This weekend, my wife and I had the honor of meeting with a group of what one of their members referred to as “Church of Christ refugees. " One woman, we'll call her Esther, was the group's matriarch, a wonderful, white-haired widow with kind eyes and a knowing smile. Yes, Esther had been there and done that. Several of the 20 who were there described her warmly as being the one “responsible" for “rescuing" them from the bondages of religion, the first to recognize the errors of their religious system and actually DO something about it.in a very real way, she “led them out of Egypt. " Esther and I talked again by eMail last night. I love the correlation she makes between being married for so long to one man and then, suddenly, having to live life without him, and leaving her old religious system. I'm certain there are many who will read this - church of Christ and other denominations as well - who will be blessed by reading this exchange. Here are portions of that dialogue. . .
Dear Michael, Last night. . . was fantastic. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think it was very helpful to all. We would all be blessed if you and Barbara would see fit to come our way again. . . . Mike, you were not indoctrinated in the C of C like some of the others of us were. I'm not sure how long you were in it but ‘deprogramming or ‘detoxing’ is putting it mildly. Of course it is harder and a very deep seated thing for some people. Even though one realizes how wrong the system is, it is still very hard to change. I think there is a fear there. Being in a church situation one relies on the church for their identity. Cut us loose and we don't know where to go or what to do, maybe even, who we are. Telling us is one thing. We can see and do know all that is to be done and what we can do but we are as Mardel Lynch, an old time c of c preacher, put it one time, “I am helpless, hapless and undone". It may be quite impossible to understand if you haven't been there. All denominations, that I know about, believe you are saved before you are in a church but not the church of Christ. To them one is saved and is added to the church at the same time. The concept is true. When we are saved, our Lord adds us to his saved group of people but that saved group of people is not “The church Of Christ". The church of Christ is a denomination as are the others but they would very vehemently disagree.
Michael: You're correct, Esther, I was not as indoctrinated into the COC as some - only about 9 years. But I recognized that same Spirit of Religion that I had experienced in my previous 20-something years in Catholicism. . . the OTHER One True Church. HA!
You are also correct about the “fear" aspect that you mentioned. It IS the fear of the unknown; an abandonment of one's beliefs, that keeps many lovers of Christ in bondage. What will family say or think? What if I'm wrong about my decision to leave? Our religion defines who we are and we actually MOURN the loss of ourselves when we step out.
Esther responded: I was there, to be sure, and still have the lingering ‘hangover’. I do understand and am free. But there is the deep identity thing I mentioned. Most of that is gone also. I think probably my condition has to do with my age and the intensity of my belief and practice for so many years. It's like being married for almost 58 years
to a wonderful man and all at once he is gone, -nowhere to be seen-nowhere on this earth. It is a much more of a challenge than I had ever imagined. All at once I am now a widow. I, after so long a time, am not married any more. I have to try to establish an entirely new life with a renewed purpose. I (and my Lord) must find me a reason to live. . . I think that the ones of our number who were not indoctrinated in the c of c as we were pretty tired of hearing us rehash all that over and over. They couldn't understand and really there was no need for them to understand. We just wanted them (or anyone) to understand and they couldn't. We needed to move on for the sake of both ourselves and them. I think we have pretty well succeeded.
Michael: The truth is, the word “religion" is defined as “a return to bondage. " Jesus came to set us free.
Esther: No, I didn't know that was the meaning of “religion". I'm glad to know that.
Michael: In many House Church writings, there are many articles about the “detox" issue. I've written one myself. The problem is everywhere. People need deliverance. The shackles aren't as “off" as they need to be and many find themselves judging where they would prefer to simply love without conditions.
Esther: Yes, I do very much agree with that statement. Even though I recognize the tendency to judge and have the desire to set people straight, I still have the urge to do so. My Lord is really busy with me. I always thought I had every thing figured out. I have found that is not true at all. He constantly reminds me. When I learn to stop judging and just love, warts and all, I have such a wonderful freedom and peace.
Michael: There are three major areas of detox for people connected to house churches. They include: 1) making a paradigm shift away from the Sunday morning meeting. . .
Esther: This paradigm shift may be one of the most difficult. Although, I now know that the bible does not say that Sunday is “The Lord's Day", it still seems like I need to go somewhere or do something on Sunday. And the bible does not say we must meet on Sunday or any other day. That is very difficult to work through.
Michael: 2) the frightening move from being a consumer to becoming a contributor to The Church gatherings - actually listening to and obeying the Holy Spirit
Esther: Yes, that is very true. It is also leaving the safe haven of identifying with the organization. I think it is kind-of like a child hiding behind his mother's skirts and telling another kid “Mama won't let me". If it's something he doesn't want to do, then Mama gets the blame instead of him. There is no individual responsibility or accountability. When one leaves the “confines of do nothing", he is out there alone and naked.
Michael: 3) and the feeling illegitimacy that comes from being building-less. Nonetheless, for those who survive this detox period, the sense of usefulness and awareness to the harvest all around us is very special to witness. It will come, Esther. Trust me.
Esther: Yes, thank you, it has for me. . .
Michael: Esther, you wrote: “All denominations, that I know about, believe you are saved before you are in a church but not the church of Christ. To them one is saved and is added to the church at the same time. " That doesn't describe Catholicism. I was “saved" when baptized as an infant, as I said yesterday. Of course, I was saved again in the COC. And again when I repeated a Sinner's Prayer after that. There's that Gospel of Salvation thing rather than the preaching on the Kingdom of God!!
Esther: That “saved" thing can get complicated can't it? When I was 12, I baptized in the Baptist Church. When I was 19, I was baptized in the church of Christ. I did this to please James. Later, when I learned what baptism was for, I was baptized to please my Lord. But when it is all brought to light, it was still more of a formality. Thank God, I'm still learning. . . Michael. I appreciate your efforts. . Thanks again for the encouragement.
Michael: We'll be praying for you! Love and every blessing, Michael and Barbara
Esther: To you too. Love, Esther
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