Wednesday, March 30, 2016

My kinda church

Recently, in an online faith community I frequent, there has been much discussion on the subject of church attendance. Perhaps surprisingly for an online community, the vast majority of participants are committed church attendees, a number being actively involved in the life of their churches well beyond basic Sunday attendance. I have been like that too. But part of the discussion included this blog post in which the writer promotes the view that it's not possible to be a Christian unless you regularly go to church. Allow me to disagree.

But, before I disagree, it must be said that there are ideas about being a Christian and what church is that do support that blog writer's point of view. If by 'church' you mean an institutional church and if by 'Christian' you mean a member of an institutional church then, of course, Christianity and church attendance are inextricably entwined. But, I submit, Christianity is not an institutional thing, it's about a person, an individual we call Jesus Christ, and to be a Christian is nothing more nor less than being a follower of Jesus Christ.  'Church,' in this context is the universal fellowship of Christian believers and not the building down the road.  In this understanding, we create a serious problem if we attempt to make being Christian dependent on institutional church attendance.

Of course, none of that precludes church attendance. But it does tell us that our Christianity can't be confined to a church nor defined by our attendance at a church.  Christianity is a lived faith, not an institutionalised belief system. At its core, Christianity is a faith where our relationship with God is mediated by only one person - the Christ who makes us Christian (and not only in language terms). Where the institutional church and its professional clergy do have an important role to play, is in guiding us flock of Christians towards a spiritually mature participation in the Kingdom of God. Historical power structures may have made it otherwise in the past but here, in the twenty-first century, the institutional church must take up the role of servant-guide and foot-washer if it is to avoid a slide into irrelevance. (I loved that the Pope modeled this over Easter.)

And here's the thing; you couldn't keep me away from a church that was interested in helping me and everyone else to become better at this Christian thing. Not better Anglicans or Catholics, not better Baptists or Pentecostals, nor better Methodists or Adventists (the list goes on) - just better Christians, lovers of God and our fellow human beings. Religious dogma doesn't fix social injustice, it doesn't heal the sick nor bind up the broken hearted. I need to know how to pick up my cross and carry it as Christ said I should. Where is the church that's more interested in those things than the state of its roof, the sex of its ministers or whether the weekly tithe will cover the bills? Take me to that church.


  1. Agreed David.. after a lifetime of church attendance, service on many levels and studying in many forms I have come to a certain age - a place that I saw others get to all of my life and "worried" about them so I know how others look at me - where my "church" is a list of people on a page in my journal. They are people who attend many different churches or no church at all but who are part of my fellowship of believers and whenever we are together, that is church. I am a "done" as far as participating in the life of one particular church body goes but I support and honor it's place for many people. I am not negative toward it - I just realize it is not a "requirement" and that for many reasons it is not the right place for me right now. I feel closer to God than I ever have because I have time to follow through with study, prayer and contemplation as I never had before when "church" was calling me to be going in several directions every day of the week. Service, is life.

    1. Thank you, Pat. Richard Rohr's book, "Falling Upward" opened my eyes to the reality that it is natural to grow beyond church, to get to a point where we need something more than our churches can provide. That doesn't necessarily mean that we have to leave them, but sometimes that is part of the package, particularly if our church stands in the way of our continued growth and development.

    2. Just downloaded this. Can not thank you enough. What an expansive point of view - why is it not more "out there"? It is so logical that we would grow into a more "relaxed" spirituality - not at all a good way of putting it - as we apply a lifetime of learning and and seeing God at work all around us. As I focus more on the things that matter - a natural thing to do in our last decades - the more I can let go of the unrealistic expectations of the world. Stars in your crown today.