In Lieu of GLEANINGS – Church Skippers are Selfish. Harsh! But Accurate?

Church Skippers are Selfish. Harsh! But accurate?

I recently read an article entitled “The Selfishness of Skipping Church.” The author, a local pastor, is brutal on the “culprits” who in the current spiritual malaise and indifference in our country are the selfish Christians who fail to consider how they can help, assist, and encourage someone else by coming faithfully to church instead of focusing on and serving their own wants, preferences needs and schedule.” Reminds me of a past President who said famously, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” The pastor has confidently identified the culprit if not the enemy. Indeed the “distant, cold, lifeless and selfish in absenting yourself and your family from church” need to repent. And then return to a faithful lifestyle and relationship with your local church.” It is a brutal assessment, perhaps gratuitously so. But is it accurate?

Let me say it sounds like a rant and one with which many local churches pastors can empathize. We pastors are after all routinely measured by attendance (and then giving). And attendance is changing. Numerically the church is shrinking (a healthy winnowing in the face of secularization, either in or out). Have you pondered the decline of your mainline church since the mid 60s? It has been precipitous even if you have not noticed. Practically the brutal assessment may not produce a way forward. If I beat my wife until she fixes me dinner I will probably go hungry. As I begin to write I think we need to recast attendance as participation in something bigger than an event on Sunday morning.

First, there is something to being spiritual without being religious. Jesus assumes we will pray. “When you pray . . .” But I need not pray at a certain hour, or with beads or in a closet. No church or tradition can dictate that. We enjoy a lot of God granted and biblically attested freedom in that regard. So creating a law and guilting people into compliance by suggesting that ignoring the law is sinful won’t do. And can I be a Christian if marooned alone on an island where attending is not an option? What if work requires me to be away on Sunday mornings? Am I less a follower of Jesus for it?

Having said that, ours is a freedom FOR obedience. As Christians we voluntarily forego rights and privileges granted us by the alien culture in which we live. We must take seriously the challenge to keep assembling even if we do not concede the time and place may be imposed upon us.

Before we “consider how we may spur one another on,” let’s begin with some pastoral empathy for those not attending church. The church has certainly earned some rejection in becoming something it was not created to be. In some forms the assembly is void of content. In others it is replete with judgment. And regularly in both forms it is tainted by corruption, sexual and financial and otherwise.

Void of content? Really? A resounding yes! Removing crosses, any music with a hint of lament, or reducing sermons to a list habits for effective living is making something profound and demanding vacuous. And people know it. Why pay to join the yacht club if you do not sail boats? It is demonstrably true that participation in the body is directly correlated to orthodox belief. If you believe that Jesus died for the church, you tend to be a little more involved in it.

Replete with judgment? Really? A resounding yes! Heaping judgment upon people for violating our manmade laws is never appropriate. Even heaping judgment upon people for violating God given commandments without relief meant to be found the Gospel is out of line. “Full of grace and truth” he came. Truth without grace leads to despair. An unfailing diet of “turn or burn” does not lead to praise. Praise is given vigorously to the God who says I want you back regardless of what you have done and where you have been.

In both forms, tainted by corruption? Really? A resounding yes! Need I say more? Read the paper. And that’s what the public knows. Few Christians have been involved in the life the church and not been disappointed in it or even hurt by it. I don’t want to belong to a yacht club if its board members fight in the parking lot. How much more would any reasonable person want to distance himself from a church in which leaders often do the same thing? So as we present a case for a full throated participation (not attendance), let us accept we have much to overcome.

The author hit a double here. “It is impossible to build anything of consequence in any sector of society with such inconsistency.” And a homerun is elsewhere. “When you are not in church the gifts and abilities in you are not made available to others.”  The latter is thoroughly biblical and captured in 1 Corinthians 12. However, again I bristle at the thought that “in church” means simply Sunday attendance as if the Body of Christ is not the church when it is not formally gathered or if it is gathered another time during the week. After all, worship became 24/7 according to Paul in Romans 12:1-2. Excuse my own rant please.

So in 1 Corinthians 12 Paul describes a Body with a symphonic disposition. Everyone has to play his or her part in an opus or it is the lesser for it. When I played saxophone at Cloverdale Jr. High there were many others playing and, at times, all together. There were even other alto saxes complemented by tenor saxes and baritones. When the members of the orchestra are performing the symphony they are playing for the common good, the composition. There is rhythm. There is melody. There is harmony. Each has it its own notes most often complementary but occasionally creating dissonance to capture our imagination. Of course something happens without everyone playing and if someone misses a note but it is not what it could be. The oboe’s role is as important as the cello’s role which is as important to the whole (Body) as alto sax.

As it is with a symphony orchestra, so it is with the church. We are not what we could be without every part and each acting for the common good, something far more significant than the sum of the parts. Too often, in our hyper-individualistic culture, we say, God wants to do something through ME. Perhaps, but only in part. His higher stated priority is to do something through US! The purpose is more important than the individuals, even all the individuals combined. The world is perishing for want of a church. We suffer for “want of a nail,” the smallest part playing its role.

Finally, it is difficult to build anything of consequence without meeting together routinely. I have found this to be true. The framer can frame a house without the roofer being present. But the house will never become a home without both showing up. They may not even labor ever at the exact same time. They are participating just the same, toward a common purpose, a shared goal established by the Architect.

We do not “attend” church and that should never be the measure of our faithfulness. But we are the church. And we are exhorted to exercise our vast freedom for the common good. We are exhorted to play our vital role in something more important than any one of us or even all of us. We order our lives voluntarily and participate gladly for the higher cause of Christ and His Kingdom.

If that is taught in every gathering for a year and then people do not participate in the Body, some selfishness may need to be addressed. Meanwhile, I am going to the mat for my peeps.

Categories Latest News, Uncategorized | Tags: | Posted on November 4, 2015

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