Saturday, May 5, 2012

Why do you go to church?

Why do you go to church?  It's a reasonable question, but do you have a reasonable answer?

Do you go because you learned to go from peers or family?  Do you go to be accepted by God?  Do you go to be accepted by others?  Do you go to look good in the community?  Do you go to honor someone or some group with your time, effort and money?  Do you go to honor or worship God?  Do you go to contribute to society through tithes and offerings?  Do you go because you want to learn something new?
James 1:27
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Going to church is not the prescribed way to keep oneself unstained by the world.  Neither is it a substitution for visiting orphans and widows in their distress.

Religion - even pure and undefiled religion - can only be defined as the act of doing something repeatedly.  Keeping oneself unstained from the world is not a one-time effort: it is a continual struggle.  Neither is there any end of widows and orphans in distress.  Therefore, one visit will never be enough to be considered a "religious activity."  It is only through repetition that we begin to define these things as belonging in the realm of Religion.

Man defines religion as follows:
  • a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs. 
  • a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion. 
  • the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions
Only in the most vaguest of terms can we find a semblance between the world's definition and God's definition.  There is an intersection between doing and believing, but that's where it ends.

Maybe you go to church because you're obeying the command to not "forsake the assembling together" (Hebrews 10:23-26), but in no way can that scripture be likened to the behavior of showing up, sitting down, shutting up, paying up, getting up and leaving - like most people do on an average Sunday morning.  So if that's your reason (to not forsake the assembly), then I'm afraid you've only listened to the propaganda and you're no more close to practicing "undefiled religion" than you were before.

If we're to take James 1:27 seriously, then there's only one type of Religion you can practice that is acceptable.  Which means your religious activity of "going to church" is just that: your Religion, not God's prescription.

The Pharisees actually taught some truth, but they completely missed the point on it's implementation.  And that's still a problem today, because we, as Jesus suggested, learn behaviors through the observation of our modern day Scribes and Pharisees.  Unfortunately, that which we have observed is not pure and undefiled religion - rather it's just plain old religious activity.

The issue is that we have acted upon a misconception that God wants Religion from us, when in fact what He wants is relationship.  It is only through relationship that one can be truly changed.  Oh, we can learn new things and thereby augment and change our behaviors - that is true.  But one does not simply choose to change their behaviors because they're married, rather they learn what is important to their spouse, and because of love, because of caring, because of edification, they become new creatures in marriage.  Not because someone sat them down and said, "these are the rules for marriage, do these things and you will be acceptable to your spouse."

Which is exactly why some of us go to church: we've been taught to "do these things and you will be acceptable to God."  In the metaphor of being the Bride of Christ, does that make any sense?  Of course not.

Systematic Theology has quantified God, it has quantified relationship and it has quantified the narration, the song and the music of God.  And in doing so, it has stripped it of it's spirit.  If anything, the Song of Solomon teaches us that there's more to the so-called doctrine that we are spoon fed week after week.  But please don't misunderstand - there's nothing wrong with doctrine, per se.  Rather, it's how we define and implement doctrine, it's how we use it in defining our actions that is wrong.  Our pastors have taught us to not forsake the assembling together, although they may not really tell us why.  But when they do, it's always couched in the activity of us showing up on Sunday for "worship."  Therefore, what we learn from said admonishment is that the Pastor (and/or the Sunday school teacher) has something to say and should we miss those things (because we're not there), then we've missed out on what God has to say to us.

But what does the scripture say?
Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.  For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, while it is said, Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me.”  (Hebrews 3:12-15
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. ((Hebrews 10:23-26)
 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.  (Ephesians 4:15-16)
It is an unfortunate fact that in our current day model of church participation (the "worship service"), there's no way for you stimulate one another to love and good deeds in what has been defined as the "assembly" by our pastors.  Why?  Because you've sat down and shut up.  And if you're not talking and interacting, then you're not stimulating one another to love and good deeds.  So we're left with a model that says and teaches (through dictation and observation) that one person has the best answers (or stimulations) and the rest of the people are to yield to that person's opinions and doctrines.

Jesus' words were never more true: "therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them"

There is of course, a time and place for preaching, teaching and evangelism - that I do not deny.  But as a member of the Body of Christ, we have a calling.  Or do we suppose that Romans 8:28 applies only to a select few?  The religious cast system as been obviated, done away with.  We are all priests and we all have the right and duty to participate in the edification of the body of Christ.  Therefore, I admonish you:

Find your calling and edify the Body of Christ.

And while you're at it, find a way to practice pure and undefiled religion in the sight of God, your Father.

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