.

Huh?

I don’t believe in the God who takes sides in denominational Christianity. I believe in the God who became truth in Jesus, and was so sloppy about it that I don’t have to belong to any denomination to know and understand that WORD.

I don’t believe in the God who is so identified with a denomination that someone can say “We speak for God,” and no one laughs.

I don’t believe in the God who holds me responsible for knowing that it was wrong to not go to the ______________ church instead of the ______________ church where he led me throughout my life. I reject the God who treats us all like shoppers in some reality show, held accountable for finding the prize in the “true” store. I reject the God who is leading me on a never-ending denominational purification and pilgrimage, as if he is so stingy with his availability that we must find him at the end of some life-long treasure hunt.

I don’t believe in the God who franchises himself to denominations as official spokesman, mascot or endorser. I don’t believe in the God whose glory exists in the shadow of the glory of men and their creations. I don’t believe in the God whose Kingdom has been reduced to what churches say and do. I don’t believe in a God who is the hype deity behind the hype men; the cartoon mascot behind the building program or the competition for the biggest church.

I don’t believe in the God who hides his gifts and goodness behind denominational labels. I don’t believe in a God who bribes me with goodies available only at the denominational “trade your ticket for a prize” counter. I don’t believe in the God of stingy transactions. I don’t believe in the God who plays games with us to get to submit to various denominational priorities.

I believe in a God who knows that none of us human beings will ever get it all right, and he’s fine to work with that.

I don’t believe in the God who is most pleased with us when we give the right answer to the question “Which denomination is the true church?” or “How is my church more right than other churches?” I believe in a God who’s hidden me in Jesus Christ. Hidden me in him.

I don’t believe in the God who makes scripture unclear and obscure except to those who don’t have the right beliefs about the church. I don’t believe in a God who hides the meaning of scripture behind labels. I don’t believe in a God who avoids the plain meaning of scripture for layers of special meanings that no ordinary person can possibly know. I don’t believe in a God who hides the meaning of scripture behind acceptance of authorities in addition to scripture.

I don’t believe in the God who resorts to fine print, mental gymnastics, deception and bait ‘n switch.

I don’t believe in the God who gives genuine experiences of himself and then says those experiences lead us to the place where he can’t be found.

I don’t believe in the God who builds up the work of his Kingdom behind “false” churches. I don’t believe in the God who equates his Kingdom with any church or denomination. I don’t believe in the God whose message is “Repent and believe the Good News. The Church is at hand.”

I don’t believe in the God who is more defined by the doctrines, confessions and dogmas of the church than by the person of Jesus Christ. I don’t believe in a God who has ordained that Jesus cannot be truly known in the Gospel alone. I believe the church is defined by its connection to and representation of Jesus Christ, and not vice versa.

I don’t believe in a God who must be defended in ways that are never hinted at in scripture. I don’t believe in binding the conscience of any Christian with dogmas that can only be known by trusting in persons other than Christ.

I don’t believe in a God who inspires and approves of division that is unnecessary. I don’t believe in a God who wants me to do anything less than call the exclusion of Christians by one another as anything less than the sin that it is.

I don’t believe in a God whose definition of Christ-centered is plainly not.

I don’t believe in the God who only meets us within confines and boundaries created by human beings. I don’t believe in the God who is only available via humanly created means. I don’t believe in the locally available Christ, handed out through various franchise operations.

I don’t believe in a God for whom Jesus was a key component in a complex salvation plan. I believe in the God who works all things around the truth that Jesus is salvation. I don’t believe in a God for whom labels, status, membership or attendance replace faith as the way salvation is received.

I don’t believe in a God who takes away in theology and church teaching what he graciously, simply, lavishly gives in Jesus.

I don’t believe in a God who approves of teachers who can explain the words of Jesus into their exact opposites. I don’t believe in the God who rests his case on a selected list of verses plus the crew especially trained to explain them.

I don’t believe in God anymore. Not that one at least. Perhaps you’d like to join me in my unbelief. Or pray that I become a believer.

36 thoughts on “Done

  1. My wife and I recently took a trip to a small, very isolated town in Northern Manitoba. By the end of February, we’ll be living there, and I’ll be the full-time associate pastor of youth at the First Baptist Church. Whats different in this town than anything I’ve experienced here in the Bible Belt is that I’ll be living in an apartment above the Mennonite Brethren church. My pastor is close friends with the Mennonite pastor… and the Pentecostal pastor… when the Presbyterian church had a pastor, they were close friends, too. They have a close working relationship with the Salvation Army church. All of the previously mentioned theologically conservative churches work, as much as possible with the theologically liberal churches. In the midst of all of this, they don’t hide or pretend not to have any doctrinal disagreements, in fact, some times the pastors argue about stuff. But they still work together to further the kingdom and to honor Christ.

    Now this all may not sound very impressive to some, but being in a town where the 62 baptist churches don’t work together, but actually compete, this is very encouraging to me. Being in a place where the gospel of Christ creates such a strong bond between different denominations is encouraging. This is the work of the God that I serve.

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  2. That is the god I was raised to believe in. It has a been an amazing ride discovering Jesus through all of that noise.

    This post was such a blessing for me to read with everything I have been through the last couple years.

    I have been describing this post to friends as poetic, a beautiful work of art, a masterpiece. 🙂

    Thanks! And keep up the great blogging Michael!

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  3. To the first commenter, I’m absolutely stunned that you would say that, and begin the thread of comments that way. I wasn’t offended, I was saying “thank you, thank you” to myself the whole time I read it. I agree with virtually every word, and what little I don’t agree with didn’t offend me at all.

    Michael, it’s because of posts like this one that I’ve become an avid reader of your blog.

    I went through a very difficult stage in my own Christian life when I came out of a “one true church” place. It was a very difficult ordeal, and my main reason for leaving was that I couldn’t follow the Lord in such a place anymore. They equated Christ with His church to the point where they were Christ, and to submit to them was to submit to Christ. It was a very unhealthy situation, although I still love my brothers and sisters there.

    All I can say, is that I hear where you’re coming from, and be consoled that you’re not alone.

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  4. Greg,

    what kind of guy would live off another’s buck and then refuse to honor that guy’s Son?

    Could go further.

    I don’t believe in a God who conforms to my wishes of who He is or is to be.

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  5. Michael,

    If you’re not too sick of my opinion already I’ll add a bit more. The part of your post I think I understood relates to a really common problem that Divine perfection in not evident in any human church. I can’t argue with that because it’s simply true. While I fully believe that the “gates of hell will not prevail” against the Church that doesn’t mean there is not a continuous battle raging. As Catholics we submit in obedience to the Church, not because we believe or understand all specifics outside the creed (I did not when I first joined and I still don’t understand it all). We submit because our faith in Christ is also our faith in Church as guide to Him. Further it is an act of humility, and a recognition of our limits. Submission to the worldly church, especially when it ruffles your feathers, is training for greater submission to His will. Your intellect, prayer, the Bible and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit guide you to the right vocation within the Church and the right disposition to it.

    Since you reject the authority of the Church (no doubt the scandals of the Church didn’t help here) you are left with the Bible. Of all the Protestant teachings the adherence to the Bible makes the most sense to me. Catholics teach that the Pope and the Bible are two pillars of the Church, both are held to be established and maintained through the Holy Spirit. Once the Pope is rejected, the Bible becomes the only common currency between Christians. Bible inerrancy may be difficult to swallow and to define but it also makes sense. Obedience and submission to the Word as a guide prepares us to submit to His Holy Will. The Bible is accepted as an article of Faith (of course that doesn’t justify knocking your brothers brains out with it – but you’ve said that part better than I can).

    The vast majority of Christians will never be graced with personal consolations and clear guidance that the great Saints had. We have is what they left for us, the Church and the Bible and most crucially the Spirit. When you remove any part of their legacy you become unstable, and drift. This is Satan’s plan: to divide the Body of Christ so it cannot oppose him in this world. Time energy and angst spent fretting over that other church over there hobbles our mission to convert an increasingly hostile world. Ironically you use this very argument to beat up that other church over there. Because you do so with much more humor, good will and grace than most it’s easy to imagine it’s helpful. I remain skeptical.

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  6. I DO believe in the organized Church. Jesus ordained officers, elders, deacons. Jesus gave us pastor teachers and evangelists. There is such a thing as church discipline. So, we must have organized churches. Therefore we SHALL have denominations. The key is: let’s go ahead and have the best denominations we can, but at the same time let’s be humble enough to admit each of us might be mistaken about many things.

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  7. iMonk saith:

    [QUOTE]
    I don’t believe in the God who gives genuine experiences of himself and then says those experiences lead us to the place where he can’t be found.
    [/QUOTE]

    No idea what that means, Michael. Especially in light of your high talk about Jesus in this little volley.

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  8. I suppose you could even go further.

    What kind of God makes reconciliation with him dependent on one guy who lived in Palestine a while back?

    What kind of God demands that you know about this guy before you can know Him, really and truly?

    What kind of God makes your salvation dependent on whether or not this guy’s followers have happened to reach the village where you live to tell you about him?

    I don’t know. This could go on and on.

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  9. What if, instead of the One God whose denomination I serve, I serve many Gods, all named Jesus. (The Jesus who spoke to the Rich Young Ruler, the Jesus who spoke to the Prostitute, the Jesus who died for my sins, the Jesus who said “narrow is the way,” the Jesus who said that many who think they know God don’t, &c.)

    It’s this temptation that keeps me coming back to denominations, who at least offer a little bit of stability and fellowship–the fellowship that comes from, as a group, believing certain things about how to interpret the Bible.

    Rejecting their theology as a false god does seem a bit extreme…and ultimately dangerous to a stable view of Christ.

    (I’m not saying you believe any of these things–you obviously don’t. But I am saying that two people can say “I believe in Jesus Christ” and mean radically different things. I believe that it is great to speak my ideas about what Christ is forcefully and emphatically, as long as I remember to do so in the spirit of love. I believe that such would be the case even were I a strict Calvinist or Catholic, and therefore the truth sounded cold to many ears.)

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  10. Yes! God is bigger and greater than our theologies. Your post reminds me of some fasting I did at Lent in 1990, upon watching “Jesus of Nazareth” I decided to fast from theology. I read the Gospels over and over (for a period of many years) and decided to build my faith and thinking on Jesus actual life. After all He is my God, He is the ultimate Revelation of the Father, and in studying Him I felt safe. I love the Nicene Creed and Scripture but I had to get my priorities right, I believe in a Person and not a statement or teaching. I sought an intimate connection with Jesus.

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  11. “There is never a war between two sects, but only between two universal Catholic Churches.” G.K. Chesterton

    This is yet another area where to be whole we have to go to both extremes. Being willing at times to fight to the death over what others regard as minutiae, and also accepting as Christians people who are definitely in the wrong camp because they confess Christ. I think people temperamentally lean either to easily fighting or to being peaceful even when a lot is at stake. The Gospels push everyone out of their comfort zone at times.

    I like how Luther got so angry at his colleague Karlstadt that he wrote a tract against him, poking fun at his showy humble life, but when Karlstadt had to flee pursuers, he found lodging in the Luther house—despite the fact it was Luther’s honeymoon. (Luther is not exemplary in all ways, but this story is exemplary of how it should be.)

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  12. I’m not offended. I agree with some of it, disagree with other statements and I’m unclear on what more than couple of the statements refer to. I read it as a mixture of accurate criticism and obstinate refusal to submit to authority. I understand your reasoning – your faith (as I see it) is in Christ disembodied from any specific Church. You’re a wanderer in the desert, to use a Biblical analogy.

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  13. I’ve come to believe that many Christians today worship theology and dogma rather than the living God. They wish to put Him in a box. Easier to control.

    I join in your unbelief.

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  14. Dave,

    Perhaps the disconnect is that you seem to imply doctrine=Bible and vice versa./

    I don’t know that that’s the case. It seesm more like Michael is saying that a simple reading of the gospels should be enough to apprehend Jesus and the spirit of his teachings.

    However, over thousands of years, we have layered many nuances, qualifications and stringent definitions over the foundation of our faith. The structure is still there, but the paint and decor covering it is not the actual thing itself….to speak metaphorically.

    at least I think that’s what he means…I’ll leave it to him to correct me if I’m wrong.

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  15. There is the church of those sitting in the pews on Sunday,…

    and then there is Jesus’Church. And only He knows who belongs to the latter. The wheat and the tares grow together.

    It is truly an awesome thing to ponder that our gracious Lord would pluck people out of many churches, even those with (extremely) fuzzy theolgy. And that he might not recognize some from churches with really clear, Christ centered theologies.

    Given a choice, I’ll take Christ centered every time, even though I realize that the place is going to be filled with self-centered idolators (myself, topping the list)

    One of the most chilling lines in scripture is this one, “Lord, Lord, we have done such and such in your name…and He said depart from me, I never knew you.”

    It was always a faithful remnant, and I believe it will ever be so.

    But, I pray that not one goes to Hell, because that is where I deserve to go.

    Thanks for the chance to chime in, Michael!

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  16. Well, I was quite refreshed by the post! You are sounding rather Quakerly these days. Conservative, Christ-centric Quaker, that is.

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  17. Michael,

    I hope that this doesn’t offend you, but you sound a lot like Madeleine L’Engle. I mean that out of respect for both of you, because she was very valuable in my spiritual walk. (I’ve also personally heard her called a heretic.)

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  18. “I don’t believe in the God who is more defined by the doctrines, confessions and dogmas of the church than by the person of Jesus Christ. I don’t believe in a God who has ordained that Jesus cannot be truly known in the Gospel alone. I believe the church is defined by its connection to and representation of Jesus Christ, and not vice versa.”

    Not to be a jerk, but I do have a couple questions.

    How do we know Jesus apart from the dcotrines etc? I am a firm believer in experiencing God, but how do we know that those experiences are from God, our own minds or yes, even Satan? Isn’t it the Bible? Anything we claim to “know” about Jesus has to be run through the filter of scripture doesn’t it? If we believe it’s God but it goes against what we call cannon, who’s in error?

    Don’t get me wrong, I get sick of the guys who have gray areas that they have turned into rigid “Us Four and No More” doctrines and the guys that may have a point but have made it the sole-determining factor of salvation.

    Just kind of curious where we draw the line.

    DD

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  19. I guess I have always thought of my denomination as Church, but not THE CHURCH. My denomination has always taught me that THE CHURCH is “the Sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd.” That voice being the Gospel regardless of what pulpit it thunders from.
    Of course as I have grown older, and understood what some other churches teach, I have understood why my church has maintained distance from these churches. But we have always believed there still are Christians even in some of the most heterodox churches. I even heard a guy who came to believe in Jesus Christ, and yet remained in the LDS for something like 8 years as a born again, before realizing that he had to make a fresh break. Though I could hardly ever call LDS doctrine Christian, I have no reason to believe that he is lying to me.
    I guess when you believe that what makes one Christian is not what you do for Christ, but what Christ has done for you, you realize misguided as people may be doctrinally, Christ did it for them as much as he did it for you, and they too are saved. I still have my problems with false doctrine though, mostly because it seems to drive people into a frenzy of doubt and confusion. I think it is for this reason Martin Luther, in his explanation to “lead us not into temptation,” equates false belief (belief in false doctrine) with despair, and then equates both of these with “other great shame and vice.” False doctrine is the tool with which the devil would torture your soul. The gospel is truth and you give you the peace that surpasses all understanding, the peace of knowing that you are Christ’s for Christ died for you.

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  20. I don’t believe in the God you describe either.

    I was very pleased with the way my pastor put it Sunday. We’re having a membership drive, of sorts, and as he announced it, he held up our denomination’s “16 Fundamental Truths” and said, “Here’s what we believe. You don’t have to hold to it; you just have to know where we’re coming from.”

    Which is exactly the right attitude. You’re in the Church regardless of whether you accept the denomination’s creed. The creed is only there to let you know where that denomination stands, but it shouldn’t reject believers because of it. God help us when we do.

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  21. Timothy,

    I’m offended. I work for a denomination that says it had the most biblical way of “running” church because it follows immersion baptism and a congregational government model. We’ll just skip over all the unbiblical “modifications” that unsaid denomination makes to the church model 😉

    Now @ Michael,
    I’m also disturbed because it seems you erode the basis for any comparison of biblical faithfulness between any denomination. I realize no denom has a cornerhold on truth. No school of thought, etc. But to say a Jesus-only Pentecostal church (modalist)is just as much on “God’s side” as Mars Hill is madness.
    Do the believers in both churches have the same access to Christ? yes
    Do they have equal access to the Spirit to make them effective and/or faithful? yes
    But are they both on the same “footing”?

    Here’s where I hear you say yes in this post, but I don’t think from your other stuff you mean it.

    Christ matters…in concept…but in actuality there is a diminishment of the Godhead and Christ in one church that will inevitably show up in their practice and in their worship. It’s not that one group can boast over another, for “what do you have that you did not receive, and if you received it then why do you boast?”

    God does not take sides as you say…amen…but you must admit that we take sides when it comes to biblical and non-biblical issues, and that we reap what we sow.

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  22. And countless others have stopped believing in a God who stands by why the innocent suffer.

    I think they have a stronger case than you do.

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  23. “….your tone of writing does sound a little aggressive.”

    Strong personal opinion generally always aimed at myself is “aggressive?”

    Have you read the blogs that specialize in personal invective and authoritative pronouncements in regard to the salvation of others?

    I write “hard,” but the God I worship spoke a “hard Word” in history.

    peace

    MS

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  24. @jmanning: I’m not offended. Am I a butt-kisser now? :-p
    Few reasons why I am not offended:
    1) I don’t understand Michael’s arguments to their full extent and implications of them. But then, I think my inability to comprehend is covered by Michael’s own arguments. ie. it’s ok to admit that I don’t fully understand his point of view.
    2) I strongly agree with Michael on at least some of the points.
    3) The fact that Michael is Christ’s matters to me more than what He says, or how he says things at times. And I know that ultimately, it is the only thing that matters to God.
    4) Merely expressing one’s opinion shouldn’t cause me to take offence in most cases. If it did, often it’s a sign that there’s something going on inside me as well.

    I do want to say though, Michael, sometimes, your tone of writing does sound a little aggressive. But then, maybe people are giving you hard time way too much.

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  25. In the early 90s I spent some time in South Korea on an evangelistic project. We happened to be there when a large group of church people, who beleived that Korea somehow occupied the role of New Jerusalem, all gathered to welcome the Second Coming of Christ, which they had assertively predicted on a particular night. There, with national news cameras rolling, they emerged from their churches (wearing white, of course) with a dazed and confused look that said, “I’m a fool. Just not so much a fool for Jesus.”

    I could only look on then. Now, these 15 years later, I know how they felt. All this time, to quote Roger Breland, I thought God was a Baptist from Mobile.

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  26. I felt frustration with the God you describe yesterday, when I had to explain to a precious elderly fellow who loves the Lord and wants to join our Baptist church that he would have to be immersed. He had to work up the courage to talk about membership, and was taken by surprise to find that a lifetime of following Jesus isn’t good enough to qualify.

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  27. I guess my question is, then…can no one ever be wrong about what one says about this God?

    Sounds nifty, but it doesn’t help me when I’m trying to figure out if the Reformed or, say, the Orthodox are right about how I live with this God forever.

    Can’t escape the questions.

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  28. There. You’ve offended everyone with that one. If someone isn’t offended, I propose they are a butt-kisser.

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