The Church Attendance Heresy (#568)
Did you know that in the third century "church leaders" declared it heresy to encourage others to worship at home with friends and family? There's a lot to love about the councils and creeds, but this is not their best work especially when the establishment moves far from the reality of the Gospel and trading institutional conformity for divine community. Brad and Wayne explore the ramifications of this kind of thinking and respond to a recent article about why Millennials no longer find their local congregations a relevant space to explore their spiritual journey. This is what happens when we lose sight of the church as the company of people learning to live in the love of Jesus and following him, but seek to contain it in institutions with those who need to derive their income from it.
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What I’ve always found kind of hypocritical about people who badger family or friends about going to church, so rarely do these people ask “how is it with your soul?” or engage in deep listening to see where you are in life. Just “you should/need to go to church”. Okay…… Unknowingly, what people are doing is reinforcing the idea that the church building or the act of going there is what will save you. Nothing about one’s relationship with Christ, and as we all know, there are many sitting in churches every week, some serving in leadership roles, who aren’t any better spiritually for their time spent there.
True story: I was in my early 20s, in the Navy and moving from school in FL to school in upstate NY. On the drive there I stopped in a little (and I mean little) town in KY. The little church I attended while there had an adult Sunday School and they took attendance. The 3 possible responses to having one’s name read aloud were “Bible every day!” or the not-quite-gold-star-worthy-but-still-silver-star response “Bible” or the woeful “Present”
It was not until I was in my mid-40s that I began to feel Father’s affection drawing me into a deeper relationship with Him separate from the Paster-as-CEO American Churchianity institution. But I do believe it was way back in that little church hearing the glee in the “Bible every day” responses and the heartache in the “Present” responses that first made me aware of my own ‘yuck meter’
I’m so thankful for Father’s love and freedom, and for you all for continuing to sling it all over the place!
Its been almost 4 years now since attending regular Sunday services. The first couple of years was simple detoxing. It included feeling guilty for not attending, then knowing I was on the path that the Lord wanted me on, then feeling guilty … bouncing back and forth. I soon discovered that those weekly meeting imposed on me a sense of not doing enough for the Kingdom, of not being Christian enough. Some of these were subtle, some more overt. I am not sure that it was even intentional, all I know is that is how my filters worked. By removing myself from the source of this guilt, I noticed I felt mentally and emotionally better. The thought of returning still feels me with dread. And yes, I got the guilt trips from others for not attending.
Over the past 4 years, I have been able to focus on one idea or thought for an extended period of time without the ongoing Sunday morning message distraction. I feel like when the Lord starts to work in me to will and to do, there are a series of things over an extended period of time that points to and shapes me: scriptures, books, family and friends, life circumstances. I have a long time to process without the added distraction of what the preacher has to say that week, which is usually a volume of thoughts and not the single thing that is going on in my heart at the time. Perhaps if the focus was on knowing the Father’s love and knowing Jesus, there would be some connection, but if it is simple intellectualism or knowledge, then it becomes words piled on words without life.
I probably do not have enough “fellowship” but what I do in small amounts is sweet. Without all that church time in programs and sitting in the pew, I now have time for actual relationships. I have asked the Lord to direct my footsteps on connecting with people, maybe with an actual group of believers, but nothing yet. For the time being, what I have in my life is enough.
And yes, I am little more than surprised at finding myself here after being in church all my life.
I see the Institutional Church of today as more of a social gathering, than a spiritual one. Maybe it’s intended that way by leaders who see the congregation’s need for each other on a weekly basis as a ‘church family’, outweighing the need to hear an inspiring sermon most will forget ten minutes out the door. It’s a good place to find a mate, raise a family, have fellowship, better than the corner bar or club where hosts of temptations await. The need for the big comfy chairs, the bookstores, the Starbucks, almost communities onto themselves, which make them seem more temporal, than spiritual. There is a different kind of peer pressure here, based on how good you can be, how much you can give and serve, and most importantly, how well you can ‘fit in’. But surely the Institutional Church is still about God’s Kingdom, no? In many cases, probably not.
I could have written almost all of what you just said. The part about not being enough strikes home deeply, not being man enough, spiritual enough, husband enough, etc. And the thinking I’m on the right path with the Lord and then feel like I’m pulled off it again. Yes, I agree!
I was watching Leah Remini, the vocal Ex-Scientologist recently who had/has that show on A&E. Much of the “cultiness” she talked about I could relate to from the “Christian” church, but certainly not so severe and overt. Public verbal lashings, meetings with the Apostles/Prophets/Pastors to put me back in line, being shunned by the leadership (and everyone else after the leaders proclaim you anti-Leadership) for asking questions… stuff like that. Looking back, why did I put up with that? Fear of rejection, fear of man, fear of stuff. Not knowing my Lord/Friend deeply at all yet.
These people were my friends! When I lost them I had no one close left, my life was in the church which rejected me and told others to shun me. I am so grateful that Jesus is truly becoming “enough” for me. Still desire fellowship and occasionally have some, but daily have it with the ONE.
Iv’e thought a lot on this. What is the fountain of this institution? It has to be the Institutionalized Learning that creates the Leaders who then pass on the life or death that they have been indoctrinated with. Hitler, who received this from the Jesuits, said, Give me control of the textbooks and I will control the State. So who controls the Bible Colleges and Seminaries? Are they even true believers, born again from above? We ASSUME that the students/future Pastors are receiving the good stuff, but look at all the Eastern Religion, false doctrine, etc. in the churches today. Wasn’t so easy to see 20 years ago, at least for me, but now is obvious for all to see.
Could it be that if terms like “heresy” and “heretic” are terms that we use, then maybe we’ve already missed what Jesus tried to show and teach us?
Brilliant. So much of what you have said is what I have been thinking and feeling and it’s nice to acquire new vocabulary to express what I’m thinking and feeling.
When I left home to study I joined a charismatic church in an effort to escape and be free from my traditional up-bringing but that, of course, didn’t work and I found myself in a new cage with a different name and a different set of rules.
This new cage was nice because it was bigger and had coffee and for a while I was so fascinated by the new-ness of this cage that I hadn’t even realised that I was back in a cage.
Now I’m really free to pursue relationship with Yeshua but I’m still having to process the feelings of bitterness and resentment towards going to any church of any kind.
The thought of attending church makes me nervous and so far, since deciding that church isn’t for me, I’ve only left church services with heavy feelings of sadness and disappointment. I’m learning to lay everything at the altar by talking to HaShem (God) constantly, something I hadn’t been able to do before.
I love what was mentioned in an earlier comment about being able to focus on the one thing that HaShem is walking you through at that moment, without distraction and without confusion.
I’m now far more concerned with what HaShem thinks than with what others might think and I find myself wanting to “mirror myself off of Him,” as a good friend of mine is fond of saying. Going straight to the Life Source is so much better than having to go through a third party.
Thanks for sharing your life so freely with all of us Brad and Wayne, it’s a good feeling knowing that I’m not the only one going against the grain and to know that I’m not going insane in the membrane (lame joke, but funny none the less).