I’ve got to be honest and start this post out by saying that I don’t have any clue as to how to write it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my place in the church, and I think I might have found some traction in understanding a problem I keep running up against: churches are brands.
Planning or leading anything (and sometimes even saying anything about God in private conversations) at a church is equivalent to representing a brand – the bigger the brand, the more exactly you have to align with their strategy and core-values, and the more you are expected to perfectly represent.
I hate that.
I hate it because I can’t and won’t (and don’t even believe I should) represent the brand.
I remember the moment when I realized I’d have to leave that first big church I was at – the one that introduced me to God.
I was leading some youth stuff, and one of the verses the church always gave people to memorize was Romans 8:28 “For God works everything together for good for those who love and obey Him.”
That’s not what the verse actually says.
I didn’t know that for about 3 years, because I represented the brand, and they gave me a list of verses to memorize, with the verses typed out for us.
Dutifully, I memorized the verse. Exactly as they taught me.
And didn’t look it up on my own for 3 years.
You know what it really says? Of course you know. It’s one of those verses that everyone knows.
“For God works everything together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.”
I don’t know of any translation that has it as, “…for those who love and obey Him.”
Because that means something completely different from what the Bible actually says. I know it’s a subtle difference, but it has HUGE implications. In the version the church gave me, blessings are earned through obedience rather than received as gifts.Taking that a step further, we can believe that we’re more deserving of good things (even salvation) than other people are… because we obey.
All it takes is a moment to read the verses that surround Romans 8:28, to see that it isn’t so much about God giving us what we want because we obey Him as it’s about the Spirit, His role in the trinity and relationship to humanity, and the graceful work God does on our behalf (and it’s more than a little about predestination).
“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that God works everything together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”
When I read the verse for myself and paid attention to the context, I realized that I couldn’t represent that brand.
I never want my relationship with God to fall under a brand’s theological umbrella. I want to know God in a completely personal, honest, and authentic way for the rest of my life. I don’t want to align my beliefs with a brand. I want to align my beliefs with my God. I won’t carve out a place in my heart for lines posted on a church website; that space is already reserved as a hiding place for God’s word.
Which makes me feel like a rogue.
It shouldn’t make me feel that way, but it does.
It makes me resentful that the church isn’t a body like it’s supposed to be.