Someone posted a comment on one of my earlier entries responding to what I had written about attending a Gaelic mass a number of weeks ago. I was invited to consider going back to the Roman Catholic Church seeing as I had gone through all the rites of passage. My husband is of the firm belief that once a Catholic always a Catholic.
I am not sure about this, and I apologise if I have got it wrong, but there seemed to be an impression that because I was a member of a non-denominational church I was somehow less sincere about my faith. I suppose there are people that think is terms of real churches as having buildings and traditions that can be traced back, or a specific kind of hierarchy. Anything less formal in terms of structure is just playing at faith, or faith on your own terms as opposed to on God’s terms, according to what it says in the Bible or in church tradition.
If you know me, and some know me well, you will know that I am entirely serious about my faith. Some indeed would say that I am too serious and need to lighten up!
I can think of two times, two clear times, when I have been challenged about the church I belonged to.
The first time was when I lived in Cyprus. I was teaching in a small private school with very strong links to the local Brethren Church. The main denomination in the Greek side of Cyprus is the Greek Orthodox Church. I went to one or two church services – an Easter Service and a baptism, but for the most part I attended Sunday mornings and evenings at the Brethren Gospel Hall. It was incredibly strict with women wearing hats and keeping silent in church. It was what I needed at the time. It taught me some valuable lessons about discipline which perhaps in another setting would not have been so effective!
I can remember meeting a fairly lively lady who was a Christian. She came under some criticism because she attended the local Greek Orthodox Church. It was commonly held idea by the Brethren Church at the time, and expressed quite strongly, that there weren’t any “real Christians” in the Greek Orthodox Church. Those that went merely did so out of tradition and they did not have any saving knowledge of Jesus. “Real Christians” went to the Gospel Hall!
The woman was not persuaded by the argument. She agreed that perhaps not everyone who went through the door of the Greek Orthodox Church had a saving faith, but then the same could be true for any church. She believed that if she lived her Christian life inside what everyone was labelling a “dead church” perhaps she could change it, rather than abandoning it and finding a “lively” church. (There is an oxymoron if ever there was one when applied to that particular Brethren Church at the time!) My companions at the time were quite convinced that she would eventually die for lack of life within the church. She felt it was her calling to stay within the Greek Orthodox Church and change it from within through a faithful testimony. If everyone was like us, withdrawing from the established churches top set up “our own” new thing, it is inevitable that the established churches end up dying! It is our obligation to change things from within.
The other incident takes place a few years later. I spent a year on a gospel outreach team in Inverness. We were really keen to get into schools – do assemblies or RE lessons and meet with the young people. Being an ex-RE teacher at the time, I advised the leaders to consult with the area RE advisor, a nice elderly gentleman. Seeing as I obviously knew the system, I was elected to meet with him and discuss our “vision”.
The man had a Church of Scotland background. He seemed more interested in why I had abandoned the denominational churches to be a part of something less traditional, or settled, or old. The house movement, or charismatic churches were new to Inverness at the time and people had impressions that they were off the wall – the lunatic fringe as it were. He asked me why I did not remain within the established church and try to change it from within!
I suppose it is uncomfortable when people poke holes in traditions that have been going for many years, decades, centuries or millennia. I don’t poke holes in something just because it has been going for such a long time. I don’t jump on bandwagons, or grab hold of the latest craze. Ask my friend Mark!
I just think about the quality of my Christian life in the church I belong to and I know I am in the right place. I don’t think it panders to my way of thinking or feeling or worshipping – I just see God there week in week out. Maybe I would see God just as clearly in any other church, but I believe that God has called me to be where I am. It is not an easy church at times, and I don’t always agree with everything that is said at the front. There are times when it is hard work – my faith is hard work – my spiritual muscles get stretched. I am not saying that it wouldn’t happen in any other church – but right now I am where I God wants me to be.