A Troubling Conversation

The other day, I had a conversation with a group of Christians, a group I am coming to know fairly well; this is a regular thing. Many of them grew up in another church tradition, one that has its roots in the same tradition as the one I’ve been involved with for many years, but that took a slightly different road, beginning about 150 years ago. That isn’t the troubling part, for we have much more in common than we have differences. What’s troubling to me is what lies hidden in the little details, the things that aren’t obvious at first.100113 047-LR

I’ve been struggling with a couple of things here, first and foremost being what these wonderful Christian people were talking about, and the second being whether or not I should share this with you, and the third being just how to describe it to you. I think I’m pretty clear that I should share it with you, particularly since I’m posting some thoughts this week about interpretation, beginning with yesterday’s podcast. This story is about what happens when interpretation within a group goes south, way south. The fourth, and most important part of my little struggle with this is that I don’t want to give the wrong impression about these folks; I am not telling you this to criticize them, I’m telling you this because I am grieved for them. These are wonderful Christian people, and I mean that sincerely. They do amazing things for others, they earnestly follow Jesus Christ and try very hard to lead lives that are pleasing in His sight while they endure struggles with the things they were taught, even though they have come to realize that some of them aren’t quite right. The whole thing saddens me greatly, and I can’t stop thinking about it.

One of the things they spoke of was that in growing up within this group, they learned that they were the only real Christians; everyone outside of their (rather small) “denomination” was simply wrong. Note, they would disapprove of my use of the word “denomination.” The main reason that everyone else is wrong, is because this particular group is the only one that “does church” the right way. If you don’t “do church” the way they do, your salvation is entirely hanging in the balance and probably lost for good.

This idea of how we “do church” as I found, means things like the order of worship. What you do in a worship service is confined to a certain specific list, and must be done in a particular order. There is only one style of music that can be sung in worship. There is one way in which communion can be served, one kind of seating that is permissible… that sort of thing.  These things cannot be changed, and if you try to change any of them, you will lose your salvation if you do not promptly repent.The particular congregation in which these people worship has made a change recently, and a significant percentage of the long-term members left.

If you are wondering at this point if this is a joke, please be assured that it is NO JOKE!

The most troubling part of this conversation was actually a request for prayer.  One of the people in this conversation asked that we pray for a family member who is having marital problems. The main rub is that this family member is a pastor in this denomination. We were asked to pray for the couple, that they could resolve their problems… and that nobody in the church finds out about the problem, for if they did, the pastor would be fired; it seems that a pastor with marital problems isn’t “doing church” right.

What happened to the church being a place of healing, love and grace?

No, the church is a place where you “do church” right, where you follow the rules, have the Scripture reading before the offering, sit on pews without pads and pray for the sick right before the sermon and never right after. Church is where it is more important to avoid a mother’s day or father’s day sermon, and to never pur a Christmas wreath on the door, than it is to bring healing to a brother or sister  who is hurting. No, doing church the right way requires that we finish off a wounded brother, put him out of his misery, not bring him the grace and love of Jesus Christ.

I want to be angry… but so far, the best I can do is to be profoundly sad.

Do you know what is truly and stunningly amazing in this?  This particular group comes from a theological tradition based upon Christian unity and freedom in Christ.  They later added one false premise to this theology, and this is where evolution from that one false presupposition took them.

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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64 Responses to A Troubling Conversation

  1. mamasongs says:

    Wow Don. Its hard to believe this exists in modern times. And harder to believe people are following this! Its terribly sad I agree.

  2. harolene says:

    Growing up in a very strict denomination myself I know the truth in what you are saying. It is a damning shame in the realist sense of that word. They push so many people away from the truth of salvation. I thank God that my dad never bought into it and founded a church where love prevailed. They damned him to hell end of story. I am happy to say that he lived to be 95 and is in heaven as I speak! You did the right thing to talk about this. 😄

  3. Rivera says:

    A very thought provoking, soul searching, post. Sad indeed.. where some paths of “Christianity” can lead some “Christians”.

  4. Ritualism of any type is the act of man trying to please man. The Lord never gave us any rituals to follow and in fact taught against ritualism many times. It appears they have fallen into this trap. I pray for them and hope you can shed light upon this to them

  5. Chris Brann says:

    Can’t really like this. It is sad as you say. Unfortunately this is a problem for others as well, when needing a choir or its not worship. Having a particular training to be able to lead a service and so on.
    It is sad that many Christian bodies feel it must be done this way or its wrong even within the same denomination.

  6. I think this has been a battle for many in organized religions for hundreds of years. And if you look at history from the time of the reformation to today, there have been positive signs of realizing that God came so that all men and women can be saved.

    We must remember one thing. We the individual, We the Church, We the leadership of a denomination, are not God. No one but Christ made the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. What right does any person have to claim exclusivity to Christ

    As Jesus stated no one comes to the father but by me… We cannot take the Role of Jesus and who are we to say who belongs and who does not belong in God’s plan of salvation and the return of Christ. We are all sinners and God’s grace is sufficient for all of us.

    enough of my soapbox preaching and now time to look into my soul and see how I can better myself from this article


  7. Don, all I will say is I totally understand where you are coming from.

  8. trotter387 says:

    Don many churches have found a formalistic style of worship prevents the few who ask questions from being heard. The use of divine judgement and the need for repentance or the consequences are dire is essentially not new.

    Catholicism and the Anglican faith have done this to millions in one form or another for centuries.

    The distressing factor is the lack of consolation. Worshipping God as a Christian requires faith, obedience, love for God and our fellows not a ritualistic affirmation that ‘do church’

    When Jesus said I am the way, the truth and the life he expressed a route to freedom, learning to understand that we have a reason for our lives.

    We know from the Apostles and Disciples that their meetings were times of teaching, prayer and praise with their spirit buoyed they went out into the community and taught others of the opportunity for Salvation.

    Sadly the prayer they asked for wasn’t one that fits the guidance and principles we have – that anything we pray for in line with gods will is heard.

    Not all religions lead to God and there are those who thought they were following Christ who will discover that to their shock – Matt 7: 21 through 23

    I hope they personally rediscover the Bible requirements and associate with those grasping the real life.

  9. dwmartens says:

    How sad it must make our Lord! What comes to mind is like the sadness he expressed, “Couldn’t you watch with me for just one hour?” And that just after he’d prayed for unity: John 17. Not that the sadness of sleeping disciples was so related to unity (except perhaps as fellow sufferers), but such a great sadness it was. And such a great sadness it must be when his beloved church, his bride, is not united in helping the seeds to grow, not moving the rocks that hinder their growth, and not removing the post from its own eye before helping its fellows, its other parts, with the speck in their eye.

  10. atimetoshare says:

    I agree. I think this problem develops when members begin to get too comfortable in their faith. I also think it’s a common problem in most churches. Once we feel that way, we become a bit selfish. Isn’t it amazing how the devil gets into every aspect of our lives – even our churches – especially our churches.

  11. Tom says:

    So sorry to hear about this situation of yours. I wish I could say that I have never seen this type of actions in a church, but that would not be true. It is very sad that believers in a church can become so narrow minded to shut other people out. Jesus accused the pharisees of this very problem also. Praying for you and your church situation.

  12. paulfg says:

    I have been hovering hoping someone else would have a go at responding! 🙂

    But the hovering has been helpful because one word keeps coming back: evolution: “this is where evolution from that one false presupposition took them”

    Not the “creation or evolution” malarkey. Rather the “evolution” back in very tiny footsteps. I am reminded of that parable of the blind man seeing for the first time: trees he knew only as “man height”. Coping with “tree height” meant he was flummoxed. Change is change. And when it feels like walking over a cliff is scary.

    You mention that there is a train of thought that some things are “not quite right.” Which sounds like the beginning of something. At a cost to you (by the sound of it) your sadness and love stops you from walking away. Which I think is beautiful!

    This post and your words have “got me” – Real stuff. Real people. Real God. They need the batmobile and some donuts!

    (and – a final thought – I guess father deals with us “immovable objects” all the time)

    • Don Merritt says:

      Sorry Paul, there are a lot of comments, but I was a bit behind today; just got back from an “away mission.”

      Anyway, yes, they need a batmobile! There are doubts, they were the reason for the conversation in fact. Very real people, really great people; friendly fire casualties. But yes, He is quite used to immovable humans; a pro in fact. There’s always hope.

  13. Pam says:

    I am not surprised by your comments about a particular group of people. I was a member of one of those “denominations.” I walked with these people, and I felt the same way. I moved to the South, and found out how “legalistic” that thought of devotion was. I discovered that our Father does not care about “when” we do something. That is not the point of salvation. That is a minor matter. We are to worship the Father and all that involves. It is not about tradition. It is about transformation. Can these people be transformed by the renewing of the mind. That might be outside their box. I am free, Don. Praise the Lord–I’m free!

    • Don Merritt says:

      Praise Him indeed! Back in 1972, Billy Graham endorsed Richard Nixon’s re-election bid. As I heard the story, Mr. Nixon asked mr. Graham not to endorse him, because Graham was, as Mr. Nixon put it, in the business of changing lives, while Mr. Nixon was only the President. I’ve always remembered that: “in the business of changing lives”

      Can they be transformed, of course they can, for God is in the business of transforming lives! The group of people I was talking with would like to be transformed… so there is a lot of hope for them.

  14. Steve B says:

    The words that come to mind for me is tribalism. Sad, yes but humans being humans like protecting their patch which is tribalism and they also like to think they are in control hence everything in its place type of thinking. One of two things will happen. Either they whither and die and then the strongest will go to other churches and experience something with more freedom or there will be a revolution at the church. It is the way of life.

  15. Denine Taylor says:

    “Jesus looked at them and said, “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

  16. VisionHeirE says:

    Brother Don, I will pray for and with you. I believe you are perfectly positioned with these precious folks for a glorious purpose. May your Light shine ever bright as He leads you to set the captives free. In His Love, Lisa

  17. Pingback: A Troubling Conversation | A disciple's study

  18. vwoods1212 says:

    Sounds like a cult; may God intercede in a mighty way in the hearts. vw

  19. Hey Don! Strange things do happen in the body of Christ. My mother is a Pentecostal Fundamentalist. If she lived in the South she would be called a holy roller, but where I am from she is known as a Jesus only. Part of her church’s doctrine is this: In order to go to heaven, one must get baptized in the name of Jesus.

  20. Pingback: The Round-Up (June 18, 2014) | Entreating Favor

  21. Sharon says:

    There are far too many churches out there that are just like what you described. Far too long people have been doing church instead of building a relationship on the Rock, the foundation of Jesus Christ. In my teaching/mentoring I urge my students to open the Word of God and see if the teachings you are exposed to are the truth. We are all human, including clergy and teachers, and can make mistakes. It never ceases to amaze me how many people come to church without their Bibles and then those who do don’t even open them. When we put our ultimate trust in our Pastor or teacher without weighing it against God’s Word, we get religion all mixed up.

  22. g says:

    I came from a system that started out as small grassrootish home fellowships. In those small groups everybody studied the bible and God certainly made himself known. It was exciting! Then the meetings started to centralize, up popped a choir, programs and a totem pole. There still were home fellowships but the topics, studies and what to teach came from a central control. I could never get into this type of thinking because when it was my turn to teach in one of theses small fellowships,God always seemed to show me what to teach to that particular individual group to bless them and build them up and others did the same for me. I don’t particularly care for the word ‘denomination’ nor ‘non-denomination’ for that matter. The are really pretty similar. They are labels for certain doctrines. Even the organic movement does this. To me the church as ekklesia is people not an organization. I loved reading the comments and your post , Don.

  23. wingedprisms says:

    This is very sad, Don. I feel it. My hub and I have this this way too often. Sadly, unless we do really pray for them and hope they “hear” – this can just die out a horrible death – meaning: they have left no room for the unsaved to come and know our Jesus AND they have left no room for God. They are a closed club, of sorts.
    I am truly saddened by this and am praying.

  24. bwdell says:

    When we don’t have the internals of faith worked out correctly we focus on the externals that are more visible and measurable (but have little to do with real faith and salvation).

  25. Shelly says:

    Heartbreaking. That is the word that came to mind as I read this post. The church is not supposed to be a hinderance to salvation or faith, but a help. How sad that these people fear losing their salvation. I will be praying for the Lord to do a mighty work in this congregation and show them the love and grace they need to be showing each other.

  26. scythewieldor says:

    Peter wrote for those who would come after his decease so that they could have a reminder of the faith that had been established by the apostles. His remedy for the forgetfulness that he foresaw in the church future to himself was to “stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour”. Act 16:4-5 tells us that teaching men the decrees of the apostles and elders that were at Jerusalem established the churches in the faith.
    When I encounter men who want to put their rules on me, it is a simple thing to find commandments of the apostles in the New Testament writings which they, ritually, transgress. I point out that, by doing so, they are defying the right of Lord Jesus Christ who bought them to order His apostles to set forth, once and for all, the decent and orderly way of keeping house.
    I give no place to the Diotrophes-es who prate against the apostles (who, having been led into all truth, gave us the commandments of the New Testament) “with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither do (they themselves) receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church”.

    • Don Merritt says:

      There is quite a bit I’d like to say to the rule makers, that’s for sure!

      Hey, I’ve missed you lately, glad to hear from you again, hope all is well!

  27. Rebecca says:

    It really is hard to believe this isn’t a joke but sadly I believe you.
    My question is,why are you associating with these people? I’m quite a conservative myself when it comes to theological beliefs but very liberal when it comes to how we think and great others.

    I don’t want to question their Christainity but their remarks are such that I can’t help but wonder.

    If it were me, I’d be heading for the hills. They are eventually going to bring you down.

    • Don Merritt says:

      Well Rebecca, I’d like to think that if I were making up a joke it would be a funny one, which this is not. As to your question, all I can say is that I would associate with these folks for the same reason that I would associate with non Christians, and that is the hope that I may have an opportunity to share that which can lift them up.

  28. I was so very blessed in my teens to hear a wise man teach on how Peter wanted to build a tabernacle after witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration, and was gently corrected by the Lord. He taught on the inevitability of the human being, who wants to take an experience, or a truth inside the Truth, or a moment, or even a particular way that God is revealing Himself in a particular time for a particular reason, and then make it into an idol. After all, then there is something tangible, something sure…right? HAH!

    He said that God would over and over knock down your “graven image” of Him, if you asked and yielded to His work in this regard. Well, that thought captivated me, and so over 40 years or so, He has done just that! I am sooo thankful that Gd is greater/smaller/more/less than how I have “known Him” over the years! As I reminisce about various images I held, I shudder at my arrogance, my ignorance, and my insolence to others cus I was sooo needing to be “right”…for far deeper reasons that had to do with myself rather than God. At the time, I would have, COULD have sworn on a stack of bibles that I was totally sincere and motivated by the deep desire to know God. I was zealous! I was sincere!

    And I was worshipping an idol a.k.a. myself!

    This is what happens with groups such as you mention, Don…and it happens to us as well, we usually just have a harder time seeing that, as CS Lewis brilliantly opines in his essay “They Trouble With X”.

    Clearly, you grasp all of this already and you did a really delicate and graceful job of pointing out this tar-pit without falling in yourself. I just wanted to comment is all…and mention that now, every time I encounter this sort of attitude and approach, I spend 2 minutes examining my own view of God and what living to please Him means for every 1 minute I spend understanding the shortcomings of “that group”

    This man also taught that if you simply focus and stay busy on what God says to do you won’t have time to criticize others or “try to avoid the do nots”…I think the way he put it was something like “Your yes to God is the loudest NO to the world/flesh/devil that you can utter.”

    You most likely would have loved him…I sure did.
    Thanks Don…in Their most precious love…

  29. doe4 says:

    Thank so much for liking and following my blog..I love your article as well…those are profound truths…


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