The Perils of Joining a Church!
Every once in a while I think about joining a church. I’m not kidding. In fact, my wife Sue’s desire far exceeds mine. And I believe hundreds of people reading this letter have experienced the same feelings, at least that’s the impression I get from our many conversations. But for the time being, I’ll speak of my personal motives, rather than those of anyone else.
The word Church, in Greek, means members or followers who practice a universal belief. It does not mean a building where members gather. I imagine most of you already knew that. I would guess that a lesser number know that Christ only used the word Church two times in scripture – Matthew 16:18 and 18:17 – and neither time associated it within the context of salvation. Nor did Christ arrange for the mechanical organization we know the church to be today, rather, He taught spiritual principles to govern our lives. From what I have been able to discover, He did not instruct His followers where they should worship, but who they should worship, as John 3:16 says, we are saved through following Christ. It’s also noteworthy that none of the Ten Commandments mentions attending church, what we are commanded to do is no unnecessary work on the seventh day because that is the day God rested. During the time of the early Christians, evangelizing was the main issue. Contrary to today, it was assumed everyone who called himself a believer would do more than go to a rendezvous once a week. Peter, Paul, and Timothy never told their followers to go to a gathering, and they and the rest of the gang would do the evangelizing. So maybe I’m missing something, but I have a hard time documenting that assembling together as stated in Hebrews 10:25, although good and commendatory, is by any means mandatory. Some denominations may disagree, and to them I mean no disrespect. But in any rate, there is something about worshiping with true believers that signifies devotion to our creator, and that alone, seems good for the soul. From a visual standpoint there are a multitude of buildings that advertise themselves as churches. These structures are large, small, and of almost every shape and design. I guess I am partial to the ones with a high steeple pointing upward toward heaven. I see a lot of people entering the larger structures, and a much lesser number entering the smaller ones. I wonder why that is; perhaps it’s because larger churches make people feel more entertained, or nicer about themselves as a result of being motivated by a slick salesperson. Although I have nothing against it, the church I seek does not need to look like a convention center with new age technology and a plush modern interior; the services could be held in a tent as far as I’m concerned. Maybe it’s my own fault, but I have had a hard time finding a place to reverently worship our Lord, as you will eventually understand – there’s really not a lot out there for the person that has standards. Additionally, I’m no prize, you know. I’ve been told by more than one member of our local clergy that I wouldn’t fit into their holy huddle because of my views concerning the great issues of our day. I guess they are afraid I would cause a stampede amongst the sheep. They don’t have a lot to fear, though, I’ve tried to sprinkle some salt before without much healing.
Politically, churches and denominations very greatly, some are governed by rules, and that’s not all bad if they would administer these rules equally to attendees who openly violate them. I must admit that I find reverence and tradition in the Catholic faith, but that denomination does not allow me to be a member because of a previous divorce of which I was an innocent partner. I guess I could jump through some hoops, and as the Padre suggests, sort of pretend the marriage never existed and have it annulled, but to me, that’s hypocrisy. Nevertheless, the church I would like to join is one where the God that is worshiped is more than a “good buddy,” and the Christ that is praised, is of Holy Scripture and not a fabrication to suit individual desires. If this is a Protestant church, I would like the person in the pulpit to dress respectfully (not in blue jeans and a sweat shirt) but surely not like a Rush street pimp either. If a telephone message is left at his home on his day off, it is my wish he will respond within a reasonable period of time, if he reply’s at all. I’d like the Shepherd to be a good man, strong, humble, someone to look up to, knowledgeable regarding Scripture, and for the Bible to be his guiding tool for instruction rather than some popular book of the day. As far as I’m concerned, “Purpose Driven” drivel is just that. This man should be a person of God who considerers his ministry more important than the financial support it can provide for him and his family, or the opportunity to employ his wife as church secretary, his brother as custodian, and his offspring as lead musician.
I’d like his messages to be interesting and teach me something that I do not already know. I, for one, am totally sick of “series” preaching from a purchased book of sermons where the speaker flips through multiple Bible verses in an effort to “sell” his theology. As an example, why can’t clergy (Protestant and Catholic) speak on Sunday regarding issues that are taking place within our society and link a Christian message to that subject? Wouldn’t that be more interesting than another series on Revelation or the rhetoric we hear every week that we should love evil people? If it’s Father’s Day, Lincoln’s birthday, Super Bowl Sunday, or the anniversary of Roe. v. Wade, or 9/11, why not associate these dates to a Christian message? The economy, a noteworthy school issue, unemployment, a tragic local accident, or a homosexual rally, are only a few opportunities to educate from a Christian perspective bridged to the “real” world in which we live.
I also expect the watchman to teach his flock about sin; sins of omission as well as sins of commission, and to equate specific actions such as abortion, homosexuality, adultery, and addictions, as sinful. Maybe people in the pews would then know how to live their faith and for whom to vote. This church should be one of praise and prayer, the worship reverent, and the music respectful as well as uplifting. I am not much for modernized music where a praise song of two or three words is repeated again and again. It is essential that those attending be issues oriented. I don’t wish to collaborate in a service where people wait for the lost to come to us; our people must affect the evils of this world by word and example. I hope we will pray for those who need our prayers but not ask God to do things for us that we should be doing ourselves. The phrase, “I must do something,” will always solve more problems than, “Something must be done.” I don’t want these services to make me feel good about myself. When I come away I should not be rested, but restless, and not fulfilled, but challenged. I do not seek comfort, in that I have done my duty, but that I’ve been given my duty. So in that context, I hope we won’t pray to end abortion or to outlaw gay marriage, it’s our responsibility, not Gods, to correct those problems.
These requirements alone should dramatically reduce the number of churches available for me to choose from. If someone has incurable cancer I hope to pray for a cure. But if that person is going through a divorce, a death, job loss, or family problems and is in need of a hand to help, an ear to listen, or a shoulder to lean on, it is my expectation that we will do more than keep these brothers and sisters in our prayers – I trust we will provide them with comfort and not turn them away. I desire that we house the homeless, feed the hungry, and minister to the sick of spirit and body. Now my choices have been reduced even further. For a change, it would be nice if the mission field would begin within our own community. We do not need to cross the sea to serve the cross; America has no lock on righteousness, besides it seems to me that there are more needs in our backyards than in most foreign countries. I guess that about closes the door doesn’t it? Oh, one more thing; it would be great if those attending would be friendly, meaning that they would greet me with a nod (even though we may not know each others name) or a smile as we pass in the hall. Now I don’t need phonies either, or people to tell me how much I’m loved – I’ll not buy into that anyway! I’m not a freeloader. I believe worshipers should tithe where they’re taught. Therefore, I will financially support this church very well. I will not, however, mortgage my home to fulfill some clergyman’s so called vision from the Almighty for an unjustified building expansion. I do not have desires to be on the board or an Elder or Deacon; I would simply like to worship without being conned, manipulated, or lied to for a change.
Now I know the Evangelical response to this letter, I’ve heard it many times before, that the problem is mine and not that of any particular church. That I should just find, and settle into a church, and support the pastor through thick and thin, and if there is a lack of Spirit within the congregation that I should help to instigate healing. To that I say, hogwash. Ninety percent of spiritual growth today is not that of new inductees into the army of God, but soldiers transferring from one church to another – searching for meaningful truth. This is the church that interests me. Maybe I’m asking too much, or perhaps my motives are wrong. If that’s the case, I’m sorry. There’s a possibility this church doesn’t exist, I don’t know. I’ve also considered just attending a church, ands not becoming a member, I guess that’s what most people do now days. Some people have told me that I would be better off if I worshiped our Lord without the mechanics of organized religion, and that entering a church does not make one a Christian anyway. What I search for, however, is something very much like the early church, where the Spirit of God dwelled – before man messed it up. I’d like to gather with a few likeminded believers and make a difference in this world before entering the next. If twelve people, two thousand years ago, could change the world – a few hundred, today, can easily change a community!
Alliance for Life Ministries / P.O. Box 5468 / Madison, WI 53705 /
E-mail: email@example.com / Web: www.allianceforlifeministries.org
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