Freedom. It is an inspiring word. Depending on your circumstance, it can even be a painful word. To those who are oppressed, the promise of freedom can stir hope - but if hope is dead or dormant, it can cut like a knife. What is freedom? Well, according to Webster’s….
Freedom: A state of exemption from the power or control of another; liberty; exemption from slavery, servitude or confinement. Exemption from fate, necessity, or any constraint of predetermination or otherwise; as the freedom of the will. Ease or facility of doing anything. Frankness; boldness.
Hmm…. freedom. It has been the prayer of my heart for over 6 years now. And if I had known then what it would actually look like to get there, I would probably freaked out and run for fear of ‘losing my faith’.
And here I am, 5 years out of a rather explosive (it felt like it at the time) exit from the Institutional Church and a path of seeing a therapist (to my Pentecostal past associates, oh, the horrors), of having not a few emotional meltdowns and wondering at times (as recently as last week…) if I am even a Christian or if any of this stuff is really true…. and irony of ironies, I am supposed to teach on the subject of freedom to a small fellowship I am involved with soon….
I am more settled in my faith – in whom (not what) I hold to – than I have been in a long time, thanks, in part to a bit of a faith challenge last week. I’ll get to that in due course.
So, we have the definition of freedom above, but my question is this: What, exactly, is it that Christ set us free from? The doctrine I grew up in – boiled down to it essence as practiced – was that we were freed from going to hell. And that was about the sum of the teaching on freedom I heard growing up. Later, in the cult (church) I was a leader in, they expanded this to a neat little slogan – “Fall in love with Jesus, then live however you want.” A dart thrown in the right direction, perhaps, but the reality was that it was understood that if you really loved Jesus, you would behave the way the church told you to behave because Jesus set that church over you to tell you what to do. Okay, okay. That didn’t say it quite like that, but they sure practiced it that way. Hmm…. actually, they did, sometimes, say it kind of like that.
So again, what are we free from? I’ve been thinking on this a lot, can you tell? Here is where I am with this. Go back to Eden. What was the first thing Adam and Eve did after they ate the fruit? They recognized they were naked and they were ashamed and afraid. They covered and hid. The first consequence was the entrance of Fear. And that is at the root of a great deal of our bondages ever since, I think.
I know in my life, the major fear I fight is the fear of punishment – the fear of screwing up and getting in trouble. And it has been a process over the last few years to get to the place where I understand that in Christ, there is no fear of condemnation – those things do not come at me from Papa (Romans 8:1, 1 John 4:18, 2 Timothy 1:7). And I thought I had gotten a handle on this. Yeah, right. Then I ran smack dab into that deep well of fear still lurking in me when a friend was teaching at the little fellowship I’ve hooked up with – and his teaching reminded me of the teachings of my childhood.
And I freaked out. After the meeting, my friend and I started talking and I reverted back to that little girl trying to defend herself and being afraid…. and it took me a couple of days to sort it out. That Pentecostalism I grew up in was still lurking in there exerting control over my perceptions of what I had to do to be accepted. Ah…. recognition is the first giant step toward freedom. I gave some really child-like reasons for why the teaching bothered me. Really, they were reasons that sounded like a little girl worked them out. And I guess, in essence, she did. But here’s the beautiful thing – the grown-up girl recognized the source (a day or two later) and was able to ask Papa to help uproot all traces of Pentecostalism (and all other isms) out of my insides. “Yikes!” says the little girl who still isn’t sure that’s okay. But it is okay. I actually told my therapist (who is Catholic) that I think Pentecostal guilt is quite possibly stronger than the proverbial Catholic guilt. She thought for a minute, and then said she could see that as being possible…
So I think one of the main points of the Gospel is that we have been set free from the fear of punishment; set free from the fear of getting it wrong. It seems to me that many of the churches I have observed have this unwritten understanding that, “Yes, the blood of Christ saves us, but then we have to work to keep it.” They seem to think we can earn God’s acceptance, His favor. But the logical conclusion of that thinking is that Jesus died in vain (Galatians 2:21). If there was any way we could ever earn God’s favor, then Jesus would have not needed to come. In fact, to say that we can earn it – must earn it – is saying we don’t really need God. Seriously, to suggest that we get saved by the Grace and blood of Jesus but then have to work to keep it is to say that the sacrifice Jesus made was not strong enough to do a complete job of it and we need to finish the job Jesus started. All I can now say to that is, “Seriously?” But sin management is big business in the Institutional Church. Control is the real issue, I think. And that won’t be given up easily – if ever.
But really, I don’t think that ‘sin’ is even the point anymore. If Christ’s blood has dealt with sin once and for all (Romans 6:10, Hebrews 7:27, Hebrews 9:12, Hebrews 10:10), then sin is no longer the issue. Yay! To be freed from the fear of sinning. So I think I am reaching the place where I can go to a meeting, hear a teaching that I disagree with and just…disagree, without feeling like my position with Papa is in jeopardy or I will be viewed as inadequate. I think I may be on the brink of being settled and comfortable and confident enough in what Papa has been teaching me to stand unmoved by religious attempts at control. Yes – that is freedom, indeed.