I absolutely loved this blog post from Chris Bowler, which was written as a response to a few of my friend Drew Coffman’s tweets. First, Coffman’s tweets:
A real bummer about not attending a church is that when you tell that to Christians they assume you’re a burnout. What if you just…don’t…like church? The fact that we’ve so intermingled the concept of “person of faith” and “church-goer” is troubling
Bowler’s response is fantastic. First:
Now I don’t know exactly what Drew means when he says church. There’s church (the building you go to, or the event that happens on Sunday (sorry, Adventist friends)), and then there’s the Church. This is why words are so important, and I so wish I could visit Drew in person, maybe at the café he built a couple years back, and we could discuss this face to face. But the internet does ok in a pinch.
But I’m pretty sure Drew means little c church. I’d bet he really likes big C church, the fellowship comprised of the children of God spread across the globe and across time. It’s a pretty important group if you are a follower of Christ. It’s not a place, but the spirit of God indwelling in hundreds, thousands, millions(?) of people.
And the Bible is pretty clear that if we are a follower of Christ, we’re to spend time with others like us.
Bowler’s first comments about growing up outside the church echo my own experiences.
I grew up in a Christian home — one which read Bible stories and discussed Bible stories for hours every Sunday; one which prayed before every meal, before bed, and during major Christian holidays; and one which held differing points of view, but always strove to put God at the pinnacle of all creation and one that believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
I hold all these beliefs near and dear to my heart, to this day. More now than ever before, I’d say.
Growing up, my family didn’t attend church because of a terrible life event before I was born — one of those bad events that would cause any family to turn away from church, or perhaps turn away from God entirely. There are those inside the church who use any power possible to hold leverage over others. My family ran into one of those people.1
As such, I strayed away from church until my mid-20s. It was only after my wife and I had our first child that I entertained the possibility of going to church on a Sunday morning. It took even longer still to find a church I was comfortable attending.
We found that church, and we eagerly await the chance at a re-opening.
These are all little “c” church experiences. I’ve always felt part of the Big “C” Church, even if pushed to the fringes because of the effects of individual little “c” churches.
All of this to say: I was with Drew for a very, very long time in my life. I didn’t believe you needed to attend church to be a Christian. I didn’t believe you needed to be a Christian to be a good person (though I still don’t believe in this type of exclusivity — just the exclusivity of the rights and privileges afforded someone who believes in the resurrection of Jesus Christ). I didn’t believe the pastor or priest had all the answers to all the questions. (I definitely still don’t believe this.)
I still don’t know if I believe you must attend church to be a Christian. I was a Christian before I regularly attended church and I believe I am a Christian now, through the pandemic, without attending church.
But I have experienced, without a doubt, a major benefit in sharing time with those who want to discuss the Gospel, in sharing time with those who want to pray.
And as Bowler points out, there are many hints of these benefits in the Bible itself.
It’s very easy to see the power that groups provide for a person’s assurances. Just take a look at the world around us right now — the modern social culture feels increasingly skewed toward large segments of characteristically-like groups, while the singled-out individual who finds themselves on the fringes of society is powerless and infinitely vulnerable. One dares not to question or provoke the group right now, for fear of one’s core beliefs being attacked and brought back in line with the mainstream.
I mean, this is one of the core tenets of baptism, is it not? A public display of devoting your life to Jesus Christ and a proclamation of your believe in the resurrection? A group of people must be at a baptism to witness it, and subsequently play the role of fatherly accountability should the believer stray away.
So, is it a good thing to attend church if you are a Christian? I believe the assurances and genuine compassion of the Big “C” Church is one of the most amazing things I discovered after I began attending church a few years ago. Where before I fought to tear down pastors and their work because of their inability to answer life’s hardest questions, I now see an individual attempting to do God’s work here on earth, albeit with the individual, earthly, fleshly flaws we all carry.
But, must you attend church if you are a Christian?
John wrote the Revelation while in exile on Patmos.
Paul (arguably) wrote multiple epistles while in prison.
John the Baptist came out of the desert to proclaim the news that the Messiah was coming.
Sometimes, human beings get in the way of God trying to speak to us.
(Conversely, Satan himself tempts Christ only at the very tail of his individual 40-day stint in the desert. On our own, thirsty, and hungry, surely we are at our most vulnerable.)
I sympathize with Drew immensely here. I also (now) strongly believe worshiping in the midst of others has powerful impacts on one’s faith.
As always, I believe one needs a little of both to properly walk the path God wants us to walk.
These people are few and far between. Rare, even. The rarest, even more still. They make the news because of the positions of power they’ve been put into. And, of course, as Jesus’s brother James so eloquently put in James 3:1-2: Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. ↩