By Wayne Jacobsen and Dave Coleman
Amazon: So You Don’t Want to go to Church Anymore? An unexpected journey
Reviewed by Cherie Kropp
NOTE: The church is presented as all Christians, assembly, congregation, past present, future, regardless of where they meet or don’t meet together. Christians are Jesus’ church.
Here are excerpts from the book that caught my attention:
Are you experiencing God’s life to the degree you desire it?
P. 31 John: You know what this whole thing is about Jake? It’s about life—God’s real life filling your own. He moves in so that you will no longer entertain any doubts about his reality. It’s the kind of relationship that Adam tasted when he walked in the garden with God and heard his great plan to have a people through whom He could demon¬strate his reality to the world in more ways than you could ever imagine.
It is the kind of life Jesus lived that was more than suffi¬cient to meet every need he faced, from feeding multitudes with a little boy’s lunch to healing a sick woman who touched the hem of his robe. This life is not some philosophical thought you can conjure up through meditation or some kind of theological abstraction to be debated. It is fullness. It is freedom. It is joy and peace no matter what happens—even if your doctor uses the “C” word when he gives you the results of your MRI. This is the kind of life that he came to share with everyone who will give up trying to control their own lives and embrace his agenda.
It’s certainly not what so many have come to believe, like working hard, building big ministries or new buildings. It’s about life that you can see, taste, and touch; something you can frolic in every day that you live. I know my words fail to describe it adequately…
P. 34: John: This is no distant God who sent his Son with a list of rules to follow or rituals to practice. His mission was to invite us into his love—into a relationship with his Father that he described as friendship. But what do we do? We are so quickly captured by a work-driven religious culture that thrives on guilt, conformity and manipulation that it devours the very love it seeks to sustain.
P. 35: John: When you realize that the routine you’ve stumbled into is not substantially contributing to your desire to know God better, some incredible things can happen. Sitting through the same program week after week wears thin. Aren’t you tired of finding yourself year after year falling to the same temptations, praying the same unanswered prayers, and seeing no evidence that you are growing to discern God’s voice with any greater clarity?
P. 35: Jake: What do I do, John? I want the life you speak of.
John: It won’t take much from you, Jake. Just be real with Father and resist the urges to crawl back into your shell and silently endure lifelessness. Your struggle stems from the call of God’s Spirit to your own. Ask him to forgive you for substituting any¬thing for the power of his love and invite him to show you how your diligent efforts at good works for him may be obscuring his love for you. Let God do the rest. He will draw you to himself…Won’t it be a joy again to wake up confident about being loved by God every day, without having to earn it by any act of righteousness on your part? That is the secret to first love. Don’t try to earn it. Know that you are accepted and loved, not for what you can do for God, or somehow hoping that you will be worthy of his acceptance, but because his greatest desire is to have you as one of his children. Jesus came to remove any obstacle that would prevent that from happening
P. 41: John: Don’t you realize that the most powerful thing about the gospel is that it liberates us from the concept that God dwells in any building? For a people steeped in the rites of temple worship, this was either great or terrible news. His followers thought it was great. No longer did they have to think of God as cloaked in the recesses of the temple, available only to special people at select times.
P. 49 One of the most significant lessons Jesus taught his disciples was to stop looking for God’s life in the regimen of rituals and rules. He came not to refurbish their religion, but to offer them a relationship. Were all those healings on the Sabbath, and the recording of them, just a coincidence that he found more sick people then? Of course not! He wanted his disciples to know that the rules and traditions of men get in the way of the power and life of his Father.
P. 56: Jake: Aren’t we accountable to one another?”
John: “Where did you get that idea?
Jake: It’s in the Bible, isn’t it?
John: Can you show me where?
Jake: I couldn’t come up with one.
P. 58: John: Paul saw another way to live in God’s life that was so engaging it transformed his entire life. He knew that our failures all result from the fact that we just don’t trust God to take care of us. As Paul grew to know God better, he discovered that he could trust God’s love for him. The more he grew to trust God’s love, the freer he was from those desires that consumed him. Only by trusting Jesus can anyone experience real freedom.
P. 59: John: Jake, when are you going to get past the mistaken notion that Christianity is about ethics?
Jake: If it isn’t about ethics, what is it about? How else are we going to know how God feels about us if we don’t live up to his standards?
John: That’s where you have it backward, Jake. We don’t get his love by living up to his standards. We find love in the most broken places of our lives. And we let him love us there and discover how to love him in return.
P. 62-63: John: Real body life isn’t built on accountability. It’s built on love. We’re to encourage one another in the journey without conforming to the standard we think they need…If we hold people accountable, they will never learn to live in love. We’ll reward those who are better at putting on a front and miss those who are in the real struggle of learning to live in Jesus.
P. 69: John: Once you build an institution together, you have to protect it and its assets to be good stewards. It confuses everything. Even love gets redefined as that which protects the institution and unloving as that which does not. It will turn some of the nicest people in the world into raging maniacs and they never stop to think that all the name-calling and accusations are the opposite of love. It’s love with a hook. If you do what we want, we reward you. If not we punish you. It doesn’t turn out to be about love at all. We give our affection only to those who serve our interests and withhold it from those who do not.
P. 70-71: John: That’s why the institution can only reflect God’s love as long as those in it agree on what they’re doing. Every difference of opinion becomes a contest for power…Do you see how our definitions of love get twisted when institutional priorities take over?
P. 71: John: The problem with church as you know it, Jake is that it has become nothing more than mutual accommodation of self-need. Everybody needs something out of it. Some need to lead. Some need to be led Some want to teach, others are happy to be the audience. Rather than become an authentic demonstration of God’s life and love in the world, it ends up being a group of people who have to protect their turf. What you’re seeing is less of God’s life than people’s insecurities that cling to those things they think will best serve their needs.
P. 73: John: If you want to live this journey, you have to put honesty above personal expedience. It’s easy to try to cover things for the good of the institution, but that’s a step down a path where God does not reside…When we’re so afraid we can’t make it without the institution, then right and wrong go out the window and the only thing that concerns us is our own survival.
P. 74: John: Scripture doesn’t use the language of need when talking about the vital connection God establishes between believers…Religion survives by telling us we need to fall in line or some horrible fate will befall us…Whenever we let other factors get in the way of that we only use love to get our hooks into people. We reward them with affection and punish them by withholding it…The whole system has a hook in it. We even use things like “doctrinal unity” to control people by stifling any disagreement.
P. 82-3: John: God’s doing his part all the time. He loves you more than anyone else ever will and will not keep his hands out of your life. Sometimes we cooperate and sometimes we don’t and that can affect how things sort out. But don’t think you can control God by your actions because it isn’t like that. If we could control God, he’d turn out like us. Wouldn’t it be better to let him have his way with us so we become like him?
P. 87: John: Is there anything you lack to get through this day?
Jake: I need a job. I need a way to pay this hospital bill.
John: Or you need the confidence that your Father already knows those things and loves you enough to sort them out without you…
Jake: I decided I would live the rest of my days assuming that my Father’s love was with me in every circumstance, rather than questioning it.
P. 91: John: I don’t think the church leads people astray. Those leading some religious institutions might, but let’s not confuse that with the church a God sees her.
P. 95: John: You could…return and admit it was all your fault. They would celebrate your return as quickly as they shoved you out the door. All that matters is that you stay in the game and play by the rules.
Jake: So even though I’m not there, I’m still playing that game, aren’t I?
John: The approval you felt then came from the same source you feel now. That’s why it hurts so much when you hear the rumors or watch old friends turn away embarrassed. Truth be told, some of those people still really care about you. They just don’t know how to show it now that you no longer play on their team. They’re not bad people, Jake, just brothers and sisters lost in something that is not as godly as they think it is.
P. 96: Jake’s daughter: Well, Dad, when you dig a hole for yourself, I guess you have to throw the dirt on someone.
John: I love it. Who you are doesn’t change in her mind because of what others say. She’s not playing.
Jake: And part of that training includes marginalizing those that don’t go along.
P. 104-5: John: They’re not all frauds, Jake. Not all groups become as destructive as yours. Those who treat leaders as if they have some special anointing are the most susceptible to being deceived by them… Any human system will eventually dehumanize the very people it seeks to serve and those it dehumanizes the most are those who think they lead it. But not everyone in a system is given over to the priorities of that system. Many walk inside it without being given over to it. They live in Father’s life and graciously help others as he gives them opportunities.
P. 107: John: Believing a lie isn’t something someone gets to do. It’s something they are trapped in.
P. 107: John: We are to live on his ability, not our own. Remember what Scripture says about his ability: ‘And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work’ (2 Cor. 9:8-15 NIV). `Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us …’ (Eph. 3:20 NIV). ‘I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him on that day’ (2 Tim. 1:12 NIV) ‘Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him because he always lives to intercede for them’ (Heb. 7:25 NIV). And, ‘(he) is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy’ (Jude 1:24 NIV).
P. 109: John: That’s why we obligate people to a meeting rather than equip them to live in him. I’ve found when people are discovering what it means to live in Father, they won’t need commitment to keep them linked. He will be enough to do that.
P. 118: John: The Scriptures tell us very little about how the early church met. It tells us volumes about how they shared his life together. They didn’t see the church as a meeting or an institution, but as a family living under Father.
P. 120: John: Jesus didn’t leave us with a system; he left us with his Spirit—a guide, instead of a map.
P. 121: John: Because they keep the focus on services or rituals, principles turn most people into spectators. By holding up standards and motivating people to conform to them they only encourage people to pretend to be what they are not, or to act like they know more than they really do. Questions and doubts are dis¬couraged and people can’t deal with the things they are hiding. Thus their relationships become superficial or even false because they only let people see the shadow they want them to sec, not who they really are. Feeling isolated, they only become more focused on their own needs and what others aren’t doing to meet them. They fight over control of the institution, however large or small, so that they can make others do what they think is best. It is a story that has been repeated for a couple of thousand years.
To keep the system working you have to obligate people through commitment or appeal to their ego needs by convincing them this is the last, best, greatest place to belong. That’s why so many groups create false expectations that frustrate people and focus on one another’s needs, or even their gifts, rather than on the ever-present Christ.”
P. 122: John: The church is God’s people learning to share his life together.
P. 122-3: John: We humans are notorious for taking something Scripture describes as a reality, giving a term to it and thinking we’ve replicated the reality because we use the term. Paul talked about the church that gathered in various homes, but he never called it ‘house church.’ Houses were just where they ended up in their life together. Jesus was the focus, not the location. As I said, you can have all the right principles and still miss his glory in the body…No church model will produce God’s life in you. It works the other way around. Our life in God, shared together, expresses itself as the church. It is the overflow of his life in us.
P. 144-5: John: It’s a shame-management system, often with the best intentions and always with the worst of results…No wonder Christian fellowship has to be sold as an obligation. Who would want to hang out with people who are always laying a guilt-trip on you or pressuring you to meet their expectations?
P. 148: John: I’m saying church is here. Here are people who love him. Over the course of this day, they will share a lot of his life together, I’m sure. Jesus said it only takes 2-3 and he never said anything about having to do it as the same time, same place, same way each week.
P. 159: John: That’s one of the strangest things about Christianity locking itself into an institutional box. Our hearts hunger for family…you need a family and brothers and sisters who can respond to you in the moment, not wait for a meeting or go to schedule a seminar.
P. 159: John: Over time, institutions can even become abusive when the demand for conformity takes over. I always encourage people to run when that happens. But that doesn’t discount the fact that some can be relatively healthy.
P. 161: John re church: It can’t be other than it is. Once people are in love with the program and grow dependent on it as the spiritual component of their lives, they won’t see its limitations. It cannot substitute for their own life in him and it can only produce an illusion of community because it is based on people doing what it takes to sustain the institution.
P. 165: John: Truth has its time. If you tell someone the truth before they’re ready to hear it, you can push them further away no matter how well intentioned you might be.
P. 167: John: The problem comes when the structures take on a life of their own and provide a substitute for our dependence upon Jesus…Jesus saw the church as a reality, not an assignment for his followers to construct.
P. 168: Jake: How could obligation ever produce real relationship?
Take away: Christians are the church
Also, recommended by Wayne Jacobsen: Finding Church: What If There Really Is Something More?