I lived overseas for a while. The place I was living was wonderful, but the problem with leaving what you know is that when you come home you tend to see everything with a new set of eyes. So it was when I moved back home. The things I used to think normal now bothered me. One of those things was what we call “church”.
I remember in those early days of being home, the hype and commercialism of American church life were in my face daily, screaming at me, and I experienced what some would call “a crisis of faith”. Ironically I was speaking in some churches, and as I was driving from one engagement to another, I said, “God, I don’t even know what I believe any more!” I was thinking about all the hyped-up “truths” I was hearing presented as if these things were ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY from God, when really they were nothing more than our American cultural opinions. I suddenly felt I simply didn’t want to be a part of that kind of Christianity anymore.
A still small voice spoke to my heart and said: “Do you believe in Jesus?” I was so exasperated that I didn’t answer right away. I really had to think about it. Finally, after forcing myself to remember the story of how I came to faith (which was quite powerful, and for another place and time), I answered, “Yes, I believe in Jesus.”
For months after that I felt as if Jesus was all I believed in. And because all the other extraneous “stuff” was flying out the window, I really didn’t get a lot of joy from “church”, by which I mean Sunday morning services as we practice them typically in our culture today. I was so unhappy with church life that I began to question God about that too:
Q: What is this thing we call attending church anyway? Where in the Bible does it say I have to “attend church”.
A: This is what it says:
“Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together…” (Hebrews 10:25)
Wow! What a simple statement. I began to study Hebrews 10:25
with passion. What first hit me was what it did not say:
- It didn’t say be sure to go to church every Sunday
- It didn’t say be sure that you gather in a specially designed building
- It didn’t say be sure you join an institution
- It didn’t say gather in one place around one primary leader
- It didn’t say make sure you hear a 1-hour sermon every week (or a 40-minute one, or a 30-minute one)
- It didn’t even say how often to meet.
I began to view “church” differently. Sometimes, I would be really tired on Sunday mornings, and would not feel up for going. I would feel the old indoctrination pulling at me saying: you really should go.
(Funny, I didn’t even grow up in church, I became a Christian as an adult – grew up agnostic/pagan/New Age – and yet I still felt indoctrinated! How did that happen???)
Anyway, when the “should” came into my mind, a simple question would come each time in response: “Have you forsaken gathering together with other people of faith?” Each time I heard this question, I realized I had, in fact, not forsaken Christian community (usually I was so tired because I had been to numerous gatherings with other believers all week). Further the question itself revealed to me that it wasn’t the joy of community that was drawing me to the Sunday morning service, but a sense of religious obligation.
Please understand, I am not “anti-Sunday-morning”. I am only saying that whatever day we meet together our purpose should be to encourage and strengthen each other, and if we are doing something that doesn’t do that, then we’re not really doing “church” (which means “gathering”) according to Hebrews 10:25. I’m also saying there really is nothing sacred about meeting on Sunday morning per se, unless it’s sacred to you.
There’s a lot more to say about this. Most importantly, what does Hebrew 10:25 (and the rest of the book of Hebrews) have to say about our purpose in gathering together? I’ve hinted at it so far. In a future post, I hope to speak to this in depth.