Confessions of a Former Churchgoerby Van Robison
At one time I was a completely deceived churchgoer. I was caught in a web of deception as a young adult with no worldly understanding or experience. I was mesmerized by the church pastors and their speaking abilities to persuade their captives, that they were God's representatives on earth. I took the correspondence course (Worldwide Church of God/Ambassador College under Herbert W. Armstrong), which led me through the Old Testament teachings that they insisted were to be obeyed as the means to eternal life. I was fully persuaded that the church hierarchy of authority was God ordained and that to question that authority was tantamount to questioning God. We faithfully attended Saturday Sabbath church services for years, paid tithes loyally and even observed annual "Holyday" festivals that were considered "God's Feasts."
We were assured that our church organization was the one and only "true" church of God on earth, and all others were apostate. Eventually and over time, I began to sense that something about this church was not right. As a Bible reader, I felt that I could pray, study my Bible and go to church with a sense of joy and happiness and that was as it should be, but then I would go home depressed, feeling spiritually beat up and thinking something about this church makes no sense. Is this God? Not always, but all too frequently, some pastor would stand in the pulpit and pound the daylights out of the congregation, and make us all feel as though we needed to be monks in life.
That ended in October, 1974 when I took a voluntary exit after twelve years of working for Ambassador College in Pasadena, California, and being a church member of this very off track group. Primarily, after about another sixteen years my wife and I and family attended several other churches for a period of years, including charismatic, pentecostal, non-denominational and visited many different groups including Baptist, Methodist, Seventh Day Adventist and whatever suited our fancy. We attended a couple Benny Hinn "healing" crusades, the well known Brownsville Revival in Pennsacola, Florida at the Brownsville Assembly of God Church, and various gatherings, especially when "celebrity" speakers were to be present to speak. We also eventually opted out of all organized churches in the belief that churches are straight-jackets, very narrow minded, even closed minded, very controlled and very man-made, with customs and traditions that had nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus Christ. We simply got sick and tired of the professional clergy system that elevated and exalted men to positions of power, false authority and false tithing. We knew from watching and listening to countless sermons by pastors, that they were no more knowledgeable of the truth of Jesus Christ than we were, and in fact, they were often boring. Some pastors indeed seemed humble and like decent human beings, while others seemed to be very self-important and in love with position, power and control. And they all loved the free money.
After our lifetime of attending organized church groups, we entered into a private home fellowship for a couple of years. That also went by the wayside because the couple in whose home we met, decided they wanted to be under the control of a woman, who was opening a "healing rooms" ministry, founded by Cal Pierce, and patterned after the healing ministry of John G. Lake. That couple eventually quit the ministry.
Ultimately, we realized that in Jesus Christ, where two or three are gathered in His name, He is in the midst, and we have ceased to believe that any form of compulsion to assemble, simply becomes a ritual the same as attending church on Saturday, as we did for years in the Worldwide Church of God. Not only that, but when Jesus Christ lives in us through the Holy Spirit, we always have fellowship with Jesus Christ. Jesus never intended that life in Christ is meant to be a religious ritual. The law of God is simply LOVE, and all living should come within the parameter of the love of God. Going to church routinely is not the definition of love, nor of being a Christ follower. Unfortunately, even house churches can easily become rituals. Life in Christ is not really a "church" thing, but rather one of having the character of God within. Jesus vigorously taught what life is really meant to be throughout His teachings we read in the four Gospels.
I am fully persuaded that life in Christ is Christ living in us 24/7 and has not one iota of anything to do with going to church. Millions will live the whole of their lives in the physical realm believing that the professional clergy system is founded by Christ, yet Jesus came to set the captives free. Churches to my thinking are a form of captivity, as are all human governments and their endless man-made "laws" and evil wars. Church organizations will always defend their existence, because it gives them power and money--the very thing Jesus denounced the pharisees for--customs and traditions of men. Pastors and Christians alike will often quote certain passages of the New Testament without any consideration for the context, the people it was originally spoken to, the circumstance of their lives in that time, and totally misunderstand and misrepresent what was said and why. A great example is, "Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together," at Hebrews 10:25, which is almost always the key verse to demand church attendance. Your personal story may differ from mine and your conclusions may differ, and so that is life.