Just a few more thoughts I want to put out there before I get into my brief series on long-term trauma. This time about the church specific, namely the one I attend, because it ties into why I actually still go to church. It’s one thing to still believe in God, it’s quite another to subject yourself to a church.
I was talking with a couple atheist friends of mine last night and they, rightly, asked, why do people even go to church? See, the world has no idea why people go to church. Do you even know why people go to church? Why is it commanded in Scripture to not forsake the fellowship of believers?
I’ve heard a lot of answers from churches over the years. Some say that you can’t truly worship God unless you are in a building worshiping Him with other believers. Some say that it’s to make sure you don’t follow after your own flesh in your worship. I don’t agree with either of those.
The church is supposed to be a body, that’s what Scripture says. And when Scripture discusses this body it is obvious that we are to be helping each other…in everything. Not just in our faith, not just in spreading the Gospel, not just in worshiping. EVERYTHING. We are to be a family of believers, joined together in God. But, I believe, that often we are so far from that, and that is why my Atheist friends can’t understand why people go to church. It’s why I sometimes can’t either. If the church body isn’t helping you, why bother.
I suppose that’s why I still love A.W. Pink so much, though I’m no longer a Calvinist. He was so disgusted with the churches in his area, that he and his wife worshiped at home. An act he is still derided for in Calvinist circles nearly 100 years later.
I’ve attended several churches in my life. And, no offense to my friends who still attend these churches, but I’m fairly certain my cold, dead body would rebel at the idea of crossing their threshold again. Yes, they had a few nice people in them, some even had a few good Christians in them. But, in the end, there was something so onerous about them I had to leave. Whether it was the church I was married in where people, and by people I mean nearly everyone, insisted that I continue to subject myself to my parents’ abuse in order to be a good witness to them. Then there was the church where the wife of one of the pastors constantly attacked everyone who didn’t agree with her, and yet the pastors all turned a blind eye. There was the church where the pastor could not preach a sermon without doling out a long, cruel insult about other churches and how stupid they were. And, as I said before, who can forget the pastor and elders who told me my kids were going to be gay because they danced ballet?
So, why am I still in the church? Why am I even considering joining this church and being baptized?
Well, as I said, I’ve seen a few churches, and this is the only one that’s brought me hope. It’s the first place I truly heard about God’s love for people.
I like my church. It’s the first one I’ve ever felt comfortable in.
But it’s not perfect.
I just had to sit out on the patio for four Sundays so the pastor didn’t have to see me roll my eyes over the series on tithing. And then there is the typical cluelessness about divorce and marital problems (all divorce is two-sided and if you’d just go to Christian marriage therapy your marriage would be saved…yes, I rolled my eyes at that…and I was in the third row).
There are many people in the church who can’t stand me because I left my husband. They don’t care that he was abusing me. They can barely bring themselves to acknowledge my existence and say “hi” let alone say anything else.
There is the blind, unquestioning worship of man. Which, of course, is the reason people bristle when I point out the things I completely disagree with, and things I believe are erroneous teachings. This idolatry extends toward our pastors and toward famous Christian teachers. I know that when I say something about it a lot of people are going to pull back from me.
But I like my church. I like (most of) the pastors. I like the sermons when the pastor is focused on Christ’s love for us, instead of on legalistic interpretations and personal idolatry’s (which, btw, we all have so it’s unavoidable at any church).
Overall, this church is trying to do the right thing. It’s trying to show God’s love. It’s trying to reach people, it’s trying to help them physically as well as spiritually. It cares about its community (an impoverished one, not white-middle-class suburbia) and it cares about the world.
And I see the pastors actually trying to make sure they don’t allow their little idolatry’s to become big blinding errors. This makes it unique to almost every church I’ve attended.
Does this mean I’m always in agreement with them? No, that would be idolatry on my part. Does it mean I will remain silent when they preach something I think is damaging or erroneous? Um, see earlier paragraph about eye-rolling. 😉
But, I’m not the kind of person who thinks you have to agree with someone 100% to be their friend. I know I’m relatively alone in this. People say they think this way, but it’s not really practiced. I know because I’m a people watcher. I watch them congregate among those who nod heads, who say nothing but good about their idols, even if there’s a problem, who can’t stand to have someone point out an error, no matter how big or small, in their idol’s teaching. (Learned that one the hard way when I started talking about James Dobson…gauge your level of Evangelical idolatry by your reaction to that sentence.)
I’ve looked at alternatives. I’ve attended alternatives since starting at this church. I’ve found no viable alternatives, mostly because the majority of preachers adopt our culture’s way of speaking into their preaching, namely insults, derogatory remarks, always finding a need to point out something unimportant that they disagree with. I like that my pastor’s sermons 95% of the time center on how God loves us so much that He sent His son to die for us. I know there are a lot of people, pastors and parishioners alike, who cringe at that idea. And that keeps me from entertaining the idea of ever looking for another church, even though I face what I face each week.
And then, there are some young pastors at our church that make me hopeful for the future of the entire institution. People who are honest about pain and suffering, who don’t just present a pleasant face, but understand that being a Christian doesn’t make your life perfect, and sometimes doesn’t actually make things easier.
There are no perfect churches, because there are no perfect people. But to find a church that preaches God’s love without watering down the Gospel is such a rare thing, and I think I’m pretty blessed to have found it.