How do we know about God’s love, God’s generosity, God’s kindness, God’s forgiveness? Through our parents, our friends, our teachers, our pastors, our spouses, our children … they all reveal God to us. But as we come to know them, we realise that each of them can reveal only a little bit of God. God’s love is greater than theirs; God’s goodness is greater than theirs; God’s beauty is greater than theirs.
At first we may be disappointed in these people in our lives. For a while we thought that they would be able to give us all the love, goodness, and beauty we needed. But gradually we discover that they were all signposts on the way to God.
I think this is a gracious view of the various people in our lives, including pastors. I have come to see that while I can be grateful for pastors who have contributed in my life, in terms of preaching the gospel of grace and unveiling God as our loving Father, I am also learning to see them as humans who are subject to fallibility.
As I am growing and learning new things beyond mainstream christianity, I have grown out of my former church pastor’s teachings. When I look back at the institutional church system from the outside, I begin to see that it has pros and cons. The upside is that it favours those who are part of the system, as the members get to enjoy the privilege of fellowship. The downside is that it draws a clear distinction between those who are “in” and those who are “out” of the system.
For example, those who do not subscribe to a particular church system’s teachings are seen as “apostates” or “heretics”. This is especially so if the church institution leaders are insecure and feel threatened by what is seen as a challenge to their “authority”.
Secondly, megachurch pastors tend to be regarded as celebrities, who are usually too busy or important to address queries and needs of the church members. They would usually delegate the tasks to their appointed leaders and deacons. While having a busy schedule is understandable, we can’t help remembering Jesus for being different from most megachurch pastors. Jesus made time for everyone, regardless of their social status, whether be they Roman centurions or fishermen or widows or Samaritans. Jesus sees and treats everyone as equal.
Thirdly, I have ceased to be reliant on church pastors to feed me with daily manna. Maybe the fivefold ministry of apostles, evangelists, teachers, preachers and pastors are only applicable in the old covenant system of law during Paul’s time in the first century AD. Once the new heavens and new earth began in AD70, as the new covenant of grace took effect, we no longer need a preacher to teach us about God. After all, the new covenant said “None shall teach his neighbour ‘Know the Lord’, for all shall know Me, from the least to the greatest.”
Therefore, everyone knows God intuitively. Everyone can listen to the still, small voice of God for himself or herself. We may learn from others when they share their insights about God and their encounters with God, but we can only truly experience God for ourselves.
I have come to see the danger of depending solely on a preacher to share about God because we can become confined to or restricted by the preacher’s own theological box. Besides, by doing so, we would be subjecting ourselves to the mood swings and emotional experiences and religious sensibilities of the preacher. What if the preacher gets up one Sunday morning and decides that God is displeased with him about something, and he starts to preach a message that focuses on sin management? This will invariably affect the minds and emotions of the listeners.
Fourthly, megachurch pastors are probably more susceptible to becoming a victim of their own success, so to speak, if we were to measure success by their popularity, compared to pastors of smaller ministries and denominations. Some of them may have started well when they preach grace at the expense of themselves being criticised by more legalistic preachers. But the moment they become well-known, they may become addicted to fame and recognition.
What happens when people around the world experience spiritual awakening and start questioning traditional doctrines on the literal hell, rapture, literal second coming of Christ and penal substitutionary theory of the cross? Are the same pastors willing to bear the costs of exploring these questions and display intellectual honesty to admit they might be mistaken in their interpretation of the Bible if they were to consider certain principles, such as time references, audience relevance and symbolism used in the Bible? The costs of being intellectually honest may include being ostracised by the mainstream church circles, losing support of their peers, losing church membership, being labelled as heretics, and experiencing their own spiritual crisis, not to mention the risk of losing their regular income in the process, along with their comfortable lifestyles.
“There are few things more dangerous than inbred religious certainty.”
― Bart D. Ehrman
At the same time, I do not want to come across as being judgmental, because as the saying goes, when I judge someone, it reflects more about me than about the other person. Besides, if I were to be in their shoes, would I be certain I would not have made similar decisions and faced similar dilemmas? I have been “unconscious” myself in the past as I was also involved in mainstream christianity for several years, and I used to think such church doctrines and programmes were “normal”.
Then again, I would not be true to myself if I were to close my eyes to what is happening in the world today. Maybe there is a fine balance between making an observation and making a judgment. By being aware of what is happening, and by questioning the status quo, I may be helping both myself and others to come to terms with the whys behind the whats. In this case, I am questioning why the church institutional systems, particularly mega church institutions, are continuing to function the way they do (as corporate entities) and the preachers seem unwilling to question doctrines that are based on the illusion of separation (such as literal hell and literal second coming of Christ and sin and penal substitution). Perhaps this is a question only the preachers can answer for themselves honestly.
As for me, I am still growing and evolving. I have come to a place where I think everyone needs to have the freedom to explore spirituality on their own and come to their own conclusion. Each of us is a mystic, and we are our own preachers. We are our own pastors. We don’t need to rely on someone else to pastor us or save us. We are our own saviours. We don’t need any external saviours.
We are saved by grace through faith, yes, and yet grace is not separate from us. We are saved daily by our own repentance (change of mind to believe the gospel). We are saved by our own thoughts and beliefs about who we really are – Christ in us the hope of glory.
The implanted Word that is able to save our souls is not an entity separate from ourselves. We are the implanted Word. We are the good news. We are the mirror image of our Beloved, in whom we live and move and have our being. As we behold our true divine Self, we are being transformed into His same image from glory to glory.
Peace and blessings.