I am a Christian, if being a Christian means one who undertakes a spiritual journey with Christ. But we no longer go to organised church, instead we occupy and visit with others on a similar Christ pursuit in safe spaces in the “wilderness”. I facilitate a Facebook group called Free-range Christians as a resting and meeting place for Christians of all persuasions, and you’re welcome to join us.
In the meantime, here’s what following Jesus Christ in the wilderness means to me. Selah.
The Christian church was once a shelter in the wilderness; a refuge for wanderers on the trail, all of us following Christ on an indeterminable path, beyond the confines and confusion of culture and godlessness. We followed Jesus out here, and looked for his footsteps to guide us, devoted ourselves to the wandering both together and alone, gathering around the campfires from time to time for friendship and to share the bread. We knew the wilderness was hard sometimes, but as long as Jesus was out here, it’s where we wanted to be. To be apart from those things that led us to believe we were not enough, or too much. To be away from the distractions of the discipl-ined devotional life. To have the time and space to see Him clearly and hear His voice. It was hard, not having a home in the mainstream, but we knew there was no longer any way to live like that. We had to follow Jesus out into the wild, and were comforted to know we were not, and did not need to be alone.
But the wilderness is still the wilderness.
What happened? When did the wilderness Jesus led us into stop being so wild? When was it we decided to stop wandering, because it was too hard to keep everyone together, and started to build structures and places and organisations to keep everyone together and on the same path, the same page? When was it we stopped trusting Jesus to lead and guide each one of us, and started managing the leading and guiding amongst ourselves?
When was it we decided wandering itself was a waste of resources, and we were sick of feeling off-kilter and vulnerable, and decided to pour foundations and put up walls and car parks, and call the church a place to go when we made the time, rather than a thing we were, that we couldn’t help but be, but which we could no more tie down, control or house in a building than we could Jesus Christ himself?
When was it we got our distaste for the wilderness, and went about our own kind of godlessness, recreating the safe, strong models of the cities we left behind which make us feel more safe and secure, to help us make sense of ourselves? When did we stop trusting God for our daily bread, and build a bread-making industry by which we now feed ourselves? When was it we gave into our feelings of insecurity and lost our appetite for manna, for locusts and milk and honey? When was it we started believing the Promised Land was a place we could physically arrive at?
When was it we stopped seeing ourselves as counter-culture and started making new cultures, just so we could consider everyone else counter to them? When did the tribe become so cohesive and bonded that we needed rules and creeds and dogma to decide who was in and out? Since when did being a fellow restless wanderer on the earth stop being how we recognised each other, out here, in the wilds?
I cannot help feeling that Jesus is still doing now, exactly what he always did. Leading people out, not in. Getting away from, not into. Dismantling and deconstructing institutions and cliques, rather than facilitating them. Including and gathering people, then sending and trusting them, rather than hoarding them up and holding them with doctrines which teach them they are foolish, sinful and untrustworthy.
When did the church build itself into a walled city against the wilderness, and all Jesus knew it would do, could do for us?
When did we decide we own the idea of church, and everyone in it, instead of it belonging to the wilds-wandering Jesus Christ?
When did people consider becoming a disciple of Christ to be entering safety, security, certainty, and collectivity?
When did the church stop being the wanderers in the wilderness, and start being everything Jesus made whips to destroy?
When did you stop wandering out there as the church of your Lord, and decide to come in to the church, Christian?
For while ever you are consumed with making institutions of the church, Jesus will be standing in the wilderness, leading seekers out of them.