The previous post was about all the shoulds that Christians think they have to do. I did these shoulds for over fifty years. I never would have thought to do it any other way until God stirred up this question in me over six years ago – “What is church?” At the time little did I know what that question would bring. The life-giving answers are gradually unfolding. Now I get Jesus’ words to His disciples, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (Jn 16:12)
As we explore these Christian shoulds in detail over several weeks please know the purpose is to bring understanding of things that hinder us from grasping, receiving, and enjoying the incredible fullness that Jesus has for us. If there was something that kept me from getting more of Him I sure would want to know that, even if it meant challenging my long time held religious traditions. A sobering thought – what if we were so sure about an established tradition and never heard or realized it was limiting our fullness in Him?
Let’s look at the should of “go to church every Sunday”, with the focus on judgment and location.
Here is a very common, seemingly innocent, question among Christians:
Why do we ask that question? What do we do with the answer? That is where judgment can come in.
The ‘where do you go to church?’ question enables some Christians to ‘size up’ someone’s spirituality. The person’s answer usually revolves around a particular denomination, non-denomination, perhaps even a location. From this information the questioner will quickly internally process their doctrine, traditions, rituals, worship format, etc. Then a determination will be made if the questioner agrees with and could possibly fellowship with that person. For goodness sake, we might even decide if that person is saved! Basically, a judgment of someone is easily and quickly formed by the ‘where do you go to church?’ question. Have we ever stopped to realize how judgmental that question can be?!
Additionally, implied in this question, is the assumption that ‘where’ is a critical aspect of our Christian faith and relationship with God. ‘Where’ speaks of a location.
A most telling dialogue about ‘where’ is found in John 4:20-24 during Jesus’ engaging conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. The woman told Jesus, “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus then clearly explained to her a time is coming when neither in that mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. He pointedly said the Father is seeking those that will worship Him in spirit and in truth. In fact, Jesus also said, “those who worship Him must (emphasis mine) worship in spirit and truth.” With this unheard-of-before clarification, Jesus was totally eliminating the mindset of a location, a place, a geographic area in order to go to church or do church stuff. Along with the voiding of a specific location Jesus was also dismantling the rituals of worship that take place at the location. Think about that.
Now consider what He told his disciples about the building at the location – even the ‘building’ would not be part of their relationship with God! In Mark 13:1-2, Jesus was going out of the temple and one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.” In 70 AD, the Temple of Solomon was totally destroyed by the Romans, not one stone left upon another. Can you imagine, God let His special holy building be demolished!
Have you ever heard words that praise certain church buildings – extolling their beauty, their size, their uniqueness, their features? Is it possible that we have a misguided emphasis on a structure, a building, and all its creature comforts? Have we personified buildings? Why is it we can easily find ‘beauty’ in buildings but we have trouble finding beauty in each other? Perhaps it is easier to find ‘beauty’ in the leaders and clergy but do we really see the ‘beauty’ and ‘uniqueness’ in each other, i.e. what some call the laity. Or is the laity’s specialness seen more in what they can do to be an asset to the building and its programs?
Here is one more scriptural reference to help us see that location and the building are not key to our faith growth. Stephen said in Acts 7:46-49 that though David found favor in God’s sight and wanted to build a house for God, his son Solomon ended up building a huge, ornate house for Him. Then, surprisingly, Stephen declared “However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says: ‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is the footstool of My feet; what kind of house will you build for Me?’ says the Lord, ‘Or what place is there for My repose?’ So was Solomon’s monumental temple project for naught? It had a glory but there was a greater glory coming in regards to a building and a house. Us!
Yet, given these scriptural passages, every Sunday most Christians head for a building with the idea that is where they will meet God.
Church leadership reinforces this mindset with comments like:
- ‘Isn’t it great to be in the house of God?’
- ‘Welcome to the house of God.’
- ‘God is sure in His house today.’
Then parents reinforce it to their children:
- ‘You need to dress up because we are going to God’s house today.’
- ‘Don’t run in the house of the Lord. This is a holy place.’
- ‘Shhh, this is God’s house.’
I am not saying going to church is bad or wrong. This is what most of us know – it is comfortable, familiar, and can be a blessing. But here is a telling dynamic for those that feel they should go to church – what if they don’t go? What is the resulting feeling? I imagine you can answer that question, maybe by experience. Is a building to have that much influence in our lives, that it would produce guilt and fear in us if we don’t go to it? Granted it is not the building per se, but it is other ‘church building’ people who would question our lack of attendance. That is not God!
The Lord is never into confining and limiting His people, but buildings and denominations can do that. Christians may say they are His building, made of living stones, which is truth and scriptural (see 1Cor 3:9,16 2Cor 6:16 1Pet 2:5 Ps 132:13). But do we really get that? If we let ourselves be ruled by guilt and fear in terms of we should ‘go to church’, then it indicates we don’t really understand we are the church or how He meant for her to function.
- It is not ‘where do you go to church?’ that determines anyone’s spirituality. God wants to free us from that kind of thinking that sets us up to judge others and even ourselves. What He cares about is that His Son lives in and flourishes in us. May we focus on and rejoice in that only, for each other.
- If location and a building determine your connecting with God then consider you might be missing out on more fullness. God is Spirit and He is not confined to a location or a structure.
- Ask God to grace you with more revelation about what church really is!