WHY I DON’T “GO TO CHURCH”
What is this ‘church’ of which you speak?
Most of the activities and trappings of modern American Christianity were unheard of by the early church.
This is my response to the many questions I get when I inform people that I no longer attend “church.” Many of them go on to list four reasons for me to “join a GOOD church”:
- Corporate Worship,
- Personal Growth, and
I won’t bore you at this time with my personal testimony as to how I came to my conclusion; you can simply go back in the BlogTalk archives for that (http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thepath), but I will deal with each of these points, explaining the errors they present as they attempt to make the case to me for going to church.
On most Sunday mornings, the fact that it is an extreme privilege for us to come into God’s presence is lost on virtually every so-called ‘worshiper’. I became disillusioned by the social club atmosphere during the time leading up to the service, as well as the mindless and repetitive ‘worship’ choruses. Appeals to church leadership fell on deaf ears. All they knew was that what they were doing drew a crowd, and that was what they thought they were supposed to be doing.
Most “churches” are actually 501(c)3 religious organizations. They are legally structured entities; creatures of the state. Pastors don’t know, don’t care, and don’t understand the implications of this standing.
The majority of Christian leaders are afraid of their people. They will not confront sin or take any unpopular stand. This is most clearly seen in the abortion issue, but shows up in virtually every moral issue, like homosexuality. Pastors want to be popular, and are afraid to be vilified or abandoned.
Most American Christians are woefully and inexcusably ignorant of all except the most self-evident Biblical truths, and this is not a concern to them. They think they know enough, and they think they’re growing.
There is practically no Biblical worship in any of the churches. Instead, we have Evangelical Sales meetings designed to appeal to the comfort level of unbelievers. For most ‘believers,’ evangelism means inviting people to church on Sunday morning.
The American church experience, or church involvement, does not significantly change those who participate in it. Church-goers view the same sleazy movies, default on their just financial obligations, fornicate, murder their children, get divorces, etc. at the same rate (slightly worse, actually) than the population at large. Years of research by George Barna and others documents this.
You might think I condemn this sad state of affairs, but my appeal is simply to Truth In Labeling. Just as a can of soup or box of cereal must be accurately labeled concerning its ingredients, I think these religious franchises should simply be honest about who they are, who owns them, and what they are about.
What they are about, of course, is taking man-centered RELIGION, wrapping a Christian veneer around it, and passing it off as God-pleasing, Biblical Christianity. Biblically speaking, they are not churches at all. In my ignorance I used to help them, especially by pointing out egregious errors in either their practice or doctrine that were unbiblical. In retrospect, I see that all I was doing was enabling them to become more convincing counterfeits, or at least giving them a heads-up so they could marshal some biblical-sounding argument to support their activities if any inconvenient questions were asked. But at the core, they remain consumer-centered businesses. Peter the Apostle is out, and Peter Drucker is in. Ministering to the felt needs of the members is their sine qua non.
And they should have the basic decency and honesty to say so. Fortunately, many Christians are figuring it out anyway, and like me are quietly making their exodus. We don’t go to “church” any more, because these religious franchises are not the church.
It’s actually just the Pharisees all over again; religious people, and many of them are very nice people. But not Christians in the Biblical sense and, because of that singular infirmity, they are unable to worship. They are unable to grieve because they just can’t see how serious sin really is. Sit outside any “church” in America and watch the people come out after the service. Is there any evidence that they have been in the presence of a holy God? In the Bible, people were frequently either devastated by God’s holiness or horrified by their own sinfulness. Paul cautioned the saints in his day not to trifle concerning things consecrated to God, pointing out that such misbehavior had cost some their lives. Ananias and Sapphira found out the hard way.
My specific responses to the points raised by my well meaning friends is this:
- Fellowship – Yes Christians should be in closely-knit relationships with other Christians. They don’t emphasize the fact that these relationships should be ‘in Christ,’ though I think this requirement is obvious. Authentic Christian relationships should be anchored in Biblical truth. However, is being a member of a church the only way, or even an effective way, to cultivate these very necessary relationships? I doubt it. Let’s face it: sitting next to or behind someone and listening to a sermon, or singing along with others does not strengthen personal relationships. The American way of ‘doing church’ does not build community. It doesn’t produce solid, courageous Christian people, and it obviously doesn’t please God. It has devolved from vibrant Bible-believing groups of disciples to consumer-driven religious franchises, serving the desires and interests of its customers. Fellowship and accountability are minimized, NOT because of anyone’s bad intentions, but because of the design of the model.
- Corporate Worship – Again, they start with a valid point, then drift into flaky theology. None of their scriptural examples of corporate worship connect with today’s Americanized ‘go to church’ habit. “David couldn’t keep his praise to himself.” So we go to church at the same time every week? “Even Christ, in the darkest hours of His life, asked three of His closest friends to ‘watch and pray’ with Him” — yes, He didn’t have anything like today’s typical ‘church service.’ This side-track is followed by a misapplication of Matthew 18:20. This passage deals with conflict resolution with an erring brother, something that rarely happens in most churches and has nothing to do with worship services.Should we be involved in corporate worship? Yes, of course we should. The first century disciples did: fellowshipping, worshiping and breaking bread from house to house. Not a formalized program but simply the outworking of a transformed lifestyle. None of the clutter that we see today, but people living out their faith. Those kind of people will naturally worship, praise, edify, admonish, pray for, and pray with their kindred spirits. They will praise the Lord privately, and they will get together with other saints to praise Him corporately.
- Personal Growth – This is the ‘trump card’ of the “You ought to go to church” position: Hebrews 10:24-25: “…not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together…” This is not a commandment to attend church services. There is nothing in this verse that speaks of ‘going to church.’ “Assembling yourselves together” means “do not abandon the basis upon which you will participate in The Assembly when Jesus returns.” The admonition is in the context of holding fast the confession, stirring up love, good works, and mutual exhortation — things conspicuously absent in most sit-quietly-and-listen church services. This passage is talking about a healthy and integrated Christian lifestyle and developing vital and authentic relationships with other disciples. This does not happen in today’s structured and formalized church services. “Going to church” fosters compartmentalization, the exact opposite of what this passage admonishes.
- Ministry – In Ephesians 4:11-12 we read that Christ placed apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers in the Body to equip the saints for the work of ministry. This, to me, is the flashing neon sign saying ‘counterfeit’ that is in front of almost every American church. The saints aren’t being equipped! They can’t defend the faith because they don’t understand it. They are being ‘fed’ . . . nothing. They go into a ‘worship service’ that has a few ‘praise choruses’ that are mindlessly repeated or sung by a ‘worship band’ and then there is a pop-psychology ‘message’ that is launched from a scripture text but goes no further than the opinions currently in fashion in the culture.
Now, I know this sounds very critical and quite nasty, but let’s face it: We have thousands of folks in virtually every community in this country claiming to be “Bible-believing Christians” and the country is going to hell? In the first century, using a model that did not involve going to church on Sunday, church buildings, professional clergy, Sunday school, and all the other trappings that have eviscerated the church in our land, those early disciples turned their world upside down.
The “Go To Church On Sunday” model is a FAILURE. It cripples the church. This model can’t be fixed. It must be abandoned.
I’ve had some people try to tell me that I don’t go to church because I didn’t go to the “right” church. They then try to tell me “How To Choose A Church.” Let’s look at some of these reasons in the light of the first century:
- Does the church base its teachings on the Bible? Do they teach the fundamentals of the gospel? “What could be wrong with that?” you might wonder. “Teachings based on the Bible” are a poor substitute for expository teaching. The movie Titanic was based on a historical event, but that doesn’t mean the movie is true. And the same can be said for most churches whose teachings or doctrines are ‘based on’ the Bible. The Bible may be the starting point, but flawed hermeneutics, political agendas, and other influences pollute the message and confuse the hearers.
- Is there a sense of community? Are the people friendly? If so, then so what? So you meet with these friendly people for an hour or two every Sunday, you sing songs together, and you listen to a message. Does this equip you? There’s great community among many cults, and even among the patrons of the corner tavern.
- Does the church have programs that meet your family’s needs? Just imagine the Council at Jerusalem, and Peter suggesting to James that what they needed was to set up some programs to meet the needs of families. Are there classes for your children? Is there a group for your teenager to get involved in? Christian busy-work . . . something that has a proven record of immunizing children against the gospel message. They come through our ‘youth groups’ and ‘children’s programs’ and go on to college, and they never have anything else to do with Jesus. Need I say more?
- Does the church support missions and encourage evangelism? Folks, evangelism is NOT SALES. Most ‘evangelism’ has a 95% failure rate. The reason why is because it’s anchored in the failed “go to church” model and the totally unBiblical “invite Jesus into your heart” theology.
I get many suggestions that are predicated on the belief that joining a church and attending regularly is the right thing to do. The final suggestion is “Pray that you may discern God’s will for your family’s spiritual growth.” Good advice; your prayer has been answered:
- Re-build your family altar. Your family’s spiritual growth happens at home under the authority of the father of the family. It’s not going to be easy, and especially if the father and mother are not on the same page. But prayer for guidance in this area should lead the one praying directly to the Bible, not to a church, denomination, pastor, priest or minister.
- Find like-minded Christians and develop deep, vital and relevant relationships with them. Find or start an organic church.
- Learn to recognize superficial “Christians” — those who speak the language but are not transformed. Lovingly approach them and challenge them with these insights. This is an age of counterfeit faith, and you may as well learn to discern it.
- Study and meditate on God’s Word. Get away from the warm and fuzzy, feel-good theologies of the age and train yourself to think Biblically.
- Avoid a critical, condemning, or ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude. When you walk in the light, never forget that you also were once in the darkness.
- Learn to study the Bible expositionally. By this I mean study to understand what the scriptures meant to those who first received them. The newest evangelical fads and creative interpretations are simply recycled ideas that have been around for hundreds or thousands of years. Fanciful eschatologies and new revelations will not engender mature faith.
May God richly bless you as you study the scriptures for yourself to determine whether or not these things are so.