I remember what grace was like. I can find it again. Many of them never knew grace to start with, and don't know what they are missing.

I remember what grace was like. I can find it again. Many of them never knew grace to start with, and don’t know what they are missing.

Maybe this is right. Maybe its a little off base. But I think there is more to it than a lot of people in my ex-church would like to admit. I really feel sorry for them. I remember what grace was like. I can find it again. Many of them never knew grace to start with, and don’t know what they are missing.

Falling from Grace
(spiritual competition)

On the way home tonight I was thinking…

The church I’m in is very conservative. They weren’t always this way. Several years after the church started, when it had started to grow fairly large, some people felt convicted over sleeve length. They went to the pastor and informed him of how they felt. He accepted this as their conviction. There was some stir after this about whether or not they should wear long sleeves at work if the dress code required otherwise (several of them worked for the same entity). The pastor was careful to say that they had the Holy Ghost, and as they walked closer to God they might develop stronger convictions. This, I’m sure, made them feel good about their convictions. Others began to follow suit, both to support those who were “fighting for their convictions” against their employer, and to show they were spiritual too. The employees won their case after a long fight. Several had lost their jobs though, and were seen as “persecuted for righteousness sake” because they lost their jobs “fighting for their (presumably God given) convictions.”

Over time, other “convictions” became established norms in this church. The pastor felt a conviction against hair bows. Weren’t they decoration, after all? Some saints came close to (or did fall into) fornication. Wouldn’t they have been safer had they had a chaperone, or if someone had told the pastor that they were in trouble? The people loved the pastor, and the pastor loved them. He was hard on them, but they were used to that. He pushed them to the limit spiritually. This was challenging and “worth the fight”. Competition grew, and gossip became more rampant.

A few people in the church became very spiritual as a result. They later backslid, but before they did, they were respected for a time. People emulated their “good” character. But it wasn’t good. Then they fell. The church lost about 30-40% of its members in a short time due to economic and political changes and people backsliding. This again increased the competition.

A Christian school was started, a new sanctuary built, and the church became better known. In the school, the same children saw each other six days a week for 14 years. The sanctuary was one of the best in the city, and was a source of pride. They were often told the building would be filled to capacity someday. It was considered great faith to believe this and visualize it and reach others to help fill it. There was also a pride in the fact that the church and pastor were well known. The saints traveled to some of the meetings the pastor preached, and noticed that not everyone carried the convictions they had been taught. They began to think that they were especially blessed people who had something many other places didn’t have. Spiritual competition had just been taken to a new level.

By the time I arrived, spiritual competition had become common place and was not thought of as abnormal. Third generation Pentecostals were now competing, much as their parents and grandparents had. There was a form of sibling rivalry amongst the saints, of who was most loved by the pastor and who spent the most time with him. Family member competed against family member, and group against group. People bragged about who was closest to the pastor and who had done what for him. This was considered normal, but was it? What happened to grace? Where did “love your neighbor” go? These were virtually absent. People were disappointed if the message was on love or grace, and preferred the messages on hell and damnation! These were the tapes they bought, the messages they shouted to, the ones they rehashed later over coffee.

What happened to grace? Many of them traded it for spiritual competition. But spiritual competition can’t save. Only grace can do that, and they had forgotten where to find it.