Since leaving church, I have realized in an ever increasing way just how much I relied upon a lot of "stuff" that goes along with church attendance and the so-called Christian "lifestyle" to form the major part of my Christian witness in the world. So when I did make the decision to leave, one of the first thoughts I had was "what will people think?" Not what will other Christians think, but what will non-Christians think? Will they assume that I have lost my faith? That I have backslidden?
When I told my family, they were quite taken aback. I tried to explain as best as I could. But it is tricky, as none of them are believers. I for sure didn't want them to think that I no longer wanted to be a Christian. But so much of the reputation and understanding of what a Christian is is wrapped up in oft-church-going. And I was one of the most oft! Usually I went to four services a week. My family, and lots of other people, commented on how strange it was for someone to go to church so often. I used to tell them it wasn't because I had to go, but because I wanted to go. And I did want to. Then.
The popular concept of a "good" Christian would certainly include faithful church attendance. Also being involved in a Bible study. And not smoking, or drinking, or swearing. Or going to racey movies, or going to bars, or bingo, or gambling casinos, and the list could go on and on. But that’s not right, either. There are plenty of people who fit the bill in that regard, and yet aren't followers of Jesus Christ. They do all the right things, and live morally upstanding lives, but they are still outside of Christ.
I came across this little blurb today. I had written it several years ago, just rambling on to get things off my chest.
"Aren’t we supposed to be fools for Christ? What good do we do if we just huddle together like a bunch of sheep, never saying anything, or doing anything that might be different? Everything nowadays in the church is all polished and predictable, so religious a lot of the time. Even the way we talk to one another, and the way we talk to God, when we pray. I keep comparing it to how it must have been in the days of the apostles. What would they think of us today? They might not even recognize us as Christians, we are so worldly, so dispassionate about Christ. We are either on some emotional band-wagon or other, or we sit around discussing doctrine, like it was some kind of scientific theory. We try to keep one foot in the world, and one foot in the Kingdom. But it can’t be done. So then we are miserable. And no wonder. He didn’t save us to become some kind of hybrid born-again religion. He has given us eternal life, yet we live as if this life here is all we have. This life here is nothing! When I was first saved, I looked around, and wondered where all these Christians had been all my life. Surely if they felt as exited as I did, they should have been a lot more evident. But it seemed as thought they only ‘came out of the closet’ on Sundays, and on Wednesday nights. The rest of the time they just went about like regular people. You couldn’t really tell them apart from the rest of the world. But I just knew there must be more to being a Christian than what I was doing. Shouldn’t my life make a difference? I want it to make a difference. Or else what is the point of my living it? Even before I was saved, I had a yearning to make a difference, somehow. And now I have a reason, the best reason in the world, to make a difference. I can make a difference for God’s kingdom, I can make a difference for His Name’s sake. What else are we here for? God is working His purpose in us, so we will work it out for Him. He shows us truth, He changes our heart, He changes us inside, so that we will behave differently outside. Otherwise we are just hiding our light under a bushel. It is not meant to be hidden."
It seems that even back then I was questioning, and frustrated. So tell me, how will they know? How will they know that I love Jesus? How will they see a difference in my life, if I'm no longer talking about church and Bible study? If they run into me in the grocery store on a Sunday morning, will they assume that I'm backslidden, or that because I don't go to church I don't love God any more? I think I know what the answer is. The answer is that the love of Christ will be evident in my life; my love for Him, His for me, and His for them. If I cultivate that relationship, and make seeking Him and knowing Him my highest priority. If I hide His word in my heart, and ask daily and hourly and moment by moment for grace to be faithful to what He has called me to be.
This is an important issue to me. I am more concerned about what non-believers think than what other Christians think of my leaving church. Have you ever wondered about this? What conclusions have you come to?