Messy Faith,  Personal and Spiritual Ramblings,  Recovering Perfectionist

Cheating on my church: God is bigger than our denominational boxes

Beautiful in His Time is a participant in multiple affiliate marketing programs. The author of this blog may receive commission for purchases or clicks made through links on this website.

This post is part 14 in a blog series that I have entitled “the wilderness between legalism and grace,” in which I share how I came to realize that I had an incorrect view of God and self and how I became free of the system of legalism whereby I was trying to earn God’s favor. You can view all of the posts in the series here on the series landing page. In this post, I open up about my experience with crossing church denominational lines.


I pulled into the parking lot and looked for a spot that wasn’t easily viewed from the highway, hoping that no one I knew would recognize my vehicle if they happened to drive by.

In the same moment my hand instinctively reached for the volume dial on the radio to turn down Taylor Swift’s You Belong With Me before anyone could hear it through my closed windows. Such was my habit every time I entered the premises of a church.

It was Wednesday night, and I was cheating on my church with another church across town. And it wasn’t another good independent, fundamental, KJV-only Baptist church either.

Then I internally laughed at myself as I realized that no one here would probably think twice about me listening to country music in the church parking lot. It just wasn’t that kind of church.

I went in timidly and found my friend Stephanie who made room for me in her row. We sang songs  I didn’t know with a simple guitar and keyboard accompaniment while people around me raised their hands in worship to God. I wondered if the rolling in the aisles or speaking in tongues was coming next. 

There was music, prayer, and then a simple down-to-earth Bible message from the pastor who was wearing a Hawaiian flowered shirt.


A lot had happened in the last few months. I had quit my full-time job because I was really struggling to keep my life together. A 40 hour work week, five piano students, middle-of-the-night IM conversations with the husband, and trying to make it to church three times a week was just proving to be a little bit too much. I wasn’t functioning well and I had gotten very sick in January and February. Quitting my job seemed like the logical answer.

With my schedule now freer, I had a lot more opportunities to find emotional and spiritual support. I was able to attend a military-wives Bible study at my own church, and I started spending more time online meeting friends through Christian Military Wives. My new friends from CMW friended me on Facebook and started inviting me to their social functions. Like dinner at Colleen’s house (where I was about to run for the door when they brought out a bottle of wine) and weekly meetups at Starbucks.

Meeting friends at Starbucks

Colleen invited me to attend PWOC (Protestant Women of the Chapel – a multidenominational Bible study for military wives held on military installations), but I declined, saying “I’m a Baptist, not a Protestant.” But then they invited me to their church for a military wives Bible study called LIFE group. And finally, I went.

LIFE group was amazing. There was food, coffee, hugs, and smiles all around. I was overwhelmed with kindness and acceptance that seemed different from what I was used to. I could be real about my frustrations and my anger.

A few weeks prior I had also started attending a ladies Bible study at my own church – a study of Debi Pearl’s Created to Be His Helpmeet. During our first class, the discussion turned toward respecting your husband. I don’t remember exactly what my question was, but I was trying to ask about a practical application of the concepts in regard to my own marriage. I was honest and transparent, but it wasn’t accepted very well. I was given a “good” answer in return, but it didn’t really help. It was a situation in which “my good answers didn’t fit my real-life problem” of a very difficult long-distance marriage. I felt like my honesty was interpreted as disrespect toward my husband (and I honestly believed that it was for a long time). I left frustrated and didn’t ever go back to that Bible study.

My closest friend asked me a few weeks later why I wasn’t attending the Bible study at our church, and I told her quite frankly why:

“I already know all of that stuff – I’ve been taught it my whole life. But what I need is stuff that relates specifically to ME and MY marriage. My husband isn’t like other guys. He’s different. And those good answers just aren’t helping me or my marriage all that much.” 

When I told her that I was meeting with friends at a Bible study at another church that was more helpful to me, she cautioned me – that I take care to make sure that they don’t pull me down spiritually.


I only attended LIFE group for a few weeks before they broke for the summer, and only visited on Wednesday nights maybe 2 or 3 times. My husband returned from Afghanistan in June of 2009 and, now that he was home, wanted to stick with our own church.

But that very brief time that I spent at that church didn’t pull me down. In contrast, it really opened my eyes to a lot of things:

I realized that the body of Christ is much bigger than I thought.

I realized that God could be found in places where I thought I should never dare show up.

I realized that pastors who wear Hawaiian shirts can be spirit-filled and speak the truth of God.

I realized that women who have tattoos and drink wine can still care about God and even encourage me spiritually.

I realized that God isn’t limited to skirts, suits and ties, the old hymns, and the King James Version.


I’m hesitant to write this post at all, because I fear that it will seem that I am promoting that church membership is not important. I believe that it is, which is why my husband and I are in the process of aligning our membership to a new church even now.

But I think that God is a lot bigger than church membership.

I was 22, my husband was in a war zone, I was hurting and lonely, and I needed something that my church simply wasn’t giving me. I needed love, and acceptance, and the ability to be transparent. I needed more than just the “good” church answers that I had known my entire life. I needed to see God worshipped and exalted in a new way. And so, I found it in the church across town.

But though it all, I felt guilty. I felt ashamed. I felt like I was doing something wrong.

I heard my friend’s warnings ringing around in my ear. I hoped no one else would find out. I was finding God in new ways, but I felt like I had to hide it – because I was sure that they would judge me instead of understanding why.

This is where legalism fails:

Legalism says that obeying this set of rules (our interpretation of Scripture) is the way to please God. And because that church across town doesn’t obey this set of rules, they are a bad church. They aren’t pleasing God. To even visit such a church is “compromise.” I’ve heard pastors preach against other churches who have different standards for music, dress, and Bible version time and time and time again. They focus on all of the differences in the set of rules that automatically exclude the other church from pleasing God – all the while ignoring all of the things that the other church gets right.

But look what the Bible says in I Corinthians 12:

But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.

And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.

Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:

And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.

For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:

That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.

I think there are a lot of ways in which the most fundamental sects of Christianity are the “comely parts” of the body of Christ. They look at the other parts of the body with disdain. “You know, those ecumenical Christian-rock lovin’ compromisers? (bless their poor souls…) They lack so much doctrine! All they do is talk about love love love, let’s just LOVE everybody. They stand around and hold hands singing Kumbaya and ignore doctrine. They lack so much truth! And thank God we have the truth right here in our King James Version! AMAHN!!!” 

And in some ways, Fundamentalists, you are right. Not every church outside of your bubble of IFB Christianity gets everything right like you do. So go ahead and pat yourself on the back right now for how comely and honorable you are. Now go back and read 1 Corinthians 12 again:

Cheating on my church {the wilderness between #legalism and #grace part 14}

(even those wine-drinking, pant-wearing, NIV-reading ones…)

“And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.”

Perhaps I am grossly misinterpreting this passage of scripture, but what I’m hearing is this:

“You lovely, put-together, got-all-your-doctrine-ducks-in-a-row Christians? Yeah, I’m talking to you. You sure look pretty in your suits and ties and frilly dresses. But you know what’s prettier to me? The outsiders. The ones who seem to be feeble. The ones you think are less-honorable. The ones who are lacking your goodness. The ones whom you can’t lower yourself to be around. The ones with the tattoos and the ripped jeans. And not only are they prettier? They are necessary to my plan. I’m going to use them. I’m going to grow my church through them and honor them. You pretty, spotless Christians? I don’t need you nearly as much as you think I do.


God used Christians that I thought to be “less honorable” than I to teach me about love and grace. To help me in my marriage. To be my friends. I can’t help but tear up when I think about what these women, many of whom I still interact with daily, mean to me and what they have done for me spiritually. They are some of the most honorable, abundantly comely Christian women I know.

I’m not advocating that “cheating on your church” is what every Christian stuck in legalism needs to do. There are a lot of churches out there that don’t teach the Bible, and visiting other churches should be done with care.

But what I am saying is that there are a lot of good people out there in churches of other denominations than yours. They love God. They depend on Jesus for their salvation. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are a necessary part of the body of Christ. We need them, and they need us. We can learn from them, and they from us.

What I’m asking us to do in this post is to consider that perhaps God is bigger than the denominational box that we put him in. I’m asking us to do a lot less finger pointing and a lot more loving. I’m asking us to reach out to people that our hurting – in our own denominations, and in the “less honorable” ones too.

I’m asking us to see the body of Christ in all of its beauty and comeliness, regardless of what we think about the hand or the foot that doesn’t measure up to our standards of goodness.

I’m asking us to make our issues of contention a little bit smaller and our Jesus a lot bigger.

Readers, can you tell me about a time when people you had before viewed as “feeble” or “less honorable” showed you Christ in ways you had never seen him before? Have you ever found God in an unlikely place? Please share!


To view all the posts in this blog series, visit the landing page.

Next post, part 15: Can you hear Jesus calling?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  • Janean

    Great job on your postings about legalism. I truly believe that legalism is a perversion of true Christianity. My husband and I broke free February 2008 from our old IFB church and have never looked back (nor will we ever again). It was a very hard and difficult move, however looking back now, we don’t regret or miss any of it. If anything, we regret that we wasted all those years of our lives (23 years for me) in that type of a toxic Christianity.
    Interestingly enough, what started the roller coaster of us leaving was that a couple families in the church told us about the “wonders of Amish country” and a thrift store there with modest women’s clothing. We drove out there, and in that thrift store we bought a book for 50 cents entitled “Breaking Free – Rescuing Families From the Clutches of Legalism” by David Miller. We read the book in two days and it changed our life! A few months after that, we decided to leave our church and break our own family free from legalism. So on Superbowl Sunday, Feb 3, 2008, after a several hour conversation with the Pastor, we left. The phone calls came, there were awkward conversations when we would run into people we used to go to church with, the concerned visits to our home, ect. When we left, we were told that we were sinning and that we were deceived. We were compromisers who just refused to do things the “right” way. We would lose our kids, our marriage, ect. We went through many emotions. Sadness, anger, resentment and finally acceptance that that was who we once were, but were no longer going to be like that. We settled in Aug 2008 at a large church near our home. This church didn’t sing hymns, use the KJV, didn’t have a problem with women wearing pants, ect. However, the people were different. For the first time, we felt loved for who we were. Not for what we were wearing, or what version of the BIble we were carrying. The Pastor and his wife recognized what we were going through right away (they had been through it themselves) and they came, wrapped their arms around us and spent time showing us the difference between living a life of legalism and grace. We still go to that church and we are so thankful for it. If anything, once we left legalism, our marriage got better and life became so much more enjoyable. We love going to church and so do our boys. God means something totally different to me now in the past 5 years than he did for first 23 years of my life. He is no longer a taskmaster, just waiting for me to slip up so He can punish me for not being perfect. But He is a loving Father who guides me day by day and forgives me when I make a mistake. One of my favorite quotes is from Oswald Chambers:

    The Spirit of God is always the spirit of liberty; the spirit that is not of God is the spirit of bondage, the spirit of oppression and depression. The spirit of God convicts vividly and tensely, but He is always the Spirit of liberty.
    God who made the birds never made bird cages; it is human beings who make bird cages, and after a while we become cramped and can do nothing but chirp and stand on one leg. When we get out into God’s great free life, we discover that that is the way God means us to live “the glorious liberty of the children of God.”

    God bless you and your family Aprille!

    • Aprille

      Janean I feel so blessed to hear this part of your story. Especially having come not just from the same environment, but from the same church…

      My breakthrough just took a lot longer than yours I think!

      Concerned visits to your home?!?!?! What’s that all about?!?!

      And thank you for sharing your story, and that quote!

  • one4drosas

    I enjoy reading about your journey . Although our church backgrounds are different the joy and liberty that comes from discovering, learning , accepting and living by grace is the same . For me, I liken it to the children’s book “the Secret Garden” . Grace was the key I found that unlocked the door to a whole new beautiful world, it was there all along I just never knew about it. But now that I do, I will never leave, but continually rest in His garden of grace.

  • Chrissy

    So many of your posts are similar in some ways to God broadening our (my and Dan’s) perspective about Christianity. We attended a small group study when Dan was in pilot training in Oklahoma and I remember driving home with him one day and he said something like this, “Chris…those people – the ones we would have thought ‘aren’t right with God because of such and such’……look how much more of a testimony they have than we do in a lot of ways. Look how many people they are truly helping because they are truly loving with the type of love that Christ had.” Our year in Oklahoma… the middle of nowhere, with no church to call our church ‘home’……..I think God did that on purpose so that we could have a extended time of our lives where we learned from HIM.. Like you said, not that church isn’t important, and even though God instituted the church, God showed us that He is not limited to the church. For that year where we really changed, I felt like God was our pastor. He changed us and gave us confidence to not worry about what others (those from our past still in legalistic ways) thought.

    • Aprille

      I’m so glad that God has taken us on this journey and taught us these things. The military experience has definitely opened my eyes so much because you are thrust into a community where your best friends have to be people that you used to think you could never even hang around (at least that’s been my experience) – only to find out that THEY are the ones teaching YOU! I’m still in awe sometimes when I think about it!

  • Kat Forader

    Welcome to the ledge. God will use you mightily and take you great places when you trust Him and jump. I’ve be out here for a while (on the ledge). I am glad to have the company. 🙂

  • N. Ella Zakary


    My heart is crying as I read this post. Thank you for sharing your story. Your series has been very applicable to me, and I am truly grateful.

    My dad is a pastor. I am leaving his church. He feels betrayed and hurt. But I desperately need to cheat on this church – a place that has left me with scars on my heart and mind. The abuse has been incredible, and I can’t wait to break free and be truly loved. Thank you once again.


    • Aprille

      Ella, my heart goes out to you. Leaving a church is hard enough…with family involved there’s a whole nother level of emotional agony. Take it slow and let God heal you through the process. You may want to seek out Christian counseling to help you process your grief and emotions.

  • Alexandra

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing!!! In the past three years the Lord has put my family and I in the same journey. After growing up in a legalistic IFB church/BIble college (your college #1 sounded so much like ours :)) and then through my teen years imbibing even more legalistic views on college, courtship, and modesty through various books/websites, the Lord finally got our attention after a failed courtship. After it ended (very messily), I began to examine those courtship beliefs, and from there, every other aspect of the “rules” in my life and saw how unBiblical they really were. It’s been so tough, but the Lord has done so much! Your series was *such* a blessing as I was nodding along in agreement with everything. Thanks so much again and God bless!

    • Aprille

      Thank you so much for sharing your story! And please come back and keep reading! I’m only about halfway done with the series and have so much more to share!

  • Deanna

    Thank you for sharing you story! “A lot less finger pointing and a lot more loving” is a great reminder for me in all areas of life. Even with my husband and children.

  • Mish

    We haven’t had the “church issues” so much as “life issues” to overcome. But I have seen this sort of thing in the church we recently left. It was a small country church where everybody knew everybody’s business…and the majority of the members have forgotten that we’re all part of the same body and blood. It seemed like almost every Sunday we were walking into a war zone, constantly being evaluated to see whose side we were on. I loved our pastor and some of the older people a lot, but it was demoralizing trying to worship in an atmosphere like that.

    Thankfully my sons had been going to a youth group at another local (different denomination) church for several years, and they’re very comfortable there. (I’ve been holding back going, not wanting to go without my husband; but we’re “unequally yoked” as it were, and he’s using the break as an excuse not to go at all.) The funny thing is, the new church is actually more “strict” Biblically-speaking; but they are far more welcoming than I ever found our previous church to be. I’m not a real people person, and frankly they frighten me when they get up in my face and get all exuberant about me coming to church with the boys (who they all know by name).

    Oh…and that song by Miranda Lambert…”Heart Like Mine?” That’s me and God–wine, tattoos, and all. LOL

  • Mikki

    What a great post. When my family and I moved from MD to Fl back in 2004 I had no idea that God was about to do something amazing in my life. I had been saved in a very strict Bible teaching church, which is what I exactly need it at that time. Yet when we moved to Florida God took up my world and showed me that he was so much more than the little box of legalism that I had him in. It was so freeing and I sensed the Homy Spirit pour into me like never before.
    Many blessings to you as you follow the path that God has you on!!

  • Ryan

    Hi Aprille, I’m a bit late to the party but I myself am now also dealing with the baggage of legalism, I’m a 22 year old due and I to used to go to a fundamental baptist, KJV only and only singing hymns kinda churches, at first with discussions with some people at that church I would disagree with them on some things, but out of fear of being judged by the group I found myself slowly conforming to their views out of fear and I was not being myself, and in man ways my conscience has been confused as to what God says is right/wrong based on many of the traditions they held. I’m now in the process of trying to calibrate my flawed conscience to what God says in his word rather than what the baggage causes my conscience to feel and I’m also having to re learn God’s grace and how it applies to a believer like me who struggles with try to earn God’s favor with my life rather than rest in his finished work and his promises. This article was refreshing because when I “cheated” on my baptist church last year I also found a church that was quite like the one you went to and I was able to finally Learn how to start to love people as they are, and it’s still something I’m learning now and will continue to learn, I also found small group where I was able to be vulnerable and people where able to just breathe life and encouragement into me, even though the church has some secondary theological issues that the last couple of weeks I wasn’t sure should be make or break issues for me in a church, this article encouraged me that Mabey I should stay so I can re learn God’s grace for my life and let him continue to heal me, anyways I just wanted say that when I came across your blog and read parts of your story I could relate to many parts of it especially the heavy anxiety and not being able to just rest and find peace because my mind is always racing with thoughts and questions, and that your blog is helping me

  • Mary Vest

    Hi, Aprille! I have been reading your series and also listening to the Recovering Fundamentalist podcast. I relate to the exhaustion you described in a previous post, trying to work full-time, follow the rules of fundamentalism (ie being in services 3x a week, playing the piano and husband as song leader, helping in every way possible at the church, KJV only, etc.), and having two children – Justin having severe, non-verbal autism, as well as a school administer and farmer. I struggled so much trying to follow all the rules and check all the boxes. Meanwhile, I listened to “unapproved” music and dressed in pants and jeans. I often would drive to evening services by myself with our boys. I would then need to go to the furthest Sunday school room to take over for a church member that would be watching after Justin when I wasn’t playing piano. I have a picture from back then where I am sitting in the fellowship hall with Justin. I see that and several others where I am so thin and unhappy. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. You have to understand that I was literally born into the IFB world as my parents took us to an IFB church from the time I was 3 yrs old. My mother sacrificed so much to take us to church when Dad was at work or didn’t go for some reason. He was almost always working in the “sound room” recording services, so he never sat by her or us when we were there anyway. That must be why I felt like I had no other choice than to be at every service as an adult. There was SO much guilt if I had to call the pastor to tell him I couldn’t be there. I can relate to the fact that your life as a military wife didn’t square up with the IFB ideals. Mine didn’t either as the mother of a child who was severely disabled and who was stronger than me from the time he was 7 yrs old. Much more could be said, but eventually I got so worn down physically, mentally, psychologically, spiritually that my soul was completely dry. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the Holy Spirit was literally pulling me away from that little, country church I had devoted years of my life to. I still loved the pastor, his wife, and the people there, but I could no longer keep living that life, that ridiculous situation, and continue to go on giving everything I had at work, at home, and at church. My husband didn’t even understand when I wanted to talk to the pastor about giving up playing piano. From there it was just a few weeks before we broke free and stopped attending there. I spent the next 3 yrs reading the Bible (RSV by that time which is another story) to really take it in and be able to read it without the lens of IFB rhetoric and all the legalism and the traditions of men attached to the true message of God’s Word. The beauty and the freedom of the Bible transformed me over that time. I became a much more loving, caring, invested person in my community. I could finally see that my ministry was not constrained to the parameters I had heard my entire life. I didn’t have to be perfect, although that continues to be a struggle also. God loves me in my brokenness, in my everyday life, and his beauty could live through me every single day just by loving, caring, and engaging with the people he put in my life, for whatever reason. There isn’t an “us” and “them – there is just us. No fences that separated IFB Christians from other Christians with fewer restrictions, no fence between IFB Christians and “the world.” My life was healed through loving anyone and everyone without feeling superior to any of them, because that is a false narrative. IFB Christians are no better than anyone else. We are all human and can be human. Grace covers a multitude of sin, and I started living with a much better understanding of that grace, mercy, and forgiveness. When I did, it changed everything. I could help by loving in a way I just didn’t understand before; how can you when you feel like God is constantly finding you at fault for something? That was a life of feeling guilty every day. Preachers yelling and shouting from the pulpit week after week. I am thankful I could find peace in God’s Word and as Danny Dokey sings it – learn to live again.

  • Mary Vest

    I wasn’t clear in one of the sentences. My husband was a school administrator and beef cattle farmer. He has since retired, and I am loving our time together. As a farmer, Ag teacher (first), and then administrator he was gone and we were apart a lot. I spent a lot of years resenting his devotion for the farm since he would come home, often late, and then walk right back out the door to care for the farm. God has redeemed our marriage and relationship since then, and for that I am truly thankful.

Leave a Reply