When Christians express concern about those who have pulled away from organized religion – concern that we’re not “being fed” – it seems what they’re often really saying (from a subconscious level of thought) is “We just want to be sure you’re getting indoctrinated…that you’re vetted…that you still fit into a box we can understand. You’re not fitting right now, so we can’t determine if you’re a ‘real’ Christian. If you’d just attend church, listen to pastors and “educated” church leaders or teachers, and read the Bible more, we’d be more sure of your salvation and that you’re operating according to a framework that gives us a sense of control – thinking the way we think, and that we think God thinks.”
Especially in some more fundamentalist and “traditional” Christian cultures, so-called “orthodoxy” (indoctrination and assertion of a certain set of beliefs, teachings, practices, and expectations – the “established Church’s” views about truth and reality) – is hugely emphasized. The voice of the Spirit is a concept of terror (generally not consciously, but in practice, and as evidenced by the warnings given to Christians that they are not to trust the voice within, because it’s not as reliable as the teachings of an established organization or entity purporting to represent God or even to literally breathe His words).
But Jesus’s most devoted disciples learned the truth directly from His mouth, not from the Pharisees or other Jewish leaders of the day. The fishermen hadn’t received the equivalent of a seminary degree. They just got up from their earthly cares and followed the Master, receiving sweet words of liberation, love, wisdom, and truth from Him.
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.Jesus (John 10:27-28)
The sheep of God are able to learn directly from God – to be fed by their Master. Things are no different today than they were for the disciples, simply because Jesus is no longer present in fleshly form. He is still just as present, speaking His truth directly and intimately to us. There is nothing to fear. We need not fear being misguided, nor care when others fear that we will be led astray by our own hearts. He leads us into the truth.
But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.John 16:13
Sometimes that truth is the realization that the constructs of religion surrounding us are simply false props purporting to commend us to God. When the Spirit speaks, His wind blows away all those props, and we see them for the weak and brittle facades they were. We begin to gain a vision of God that transcends all we once “knew.” When that happens, it can frighten those who think they have all the answers (or at least certain answers) about what God wants and how to please Him. They may be afraid for us, and also sometimes afraid of losing control over our thoughts, or the echo chamber they once found in us.
Sometimes, the Spirit drives us into a wilderness – away from everything we thought we knew – or were told we should “know” – and into the wild yet wise fellowship of the Spirit. This journey often happens in times of intense suffering and loss.
When all the pollution and blinders have been distilled out, we see with clarity the heart of God, and the liberation of our souls which He so desires for us. We lose the desire to ever return to the systems we now recognize as deeply oppressive.
Both our minds (intellect, logic) and our souls (intuition, breath of God, channel of the Spirit’s wisdom) were given to us to use – not to silence in shame and deference toward human teachers who think they understand everything. How can we ever sharpen each other and mutually challenge our ways of thinking when certain thoughts and beliefs are so heavily censored?
This is the same type of censoring we fear being enforced upon the media or the common citizen, but somehow, in religion, we are inoculated toward recognizing the deception and danger of suppressing certain views – and toward acknowledging our right or responsibility of even expressing and discussing those views.
In organized religion, some thoughts are simply off limits if you don’t want to be ostracized, dehumanized, or excommunicated (which begs the question, why would we even want to stay in a fellowship or culture which does not welcome the wisdom of the Spirit and the freedom of mutual sharing and exploration?).
Someone recently told me that organized religions have to disarm people’s intellect (labeled as “the mind” or “the devil”), sensory cues (“the flesh”), and support networks (“the world”). All our God-given defense systems – intelligence, intuition, physical pain, and community – are meant to warn and protect us, but these systems are silenced or numbed in organized religion in order to keep us subservient to the system – the tyrannical control of darker spiritual forces – no matter how oppressive, physically exhausting, isolating, and harmful to ourselves and others the system may be. Our defense systems are labeled as “the devil,” “the flesh,” and “the world,” and thus discarded as “evil” and “against our best interests.”
Our souls are pieces of God’s breath. When a blind teacher oppresses the soul of a child of God, they imprison the breath of God (in a limited way). They attempt to chain and control something transcendent and eternal – a piece of God. Religion is just one means that the dark forces of this world use to attempt to tyrannize, own, and oppress that which is God’s – even His very essence.
In the wilderness, Jesus was tempted with the riches of the world if He would just submit Himself to Satan. Satan wanted to own God. He still tries to oppress and imprison His children. But just as he couldn’t have more than a temporary victory (bruising the Savior’s heel) over Jesus, he will not have the final victory over us.
When God calls His children out of bondage, it is important that we recognize this as a good thing, and not fear that we or others are “leaving the faith.” We are simply leaving the facade – the illusions of artificial connection with God and earned favor.
The simulations have shattered, and we have seen the beautiful, restful, loving, peaceful, and joyful truth of a God of unconditional love. We have truly encountered the good news.
There is always the call to return to Egypt – the land of slavery but familiarity and “comfort.” If you are facing this pressure right now, remember that God parted the Red Sea to ensure the liberation of the Israelites, no matter now ferociously Egypt pursued them. God cares about your spiritual liberation. He has your back.