Why I go to church

Spiritual isolation is a recipe for disaster

Anna Barela has learned that church is the antidote to spiritual isolation.

Anna Barela has learned that church is the antidote to spiritual isolation.

Courtesy Of Anna Barela

Faith in God is possible without ever setting foot in a church. However, learning and growing in one’s faith without the support of a church body can lead down a dangerous road of narrow-minded insanity.

I learned this lesson through an entire childhood of bumpy memories. I go to church to keep an open mind.

I do not believe going to church will get me into heaven, or even make God like me more. While it’s a quiet place to pray and reflect on him, so are the mountains, the sea or the quiet of my room. I hear the word of God in church, but I have a Bible at home, and the opportunities to build community and friendships is filled in other ways.

As a child, I was raised in a very religious household, but one without church attendance. My father believed, as I do, that going to church is not a get-into-heaven-free card; living in Christ daily is true Christianity. So our family did not go to church. We studied the Bible together and prayed together, with my father as our leader.

Like anyone passionate about faith, my father sought to deepen his understanding of God and strengthen his faith as well as that of his family. However, without the support of a church body or any influence from others to balance his viewpoint, my father’s interpretations of what he read in the Bible became very extreme. My mother was new to Christianity, and my sisters and I were just children. There was no one to question him.

Soon, he stretched Bible verses instructing Christians to be “not of this world” to require that we live in isolation from human contact outside the immediate family. Verses on marriage and child rearing were twisted in his mind to give himself license to carry out violence on the rest of us. He built a prison around us with an unrecognizable version of Christianity as his justification.

Our prison was behind three locked gates on a dirt road, seven miles from the nearest neighbor. My sisters and I were home-schooled, and contact with friends slowly diminished over the years. The hierarchy of control within the family, with my father as the head, was strictly enforced—violently, when he felt it necessary.

As the violence escalated and the biblical justifications compounded, my mother eventually began to question his interpretations. Finally, she reached out through neighbors and sought the counsel of church leaders. She began to understand a message of love in the pages of the Bible. She took her daughters and broke free from my father’s extremist prison.

I learned of God’s goodness from my mother. This guides my desire to seek him. I learned from my father that I can seek God without church, but that it is dangerous to become trapped by my own narrow perspective. Additionally, without church, I am left with only secular media’s often inaccurate portrayal of Christianity with which to compare my faith. It’s enough to make a person crazy. I’ve tried it.

These days, I find my way to the peaceful pews of church as often as I can. I still study the Bible when I am not at church. In the interest of open-mindedness, I feel it is also important not to just take the church’s word for what it says. I listen and compare what I hear at church, balancing their interpretations of the Bible with my own. Most importantly, I also pray and seek a personal connection with God.

Church is a place to share viewpoints with others as we study our faith together. The road to spiritual maturity is traveled in the carpool lane, not on a lonely dirt road.