Are You Zealous about Church?
We Must Do Better at Our Religious Meetings
“Why do you so hate the church?”
Shocked, I furrow my eyes and scowl at my friend. “I don’t hate church.”
“But you’re always criticizing it in your blog.”
This gives me pause. True, much of my writing about church doesn’t celebrate what she does well but rebukes her for what she does poorly or doesn’t do at all.
“I don’t hate the church,” I say again, as if trying to convince myself. “I love the church, really I do. I write to challenge her to do better because I know she can.”
My friend nods, but I’m not sure I convinced her.
In truth I’m zealous about church.
Zealous about Church
Over the centuries the church has done much to advance the cause of Jesus, help people find their way to eternal life, and perform acts of generosity that point an unbelieving world to Jesus. Today’s church continues to do that. And I hope church has done that for you.
But lest we feel smug about the church’s achievements, today’s church does only a small fraction of what she could be doing, of what she should be doing. I’m sad to say that the church has lost her way. She’s off track and has missed the mark for much of her existence. This pains me as much as a spike driven into my heart, into my very soul, the core of my being. I mourn what the church is because she’s falling far short of her potential, of her calling.
It’s like being a parent of a brilliant, gifted child who muddles her way through school and gets C’s, even though she’s capable of getting A’s in advanced classes. As a loving parent, I would do whatever I could to shake the apathetic inertia out of my child and get her to live up to her potential. But since she won’t, I prod her to do better. I do this through the words I write. It’s the best way I know to help.
Just as I would do this for my child, I do this for my church with the same imperative passion. I metaphorically shake her in hopes that she’ll do better—because she can.
At this point, some of you may be saying “Amen, preach it!,” but others of you—most of you, I suspect—have raised your hackles at my insulting, impertinent words. You’re angry and thinking about clicking the close button. If I were with you in person, you might yell. It might be that you’re screaming right now. That’s okay. I get it. But before you bail on me, I challenge you to stick with me a little bit longer. Give me a chance to explain.
If asked, most people would say the practices of their church are biblical. They’d say that about every church I’ve been part of. They’d even say this for every church I visited in my book 52 Churches and its sequels.
Let’s run through a typical church service. There’s preaching. That’s in the Bible. Check. There’s singing. Also in the Bible. Check. There’s praying, an offering (or two), and a concluding blessing. All biblical. Check, check, check. We meet every Sunday, just like the Bible says. (More on that later.) Check. We may volunteer, tithe, and respect our pastor. More checkmarks. Yes, today’s church services are biblical—or so they seem.
Yet, we read the Bible through the lens of our experience. The things we do in church, we find them mentioned in the Bible. This confirms we’re doing things the biblical way, God’s way. Yet we may be connecting dots we shouldn’t connect.
For example, the Bible tells us to not give up meeting together (Hebrews 10:24-25). This is a command to go to church every Sunday. Not really—despite what many preachers claim.
We take our church experiences, then we find justification for them in the Bible, even if this isn’t what the Bible says. This is confirmation bias. We do it all the time. You, me, everyone. But we must stop.
Back to Hebrews. This passage doesn’t mention church. It says, “meeting together,” hanging out. If you came to my house—which would be way cool and more personal than reading this post—we’d be meeting together, just as the Bible commands.
If we go out to eat each Sunday, that’s meeting together. If we do game night once a month, that’s meeting together. So would be movie night, hanging out at the coffee shop, and working together on a service project. These are all examples of us meeting together. Going to church is just one possibility. But let’s be clear, this passage doesn’t command us to go to church. It merely tells us to meet together. How we meet is up for us to determine. Sort of. (Read more in Why Sunday?)
However—here I go ruffling some more feathers—going to one of today’s churches on Sunday morning may be one of the least significant ways we can meet. At most churches today, we spend the better part of an hour staring at the back of someone’s head as others entertain us. Yes, today’s church is more about a chosen few performing than about the majority present taking part.
Then we go home. This is scarcely a prime example of meeting together. If our church service—even the best ones I’ve ever been to—is us meeting together as the Bible commands, we’re doing a poor job of it. We’re getting C’s (or D’s or even F’s) when we should be getting A’s in advanced classes.
That’s why I mourn for the church I love so much. That’s why I write. I write because I know she’s capable of so much more. I’m zealous about church.
[Read more about this in Peter’s upcoming book, Jesus’s Broken Church.]
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.