I Survived the Christian Right: Ten Lessons I Learned on My Journey Home

Lesson 3
Leave Churchianity

Surprise! Jesus didn’t found an institutional church.14 For that matter, he didn’t found a religion either. He also didn’t expect his followers to set up a Christian version of the synagogue, let alone create a parallel Christian universe where microbrews are banned.

When I worked on a church planting team in Malawi, Africa in the 1990s, I studied the early church and began to realize how unbiblical our modern concept of church is. I came to see that professional salaried clergy, a clergy-laity distinction, meetings in buildings, church budgets, hierarchal leadership, and legalistic requirements, such as tithing, were not present in early Christianity. Frank Viola and George Barna make the case that most of these elements of church were borrowed from pagan culture.15 That doesn’t make them necessarily evil, just not based on the original, and not the model for Christian fellowship. The word translated “church” is the Greek ecclesia, which simply means “gathering” and does not denote an institution. The same word is used for a “mob” in the book of Acts.16

Evangelical churches routinely espouse modern church membership and active involvement as God’s only way of building the Kingdom and creating mature believers. I recently heard a pastor describe his love for the institutional church in terms normally used for ascribing worship to God.

Undoubtedly, there are churches that are healthy places to grow spiritually, but my experience also reveals how prevalent spiritual abuse is found in fundamentalist and evangelical churches. One could argue that the doctrine of the institutional church is largely to blame for abuses. Why? It promotes churchianity…the practice of making belief in Jesus largely focused on the habits and demands of the institutional church (doctrinal purity, religious behavior), rather than on God’s love. Churchianity encourages authoritarian leadership, which is at the core of spiritual abuse. It also doesn’t encourage people to think for themselves. Blind compliance is sure to follow. “Evangelicals are enamored with power and control. That’s why numbers and measures are so important to evangelicals, and why compliance is next to godliness.”17
Don’t put up with churchianity.

[14] Wills, Garry, Op. cit. page 78.

[15] Viola, Frank and Barna, George, Pagan Christianity, page xix.

[16] Wills, Garry, What Jesus Meant, page 78.

[17] Mike Yaconelli, in The Post Evangelical by Dave Tomlinson, page 28.