This questions was raised recently and I thought I had blogged on it. I did, but never posted it. In today’s religious climate, much of what people can gain from going to church can be seemingly obtained from other avenues. What makes going to church unique is something that is critical for the church to rediscover.
Yeah but crowd
At this juncture someone is no doubt thinking we are the church, we don’t go to church. It is really both. I said often I need to leave a particular meeting and go to family time. That time, designated family, doesn’t mean that I’m not family when I’m apart from them. Quite the contrary, we set aside- make holy- special times for family. The same is true of church. Yes, we go to church.
Categories of Christians
Many of the non-church going Christians, or sporadic church goers fit into a few categories: naive, so-called spiritual, spiritual abuse survivors, and unspiritual. The naive suffer from a simple lack of theological development. So-called spiritual crowd border on either being heretics or idol worship of which sports is a major one. Spiritual abuse survivors stem from either over reacting to legalism of ‘if the doors are open you have to be there’ or they were traumatized to the level that a physical reaction to going to church is hard to overcome. Unspiritual are people who claim to be Christian, understand the importance of church, but choose to put other priorities over the church.
What Jesus couldn’t explain
In John 3, Jesus describes the workings of the Holy Spirit as a mystery. We know that he works, and we see fruit of his working, but not even Jesus could explain it. The Father and the Son send the Helper for our benefit. There is a critical function going to church fulfills in our relationship to God. Specifically the working of the Spirit. The Spirit’s mysterious work incorporates the Scriptures, our spirit, and the Spirit’s work in other believers, as we gather. Much of North American Christianity has a too individualistic view of the Spirit when it is clearly a corporate issue. We- the church- are the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Danger, danger, danger
Because of the work of the Holy Spirit in the gathering of the church family, there is a dangerous element if treated too casually. Warnings against putting out the Spirit’s fire, grieving the Holy Spirit, or lying to the Holy Spirit in worship is connected to church gatherings. Being dismissive of the Spirit in worship can, has, and does cause death or maladies. As Jesus died once for all sin, that does not mean we can do what we want. We can grieve God to the point where he sends us home.
The tension with church is this: Not going to church is a sin, but having to go to church every time the door is open is a sin of legalism. Discernment is the key. That said the sin isn’t so much in performance of church going as it is in priority. The purpose of going to church is building up other believers. It is to serve your church family. That simply cannot happen well with sporadic or non-attendance. Failure in this grieves God, much as failing to make family a priority grieves parents.
Think garden not weeds
Weeds grow organically, great, and everywhere. Gardens are organized, take time, and require nurturing. The church is a garden and not a bed of weeds. This no doubt ticks off the organic church or spiritual crowd. Organization, logic, programing is not the antithesis of spirituality, it is actually the expression of it! Order and filling are key aspects to a biblical worldview. Such is about nurturing like that of artistic expression, not the coldness of manufactured products.
You cannot be a Christian, spiritual, or have a great relationship with God, and write off the church. This grieves the Holy Spirit. Jesus died for the church. God the Father gave the church to his Son. Part of “vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” is in relationship to the church. John says that if we say we love God, but hate our brother, we are a liar and the truth is not in us. Much church bashing or neglect demonstrates a lack of love for God. Answer this, how would you feel is someone consistently dissed you, neglected you, and at the same time said they loved you?
So why go to church?
Christianity is a religion based on a relationship with God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit that is expressed in a family we call church. For the Christian to neglect church is a sin. There are a variety of reasons to have that sin struggle, but it is not legalistic to say one needs to be engaged in church. Church, like all families, is not about what you get but about what you give to the relationship.