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They don’t go to church because…

May 8, 2008

Common misconceptions and clichés and false assumptions abound when such terms as “churchless Christian” or “post-congregational” or “free range believers” get introduced into a conversation. It’s understandable, in some respects, because most people equate faithful church attendance and being a good Christian. In their mind, there is NO category for followers of Jesus who neglect Sunday church meetings except for one…backslider. So if you don’t go anywhere on Sunday, then something is wrong. That’s the basic assumption, so then one begins the process of trying to catalog the person’s problem:

  • “They must have really been hurt by the church.”
  • “I bet they have a problem with submitting to authority.”
  • “Some people just can’t make a serious commitment to a local church.”
  • “There are plenty of good churches around here. They must be looking for the perfect church.”
  • “They seem like nice people, but it makes you wonder what’s really going on.”
  • “Perhaps they belong to some weird cult or maybe they’re part of the emerging church!”

Why not just ask? Rather than work yourself into a lather or, even worse, become guilty of slandering a brother or sister in Christ, just invite them over for coffee and ask them. Sure, you’ll find a horror story every now and then: abuse by authoritarian elders, burned out, spiritual neglect, never accepted into a church’s cliques, serious disagreement that led to a church split, legalism, moral failure of a respected church leader, and the list could go on. Personally, I don’t know many people who haven’t been hurt or disappointed by other Christians, even inside the institutional church.

We’re not upset that people continue to go to their local church services on Sunday. Seriously, we’re not on a compaign to convince others to join us. Are you kidding? Why would we want to make it more difficult for us to get an 11:00 a.m tee time or disturb our quiet Sunday morning picnic spot at the lake? 🙂 What we do want—for all believers everywhere—is mutual encouragement in our walk with the Lord and a sense of partnership in our collective witness to the world around us, whether locally or across the globe.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Steve Jakob permalink
    May 8, 2008 9:21 pm

    All the arguments that a person could construct to refute the ‘assembling of yourselves together, as some are in the habit of doing’ fall short for a few reasons:

    Disconnected from the vine, the life that you enjoy in Christ will dry up. A hand is a hand no matter if you sever it from the body or not, but will the hand function the way it’s suppose to after it is severed? This is partly because you are rejecting the delegated authorities placed in your life through the “organized” church. If you don’t want to have anything to do with echelon of command, so to speak, in the church then you don’t want to have anything to do with the very nature of Christ. And partly because in disconnecting yourself from the “institutional” church, and maybe without initially intending to, you begin to create your own Jesus, your own ideas of what Christianity really is. Scripture is quite clear as to what and who the Church is (literally the word means ‘the called out ones’). See, when a person begins to interpret the scriptures in a way that lets them define their religion instead of letting their faith define and change who they are, they are constructing their own false religion and god.

    Secondly, think of the terrible example you set for unbelievers. The statement that is being made by those “free range” Christians is this: I can call myself a Christian and I don’t have to go to church, I don’t have to be in unity with the church, and I can teach myself all about the gospel of God just as well as any preacher.” Sound harsh? Think about it–What was the intended purpose of the Church, the ones called out to be different, holy, and trendsetting people for the rest of humanity? We as the body of Christ are suppose to be those representatives of Christ, those ambassadors of Christ in the ministry of reconciliation of the world back to God. How do you honestly expect to accomplish such a feat without being plugged into the source of power that is able to do exactly that. Now the source is God Himself. So if it is found in His word (His revealed and universal will for mankind), if it is even hinted that we should “come together in the unity of Christ,” and if this way to unity is found through accountable and answerable church organizations, then the power to overcome the world, the flesh, and the Devil in order to successfully become world changers lies in and through submission to the church, which is God’s delegated authority on this earth.

    Free-lance Christianity is a complete oxymoron. The very word Christianity means “little Christ.” If this be so, then any behavior that does not reflect the quality and character of Jesus Christ both in nature and person demonstrates the person is none of His.

    So as far as asking people why they have perceivably “defected” from the church, other Christians should be holding their brothers and sisters accountable to their commitment that they made to Christ. If that commitment isn’t a thing that is important to them then the rest of their supposed “faith” is null and void.

  2. Bill permalink
    May 9, 2008 11:20 am

    Steve: First of all, I hope you don’t mind my reformatting your comments into narrative style from your outline format. You must be a pastor. 🙂 Paragraphs make things easier to read, and the line breaks adjust automatically if people increase/decrease the font size in their browsers.

    Thanks for putting your concerns on the table. I will try to address them, although I have no illusions of bringing you to see things differently, especially if you have a vested interest in the institutional “church” (as in…your livelihood depends upon it).

    Your first sentence starts with the assumption that I am trying to “refute” the clear injunction of Hebrews 10:25 regarding the importance of gathering together with other Christians. God forbid!! The context speaks of the confidence we have in drawing near to God through the sacrifice of our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, who has opened a “new and living way” for us. In light of that supreme reality, the writer urges us to live accordingly: to keep a tight grip on our hope in Christ (v23), to think of ways to stimulate one another to love and good works (v24), and to not neglect meeting with other believers for the purpose of encouraging each other in light of the coming judgment (v25).

    So how do you fit “weekly church attendance” into this passage? I see “stirring up one another to love and good deeds” and I also see “encouraging one another” and I see the part about “not neglecting to meet together,” but I don’t see anything about church buildings, Sunday meetings, special music, worship, prayer, and preaching. I must admit that I saw this passage with your exact presuppositions not very long ago until I was challenged to re-read it and exegete it afresh. You see, that’s the problem, especially among those of us raised up in an evangelical context where the sermon is the pinnacle of our worship experience. It’s just not there, Steve. And those of us who choose not to participate in what you would call a “local church” are nevertheless committed to gathering together with others. See my recent article on how we approach these things from a post-congregational perspective. We meet with other Christians, just not in an organized, 501(c)3 non-profit corporation type of way.

    Everyone who is “in Christ” is a member of His body and members one to another. There were NO artificial distinctions between believers in the first century, which is why Paul’s letters were not written to the First Reformed Evangelical Baptist Church of Rome or wherever. If you and I both live in the same town, we are members together of a geographically-localized expression of the body of Christ, even if you gather with a different group of Christians for regular fellowship and encouragement. And if you live in Virginia and I live in the United Kingdom, we are still members together of the body of Christ. There’s only one body (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, & Ephesians 4). And we know what Paul wrote concerning our security: nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

    I would encourage you to read “Why I Don’t Go to Church Anymore!” by Wayne Jacobsen. There’s no point in rewriting what this brother has so eloquently expressed already.

    Your attacks are very unkind to other true brothers and sisters in Christ who see things differently. Summarizing the rest of your comments, here’s your assessment of free-lance Christians:

    …we reject authority

    …we want nothing to do with the nature of Christ

    …we are idolaters

    …we set a terrible example for unbelievers

    …we refuse to be connected to the only true source of unity (the institutional church)

    …we have defected from the church

    …our faith is null and void

    Well, I don’t quite know what to say in response, since you view us so tragically. It’s easy to bash someone you’ve never met, especially in the comment section of their blog. I have devoted my life in service to Jesus Christ, working bivocationally for twenty-five years so that I might offer myself without financial consideration to the cause of Christ and the extension of His kingdom. Our family moved to Europe as missionaries several years ago and, when we said good-bye to our parents, my wife and I never dreamed we would lose our mothers within the space of two years. If we could sit down over a cup of coffee and visit with one another for a couple of hours, I would hope we could respect one another’s views without walking away thinking, “Man, that guy’s certainly NOT a Christian!”

    As I said in the beginning, I really don’t expect you to embrace my views, but I do expect you to show a little more respect and consideration toward those with whom you disagree. Then again, maybe your “huffing and puffing” are the result of feeling threatened by my position…perhaps an expression of your own insecurities. Since I don’t know you, I can’t really make that judgment, but it’s entirely possible. If you are seriously seeking to understand things from a post-congregational perspective, I would be happy to call you by phone (at my expense) from the UK or continue this conversation privately by e-mail (postcongregational [ AT ] GMail [ DOT ] com).

  3. August 3, 2008 11:25 pm

    Bill,

    I only wanted to make one brief response to Steve’s comment:

    ********

    “All the arguments that a person could construct to refute the ‘assembling of yourselves together, as some are in the habit of doing’ fall short for a few reasons:

    Disconnected from the vine, the life that you enjoy in Christ will dry up.”

    ********

    So, am I to assume that “the church who meets in a building” is now “the vine” of this passage?

    Actually, I thought Jesus was pretty clear in the passage when He stated, “I am the vine.”

  4. October 30, 2008 3:11 pm

    There are people that go to church every sunday and never do the will of God and they have No love! The most compassionate people I have come across are the ones who have never stepped foot in a church. The building isn’t everything! The biggest commandment is to love one another.. the commandment was not “thou shall never miss a sunday of going to church, thy must go to church.” No. I have come across many ‘church goers’ who fail to reflect the true love of Christ.

    Yes obey the day of the Lord, spend time with God have friends who are believers but as far as the church, we are the church. The kingdom of God is within me.
    Well Said Debbie, Christ is the vine!

  5. Derek permalink
    December 2, 2008 8:15 pm

    I’m constantly reminded of Mathew 7:21. ‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven’.

    Good then, that he doesn’t say you have to go to church. Otherwise a lot of us out here doing the will of the Father would be screwed.

    I think Steve’s claim to listen to the ‘delegated authorities’ is a bit off base as well. who delegates them? why? who decides what authorities we need to listen to. If every one listened to the ‘delegated authority’ there would be no Christains, because the pharisees and other teachers of the time rejected Jesus anti-authoritarian message.

    Steve you also say “So as far as asking people why they have perceivably “defected” from the church, other Christians should be holding their brothers and sisters accountable to their commitment that they made to Christ.” But isn’t that exactly what Martin Luther was doing when he nailed the problems of the church to the door and walked away. If we all blindly accepted the authorities there would be no protestants, but somehow I doubt you’ve vowed obedience to the Pope.

    As for setting a bad example to the ‘unbelievers’. There are some serious issues in the world and in the church right now. Dealing with them openly and honestly is the only way to show the world Christianity is still relevant.

    Imagine a broken marriage, but for the sake of looking good to the neighbors, the husband and wife pretend everything is OK and never talk to each other to resolve the issues? Is that a true marriage or just a convenient living arrangement? Paul talks about how the church is married to Christ. Shouldn’t we at least go see a counselor before we file for divorce? I think most people on this blog agree that its at least time for a trial separation.

  6. January 17, 2011 11:26 pm

    Just come across this post (2 years down the line) after a search for “churchless”.
    Great stuff, well written and well responded to following, the first comment, which sounds like the party line from a pastor.
    I don’t think I can add anything other than amen!

    I too have been outside the system for some time. I have learned more in my walk with Jesus directly than I ever did in the system. Why do they think we need a mediator/pastor, we have Jesus!

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