For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!”Romans 8:15
Does this sum up your experience? I don’t know about you, but for most of my life I’ve been worried about my Baptist friends, making one little mistake and dying in my sleep, and loads of other things. When I began questioning different aspects of my faith, I read more than a seminary student as I dove into every subject from eschatology to soteriology to hundreds of other topics.
And this wasn’t that fun.
Well, I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t fun; it was a life or death struggle.
But Paul insists that God did not give us a spirit of slavery leading to fear.
Yet how many of us have lived in fear our whole lives? How many of us have lived in bondage to rules and checklists?
Sometimes I gaslight myself into thinking that it couldn’t be that bad, but then one look at the CHURCH OF CHRIST FACEBOOK page or some similar forum reminds me that it was probably worse than I realize.
As I’ve tried to, for the first time in my life, submit to the Spirit and follow the Spirit wherever I might end up, I’ve picked up on the idea that other denominations that I would have previously deemed “liberal” (which is code for anyone who doesn’t interpret the Bible like me) didn’t offer a spirit of liberty, peace, or adoption either. Many people in those groups had similar stories to my own. Many, especially women, had suffered abuse at the hands of a youth minister or other person who had power over them. Many of these churches, despite their cool feel, limited women in the same way my heritage does.
Where’s the freedom? Where’s the Spirit?
But as I ventured into to other camps and witnessed their lives, I saw freedom, but it didn’t seem like the kind of freedom that the Spirit has been leading me to, and it’s really hard for me to put that frustration into words. One of my friends said that he’s the most liberal friend among his conservative friends and the most conservative friend among his liberal friends, which may seem like “enlightened centrism” but I see a lot of truth in that.
For example, my views on how to read the Bible have changed, but I still have a great respect for the Bible as an inspired, God-breathed revelation. My views on the Holy Spirit have changed, but I’m not sold on the charismatic movement. My views on worship have changed, but I’m not satisfied by the perfectly choreographed worship service that some churches offer, even though it is beneficial on one level.
So where is home? Or as my friend said on the phone, “Is there even such a place that has ‘it’?”
And I think that if we are trying to stay out of slavery and fear, then that kind of environment probably can’t be found in a place hallmarked by extra-biblical rules and regulations, actual or perceived. That’s why the times in my life when I’ve felt closest to heaven are those moments at church camp when a handful of us would get together to sing impromptu, when I’m serving someone in need, or when I’m in the woods or on a kayak.
The Spirit carried Jesus into the wilderness, but the Spirit also carried Jesus into bed on a boat during a storm, to the multitudes who were in need, to a garden to pray, and to the mountains for a retreat with his disciples.
Can our churches offer these kinds of experiences without faking it or forcing it? I think so. But I think this means moving from a consumer kind of religion (come each week for some good tunes where you’ll feel really good after, not that there is anything wrong with feeling good or good songs) or a fear-based religion (go to church or the Devil will get you) to an experience of community, compassion, and worship that is relaxed, somewhat impromptu (or dare I say Spirit-led), and focused on transformation of each person into a more Christlike version of themselves.
I think this is where true freedom lies, but the problem is that they spirit of slavery which leads to fear has a death grip on so many that they can’t conceive of another way of doing church, an ancient way of doing church. The way of doing things popularized in the West in our very brief history has immobilized many in their walk. The Spirit can and does still work in these places, but the Spirit is also calling us forward.
The question is who will forsake the spirit of slavery and fear for a spirit of confidence, power, love, and common sense?
That’s the million dollar question.