Sorry about the late post today, everyone. One of my close friends got a wonderfully free sail boat, but it needs a lot of work. So I spent today on the water scrubbing out a sailboat. Well, I did a lot of handing her things and she scrubbed.
Anyway, Travers asked me a question today and I think it’s important enough for me to answer and for us to have a conversation about.
I don’t understand why you want to go to a church. It seems like the negative experiences you’ve had vastly outweigh the positive experienced, and it’s unclear what you get out of it that couldn’t be obtained from joining a non-religious group (e.g. Bike riding group, Star Trek fan club, etc.). Yet implied in your post is that going to church is something that people should just “want” to do. I’ve known American exchange students who were mystified on arriving in my country by the fact that no-one goes to church. “What do you do on Sundays then?” One asked me once. Man, the list of fun, educational and fun alternative activities is endless.
I had a secular childhood, so my upbringing was different to yours. The idea of spending Sunday morning in church has about the same appeal to me as getting my butt-ring waxed whilst watching Grey’s Anatomy. But I really don’t understand this American compulsion to go to church, especially when church has been a source of harm in their lives. What am I missing?
And this is what I answered very briefly:
First, I want to make sure that everyone knows that I don’t think that going to church is “normal” in the sense of I think every one should or want to. If church isn’t for you, I think that’s no one’s business but your own and anyone who would judge you for that is being awful.
For myself, I’ve wrestled with whether or not I want to go to church for a long time. There have been years where I simply didn’t go, and I don’t feel any guilt over those times. Having Sunday morning all to myself can be a wonderful thing. However, my personal reasons for going to church are a) I believe that Christianity is a communal, not an individual, religion, and b) I believe that the Sacraments are an integral part of Christian practice, and that the Sacraments are to be received communally.
I think that American evangelicals tend to over-emphasize the idea that “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion,” or that Christianity is “about having a personal relationship with Jesus.” While the above is true, I think it is true only in the context of a communal faith practice– to me, Christianity is about “bringing the kingdom of God to earth” (not by convincing everyone to become a Christian/be “saved”/go to heaven, but by bringing about justice, reconciliation, mercy, love … in concrete, tangible, life-giving ways) and I believe we are called to do these things as the Church, and not by our lone selves. To me, a church cannot fit the definition of “church” if it is not following Jesus’ command to “love the least of these” and “feed my sheep”– and I take “feed” there far more literally than pretty much any evangelical I’ve ever met.
Second, I believe in two Sacraments– the Eucharist and Holy Baptism. I believe those are to be administered to the church body in a gathering, and I feel that drinking wine by myself and eating bread by myself and dunking myself in water are not the same thing as receiving the Sacraments in church. I believe in these Sacraments as symbolic, not literal (I don’t think the wine and bread is the actual body and blood of Christ, although some do), and I see these symbols as important because they are physical and communal. I eat bread. I drink wine. I baptize my physical body. I do these things as part of and with The Universal Church. To me, Christianity is nothing if it is not a part of my life in a concrete way– the Sacraments are one of the most important remembrances of that.
I am interested in hearing what you all think. Many of us have been hurt by church experiences, by church leaders, by church doctrines. If you have decided to keep going to church, to keep looking for one … why?