December 5, 2020

From the Writer’s Worktable: Check in, but don’t always Buy in

bdcThis was going in at the end of a chapter on the Christian and the Bible that I’ve been working on yesterday and today, but it fell out when I changed directions. It may appear in some form in later chapters more intentionally about the faith community. Or maybe not.

Please know: I am speaking to “leavers” in much of this book, i.e. people who have left or are leaving the church. If your orientation is totally “unquestioned loyalty to whatever my church says or does” an you’ve never considered leaving, I’m definitely on a different page.

This topic is giving those outside of the church who still relate to scripture a positive way to think about reapproaching the church on this issue.

What should be the relationship between the Christian and the church when it comes to the Bible? Here’s a simple saying that’s helped me understand the balance: We should “check in” with the church, but not necessarily “buy in” to everything the church is saying about the Bible.

How do you “check in,” but not “buy in?”

For starters, we’re humble and teachable. We know that we need to be taught and we don’t carry the idea that because the Holy Spirit can speak to one person we assume that’s the normal Christian life. It’s not. Paul told the Corinthians that what was already in the Bible was there for their example and their benefit.

Beyond that, we remember that the church often- not always, but often- is the place where we will find those called and gifted to teach the Bible. God the Spirit gives teachers to the church as an encouragement and a resource. Their most basic job: teach the Bible to God’s people and equip them to live the Jesus shaped life.

We should also remember that hearing and interpreting scripture is sometimes a solo project, but usually it’s a group project. I know that most Bible studies can seem like a waste of time, but the realistic anchor of the experiences of others can keep us out of the ditches.

Next, we should keep in mind that the church has often conserved the lessons, truths and evidences of God’s work in the past. Yes, it may be very biased and unbalanced, but we still should “check in” to see what the church’s confessions, biographies, stories, mentors, saints and examples can teach us. It’s a living library there for our use.

Finally, we should remember that even if the church isn’t a place we are comfortable or that we can associate with regularly, it is still moving in the same direction we are toward the Kingdom of God. We may find ourselves on very different roads, but the direction is the same. Our purpose should be to live in peace, to encourage one another, to share our stories and to rejoice/weep together on the journey. Not all pilgrims travel in the same group. Some want to be alone. Some want a small band of friends. Others are comforted and helped by large numbers. God’s Word speaks to all of us and holds all of us together. We should learn to journey to the Kingdom in peace, not in conflict.

You are welcome to comment on what I’ve written, but keep in mind this is a long way from all I have to say about the church and its contribution to Jesus shaped spirituality.


  1. Seth…thanks, and I couldn’t agree with you more. As I told a friend once, I don’t want my friends to love primarily me, I want them to love God first…and if they can put up with me, then He’ll handle the rest.

    It’s been a long season in the “communal desert”, but my hope is still that He will lead us to others who have outgrown the traditional kool-aid…and are willing to embrace the Kingdom even (and especially) if it doesn’t look like we expect it to.

    If waiting on God was easy, we’d need about 100 less Psalms.


  2. A true friend will continue to be your friend, even if you disagree about religion or politics or what have you. (Or kill a man!) But in many churches, an important subtext is that you are not really “one of us” unless you accept _______________ (fill in the blank with whatever applies). Does that mean that church is less than friendship, or even–a counterfeit community?

    • It’s funny that you write this Werther as at this point in time, I’m having similar thoughts running through my head. Funny to me in that my “friends” in the church don’t seem to give a rats *** about what is happening in my life in and outside of church (fellowship seems limited to what church programs and fellowship groups you attend and what you can “do” for the church without any reference to real “koinonia”).

      Where as my “friends” outside of church actually do give a rats *** about what’s going on in my life in and outside of church. Do I smell the subtle whiff of hypocrisy here…

      And I guess that’s why others wonder why there’s a good chance that I probably will end up leaving my current church congregation for another rather than stay where I have been for the last 15 years…

  3. I should add that some liberal churches avoid this, or try to, while other religions (such as Judaism and probably Buddhism) have entirely different membership criteria.

  4. Werther…I hear you. The “one of us” thing merely shows such folks to be, at worst, no better than the world and, at best, spiritual children.

    But I still believe there’s a level of friendship (that most of us have never experienced) that, in the Lord, is far deeper and more satisfying (if more challenging) than can be found outside of Him.

  5. A few years ago I think the Lord prompted me to go to this little old church, He said I would learn brotherly love. It was about 10 people total, the pastor was in his 80’s God bless him, and every single sermon you’d wait for the moment,” back in WW2…” My wife would look after his ailing wife while I’d take the kids to church, the organist would argue with pastor right in the midst of the service. This was a weekly routine. I whimpered,griped ,and groaned under the absurd routine I found myself, and then it came to me brotherly love how sweet it is. My skins thicker these days and I know my heart is bigger. Love your enemies, love the weak, love the arrogant, and most of all love one another. You couldn’t keep me away from my brothers and sisters in Christ,how else am I to learn to love?

  6. Monk: I’m hoping that your post of 5:07 is fleshed out in your new book. That’s some truth that needs to be heard by many.

    Hope your writing and ministry goes forward in power.

    Greg R.