First, I should maybe confess that I am a follower of the teachings of Jesus Christ – a Christian. Since church buildings are designed as places for Christians to gather, it would seem obvious that I would associate myself with a group of other Christians and gather with them in a church most every Sunday (the Lord’s Day). Followers of Jesus Christ have had such gatherings since the day of his resurrection, although Christian church buildings came a little later. And, indeed, I have such an association and I habitually gather with the group twice on Sunday and again on Wednesday evening, as per long-standing tradition.
Being part of a church is not always easy, however. The portrait of Jesus Christ and the God of the universe that I encounter when I attend church sometimes stands in stark contrast to what I find in the Bible – God’s revelation of himself to us. Sometimes the contrast irritates me. Thus, my previous posts concerning going to church without getting angry.
So why do I keep going if I often come away upset about what I encounter in the church? Why do I continue to gather so frequently with people who sometimes blacken the character of God, who sometimes make me ashamed to be associated with them? As someone once asked me, “Why would I continue to go someplace where I am consistently offended?” Why indeed?
There are several reasons:
1. “Lone ranger” Christians are likely to develop a view of God even more skewed than one finds in the church. There is balance to be found in a group of believers. Even when I don’t agree with what I hear at church, the introduction of a different perspective helps me hone my own beliefs and check them against the Holy Scriptures. I need the shaping that the church provides. I need to make myself accountable to a community of believers.
2. The church is my family. These are people who care about me. If I’m in the hospital they’ll come and visit me. When I’m grieving they extend sympathy. When I receive blessings they rejoice with me. Sure, some of them are scallywags. Isn’t that the case in every family? They’re still family.
3. Fellowship. When someone steps through the doors of the church, they are indicating at least some minimal level of interest in spiritual things. The church brings me into intentional contact with such people. I find encouragement along the way as I interact with others who have chosen to live as Christians.
4. Ministry. The church is a place to share my spiritual journey with others and hopefully encourage them in their own walk. Just as my church family ministers to me in my times of joy and grief, I too can minister to others. Perhaps I can encourage someone who is searching for God and having difficulty finding Him. I can weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who are rejoicing.
5. To worship God. I left this for last because I find corporate worship challenging. My most focused worship times occur in solitude. Generally, the only way I can carry worship into the church is to have it begin at home. Still, occasionally I am surprised by a glimpse of heaven even within the church.
As I mentioned in an earlier entry, the author who wrote about going to church without getting angry achieved his lack of ire by finding a church that better matched his worldview. There are several reasons I don’t attempt to do this.
1. There is no perfect church. If there were, I wouldn’t be allowed to join it because then it would no longer be perfect.
2. I am basically in harmony with the official doctrine of the church of which I’m a part, at least more than with other churches around where I live.
3. There’s a possibility that I can be a positive voice in the church, ministering to those who come to church looking for the God of love and instead encounter the misrepresentation of God that I find so irritating. Perhaps when I'm at my best the church is better because I'm part of it.
4. I am not alone. There are more people than I involved in this decision. Leaving the church would mean letting multiple people down.
So I stay and get involved and continue to show up on a regular basis. And I find family and fellowship and a place of ministry. Sometimes I even catch a glimpse of God in the church! It’s a good place to be.