Quite some time ago, my mom sent me an article through email (forwarded to her by a friend) that used a little story analogy to try and emphasize the importance of church attendance in the Believer’s life. Specifically, the article compared a wife preparing meals for her husband to a pastor giving sermons to a congregation; of which the conclusion was made that – just as if the wife had not prepared meals for the husband, he would starve to death, so likewise a person who does not go to church to hear sermons would also starve to death (in a spiritual context). Of course I do not agree with this analogy in the least. From my experience, religion often lends to spiritual decay rather than nurturing life.
Mom, bless her heart, has expressed sorrow (in times past) that I am no longer the typical Sunday-go-to-meeting child (not to mention that I have set aside so many of the religious practices I grew up with in church world – like tithing, Sunday school, performing on the worship team, and participating in church programs and events). While I know she means well and that she sincerely desires for her children to follow the Lord with all their heart, I do believe that many of these anxieties are simply religious influences that so many of us are familiar with, but which are not influences that come to us from Scripture. It is also my opinion that “church” from days gone by was a much different kind of experience than it typically is today. Not that there was no religiosity 30-40 years ago in church world (for indeed there was), but often there was a much deeper focus on Christ, right doctrine, and there seemed to be a powerful revelation in tangible demonstration of the body of Christ as the Family of God.
Christians in our church group were very much like family (at least among the church folks I knew as a kid growing up in the 70’s and 80’s and certainly going back further to my parent’s time, long before I came around). I have written before about my childhood days “in church” where it was not uncommon to have folks from church, that we were all in close relationship with, come over… often unannounced, and we would share meals or gather around the piano and sing and laugh. This wasn’t just a small clique of friends either, but just about anyone from church would pop in and sometimes we would at their homes as well. There seemed to be a richer sense of community than anything I’ve seen or experienced today. Most “churches” today are all about programming and scheduling their faith into oblivion and we see religious burnout all over. The devil has effectively replaced the revelation of the body of Christ as the Family of God with a counterfeit activity called “church”. My parents (and even I) come from a different era related to “church” than the one commonly seen today, so I can understand (I think) a little bit why it may be that some folks of the older generation tend to elevate the importance of church so high. They may have generally good motives and it may come from a place of sincere intent to honor Christ and hold fast the good that they themselves embraced from the beginning, but they don’t always recognize how this deception has crept in and captured even them, often times…
I remember the days of going to tent revival meetings and seeing a preacher truly preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ without compromise, sometimes with tears running down his face. I remember the scores of people who would kneel at those alters, giving their hearts to the Lord with humility and repentant hearts. I remember seeing people genuinely healed by the power of God and I remember singing songs of praise with such abundant joy in the heart. It was NOTHING like anything I’ve experienced in today’s so called church… I must confess that God met me there in such beautiful ways many times and I did experience levels of spiritual growth (that has stuck with me throughout the years). Yes, I also learned to be religious and, yes, I embraced some ignorant concepts, but they paled in comparison with the truth and the love God demonstrated toward me, and God’s goodness and grace was so abundant. Despite the environment, I credit those wonderful experiences to GOD, not men and not to religious programming. God is so good to us, especially as we genuinely are reaching out to Him and seeking Him. He will meet us where we are!!! Yes, even if we are in a church building!
My wonderful mom, full of love for God and her kids, has expressed concern at different times over the years that I might be starving myself spiritually by not attending church (or, even worse, displeasing the Lord). As the months and years have rolled on and as we have visited this discussion several times, I know mom has observed the Lord genuinely at work in my life (and in my wife’s life) and so this subject now comes up much less frequently; however, I want to share the response letter I sent to my mom after she had forwarded me that email because it was a sincere attempt to try and put into words my heart on this matter so that she would, hopefully, better understand… and the good news is, she received it with a good heart and told me that it helped her understand where I was coming from. I love my mother with all my heart and, at first, hesitated to share this because I would not wish to embarrass her or anyone in my family who might read this, but I do think there is value in sharing this testimony.
Perhaps some of you have had similar discussions about this subject with loved ones. I know it can be frustrating at times. Believe me I know! Sometimes family can be the most difficult of all to deal with and I’ve had equally frustrating conversations with pastor friends (some of which didn’t remain friends after those conversations). This can be a painful issue to wade through at times where relationships are concerned and when folks don’t understand. I’ve engaged in my share of arguments and I haven’t always been the shining example of calm and graciousness with my words. I’ve had to do some repenting and ask forgiveness more than once. No one better than family (or people that know you well) knows just how to push the right buttons, but you know, I think God can use even this to mold our character. It gives us yet another opportunity to allow the Lord to expose our weaknesses in love and to lean all the more on Him to keep changing us and transforming us, more and more, into His image and likeness.
Even the most religious among us is not any less able to be rescued by God than we ourselves. For years I carried around a lot of rotten, religious thinking and I had religious mindsets that hurt others and kept me from a closer relationship with the Lord as well. I was judgmental at times and missed the mark even when I thought I was right on the money. The Lord had to correct me more than once. Certainly if God could put up with me, love me, and walk with me toward change, I can at least open my heart to allow His love to work in and through me so that I might be His vessel in some way to others. How wonderful it would be to see some of those who do not presently understand us or agree with us, receive their own revelation of the freedom that truly is in Christ? How grand it would be to see them set free and discover the family nature of the body of Christ that does indeed exist irregardless of religious edifices made by men.
With that, I will share my email response to mom… but first, here is the copy of the email she forwarded to me:
- Why Go To Church?
A Church goer wrote a letter to the editor of a
newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church
every Sunday. “I’ve gone for 30 years now,” he wrote, “and in that
time I have heard something like 3,000 sermons But for the life of
me, I can’t remember a single one of them. So, I think I’m wasting my
time and the pastors are wasting theirs by giving sermons at all.”
This started a real controversy in the “Letters
to the Editor” column, much to the delight of the editor. It went on
for weeks until someone wrote this clincher:
“I’ve been married for 30 years now. In that time
my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But, for the life of me, I
cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I do
know this.. They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to
do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be
physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for
nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!” When you are DOWN to
nothing…. God is UP to something! Faith sees the invisible , believes
the incredible and receives the impossible! Thank God for our
physical AND our spiritual nourishment!
Hi mom! 🙂
As you might have guessed, I don’t find too much I agree with about that little blurb concerning church. I’ve seen that one before. I especially think this line is strange:
“If I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!”
That is a statement that pretty much seems to dismiss the reality that we are saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus…. not by going to church. This man seems to be giving church credit for what he should be thanking God for. Now perhaps something in the church he attended was used by God to encourage him in the right way (praise God for that), but it’s quite strong to say that a person would be spiritually dead without church. It is Jesus that makes us spiritually alive. It is God who, Himself, nourishes us. Right? 🙂 (leave it to me to get technical eh? hehe) As the Scripture says:
Colossians 2:7 – Let your roots grow down into him and draw up nourishment from him, so you will grow in faith, strong and vigorous in the truth you were taught. Let your lives overflow with thanksgiving for all he has done.
Colossians 2:19 – But they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For we are joined together in his body by his strong sinews, and we grow ONLY as we get our nourishment and strength from God.
1 John 2:27 – As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.
The other thing this man forgot about spiritual nourishment is that there is a great difference that presents itself when you consider how most Christians view what “church” is for. I often have people phrase it like this: “where do you go to get fed?”
Think about this for a moment… In the natural, who feeds you? You do right? 🙂 You pick up a spoon or fork, you put it to your plate, and then bring it up to your mouth. Right? It would be foolish to say that when we grow up, we still must rely on someone else to feed us. If a person really did that we would call them immature right? Or perhaps even a baby? This is what I tend to think about people who believe they need church to be fed spiritually. It seems that is not really God’s will. God wants us to grow up into maturity in Him. He wants us to come in and go out and find pasture on our own. That’s what Jesus said:
John 10:9 – I am the Door. Anyone who goes in through Me will be saved from the punishment of sin. He will go in and out and find food.
Another version says, “wherever he goes he will find pasture.” The door isn’t the entrance to a church building, JESUS HIMSELF is the door. It is HE alone where we get our nourishment from.
Yes, sometimes men who have been inspired by God can bring encouraging messages to us. I find no fault with that. And there is nothing wrong with enjoying music, singing, or good teaching. But Christ is where our nourishment comes from. There is not even one passage in the entire Bible that commands believers to attend churches or to listen to sermons to get “spiritually nourished”. And certainly nothing like what this man shared in saying that he would be spiritually dead without church. Wow! Sounds like his faith rests more in church than it does in Jesus doesn’t it?
Jesus promises to never leave us or forsake us. So how could we ever believe, that as we hunger and thirst for Him, that He would instead give us a stone, turn us away and deprive us of the nourishment we need in Him?
I get the point the story is trying to make, but I disagree with the method. The body of Christ is people – not church programs and buildings. There is nothing inherently sinful with church programs and buldings. And programs can be used to instruct people in the truth and to effect good causes, but they are not the foundational cause of spiritual growth, nor are they what defines the Christian life. Didn’t Jesus say that when two or three of you come together, He is there? He did not say two or three hundred, or two or three thousand right? 🙂 Nor did he say that by routinely attending a religious meeting each week He would be with us, or cause us to grow spiritually.
My point is that Jesus is our center, not programs, not traditions, not church buildings. Some of these things may be fine, but they are not what define us as Christians and there is nothing in Scripture that calls such things essential.
So (after this long-winded boy catches his breath here – hehehe), all of that to say, I hope you don’t mind me sharing that. 😉 (big grin)
I love you mom. I know you feel bad sometimes that I don’t go to church. I wish you didn’t feel that way, but I understand. I know you want the best for me and I love that you have this concern. That concern, of you wanting me to follow Jesus 100%, is a great strength to me and one I will never let you down in. I do love the Lord with all my heart and my heart is after Him completely. I see your love for Jesus mom and it has inspired me often and I am so proud to have a God-fearing mom who has set such an excellent example of Jesus for me… and for Kristine. I look at other families and see their kids and watch the way they live and the way they think and often the way they have little regard for the things of God and I feel spoiled that you and dad raised us so well. We were so awesomely (is that a word? hehe) blessed by God to have you and dad as parents. I cannot say that enough and I know I rarely do.
I know sometimes, maybe too much, you hear me complain about the problems in church world I have seen. Part of why you hear that more frequently from me perhaps is because I am reminded of it everytime I come to attend your church. While I have seen plenty of crazy stuff in church world over the years, it wasn’t that detail all by itself that contributed to where I am today. When I finally left the system I was a part of over here, it was a very direct moving of God in my heart. I would literally become nauseated, sitting in the chairs at church and things I never noticed before were suddenly apparent in my view. I would often leave service early and drive home, crying the whole way saying, “God what are you doing to me? What is wrong with me?” A lot of people here think I left the church because I didn’t like how they taught about tithing… but that’s not why I left. Some people think it was because I was bitter or because a leader hurt me. That’s not why either. I left because I could not stand to stay. I sincerely believe that God called me out for a purpose of His own choosing. It took time for me to understand that. I immediately tried to fill the void, also feeling the condemnation of other Christians who kept telling me, you need to get plugged into a good church. Everyone was telling me what to do. But I was sensing this strong voice inside to get away from all these other voices to learn of Him. I started to realize that I didn’t really even know His voice as well as I thought. I was so used to hearing from everyone else; this pastor that pastor, this prophet, that teacher, this church, that church, programs, books, Christian TV and music, bla bla bla… The external voices everywhere and I was feeling a desperation to know His voice for myself. I realized how insecure I was.
You know mom, dad prophesied to me on his death bed and this was the other thing that shook me strongly. He grabbed my arm and said, “son, watch out for men who would set themselves up as fathers in your life… I raised you to be a son of your Father in heaven.” That was one of most pure and powerful prophetic words I have ever received in my life mom. The sad part was, at the time, I had no idea what dad was talking about. I had no idea what was shortly to come (for I was still completely absorbed into the church program). But here I am today, and I am learning that lesson.
Jesus strongly told His disciples, “call no man on earth father.” Most Christians read that and just instantly apply it to the error of the Roman Catholic Church, but understand, there was no Catholic Church when Jesus spoke these strong words. Christians can’t just shrug off Jesus’ words here as being “for Catholics” because it’s much deeper than that – and much more applicable to them than they may wish to realize. The point is, we are not to set up men or women in our lives as spiritual fathers. Yet this is exactly what the modern day church does. The only kind of spiritual father the Scripture refers to is the affectionate term of love given to the one who leads another to Christ and disciples them. They are a “father” only in that regard. But a true spiritual father will point the disciple to be a son of God and a disciple of Jesus. Too many pastors today have set themselves up as “fathers” over the people and, like I was sharing before, they have convinced them they need to constantly sit at their table and be fed by them. I don’t believe this is God’s will.
God wants us to come boldly before His throne of grace and receive our nourishment by Christ through the Holy Spirit. He set us free from the Law. We are now slaves, not of religion, but of Christ – our loving Savior. If we place something else in-between (be it church, good deeds, religious rituals, programs, etc.), even that can become a mediator, and there is but one (and only one) mediator between God and man; Christ Jesus. Like dad said to me, “be watchful of those who would set themselves up as fathers.” I get a cold chill just remembering that moment that dad said this. It has never left me and it never will. It especially struck me as God speaking through Him because dad had no idea when he said this that these were the very concepts being taught by the leadership in the church I was attending.
I know I make lots of mistakes. I have plenty of faults and I don’t always do everything right. But I know that I know that I know mom that I am 100% on the path with my Lord Jesus. I am walking where He leads me as best I know how.
Do you know that I receive letters, almost every week, from pastors who are burned out on religion? They are tired of the routines, they are sick of the lack of God’s power in their meetings, they are tired of playing church, preaching the same old sermons over and over, and so hungry for a touch from God. They look at their Bibles and see a totally different Christianity than what they are living. I don’t know why they write to me. I’ve never been a pastor. I often think I don’t have much to offer them. In fact, some write and want tips for how to make their services better and I just disappointment them more by telling them that God isn’t interested in their clever programs. He wants THEM. In fact, God is as sick of religion as they are becoming… The Message Bible phrases the following passages of Scripture (with God speaking to His people) quite interestingly.
“I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans and goals. I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to Me?” (Amos 5:21-23 The Message)
“I’m after love that lasts, not more religion. I want you to know GOD, not go to more prayer meetings.” (Hosea 6:6 The Message)
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to Me. Get away with Me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message)
“So don’t put up with anyone pressuring you in details of diet, worship services, or holy days. All those things are mere shadows cast before what was to come; the substance is Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17 The Message)
“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since He is Lord of heaven and earth, He doesn’t live in man-made temples.” (Acts 17:24 NLT)
Jesus then left the Temple. As he walked away, His disciples pointed out how very impressive the Temple architecture was. Jesus said, “You’re not impressed by all this sheer size, are you? The truth of the matter is that there’s not a stone in that building that is not going to end up in a pile of rubble.” (Matthew 24:1-2 The Message)
“However, the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. As the prophet says, ‘Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. Could you ever build Me a temple as good as that?’ asks the Lord. ‘Could you build a dwelling place for Me? Didn’t I make everything in heaven and earth?’ You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? But your ancestors did, and so do you!” (Acts 7:48-51 NLT)
“His voice that time shook the earth to its foundations; this time–he’s told us this quite plainly–he’ll also rock the heavens: ‘One last shaking, from top to bottom, stem to stern.’ The phrase ‘one last shaking’ means a thorough housecleaning, getting rid of all the historical and religious junk so that the unshakable essentials stand clear and uncluttered.” (Hebrews 12:26-27 The Message)
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
Oddly enough, as much as I have probably discouraged a few pastors, most of them are happy I did not tell them to try another program or 12 easy principles or some great new “spiritual key” to victory. 😉 In fact, I’m speaking with one pastor right now who is laying down everything in favor of a sincere pursuit of Christ, no matter what it does to his “church” (and there is an issue he is dealing with right there – “his” church – he’s realizing this “thing” belongs to him and he has lost sight of what the true Church is – the body of Christ; PEOPLE who are born into God’s Family and who belong to Christ).
This pastor has expressed great joy that God is opening His heart again and the life of Christ is being refreshed in him. That’s incredible! I have also received literally hundreds of letters from pastors over the years who are re-visiting the tithing issue too. Many have scrapped that system alltogether and stopped manipulating their people. I get mail with testimonies from Christians who were wounded in abusive church leadership circumstances and God has used the articles on my site (who are written by various authors, not just me) to help them forgive those who have hurt them and kept them walking the path of relationship with Jesus instead of getting bitter and running away. Sometimes it can be like a second job just sitting down to prayerfully respond to people’s e-mail. I really have very few answers except to tell them, let it all go, and throw yourselves wholly on Jesus Christ. These circumstances, I think, often come to cleanse us. To shake us up and return us to a pure and simple devotion of Christ. People often get swept up in the emotionalism of church program and sometimes are led away with distractions. God wants us to return to a pure devotion to Him. As the apostle Paul said:
2 Corinthians 11:2-4 – I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.
Mom, I know your love for Jesus because you live it all the time. I don’t question, even for a second, whether or not you are sold out to Him. I know you are. But I also know, having been guilty myself in the past, that when people put church at the center of their lives (and I know this may seem a strong thought) I believe it’s true that even church can become an idol! If we place any program, any person, or anything at all in precedence to HIM, that is idolatry right? Only Jesus is to have the preeminence in our lives right? Furthermore, if we think there is something to add to His Gospel to make it just a little better (we think) or make it so strongly suggested that the lines are blurred and people think that non-essentials are required to be saved, then we are not holding fast to the truth and we have set up a roadblock and an obstacle… even a distraction that could very well lead us (though perhaps subtlely) away from that pure devotion to Him.
So, all of that to say (three and half hours later – hehe), we should rather encourage people to draw close to Him and allow Him to draw them to Himself according to His own choosing. I don’t really care if someone wants to go to “church” or not. What’s more important is that the truth is not clouded that WE HIS PEOPLE ARE THE CHURCH.
Ok, I shall shut up now. 😉 I hope that makes sense. I love ya mom! You are wonderful!!!! I am proud of you and so thankful to God for the example you have set. Just as there are spiritual fathers (and dad was mine) there are spiritual mothers and you are mine (as well as the natural). GOD BLESS MY MOMMAAAAAA! 🙂
See you probably next week! 🙂