Life after meetings

Though they are the cornerstone of the organised church, meetings don't define the Christian life. The late Maurice Smith urged believers to reconsider their dependence on meetings and to ensure that their 'light' is internal.
(This article was previously published in 'Insights' magazine).

Why do so many accept that the organised church we see all around us today is vital to our spiritual maintenance and progress?

I suppose they learned so from the biblical literalists who insist their particular interpretation of the New Testament church is the only one for today. As it was then, is now, and ever shall be. I was one of those people. Then there are the myriad innocents who have never experienced anything else and have automatically assumed that the organised church they were first introduced to is how it is meant to be. I started off with a measure of this, in spite of trooping from church to church trying to find that elusive ideal. But there are so many others now unsatisfied with the status quo. So-called rebels who are unable to go on year after year enthusiastically propping up the system, being led - some even doing as they are told - and finding their relationship with God is increasingly filtered through the authority of the upper echelons.

So should we all leave and give up meeting together? I don't believe that is always the answer; but I do believe we should feel free to leave if we want to or stay if we want to. Surely some should depart in order to be true to themselves, to take a risk on finding out if there is life outside of the institution (whether it be the Roman or House Church variety, or the many in between these two extremes). However bored whilst inside the organised church, such are well advised to be prepared for quite a surprise. It can be a great shock to discover how much of our activity is a genuine experience of the Lord himself, and how much is merely playing at churches and chapels, however cunningly disguised as what God is doing first and foremost today.

For myself, I am convinced that anyone who thinks they are in the vanguard becomes an automatic selection for the rearguard. The whole spirit of 'We have it and you don't' is alien to what I have understood of the spirit of Christ. Of course such dogmatism has its attractions and gives a sense of assurance in a terrifying world, but at what great cost? Most certainly one can forfeit the on-going discovery of who we really are. For those who are tired of the seeming merry-go-round, it is only as we discard some of our religious clutter and are open to change, that we are thrown back on laid-bare honesty of how real is the daily experience of God-in-me. Although there may be nothing wrong with meetings in themselves, living without them can leave a gaping hole, for many of our lives have been largely made up of meetings, even if we never intended it to be like that. We may feel lost without them.

Some tell me we are bound to go off course without the church structure. I beg to disagree. Much as I love the company of other people and still constantly seek it, we are kept by the power of God and not by each other. We do not need anyone to teach us once we are safely on the road of inner dependence. So often we are forever learning, but never experiencing reality, as we attend teach-in after teach-in, always striving to attain input from outside ourselves, when we should be discovering more and more what is already inside us.

For those who have a heart to go, would it be good to explain exactly what it will be like once through the gate and out into the rolling countryside of freedom from permanent Organisation? I hardly think so, for everyone's pasture seems different. Some find it is luscious and others find it very barren. Probably because once free of our dependence upon the Organisation we begin to discover how much method and system has governed us. For some it has only had a small influence, whilst for others God has been very largely a concept rather than a daily experience. Surely it is better to find out the truth, however painful that might be? Often there is a period of dissatisfaction, perhaps even wondering if one has lost out altogether. For some of us the loneliness of a long night, or the hardship of a long winter, is ours before we begin to live freely and 'church' our way through everyday life in all kinds of corner-store situations.

For those who want to stay in, submit to authority, be covered, attend lots of meetings, enjoy a good sing, or even have ambitions of leadership, that is your choice; but please allow others to depart without judging them to be apostate. Once there was a freshness in their togetherness, but now it is stale for them and they are tired of it all. They need a change. It could be that they are pursuing what is right for them and have had enough regimentation - it is that to them, if not to others - and are very glad to be away from the intensity of it all. Even in light of the fact that many may look as though they have gone into a wilderness, why not defer our judgement until the proper day, for it could just be they will discover a promised land? At least they must find out first-hand where they stand, and maybe even find themselves properly for the first time.

For myself, I have found that to live is to have purpose enough. That being is doing; perhaps I can write about that another time.

© Maurice Smith - 1990