by Chip Brogden
My testimony is unique in that I really do not have a “testimony” in the sense of someone who has been delivered from drugs, alcohol, or atheism. I have been a Christian as long as I can remember. By the time I was 26 years old I had already spent half of my life in some kind of ministry – pastoring, teaching, preaching, or leading worship. I met the girl (who later become my wife) in church when I was 12 years old, and once we were married our lives continued on in service to the church, together. It was our calling, and we dedicated our lives to it. So my testimony is not so much deliverance from sin as much as it is deliverence from religion and good works.
We had just come out of my first pastorate and were both very weary. With no responsibility to a local congregation I began to visit with other pastors to fill in for them as the need arose. Everywhere I went I listened to the stories told to me privately by burned-out ministers. In churches without a pastor I listened to the people describe all the terrible things the previous pastor has done. It didn’t take long for me to realize that something was terribly wrong with the “church” in general. I began to see that my personal experience as a burned-out pastor, which I thought was unusual, was not only common, but very light in comparison to what I was seeing and hearing.
So I began asking questions and challenging paradigms which I had held for most of my life. What is the Church? What is ministry? What is revival? Are we doing the right things? And more importantly, what does God think? Is what we’re doing pleasing to Him, or are we missing it in a big way? I realized I had devoted everything to one denomination, and knew very little about anything outside of it. As the Lord began to burden me for the entire Church, I began asking questions about denominationalism: is this right? Is this God’s purpose? What are we building here? What about the rest of the Body of Christ? Is division from the Lord?
Slowly the Lord began to answer my questions by giving one piece of the puzzle at a time. Outwardly I continued to go through the motions of ministry – preaching, teaching, leading people in prayer, ministering from the platform, having all the answers. But inwardly I knew something was wrong like a splinter in my mind, driving you mad. As the Lord began to share Truth with me I realized that it was not just that we were doing the wrong things, but our whole idea and concept of “church” was just that: our idea, our concept, our ritual, our tradition. It was not the Lord’s intent, or His thought, or His mind. I still didn’t know what the real thing was, but I knew that in spite of all my years of service, I didn’t have it yet.
I remember the first time it dawned on me that the entire church “service” was not for the Lord at all; it was primarily, if not wholly, for us. The singing was for us, the preaching was for us, the prayers and ministry was for us, everything was “me” and “I” oriented. This awareness was shocking to me, and I wasn’t sure how to express it. I wrote down what the Lord had shown me and titled it, “The Loneliest Man In Church.” The Loneliest Man, of course, was Christ:
Our church programs have it all backwards. Think about it, those of you who attend church. Why do you go? Who stands to benefit the most? What do you expect to get out of it?Someone has said that Sunday morning is the most segregated and racially divided time in the United States. I agree, and add to that by saying that it is also the most selfish and self-centered time of the week as well. Most of our “services” are not for the Lord at all, they are for us. We pray for each other, we sing to each other, we go around and “fellowship” with each other. Certainly these activities are to be encouraged, and we should pray and sing and love one another. But I believe the Lord is taken for granted in our meetings for “worship” because we have no concept of how to minister to Him.
We go to church to get a blessing. We receive prayer to feel good. We listen to good teaching and preaching to grow stronger. Again, nothing wrong with these things. But who waits on the Lord? Who meets His need? Who blesses Him?
Thus, the beginning of my quest for answers was not in response to some hurtful event at all, as some might believe. It began long before we were cast out of the church, at a time when, outwardly speaking, everyone was being “blessed” by my ministry. It was a zealousness for the Lord to have what I felt rightfully belonged to Him: a true expression of His Church. “Zeal for Your House” eventually led me down a path in which I had to choose between the Truth which had been revealed to me and the status quo of what was expected of me as a pastor and minister in the largest Charismatic denomination in the world.
This was the beginning of the end of my career as a preacher for Organized Religion, and putting such thoughts in writing would seal my fate. But I found that writing not only helped to chronicle my search for the Truth, it became part of my own spiritual and emotional catharsis.
As I continued to write I discovered to my surprise that I had an audience on the Internet. I was not the only one in the world seeing and hearing things from the Lord which spoke to our present condition as the Church. Others were saying it, or seeing it, or confirming what was being shared.
I had a website reserved – Watchman.Net – but wasn’t sure what to do with it. Gradually I began to see that I would have to make a departure from my old-line ministry site and put these truths on the Watchman site. I announced to my popular mailing list that the Lord was sending me in a new direction, and if they wanted to grow with me they were welcome to visit my new site. I then pulled the plug on everything and put all my efforts into Watchman.Net.
My first articles took aim at everything I had come to abhor about Organized Religion. No sooner had the Lord convicted me on an issue than I had repented of it and wrote an article about it. Like Josiah, I wanted to rid the landscape of every religious idol, tearing them all down by hand if necessary. In God’s Present and Future Dealings With His Church I declared that the American Church was destined for destruction for its gospel of wealth and prosperity. I spoke out against the Toronto Blessing and Brownsville Revival with Real Revival. I demanded an end to “religious extortion” with Terminate The Tithe!. Eventually the prophetic movement caught my attention and I challenged its more unsavory elements with Rebuke The Mad Prophet and other articles.
I still believe all these things. The problem is that I was still very much a part of the system that I was railing against. I was hoping to change “Churchianity” from the inside out, and too late I realized that the Lord would not allow me to do that. It came as no surprise when I was eventually voted out of my ministry position and summarily ejected from the parsonage. At the time of course it was very painful to my family and me, but now we agree that it has produced much fruit in our lives. Forever the Helper and Fixer, it took something that drastic to get me out of the ministry. If it weren’t for that we would probably still be there trying to save the Titanic from sinking.
Some called me a prophet, and sometimes I thought I must be a prophet. But we had learned to question all labels and ideas. What is a prophet? Do they really exist today? If so, what do they do? I eventually decided that I didn’t know what I was, and I gave up trying to label myself. This willingness to let go of the “title” and just be a brother represented one of the last vestiges of Organized Religion I had to be loosed from. The article which resulted, Letter To A Reluctant Prophet, was written to someone else, but I realized it was more for me than for this person. It represented the transition in my writing from the negative to the positive, and is one of the few “first articles” remaining on the site.
Our search took us through the home-church movement, and we experimented and visited different gatherings, thinking this was God’s purpose for the Church. Of course we were mistaken. We came to understand that there are as many problems outside of Organized Religion as there are inside of Organized Religion. Of course we met wonderful believers and had good fellowship, but more times than not I still felt that the Lord’s “need” was not met. So the answer was not in a form or ritual or “place” of worship, but neither was it in a lack of form or ritual, or simply meeting in a living room instead of a sanctuary.
Disappointed, we spent a lot of time alone with the Lord and with each other, and this helped (rather than hindered) our spiritual growth, as we learned to “be” rather than “do”. We waited, and as time passed the Lord was faithful to show us not only the false, but the pure. We came through our desert and discovered Living Water in the form of fresh vision of Christ and the Church that He is building, in stark contrast to the church system we had been a part of for so many years. The articles appearing on Watchman.Net took a decidedly different tone, including Jesus Is Building His Church, Back To The Cross, The Need For Brokenness, and others. I discovered that anyone can point out what is false, but it took revelation to point out what is true, and until you have both you cannot authoritatively speak to either.
What started out as a search for Truth and tearing down has evolved into building up into Christ. I began to understand that God is moving all things towards the preeminence of Christ. This is His Purpose. Consequently, anything that fails to give Christ the preeminence (and this would include Organized Religion and a great many things done in the name of Jesus today) is passing away in order to make room for a Christ that will fill all things. I had sensed this demise and thought it my duty to contribute to tearing it down. But I was made to see that as He is increased, everything else must decrease (John 3:30). To be aligned with God’s Purpose in Christ, I discovered, was to increase the Son, giving Him the preeminence in all things. As this is done, all that is opposed to Him must eventually make way.
In the grand scheme of things, a “prophetic” website became too narrow. What was once considered “prophetic” to me is now simply the revelation of Christ, a mystery which is now revealed, hence, it is no longer mysterious. Articulating the negative has a necessary place, but all of that must eventually give way to a vision of the Church that Jesus is building, a spiritual house which transcends everything to the contrary. If we do not rise above seeing what is wrong then we are still bound by what is wrong. Inwardly, intuitively, we know what is wrong. But why is it wrong? To answer this, we must see things as the Lord sees them. We must leave the earth and view things from His perspective, just as we did in Escape From Churchianity. Then we can say, “This is false, not because I say so, but because when you compare it to the Real Thing, you can see for yourself how it falls short.” This is how the Lord taught us, and this is the way we began teaching others.
Along the way we realized that the only thing that matters is the epignosis (full-knowledge) of Christ (Ephesians 1:17, 4:13). This full-knowledge is not something we can read in a book. It must be experiential, existential, and personally entered into. For years we believed what we were taught, and we even taught others, but we had not personally entered into the epignosis of Christ. Partial knowledge and half-truths have done more damage to the Body of Christ than the false, because Christians are constantly deceived into thinking they know something just because they can mentally rehearse it to themselves. If we lack the experience of Truth then it becomes a tenet of faith or mere sentimentality.
Christ as All in All. This is where we ended up, after exploring and traveling the rabbit trails of ministry, traditional churching, house churching, and the “prophetic”. If we clearly have Christ in our field of vision then everything else can be judged by its relationship to Him. All things, be they spiritual or natural, inward or external, either bring us deeper into epignosis, or they do not. Whatever we are “into”, whether it is house church or prophetic ministry or pastoring or preaching or teaching, it is either bringing us into a deeper, experiential, personal union with Christ, or it is just another piece of excess baggage we must be rid of, “counting it all but dung” that we may “win Christ, and be found in Him”. So now we have our Answer.