I’ve always felt a little guilty over church. I felt guilty when I didn’t attend; felt guilty when I did attend; felt guilty if I didn’t become a member; felt guilty after I became a member; felt guilty when I stayed at a certain church; and felt guilty when I left that church. Then the cycle would begin all over again.
What is wrong with me? Can’t I just be satisfied with church like other Christians? Isn’t it our duty to go to church; to join the church? Doesn’t the Bible tell us that we must go to church if we are truly Christians?
I’ve had pastors tell me that my salvation was in jeopardy if I didn’t attend church regularly (in my last episode, the pastor was referring to Sunday night and Wednesday services, seeing as I was already there to get yelled at on Sunday morning).
If the Bible and the pastor tell me that attending church is an integral part of my Christianity, that my Christianity isn’t really Christianity at all without regular church attendance, then why do I feel so lousy when I do attend church? Do I possess some basic fault, which apparently doesn’t exist in other Christians, to make me feel this way?
I haven’t developed this aversion to church overnight. And, to be fair, when I do go to church, I enjoy a good bit of it. Of course, I do my best to avoid any church that I may not enjoy a good bit of.
I’m conflicted and here’s the conflict.
I’m a born-again Christian. I write on born-again Christian topics – like telling other born-again Christians how to behave. I publish books by born-again Christian authors who write about how born-again Christians ought to behave. I ought to have come to terms with this whole church thing a long time ago … but I haven’t.
And since I just turned fifty, I figure its time to deal with any basic incongruities still hanging around in my life.
Does this mean I’m going to take my place in the pew, keep my mouth shut and join the ecclesiastically satisfied masses?
Does it mean I’m all of a sudden going to start feeling good about going church, Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesdays?
(By the way. If you feel great about church and have no idea what I’m talking about, consider yourself blessed and take a few weeks off. There are a lot of your brothers and sisters in Christ out there, in church and out of church, who are miserable about the whole situation and want an honest answer - just like me.)
I don’t necessarily buy what a lot of church leaders are telling me about how I should feel about church. On the other hand, as Dad would say, “you can’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” Church, whether you like it or not, is a big part of the Christian life and if you call yourself a Christian and want Him to believe it, you’d better deal with church.
A little personal history.
My father was in full-time ministry since before I was born. I was raised in the church and Dad represented the leadership of the church. As a pastor and a minister, I considered my dad head and shoulders above his peers. Some of that admiration may have been prejudiced by the fact he was my dad, but looking back on his life from my current perspective I’ll stick with my story. He really was head and shoulders above a lot of his peers.
The point is that my problem with church doesn’t stem from some latent hostility toward my father as an authority figure. I liked and admired the guy when I was a kid and I admire and empathize with him more now that I’ve had the opportunity to walk a few more miles in his moccasins.
And I don’t believe my general dissatisfaction with church comes my from lack of trying. Dad was saved, educated and ordained a Baptist. His search for a more complete relationship with God, led him into baptism of the Holy Spirit (more “Pentecost” than “Pentecostalism”). Where he went, we followed. As a result, I have experienced a wide swath of churches, denominations and doctrines; most of them spending more time and effort assailing each other than winning the world.
Again, my point is that I don’t believe the answer to my dissatisfaction with church is that I just haven’t tried the “right one.”
I don’t want to be too hard on churches though. The world’s a better place with churches than without them. The problem, I believe, is in what we think church is, the definition it has become, as opposed to what God’s desire for what the church ought to be.
The word “church” according to Webster is defined as:
1. “a building for public and especially Christian worship”
2. “the clergy or officialdom of a religious body”
3. “often capitalized : a body or organization of religious believers: as a) the whole body of Christians b) DENOMINATION
4. “a public divine worship
5. “the clerical profession
According to Webster the primary definition of “church” is a building; a place where people, especially Christians, come to worship. It’s on every street corner, in every city or town. It can be a magnificent edifice with soaring spires that reach into the heavens or a metal building with a neon sign. The church, according to Webster is primarily a structure, sometimes magnificent, sometimes humble; built by men from wood and stone.
Secondly, Webster defines “church” as “the clergy or officialdom” - the guys in charge. If we search beyond the bricks and mortar of the structure that is the church to a deeper, other meaning we discover that the “church” is not built just of wood and stone, but also of men; a hierarchy, a government, an elite leadership that represents the “officialdom” of the structure. Be it sticks and stones or flesh and bone, that, according to Webster 1 and 2, is the “church.”
To understand the “church” according to Webster’s second meaning, I had to return to the dictionary for a definition of “officialdom”. Webster’s answer was short and sweet – “officials as a class.” A class of what? The definition seemed a little lacking, so I dug deeper; this time into the Encarta English Dictionary of North America. According to Encarta “officialdom” is a word which encompasses bureaucrats and bureaucracy; specifically, “bureaucracy and those who work within it, especially when viewed as inefficient or pompous.”
Studying “church” was really beginning to depress me. I was discovering that I had spent my whole life, as my father had spent his, serving and supporting either a building or a bureaucracy; or perhaps some combination of the two. No wonder I felt so guilty and dissatisfied.
I had to push on. Maybe there was some light at the end of this. Surely there was more to church than bricks and bureaucrats. I continued my study.
Webster’s third definition capitalized “Church” and divided its meaning into three sub-categories: “a) the whole body of Christians; b) DENOMINATION; c) CONGREGATION.” I wasn’t sure why Webster’s listed DENOMINATION and CONGREGATION in capital letters. Maybe “DENOMINATION” and “CONGREGATION” took some sort of precedence over “Christian”.
Despite my confusion of capitals I was encouraged. At least we were talking about people! Not just the “officialdom” but those who occupied the pews.
That was me! If church could be defined as people like me I might find a solution to my problem. If the church was me and people like me, how could I feel guilty and dissatisfied? If I was part of the definition, couldn’t I be part of the solution? I may have found a bit of the light for which I was searching.
Encouraged as I was with this third definition, I still had to deal with why Webster divided its meaning into three distinct sub-categories.
a) “the whole body of Christians” - This definition I could understand. I was part of “the whole body of Christians.” I took this to mean people who belonged to - gave their hearts to - Christ. That was me! People who, just like me, recognized Jesus as the Son of God and personal savior and put the trust of their eternal future in His hands.
b) “DENOMINATION” Or as Dad used to say – abominations. Personally, I figure that any label beyond Christian (literally “slave of Christ”) puts me one step further away from the One I serve. I’ve got no use for DENOMINATIONS … probably never will.
c) “CONGREGATION” – It’s still in caps … that bothers me. Like “CONGREGATION” still outranks “the whole body of Christians.” We’ll have to deal with that one … next week.
The Bible talks about church. The New Testament mentions the word 108 times, so you know we’ve got to deal with it, conflicted or not. Here’s a little hope though, you may be surprised about what the Bible actually does say about “church”. It’s probably not what you’re thinking.