"CHURCH" - YES - "THE CHURCH" - NO
There is a massive difference between "being church" and belonging to "the church" - any church.
"Church" is the People of God - gathered in prayer and worship and having true Christian fellowship with each other.
"The Church", whether Roman Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist etc., is about belonging to a human structure and institution - an institution that invariable departs from the teachings of Jesus Christ and overtime becomes more and more about the teachings, laws and indeed prejudices of men and women.
I am 61 and have been struggling to be a Christian all that time. For a lot of that time I also belonged to the Roman Catholic institution.
For the past 27 years I have been an "independent" priest, bishop and Christian and that has brought me great freedom - and has allowed me to be much closer to Jesus Christ than I could have been if I had been a cog in the wheel of Roman Catholicism.
I have also had many experiences with other "churches" and I have not been impressed in what I have seen and found in them.
The Roman Catholic institution ( I am slow to even call it a church) is one of the most corrupt organisations on earth. Of course there are good people within it. But they are few and far between and their voice is obscured by hierarchal domination and abuse that is much more about money, power and control than it is about the teachings of Jesus.
If Jesus turned up in Rome tomorrow they would not let him into the Vatican and if they had their way they would crucify him all over again.
Anglicanism is not a church either. It is simply a branch of the British government and establishment with the prime minister of the time appointing its leaders - the bishops and with the British monarch as its head.
Anglicanism is also cursed by having nut case bishops and members from the African continent preaching right wing, ignorant and anti modern sentiments.
The Anglican Church in Ireland - the so called Church of Ireland - is an organisation without testicular tissue and consists of wealthy and posh and "respectability" types.
I had personal dealings with Church of Ireland bishops and they were no different and no more just than the Roman ones I dealt with.
Senator David Norris would be an exception in the Church of Ireland. He has both principles and courage.
I have often been asked why I didn't join the Church of Ireland. I always say that it would be like jumping out of the pan and into the fire.
I have not been at all impressed with most of the Presbyterian clergy and people I have met in Ireland.
Many of them are either obvious or subtle bigots. I have had occasion to try and help Presbyterian church members who were done an injustice by their own church - and came up against piousness, false prayers, the quoting of man made rules and people closing the ranks to protect so called valued members.
Presbyterian man made church rules are put before the teachings of Jesus and gospel values whenever their is a dispute.
Most Presbyterian ministers seem to feel "called" to wealthy congregations where the annual salaries are bigger and the small congregations in poor and outlying places are left without ministers or have to put up with one ones no one else wants.
The Methodist Church in Ireland is another organisation run by man made rules and political correctness.
For instance the Methodist ministers in Howth near Dublin refused me their church building to hole my mother's funeral in case it would embarrass them with their ecumenical colleagues in the Roman church.
THOSE WHO DO IMPRESS:
I have been impressed by the Unitarian Church in Dublin and in Belfast where the minister is the Reverend Christ Hudson. So far these two churches have managed to stay out of the clutches of the right wing elements in their national body The Non Subscribing Presbyterian Church who are a Christian disaster.
I have also been impressed by the good Christian work done for the homeless and underprivileged by the Salvation Army - but would have no desire to embrace their theology.
The Quakers (Society of Friends) do good work too - which led me to be very disappointed by them when they refused me permission to use their building in Belfast on one occasion for worship for the gay community.
Generally speaking when pure Christianity becomes a "church" it leads to the quick decline of the Christian Spirit and gospel values and to the embracing of hierarchy, man made rules, man made doctrines, power, control and the making of money.
What is the answer?
Perhaps the answer is for Christians not to join any "church" at all - but to stay independent Christians, who meet in small groups, in each others homes for prayer, worship and sharing.
This is what Jesus and his 12 disciples were.
This is what happened in the early church.
When churches get "organised" and "big" the end result is the creation of "empires". In empires there are the haves and the have-nots. There are the controllers and the controlled. Their are the chiefs and the Indians. And out the window goes the pure basic teachings of Jesus Christ and gospel values.
One of the reformers once said: "WHAT CHRIST PREACHED WAS A KINGDOM - WHAT WE GOT WAS A CHURCH.
He hit the nail on the head.
We need be part of the Kingdom of God - and not cogs in the Roman, Anglican, Presbyterian or Methodist wheels.
Bishop Pat Buckley