Reconciled, Chap. 5, Practice of the Faith
What do we do now?
If you recall the accounts of abuse in Results of the Faith, it should be obvious that the denial of real sins, as opposed to the definitions from the abusers, has spread through the Body of Christ like an aggressive cancer. People seem unable to think clearly anymore, as if they have lost their sight and hearing. The sort of teachings that used to be the hallmark of bizarre and obscure cults are considered "orthodox" now, and behavior that the world knows is twisted and evil is considered "spiritual".
But it is the design and system of "church" itself, with its inherent hierarchy and culture of shame, which fosters this madness. It allows the aberrant teaching of a few subversives to spread and multiply, replacing good with evil and light with darkness.1 Even at its best, it teaches the divine right of Pastors or Elders, encourages most people to be passive and uncritical of teachers, and steers them into a "visit God on Sundays" mentality. In short, it is religion, not relationship… and remember that relationships between people are not to take precedence over each person's relationship with God.
As Paul incredulously asked the people of Galatia (ch. 3),
You foolish Galatians! Who has cast a spell on you? Right before your eyes Jesus the Anointed was clearly presented as crucified, so I'd like to learn just one thing from you: Was it by your legal performance that you received the Spirit, or by believing what you heard? Are you really so senseless as to think you would start with the Spirit and finish with the flesh? Was all your suffering for nothing? Really?? Did the One who supplied you with the Spirit do powerful works among you because you followed the Law, or because you believed what you heard?
We usually quote this passage when dealing with the matter of legalistic control over behavior by a few, but it applies equally to the traditional model of Christian religious practice. As Paul went on to say in ch. 5, it only takes a tiny bit of falsehood to enslave the whole group. We have been set free from all the old religous performances, and we need to take this seriously. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that the time had come for people to worship God "in spirit and in truth" instead of in a particular place, and Paul said that the new Temple is not a building of stone but the bodies of the saved.2
Some try to claim that since the first believers sometimes met in the Temple, then that is justification for us meeting in sacred buildings. But the Temple was simply a building, a place to accomodate them, a public area and not a sacred place for Christians. And there is no record of any kind of "worship service" going on, either there or in people's homes. In fact, the detailed prescriptions we would expect to see, if there were such rules to follow, are completely absent from the pages of the New Testament. The closest thing we have is something mentioned in passing when Paul was trying to combat the chaos going on in Corinth.3 The point was not to establish a liturgy but to see to it that whatever the people did, they did in a coherent and controlled way.
What is cultural is not necessarily bad, yet neither is it divinely commanded. But when people read that there is no liturgy, place, or style of worship prescribed for Christians, they may become defensive and think this is an attack upon their spirituality. But in fact this really is an attack— on the System, not the people. How can a religious ritual be compatible with that which was never meant to be just another form of worship but a family, a Body, a life to live? Our worship is to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus, to visit the grieving in their distress, and to control ourselves.4
In other words, there is no prescribed method of worship, no place or time or frequency we must meet, no membership rolls or fashion police, no sacred furniture or vestments, no pulpits, pews, or professionals.5 The Christian life is exactly that: a life. It is the air we breath and the blood pumping through our veins. It is not a place to go but an entity to be.
People love experiences and spiritual thrills; they love to be entertained while calling it worship; they are inspired by talented orators and polished sermons in three-point alliterated outlines. They love to show off their fine clothing and other forms of wealth;6 they fawn over the rich and despise the poor; they love to be called "Pastor" or to be one of the privileged few. They love religion.
But God has not called us to this. We are called to be the salt and light of the world, which means going out and living, bringing the gospel with us in word and deed. Christianity is not a once- or twice-a-week activity but a 24/7/365 life. We meet together to build each other up, to teach and be taught and share our spiritual gifts, to sympathize and lend a hand, to care for each other. In stark contrast to this is the typical "church" meeting where near strangers sit in chairs or pews facing the few who actually do some building up. Again, we see in this a system which works against the true unity of the faith.
What do we do now? Go and live the Christian life. Be free of religion and man-made control. Be free of committees and seminars. Be free of spiritual abuse and peer pressure and religious fads. Be free of everything that would come between you and your Savior. Jesus came to heal the sick and oppressed, not pamper the influential and oppressive. He did not come to put on a show for us but to transform us, and that happens by the continual renewing of our minds via the study of scripture and listening to the quiet voice of the Spirit.
You have been reconciled to God and set free from the power of sin. Live like it!