It’s a common saying that “I love Jesus, but I don’t go to church.” It could be considered, along with a general laxity for what are considered conservative morality/ethics and an ignorant interpretation of the Bible, a hallmark of modern Christendom. Not Christianity – Christendom. I’ll explain what the difference is in a minute. But for now, it’s important to know that the most dangerous of these three things – ignorant theology, lack of Christian ethics, and a lack of church attendance of any kind – is the lack of church attendance. Why? Simple.
It doesn’t seem that bad… at first.
See, if all you’re doing is not attending a service on Sunday, then that’s fine. Right? Well, in theory anyway, yeah. Going to church every Sunday won’t save anyone. Conversely, not going to church won’t get you inexplicably expunged from the Book of Life, to go full Revelation on you guys. It isn’t an ultimate sin. So what’s the problem?
Well, that’s pretty simple, actually, and I’ll have to revert to logic for a second. If you want to avoid a particular negative action or consequence and a simple, seemingly neutral action can, usually, divert that negative – why not take the neutral action? And it’s pretty obvious that not doing something bad is, of itself, a sort of good. It may even be the most common kind. So if taking a neutral action leads to a good, that neutral action isn’t neutral at all. It is a good to itself.
That little philosophical aside being, I hope, understood, it’s pretty obvious what’s going on here. I am, in a roundabout way, pointing out that in fact church attendance, even assuming one isn’t attending for the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper/communion, is a good because it can negate the other two definitively negative ‘hallmarks’. It doesn’t seem like a bad thing to not to. The action or lack thereof seems neutral. But if actually attending church to avoid a bad thing is good, then not attending church, which likely leads to bad things, is at best misguided and at worst pridefully foolish. Not only that…
The point of church is community
We don’t go to church because, you know, we get a kick out of it. We don’t go to church just to hear a good speech. We don’t go to church because we like the music, or because there’s a cute girl or guy there. At least, we shouldn’t. Many do. They are wrong. The point of church, Biblically, is to become one body, not physically but in spirit:
“… so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another”
(Rom. 12:5, ESV).
That one body is an absolute community. The importance of this community in understanding the Church can’t be underestimated. In fact, when Paul is speaking of how to discipline the worst of sinners in the Church, the punishment he suggests is actually excommunication. It’s the most dramatic punishment possible for the believer, because the community – the body of Christ – should be of ultimate importance to us.
Here’s where Christendom comes in.
Christian culture misses the point
Soren Kierkegaard, the first existentialist philosopher, was angsty and even, sometimes, harsh in his criticism of the Church of Denmark where he lived. Without wasting time – and turning this blog post into a long treatise about Kierkegaard – the Church failed on several critical levels. There was not community. It was more about feeling moral and right with God than communion with the Lord. It was a Sunday ritual that socially had to be done, not a dutiful act that should be done.
Sound like modern times? Yeah. I thought so too.
I lived in the Bible Belt of the United States for seven years straight. I know exactly what modern Christendom looks like. The trick, too, is that if you accuse modern Christianity of this blatant disregard for what is true and Biblical, you’ll find a lot of Christians who will agree. They attend church every Sunday, the 9:00 service because it’s more traditional, and they think the new pastor is a great guy, they’re excited to see the direction their church is headed, little Timothy is in Sunday School, they might even volunteer every once in a while when it’s convenient for them – and so they look down on the people who don’t volunteer, who don’t come every Sunday, or don’t come at all. They write them off as not real Christians and speculate as to what various sins those people are committing on a Sunday morning.
What they don’t realize is that they are the ones who keep people away from the church every Sunday. They are the reason that Christianity in the West is dwindling. They may be genuine believers or they may do these things because it’s socially convenient to do so, but either way, they think that their attitude goes unnoticed. It might go unnoticed by those inside their particular church, but it certainly does not go unnoticed by those outside it. They follow a tradition of hypocrisy that goes back to the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes of Biblical times. Their volunteering in outreach programs doesn’t make up for the number of people who leave because of them.
I attend church on Sunday because it’s tradition. I attend church on Sunday because it’s socially convenient. Those things are actually both true. But if they stood alone, I would not attend very long. I attend church on Sunday because I love God and, in actuality, love people, even if they aren’t great most of the time. I live for communion with God and his People. Church is more than sitting in a pew. It’s more than listening to a good sermon. It’s more than volunteering. All of those are good things – don’t get me wrong – but those things should be done with a purpose of communion with the Church, not the purpose of ticking a weekly box.