On Christ Without the Church

A number of years ago, Anne Rice–famous for her Vampire Chronicles series before vampires were all the rage–made the startling announcement that she had returned to the Catholic church, exchanging atheism for a life of faith.  Recently, she again surprised readers and fans, as well as the faith community, with this post to her Facebook fan page:

“For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

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She makes a number of compelling arguments in defense of her decision in a recent interview with Christianity Today.  Though I respect her integrity in following her convictions, and though I identify with a great many of her frustrations, I find I cannot embrace her solution.

There was a time when I thought I could…when I very nearly did.  Several close friends and family members had been trampled upon by arrogant, thoughtless church leaders leaving them wounded and weary.  I had personally known deep disappointment in a community into which I had poured myself for years.  I began to see the Church as an impediment; something standing between Christ and me.

It has been a painful lesson, but I have come to understand that God uses “quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious” people in our lives for our salvation, just as He uses us for theirs.  They help that which is hidden in us bubble to the surface.  It’s not always pretty.  But, the Church provides a “safe” place for us to bump up against one another.  “Like iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” (Prov. 27:17)

I also find myself challenged, inspired, and nourished by the lovely folks in my local parish.  We feed one another.  We care for those who are hurting.  We rally around those in crisis.  We are family.

If I reject Christianity, with it’s contentious, judgmental, angry, abusive members, I also reject the thousands of believers who rush into disaster situations serving, feeding, clothing, building houses.  I reject organizations like Compassion International and World Vision who sustain and empower, one child, one family at a time.  I reject teenagers who work extra jobs so they can go love on kids in Africa.  I reject families who labor tirelessly to help orphans find their forever homes.

I confess, it is considerably more palatable to relate to a Savior who never snaps at you, who doesn’t wag on over dinner, who is not self righteous or needy.  But Christ made it rather clear that we have a responsibility to one another.  And, in his last recorded prayer, that tender lament in John 17, His fervent desire is that we be one.  It is impossible to become one with another while living in isolation.

So I’m in.   For the long haul. Do I wish we more accurately reflected Christ in EVERY action? Most assuredly!  But I hope I will always be humble enough to learn from those around me.  They have so much to teach me.

I close with words of another literary figure who had his own issues with the church.  An observation from C.S. Lewis:

If there is anything in the teaching of the New Testament which is in the nature of a command, it is that you are obliged to take the Sacrament, and you can’t do it without going to Church. I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off.

I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.


*All bolds in the post are mine, used for emphasis, including those in both quotes.