My “ChurchExit”: Getting Closure, Burying the Past, Building A New Way Forward
Last week was one of those weeks where I had my first week of holidays and all I wanted to do is stay home with my wife and visit my kids and spend quality time of just being still and quiet, centered and focused, dealing with the issues of the heart, expressing gratitude for the gift of life, and the gift of change, where all of us are capable of making and creating change in our lives, change that matters, change that transforms us from the inside out.
If “Christianity” is about anything at all, it is about “transformation.” Historical theology, and a cursory study of the Christian Scriptures will reveal that the very heart of a Christian relationship with God is a life that is transformed by the love of God and the grace of God, which in turn reaches out to others to bless, heal, restore and express that same love and grace to others. This is where the “rubber meets the road” as they say.
Leaving the “Charismatic Movement” was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do
Back in May of this year (2016), I had to put “Charismatic Evangelicalism” to bed. After 3 decades of being a “Charismatic Christian,” and being an ordained minister, serving in traditional institutional churches, as well as the avant guard “house church movement” for 14 years, I pulled the plug.
I have never been able to handle the emotional roller coaster, the hype, the questionable spirituality, extremes ranging from obsessions with spiritual manifestations, demonization, healing and deliverance, to spiritual gifts, to angels, demons, spiritual warfare, and awful “end times” theology. All of it. I had to let it finally go. That meant I had to leave, literally leave, the Charismatic expression of contemporary Evangelical Christianity as it is practiced in North America. It was the hardest thing up to this point that I have ever had to do, for my spiritual and emotional wellbeing.
I had to be like Lot leaving Sodom, “leave and don’t look back.” Please note here, I am not being critical of the Charismatic Movement by making the reference to Sodom.
The angelic messengers were blunt and direct with Lot:
16-17 Lot was dragging his feet. The men grabbed Lot’s arm, and the arms of his wife and daughters—God was so merciful to them!—and dragged them to safety outside the city. When they had them outside, Lot was told, “Now run for your life! Don’t look back! Don’t stop anywhere on the plain—run for the hills or you’ll be swept away.” [Genesis 19: 16-17 The Message Translation]
I personally felt no less compelled to leave the Charismatic Movement in the same sense of emergency. I had to leave and felt strongly God calling me to go and leave and I need to run for my life. It was that serious for me. I am simply referencing how Lot was told to “not look back and to not stop.” I am referring here to my own habitual longing for what was, what used to be, what was hoped for, in that “Charismatic” expression of church, as well as all the “enticements that this represented” to me expression of Charismatic church life. It would only last a little while and then about 18 months would pass and I would spiritually and emotionally crash because of it all.
I tried to leave multiple times before, but like an addict craving the bottle, I always came back, addicted to this Charismatic expression of church, and each time it would wreak havoc in my life and crush me inside and cause way too much pain. As such, my desire for change and personal transformation was still strong, and what I needed was a form of spirituality and piety that would not cause this same vicious cycle of inward pain. It was so great, this deep desire for transformation without the hype, that I was finally able to break free from it and not beat myself up all over again because of it or feel guilty for leaving a form and expression of Christian spirituality and church life that no longer worked for me. I am finally free from the pit I was in with Charismatic Christianity. THIS is my journey, and does not reflect on anyone else, and nor does it judge those that remain and thrive within the “Charismatic Movement.”
Since the month of May, Lori-Anne and I had been attending a non-Charismatic church, as I knew the pastor quite well. I had done some pulpit fill in years ago for this congregation, and had visited a few times over the years and reconnected with old acquaintances and even attended some seminars and conferences. It seemed to be a good transition from the Charismatic expression of church. Then I had my first week of holidays for the year last week.
My week last week came to a crescendo of conviction and action. After years of struggle with the “institutional church” (IC), you know the “organized Christian religion,” the form and expression of Christianity that meets and gathers in “religious buildings,” or rent premises somewhere, and use commercial buildings or community centres or schools to hold their “structured, church religious services,” I finally put that baby to rest as well.
I realized all too well again, it’s not just the Charismatic Movement, it’s the whole of “Christian religion”!
Like those early dawn mornings, when the regimental bag piper bellowed out the Black Bear to wake up the regiment for the day, all those years ago in my past military life, there was a “dawning” and an “awakening” that was a brusque and rugged and startling as that piper was those summer mornings so long ago. I came to this “Ah ha!” moment with a certitude that “This is it! Now is the time! Finally I can do this!”
So like that bag piper from long ago, I was jolted to my core and awoke realizing “I don’t have to play the “religion game” anymore! I can walk away from the entire human religion enterprise.” So, last weekend Lori-Anne and I chatted about it a bit. We had awakened and Lori-Anne asked me about going to church. I said, “Nah! I don’t ever want to go back to church. Not any church. I am done!” It was that brash! It was that blunt! Lori-Anne talked with me about it. We had breakfast and coffee and hung out and spoke of our spiritual pilgrimage as individuals and as a couple and as a family.
We did a lot of reminiscing about our lives and our spiritual journey together. We spoke about our respective journeys as pastors’ kids and all the challenges of growing up in a very legalistic religious home, which was only made all the more difficult being raised in a minister’s home. The pressures from the household, the pressures from the congregation, and the constant challenges of fitting in at school, and at play, and all that stuff, all just made like hell for a kid to grow up under that heavy load of religious performance and obligation.
Things just did not change either when we grew into adulthood.
We had our own rebellious times, Lori-Anne when she was a teenager. Myself, as I entered my adult years. We both had about a five year journey of rebellion, and it was more wrapped up in a rebellion not so much against our parents, as against the oppressive religious shackles their respective understanding and living out of the “Christian faith” was embodied in their Evangelical churches. We both acted out and after that rebellion, somehow through all our heartache and sorrow, God broke through. The love of God broke through and did an amazing restorative work in both of our lives, and we both found each other within six months of our respective rebellions coming to an end. It is nothing short of a miracle of love and grace, and people had very little to do with it. It was our own desperation that led us both to seek God and cry out to God and He rescued us, not because of “church” or “Christians” but because of our own brokenness, and in our desperation, Jesus embraced us and transformed our lives. Our respective encounters were nothing short of “prodigal son” stories. We were both radical prodigals, who when restored to Christ, became radicals for Jesus!
The encroachment and snare of Christian zealotry!
The funny thing, when you grow up in a Christian home, you have your time of rebellion, and you are filled with anger and tension and just don’t want anything to do with it, and you fall in love with Jesus, it changes everything. The real problem is when other Christians see that zeal in you, it excites some people, and it angers some people too! Not only that, the religious zealots prey on you because they see a pet project to work on, and the grace message which brought you so much freedom and liberty and joy, over a short time after, slowly evaporates into a form of religious duty and legalism.
You can never do enough for God! You can never sacrifice enough for God! You can never out give God, so you become unwise in your use of money, and other resources! You get swallowed up in the whole “Christian enterprise” commonly hidden behind biblical words to sound holy and biblical, but it is in fact a diabolical works oriented mechanism and tool, to manipulate, coerce and abuse people to do things in the name of God for what others think is the “work of the Kingdom” but is actually the work of the “kingdom of men” and not God at all.
When you see from the inside out how the “Great Commission” has been used to mobilize people, resources, finances, institutions, wealth, and people, all in the name of “reaching the lost at any cost” you wonder how on earth does God ever do it without all of us doing this work? This is nothing short of exposing the flaw of the “Evangelical Christian Empire,” an empire that continues to plod on, even hijacking democratic political machines to elect Christians to political office, so some form of “Christendom” or “Christian culture” can be used to impact a “secular” and “lost society.”
No one stops long enough to really think through what redemption is and all the dynamics of what has taken place in the whole plan of redemption in the mind and heart of God. Many give lip service to the “cross” and “salvation” and yet do not really comprehend the work of the cross and what Jesus has really accomplished, and how the finished work of the cross, emphatically articulated by the words of Jesus Himself, when He declared, “It is finished!” and no one really comprehends that Jesus actually meant it! He finished it. And, He still means it! It is finished! He doesn’t need us, or our money, or our talent and gifts, or anything. He just wants our hearts, not our work or performance! He and the work of the Spirit woo the people and draw the people to the Father. It is all by grace and the work of God, or it is a works oriented religion. You cannot have it both ways. Yet, in Evangelicalism, you see so much “works oriented religion” and it makes other religions look tame in comparison. None of it even looks like or feels like Jesus. It wreaks of man and human enterprise. It is a stench of works theology and practice.
Stop the world and let me off the “merry go round of ministry”
I really knew how to perform as a Christian, and as an ordained minister. I even went into a $12,000 debt to go to one of the local established Bible Colleges. Yes, I did that. I served and even did things that I really was not gifted to do, but wanted to serve and please people, and earn my stripes as they say. I knew the system inside out. As I said, I grew up a PK. I knew all the ins and outs and how to play the “religious game of life with God.” I mastered it well. Then it ate me up, and spat me out, multiple times over, but I came coming back for more and more punishment.
For all the talk of the “love of God” that I heard, there was a whole lot more of the “wrath of God” and “divine judgment and retribution.” There was a ton of fear mongering and anger and disappointment, and in the midst of it all over the years I saw more and more good people, good kids and friends, fall by the way side one by one. They all became casualties of this legalistic religion that demanded everything and gave nothing back. Eventually you came to realize that there was very little actual understanding of what grace and love actually embody, and it certainly was not taught well if at all, and it was not practiced well among most of the Evangelical communities I was a part of. There is a saying that is as old as I am, “The Christian army is the only army in the world that kills its own wounded.” I know this to be true from personal experience. There is no harsher judgment, condemnation, wrath, ridicule and persecution that a Christian can suffer from that is worse than other critical judgmental Christians. You can see ongoing demonstrations of this harsh critical judgment in how some Christians judge Christians who demonstrate love and acceptance, especially those Christians who walk in grace and love toward gays and people in the LGBTQ community. The only thing just as harsh as this, is the criticism and judgement of Christians who happen to think different than what other Christians believe to be “orthodox belief.” I have known this kind of “wrath” first hand from those who just did not comprehend that there is more than one way to interpret Scripture or that there are alternative theological positions to their perceived “orthodox beliefs.”
It has so done me in, that it contributed greatly to my deciding enough was enough. It was time to break away from all of the structured holier than thou North American Evangelicalism that now permeates the landscape. It is little wonder that atheists abound, and it is little wonder than many of these same atheists used to be Christians or were raised in Christian communities. The ones that I know that have become atheists and agnostics are quick to point out to the judgmental attitudes, arrogance, hate filled speech, and harsh criticisms they have weathered in the storms of life, and how they just could no longer allow other people to damage them in this way. And, I totally agree with my agnostic and atheist friends.
Over the last four years I have experienced so many highs and lows, and so many hurtful experiences with people and Christian organizations and events, which drove me to this place of wanting to jump off the “Christian Carousel”! For my own physical and emotional health, and my mental wellbeing it had to stop. I have nothing more to give to these man made religious structures and ministries. These “zealous” and supposed “spiritual” and “God called” people and their ministries consume people and spit them out. So now after all these years, and so much money, so many resources spent, and so much energy given, I have concluded that God loves me and I don’t need to perform for Him, or seek the approval of “Christian leaders.” He really does love me. He really does love you too! It has nothing to with what the religious zealots have propagandized. It is all an “Evangelical hoax” to get people to work themselves to death for God and their own perceived understanding of what the Kingdom of God is. I am done! I am finished. Just like Jesus said, “It is finished!” and I stand in agreement with Him, “IT (Institutional Christianity) is FINISHED!”
Oh, there will be those that will continue to live their pietistic religious lives and God will bless them and bless other people through their efforts, but NOT out of that kind of activity and process, but simply because God is God, and He uses people and situations, in order to reach people, and He does it IN SPITE of people and all their junk, personal issues, and religion. Unlike us, God love and keeps loving, and religion has NOTHING to do with it!
Burned any mortgages lately?
It seems one of the “rites of passage” as a home owner, is the occasion upon which you have made your final mortgage payment and you get to literally “burn the mortgage. Last weekend, on Sunday afternoon, I burned two representations of my “Christian mortgage.” I burned a copy of the Nicene Creed which is universally known in the Christian world as one of the “orthodox” historic Christian “creeds.” I also burned a statement taken from the Edict of Milan which Emperor Constantine brought into law, which made the Christian faith into a “religious institution” and established “Christian denominationalism” as well as added Christianity as one of the many accepted religions in the Roman Empire. And we in the world have been living with this legacy of “Christian institutionalism” ever since. 1700 years and counting.
My “burning” of these two documents was symbolic. I first declared that I was no longer affiliated with manmade Christianity, and that I recanted from my declarations of fealty to denominations I had been a member of as well as ordained with. I broke and cast aside my former vows of loyalty to these man made institutions. I then ripped up the pages, and set them on fire and burned them in a clay pot. I then took the ashes, and put them in a special container, and buried them in my front yard at my home.
I wanted this act to demonstrate my own seriousness about having closure with organized Christianity, and to set it aside and move on with my life. It was a physical act, and in that sense it was quite prophetic and a declaration that I was done with the Christian religion. I am now free and I totally feel free. I am free from my Charismatic past and free from my Evangelical past. I am free to return to Eden.
Returning to Eden
I make no bones or false expectations that I am returning to a literal Eden. It is illustrative of the restoration of what Jesus accomplished in the finished work of the cross. Jesus is called the “second Adam” and Paul in the book of Romans goes to great lengths to describe in theological terms what the first Adam accomplished through his rebellion against God, and what Jesus accomplished through His obedience to the point of death on a cross. Jesus has literally undone the damage that was caused by the rebellion in Eden that caused the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden.
I hold to a spiritual reality of new things and new beginnings that the cross and the resurrection of Jesus accomplished for all of creation. It was not only humanity that was completely redeemed but all of creation itself. We can in this life spiritually return to Eden.
What this means in mystical spirituality is quite simple.
When Jesus restored all that Adam broke in his rebellion, Jesus undid all the damage of that rebellion, and makes it possible for everyone to be mystically in union with Him, and to “walk” spiritually with Him as Adam walked with God in the Garden. This walking with God is a picture of being with and relating intimately with God. God is indeed Spirit and He communes with our spirit and as Christians the Holy Spirit of God indwells us and we become the habitation of God.
When we don’t sense of feel God it is simply our lack of awareness of that union we have with Him. Even those who have yet to confess Christ who have a sense of the “divine” are sensing the tug and pull of God and have a heightened awareness of the spiritual and real. God is at work saving and redeeming people 24/7. Jesus is resting. The Christian Scriptures state emphatically that the work of redemption is done. As Jesus said and as I have already stated, “It is finished!” The only “work” that is taking place, is our coming awake to the reality of what God has already accomplished for us in the work of redemption. In the end Jesus will get His full inheritance. The Father promised Jesus would have “sinners” as His full inheritance and Jesus is not about to be short changed on the matter!
Life as pilgrimage illustrates the fundament spiritual life
Just as I have mentioned “walking with God” illustrates our union with God in Christ, so too the idea of “pilgrimage” illustrates our 24/7 journey with God and other people. There are ancient Christian pilgrimage sites that still call Christians to walk a sacred path and journey for a specific number of days and undergo a spiritual transformation in the process. One of the better pilgrimages that is as ancient as the Christian faith, is the Way of St. James, or the Camino as it is commonly known that is 800 km long, and extends from France to the Atlantic coast of Spain. You can make the trek in under six weeks through going over 25 km per day which is a considerable undertaking. Many stories abound about the spiritual benefits and the experiences that have materialized as people work hard physically on the daily trek, and while there is all this excruciating work being done through aching muscles and blisters and callouses, there is at the same time an inner work taking place where a heart is becoming transformed through the act of pilgrimage.
But we don’t have to wait for an actual physical pilgrimage in order to experience the inner transformation that comes from a focused physical pilgrimage.
We can view and experience our day to day living as a pilgrimage in process. We can embrace each encounter of each day as another day of journeying with God and seeing every person who makes up that given day as another divine encounter through another image bearer of God. Every person and every situation is a gift of God to us, to experience His love, His grace, His provision, His very Presence in us and through us! It has little to do with having a religious experience in a cathedral with stained glass windows, or hearing divinely inspired music, or seeing the beauty of physical creation! It has everything to do with embracing the divine in all you see, taste, feel and encounter in your day.
Everything, absolutely everything is spiritual. Let me say that again. Everything, absolutely everything is spiritual. You will encounter God in diverse, subtle, and extreme ways when you decide to be awakened in your mind and in your heart, and in your intellect and in your physical body. When you become present to the moments that make up your day, you will discover that there is not one moment where God is not present. He is ever present and with you. He has not and He never will ever abandon you. The only hindrance we have is our own minds and our own stinking thinking.
I am the habitation of God and so are you and I don’t need man made religion or belief systems
I am committed to Christ Jesus as my Lord and my Saviour. He is God incarnate. He is fully God and fully man and is fully alive. Through the Holy Spirit He lives in each believer’s heart and life and He continues to renew and transform our lives and our minds. I read the Scriptures and I meditate upon them. I walk and talk with Him every day. I pray continually and I pray using my own prayers as well as reciting ancient Christian prayers like the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner”). I love Christian devotional writings from Ancient Church to the modern era. There are so many resources for meditation and reflection, that you really do not need sermons or teachings. I hear God for myself. I read the Bible and I pray. I spend time with God and I am open to His voice all day long 24/7. I do not need “church” or “meetings with Christians” or any such thing. I am more alive today than I have ever been. I am more open to God and encounters with God and encountering other spiritual people who have their own journeys with God to speak and testify about how they understand and know God personally. THIS is what a life of Christian pilgrimage is all about, and it is beyond the “church walls” and beyond “Christian theology and teaching.”
I am only concerned with being a living habitation of God and carrying God and expressing God in every human encounter and situation I face. I am being renewed day by day by the Spirit of God. I don’t need “church” for any of that! God dwells with me. God dwells with you!
~ Samuel M. Buick