Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | October 24, 2019

A Battle for Authenticity

Can “church” be the biggest obstacle to living an authentic life?

Richard would be described by most as a good Christian, having come to faith in Christ twenty five years ago. Being a faithful church attender ever since, his life largely revolves around church life; that is, activities and programs promoted by his church. The following is a typical week in Richard’s life:

On Sunday morning, Richard rises early to attend church. After the song service, his pastor delivers a six-point sermon on a particular topic; Richard listens intently and takes notes on the back of the church bulletin which is provided to each member for this express purpose.

On Sunday evening, Richard attends his church’s Sunday evening service where the associate pastor delivers a sermon on a particular topic. Although no bulletin is provided, Richard brings his own notebook so he can take notes and glean over them during his daily quiet time.

On Monday night, Richard attends his “small group” which consists of six other people; they share a meal and go over their notes from Sunday morning’s sermon (as instructed by the pastoral staff), discussing how they can apply it to their daily lives.

On Tuesday evening, Richard attends his church’s Bible Study in the fellowship hall. One of the pastors or elders leads it. During this particular week, the study is from the book of James; the goal being for members to gain insight on how to apply its teaching to their lives.

On Wednesday evening, Richard attends church to hear yet another sermon by his senior pastor. Bulletin for taking notes provided.

On Thursday evening (since it’s the 2nd Thursday of the month), Richard participates in a “ministry night” which is predetermined by the church leaders. One month it may be the providing and sorting of clothes for a thrift store located on the poor side of town; another month may be the serving of food at the local homeless shelter.

On Friday evening, Richard gets off work and goes home to prepare for the night. Rather than joining folks from work who enjoy dinner and drinks at a local restaurant, Richard always opts out and goes to church instead because it’s “game night.” Each week, the church bulletin lists the particular game that will be played the following Friday; sometimes a board game, and sometimes a more interactive activity. Plus, recent sermons have discussed how Christians should not participate in the “unfruitful deeds of darkness,” so not being around wine-drinkers is seen by Richard as the path of holiness.

On Saturday evening, Richard typically stays home to watch a few preachers/teachers on Christian TV who have been highly spoken of by the church staff and some in his small group. Or, he may read a portion of a book from the church’s approved book list. Richard won’t deviate from the list as he wants to spiritually “stay on the same page” with all other members, as directed by the pastor.

It’s Sunday morning again, and Richard rises early to prepare for church. He attends Sunday School and then heads to the sanctuary for the morning service. During the brief intermission between worship and the sermon, he shakes hands with other members. People ask, “How are you?” and Richard replies, “I’m doing great!” But inside, Richard knows he’s not doing great. He carries a burden of guilt for failing to meet “biblical standards” which are the strong focus of his pastor’s teachings, frequently battles depression, has no real friends, feels aimless, is inwardly discontent and is deep in debt (although he tithes regularly). But he keeps it all to himself; he doesn’t want to be judged for his “lack of faith” or for not praying enough or reading his Bible enough. After all, people who are truly “on fire for God” don’t have these problems. He just needs to “press into God” even more (as his pastor routinely suggests) and things will get better…

Outside of church, Richard has a full-time job. He’s a good employee, has high morals and is known to follow the rules. Nonetheless, he’s seen by most as relationally aloof… spending his break-time in his cubicle where he eats his bagged lunch and studies his Bible. And conversation with Richard has always been a bit awkward. His insular life serves as an obstacle to meaningful dialogue about current events, sports, business and other things that folks like to chat about; he’s just not “in-the-know.” Finally, he periodically seems to “force Jesus” into conversations… the result of the guilt and stress he carries for not “sharing the gospel” with everyone he comes into contact with. After all, if he doesn’t, “their blood shall be on his hands” as his senior pastor recently suggested.

Friends, although the above scenario is fictional, it’s not at all uncommon. I’m going to cut right to the chase…

How does a life that is supposed to be lived from the heart… a life that should be characterized by love, inner desire, spontaneity, passion, generosity, creativity, and (most of all) relational connectedness, become an insular life lived from the head, within a neat little box arranged by others, and characterized by the ordinary and mundane?

How does a life that is supposed to be lived from the heart… a life animated by Christ Himself…. become a head-strong life animated by sermons, Bible studies, and the expectations of others within church culture?

Welcome to organized religion (AKA church).

So many Christians are divorced from their heart and don’t even know it. Unable to think for themselves, they’re always looking to their pastor-idols for direction, and worship their Bibles by living off principles and instructions written in ink… rather than responding to the Holy Spirit written on their hearts.

It’s why I maintain that very little that goes on with those plugged into church-world and mass media Christianity is authentic, organic, original. Rather than being animated by our own hearts (where Christ Himself lives), we routinely live off the revelation of others and are master copy-cats.

As for Richard, he’s bought into the narrative that it’s “the world” that will distort his life, cause him to stumble, and serve as an obstacle to his growth.

It certainly can.

But what if Richard’s biggest obstacle to living a life characterized by inner desire, passion, generosity, creativity and spontaneous acts of love is his preoccupation with following his pastor’s six-point sermon?

What if his biggest hindrance to social and emotional growth is his insular life lived within the four walls of his church?

And what if his biggest stumbling block to relational connection with others and being in tune with his surroundings (so he can manifest light and love) is a head always down and buried in Bible?

Will Richard ever break free from the religious system that has usurped the preeminence and simplicity of Christ in his life? Will he be able to forsake church-world methodologies and ideologies which promise him fullness and freedom while continuing to experientially keep him in bondage? And will he ever discover his true identity in Christ and as a man, and freely live, laugh and love in the arena of real life?

















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