Recently, I read an article posted online that sought to appeal graciously to non-churchgoers with an attempt to woo them back into the fold. You can read the article yourself if you’re interested by clicking here. The following is my personal response to the post, which I also shared on the author’s website. Feel free to add your own comments or, better yet, visit this author’s website and share your heart there as well. I believe the author’s intention was positive, although it’s apparent that he is positively influenced by churchianic mindsets (as so many of us have been). My desire to share my thoughts with him and his readers was not to offend anyone but rather to provoke study of God’s Word and encourage a thirst for genuine Gospel liberty and deeper relationship with Christ. I sincerely would love it if this brother discovered what so many of us have also been discovering over the last several months and years concerning this wonderful life in Jesus Christ, unfettered by the chains of religion. So now, without further adieu-dieu, here is the response I shared with the author of the “Letter To A Non-Churchgoer”…
Wow, where to begin with this one… I guess let me start by saying, I was a deeply-involved church boy for 30+ years of my life. I’ve now been out of that environment for over 15. I am still a follower of Jesus and a member of the Family of God (which, in truth, is the only “church” referenced in Scripture). I appreciate the humble tones of this letter and it appears the author is manifesting good intentions; however, he fundamentally misunderstands the non-church goer on so many levels. I’m not sure I can blame his ignorance entirely. I’ve walked in those shoes too. I meant well when I did. The author’s understanding of church has likely been drilled into him by his environment… not by the Holy Spirit, unfortunately.
To his comment:
“But, except possibly for a wedding or a funeral, we never share in the enterprise I call church.”
The author may not even realize how accurately he indirectly described the reason why what he calls church is not what the Bible calls Church when he says, “the enterprise I call church.” The Church of Scripture is NOT an enterprise. It’s not a business. It’s not even a social club. Yet that is everything that today’s church program is… but, if someone cares about what the Bible presents, then “enterprise” is NOT it. According to Scripture, the Church is the body of Christ (the Family of God, the Spiritual nation of the Kingdom of God, the very PEOPLE who are born again and who live in Christ – regardless of whether or not they attend some man-made program we label as “church”).
Colossians 1:18 – He is also the head of the body, which is the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he himself might have first place in everything.
Acts 7:48-49 – However, the Most High does not dwell in houses and temples made with hands; as the prophet says, Heaven [is] My throne, and earth the footstool for My feet. What [kind of] house can you build for Me, says the Lord, or what is the place in which I can rest?
The author of the article offers the following three questions, which I would like to offer some thoughts in response. I could expound on each of these at length, but I’ll try to be brief…
If I was able to talk with you, I would want to ask you three questions:
1. Can you imagine anything I could do that might help rehabilitate your image of church?
My Response: Short answer, no. My image of church does not need rehabilitation because it is fundamentally different than yours. You view church as a religious enterprise, a social club, a program that you feel should be attended weekly. Your image of church involves liturgy (i.e. a human-devised agenda), religious expectations, entertainment, and the delusion that God requires this.
My understanding of Church comes from Scripture, not my “image” of it. Scripture defines church, simply, as the body of Christ; that means the PEOPLE of God. This represents ALL of those who have been born again into the Family of God. The Family of God (in case anyone is unaware) is NOT a building. It is NOT a religious program. By virtue of even those two things alone, today’s “church” fails the test of Scripture. That doesn’t mean today’s “church” is (in all cases) evil, nor does it mean that all of those who support its existence are somehow sinning. It simply means that it is not biblical, nor is it required in the least by God. Movie theaters are not biblical either. They provide a lot of the same stuff churches do; entertainment, inspiration, comfort, face-to-back-of-head-style “fellowship”, gathering, etc. but are just as “essential” as churches. Yes, if you’re a sharp one you understood correctly that I was suggesting that churches are NOT essential. A person can grow spiritually and even thrive spiritually without ever setting foot into a church building. Not only that, but a follower of Jesus can enjoy true fellowship among the Family of God even without ever attending a church program! If I were to offer my own testimony, it would involve me sharing with you that my relationship with Christ and my process of spiritual growth has only increased after discarding the distraction of church world from my life… and note that I did not say I discarded relationship with Christ Jesus or true fellowship with members of His body.
2. Is there anything positive you can ever imagine church might contribute to your life?
My Response: I can imagine all kinds of things… but again, what’s with the appeal to people’s imagination?
2 Corinthians 10:5 – cast down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.
Wouldn’t it be better to concern ourselves with that which God wishes to contribute to our life rather than simply what we “imagine might”? And what is the purpose of even asking such a question? Is it so that the person asking can suggest another formula or idea to inspire that area that a person thinks might contribute to their life? This is what I hate about the “seeker-sensitive” church mindset. It doesn’t actually deal in solutions that God deems essential. It deals in trying to coddle and manipulate people according to their feelings. That actually might be evil on some level. Why not just apply the recipe of the Gospel, the Word of God, and let the Holy Spirit do the leading? Or don’t you believe that God is able to draw people to Himself without your “church”? I don’t know that you do believe that because of how central you make this anxiety about attending church to your life. Church folks are always trying to get people to attend their program. They even tend to understand “evangelism” in this context. Yeah, they believe evangelism is about winning souls for Jesus, but they also believe it’s about adding butts to the pews. I can’t tell you how many times (as a church goer) I heard people ponder how they might get friends or family to church so that they could hear the pastor introduce them to Jesus… Ugh! Instead of letting their own relationship with Christ manifest fruit unto righteousness, they are fixated on the program. Virtually every good thing we find in Scripture pertaining to the New Testament Church and life in Christ gets mixed along with modern concepts of man-invented religion until they become synonymous in the minds of the involved. Often times the church ends up occupying a more central role in their life than Christ Himself, yet the delusion leads them to believe both are one and the same. They are NOT!
3. Can you imagine yourself ever feeling drawn to share in a corporate expression of reverence for that deep sense of the mystery and wonder of life that we share?
My Response: Your implication is that if I don’t attend church than I cannot possibly share in any corporate expression of reverence for that deep sense of mystery and wonder of life. Okay, aside from the fact that this question is worded very oddly and I’m not exactly sure what the “corporate expression of reverence for that deep sense of mystery and wonder of life” is, I’ll take a stab at it hoping you’ll forgive me for some presumption. I assume the author is basically referring to the benefits of corporate worship, prayer, etc. I am not opposed to “corporate expressions” of worship. Those can happen a number of ways (and they often do) without a church organization being involved. I can gather with folks in my home. No, I am not talking about “doing house church”. I am talking about members of the Lord’s body (which itself is the only Church there is) who may, at times, find themselves together for various reasons (where in a home, a bus, sitting by the river, talking over the phone or Internet, etc.). Jesus said that when TWO or THREE are gathered He is there. Guess what, that would indicate that if only my wife and I were together or a close friend and myself, the Lord would manifest His presence among us. One might even argue that Christ himself could count as one of those two! I have enjoyed many occasions of sweet fellowship with the Lord when it was just Him and I conversing. God Himself is a Triune fellowship! Even before any of us existed, the “TWO or THREE” Jesus referred to was in full expression. God, in His graciousness, has now invited us into this fellowship! That is why the Scripture so beautifully says:
1 John 1:7 – “but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we HAVE fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
Now expounding on this a bit further, we need to understand that the Scripture nowhere indicates a description of “Church” as being a programmed assembly, a religious meeting or a special building – so those definitions are just OUT. You can flush them right down your spiritual toilet. Every time I find myself together with a fellow brother and sister in Christ, and we are sharing fellowship about the Lord, there is always a mutual reverence for the blessing of Christ who is manifested in our gathering. No church is needed because WE ARE the Church that Jesus is building. As a follower of Christ I myself also have a “deep sense of the mystery and wonder of life” because I am compelled by my relationship with an amazing God. I recognize my family in Christ as the CHURCH, whether or not they attend something called a church… AND I remain a part of them even if I am not able to physically gather with them. Attending a man-made program in a special building does not define Christianity or the Church – NOT EVEN CLOSE!
The truth is I resent it when man puts a label on something and presumes it to be essential when God has NEVER done so. With the case of church, the matter is perhaps even more concerning because, in this case, Scripture clearly defines one thing as “the Church” and then man comes along and says, “Yeah, but I call this other thing church too… AND I’m gonna tell people they should or need to belong to it too… AND, I’m not gonna associate with people if they don’t attend this thing I call church… AND, I’m going to write guilt-trip articles to try and compel them to attend it if they’re not interested.”
Now think about this… In the first Century, Christians did not attend churches, nor did they build anything known as churches. This is 100% historical fact. The word “church” in our Bibles is actually a Greek word (Ecclesia) that means “a called out assembly”. In context, this “called out assembly” is represented by those that have been called out of darkness into the light of Christ (1 Peter 2:9). The early Christians held absolutely no concept of “attending church” because they understood that THEY were the ones who had been “called out” into the “assembly” of the Family of God (Hebrews 12:23; Ephesians 2:10). Therefore, wherever they met, THERE was the Church. The Church (to their thinking) was NOT the place they met or the location or the building or the meeting… Rather it was literally THEM! THEY WERE THE CHURCH! The meeting place and location and meeting were irrelevant to this understanding. How different things are today!
The word “church” also did not even come into existence until long after the apostles of Jesus had all died. The origin of the word “church” actually has nothing to do with “a called out assembly” but has everything to do with a “religiously dedicated building”. The English word “church” is actually from a Greek word that is NEVER used in Scripture! The Greek word that is used (Ecclesia) translates “Assembly”, not “Church”. When the Roman Emperor Constantine took power, he confiscated the temples of the pagans and designated them for Christian worship and made “Christianity” the religion of the state. But Christianity wasn’t a “religion” at all (at least to the minds of those who counted themselves part of the Family of God) and neither did it need a human ruler to authorize, qualify or re-define it. Their ruler was Christ Jesus and they were His body. Constantine (and others during this period) began to bring in this other influence of religion rather than understanding this was life itself for those who had embraced the revelation of the Gospel of Christ. It was after this time (in history) that Christians began to trade (subtly at first) their understanding for “Ecclesia” in exchange for Constantine’s introduction of “church” as a religious meeting place, program, and building (i.e. temple or worship house). This plagued understanding remains with us until today, but it was NOT this way from the beginning. The early Christians of the first century had no churches and there is not a single passage of Scripture that tells anyone to join something called a church organization or to attend one. Not even one! Jesus also NEVER instructed any of His apostles to go into the world and build churches. The entire fascination with “churchianity” is completely beholden to the wisdom of man, not Christ. THAT, my friends, is most significant to my understanding.
The bottom line here is that “church” as we know it today, is NOT from an origin of Scripture… It is NOT essential to faith, the Christian life, spiritual growth, or to satisfy fellowship among Believers. It is, as we have already stated, man’s answer to these things, irrespective of God’s leadership. It is, in essence, another mediator besides Christ and therefore, in many ways, devolves to a type of anti-Christ. It bears the appearance of godliness but actually denies the power thereof, because it inserts itself as the very method by which God is expected to operate in the life of every believer. These are ALL man’s ideas… NOT God’s! Therefore “church” as we know it today is utterly irrelevant.
This is not to say that good things don’t sometimes occur in a church environment. Good things may occur because God is not a respecter of persons and certainly not places. Many people are participants in ignorance. Many have been deceived through years of false concepts that have been handed down concerning this subject. God, however, is not ignorant about this… and He reaches into our mess with goodness, patience and love to wake us, break us, heal us, and restore us.
Church today is little more than a man-made social club with Jesus as its mascot. Social clubs aren’t always bad things (they can even be entertaining, serve inspiration, and provide an physical location for people of like minds and hearts to come together) and if ever there was a good mascot to have it would certainly be Jesus… but I would much rather cherish the fact that I am a member of Christ’s body and that He is not merely my mascot, but my Lord, Savior and closest friend. He is God, not merely the figurehead of something people refer to as “the Christian religion”. Jesus did not come to earth to establish an organized religion. He came to seek and to save those which were lost and draw all men unto Himself. That is something MUCH bigger than any prospect of a mission to church everyone. When Jesus said that he was building his Ecclesia (Church) on the Rock, He said that the gates of hell would not be able to prevail against it. He wasn’t talking about an organization or a religious corporation. He was talking about HIS ASSEMBLY! This and only this is the Family of God. There are not many families of God, just as there are NOT many churches. There is only ONE! Membership in one of man’s so-called “churches” affords you nothing in the scope of eternity. It guarantees you NOTHING in terms of the promise of spiritual growth or the development of a closer relationship with God. Only submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ through a personal relationship with the Father by the Holy Spirit will get you any of that!
This anxiety over church is absolutely ridiculous. Go or don’t go. It doesn’t matter! Really, it absolutely does NOT matter! What matters is that you listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and allow Him to guide you AND to assemble you with other members of His Family as He sees fit. Perhaps that will be among a traditional “church” setting on occasion, or perhaps it may not. But even if it is among a traditional church setting, don’t mistake the true definition of “Church” according to the Scriptures. Remember that God’s people are the only “Church” (i.e. Assembly in Christ) there is. This author means well, I’m sure. He sounds a lot like I did when I was still plugged in to that system, thinking it was essential, important and desirable. I used to feel sorrow for those outside it and though I never would actually say that someone had to attend church to be a real Christian, the truth is that I pretty much held that mindset. I was a slave to that mindset. I was ignorant of the Bible… Actually, no… I was very aware of the Scriptures (just as I believe many of you reading this sense an identification with the truth I am talking about) and sometimes the Scriptures troubled me because what I observed in the Bible looked so different from what I called “church”. So I really had allowed myself to become deluded to a certain extent and I learned to manipulate semantics to justify man’s definition of church because I really didn’t understand the Bible’s and I was comfortable in my cozy religious environment. I don’t think I had any wicked intent. But I was wrong. I was deceived. I was led astray and bought the error of religion and churchianity. I embraced man’s imagination and set aside the search for God’s better calling. God still met me where I was. He was good to me. He still afforded me spiritual growth though I think my religious mind often served as more of an obstacle than a help. He still communicated with me and taught me, though some things I inevitably tuned out because of the faulty mindset I was still holding on to. Once the light of the Lord understand pierced through, I repented and God set me free.
I hope this brother will do the same. I pray only God’s goodness and grace to him and all those who have been persuaded by this nonsense concern over organized religion under the label of “church”. Be free my friends!!! Live unto the Lord! Discover the great joy there is in pursuing only His glorious Way! God bless!!!