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Why I Don't Go To Church
12 June 2010
It’s been about seven years now since I stopped going to church regularly. While that’s not something to be proud of, it’s not necessarily something to be ashamed of either. When I started to write this article, I wasn’t sure how long it had been — five or six years?
So I dug out my journals to see if I could find something written there. As I was reading, I came across some interesting entries which document what I was thinking and what I was going through way back in 2003. As you read these entries, keep in mind that I was not attending some sort of rigid traditional church, but a casual, charismatic Vineyard church.
My soul feels so disgusted by what we commonly call “Christianity.” The religious ceremonies on Sunday mornings are so oppressive! I begin to feel so “pagan” — I’m not toeing the religious line like a “good Christian.” As I encounter various parts of the church I see so much dogmatism, self-confidence and presumption — it’s really bad!
I trust that these are deep issues which this hard season is putting to death in my heart. Why should I have to deny my uniqueness, and even feel guilty and condemned over it? Why should I be confined by sterile Christian conformity? Is such conformity really the will of God? I’m supposed to be conformed to the image of Christ, not the image of the man-made church!
If God was only the god of our Western, man-made Christianity, then I wouldn’t see much point in remaining a Christian. He had better be — He’s GOT to be — so much more than that! But why am I having such a hard time breaking out of the mould and truly discovering what God is really like? There seems to be so much oppression and opposition.
I feel like such a castaway — such a failure at “normal” Christianity. I seem more pagan than religious — does that perhaps lead me closer to “true” Christianity? I hope so. Maybe true Christianity isn’t to be found in the exciting exploits, but rather in a certain quality of normal, everyday life. It doesn’t stimulate our spiritual goosebumps, but maybe it is closer to a real reality.
The modern Charismatic / Pentecostal mentality is to be a “Rambo Christian” — otherwise known as “victorious Christian living.” YOU know: overcome every obstacle; stomp on the devil; everything that goes “wrong” is the devil’s fault; prosperity and comfort. This seems to be a populist religion that has little intellectual and historical integrity. If you look at church history, the prevalent view over the centuries has been that God is in control, not the devil. Of course, the reality is not one extreme or the other, but an unknown combination of both.
Our Western tradition of church seems too lifeless and empty and boring and off-track — I just don’t seem able to buy into it. Am I supposed to play the hypocrite and go to church just to look like a good little Christian in the eyes of others, when my heart is not into it at all? I just don’t think I can do that.
It seems that God is uprooting me from this American / Western religious scene. I have so little interest in it. There has to be more to Christianity than that!! I don’t really fit in the Christian ghetto. But I’m not a pagan either (at least, I hope I’m not!). So where DO I fit? Both the religious world and the pagan world are alien to me. What else is left? What else is there? Where is the true Christian world that is neither religious nor pagan? Wow! It just hit me that the current “Christian” culture is BOTH religious AND pagan, at the same time!!Well, these quotes from my journal show where I have been for the past seven years. And as far as I can tell, there does not seem to be any sign that things will change soon. It’s going to take a radical change in world circumstances to effect radical change in the church, which will bring it to the place God IS going to bring it — where it needs to be in order to effectively shine God’s light into the world, without compromise.
Recently I ran across an organization called Training Ordinary Apprentices to Go or TOAG for short. Check out their Web site to find out what it’s all about. Here are some quotes from their Web site which stirred me deeply. First, they describe some of the hinderances in reaching the unreached for Yeshua (Jesus), and then they describe what a different way of doing church might look like for “Joe” disciple.
Today’s unreached have often been so wounded by Colonial Christianity and so oppose the Western church, this next generation of Jesus’ followers simply must return to the ways and message of Jesus, the Good News and the power of the Kingdom of God (Matthew 4:23, 9:35). During TOAG, interns learn to be a Jesus Community without Western structures that often hinder movements. They experience life-in-community with other believers, something more akin to the Book of Acts.
By taking a short sabbatical from present church structures, which include powerful (and professional) music, well crafted homilies (by seminary trained clergy) in safe, comfortable surroundings (church buildings), interns experience first-hand what is and is not required for believers to be a “Jesus-Community,” building simple, organic “structures” capable of reproducing into movements. Working in teams, interns learn to “gossip” about Jesus with others, while always striving themselves to become like the One they so joyfully represent.
We figure that, to advance the Kingdom of Heaven, we must probably unlearn some of the ways of our highly structured, rather expensive, staff intensive, slow to reproduce Western-style churches, the only church we have ever known. Without a driving passion for Jesus, we become “salesmen” for our foreign religion rather than lovers of the Kingdom of God; without a commitment to advance righteousness and justice along with reconciliation between God and man we often end up recruiting for mere Western Christianity rather than sharing the Good News of the Kingdom.
And, we figure we must also relearn the forgotten ways of former days when the early believers exploded from 20 thousand to 200 million in a couple centuries. We must keep experimenting till the DNA flowing through the church in China flows also in our veins, till God can use us to incubate millions of Jesus Communities not just in China, but among every people on earth.
Joe’s church-life in TOAG: After learning about simple, organic Jesus Communities multiplying across the Muslim world, Joe and his fellow interns began to experiment with “becoming church.” Taking a sabbatical from other church structures, Joe now gathers, sometimes when scheduled, often spontaneously, with fellow disciples who want to become like Jesus and advance His Kingdom (the goal of Jesus Communities).
I don’t know about you, but that sounds REALLY appealing! Not religion, not ceremony, not passively watching a worship band and a pastor up on the stage each Sunday morning. Christians are dropping out of church in record numbers, because it just doesn’t seem relevant to their lives. When will we realize that our current system of institutionalized Christian religion is totally insufficient?
Well, I’ll tell you when — God is going to shake things up so much in the world that we are going to be FORCED to change how we “do church,” so that it lines up with HIS values and purposes rather than OURS. At first we may resist, kicking and screaming, but once we discover the awesome blessedness and power of doing things God’s way, we won’t ever want to go back!
I guess some of us need longer sabbaticals from “present church structures” than others. Like many in the unreached people groups, especially the Muslims, I, and many others Westerners, have also been very wounded by Colonial Western Christianity, to the point of opposition. If God can raise up other methods of doing church and reaching the unreached outside of the West, surely He can also raise up such methods to reach us wounded and disillusioned Western Christians. I, and many others, are longing for that day with all of our hearts.
So, there you have a short, incomplete explanation of why I don’t go to church. For a much fuller and deeper explanation, I can’t recommend highly enough these three books that have had a tremendous impact on my life: Pagan Christianity?, The Myth of a Christian Nation and, to a lesser extent, The Myth of a Christian Religion.
Don’t miss the follow-up to this article: Consequences of Not Going To Church
DECEMBER 2014 UPDATE — Four years after writing this article, it is very thrilling and fulfilling for me that my oldest daughter is participating in a local TOAG course! Even though I was not able to do so, the next generation is picking up the baton and pressing forward!
This article is 3rd a series of articles on this Web site related to Modern Christianity and the Church which also includes (scroll to see the entire list):
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