The questions comes up, of course, because so many of my friends, my family, people I love and care about, folk I admire and respect, don’t. Some flirted with church in their formative years but got bored of the petty politics, struggled with the institution, were turned off by the back biting and hypocrisy, felt excluded, marginalised, betrayed, and overwhelmed with the sheer absurdity of belief that they left for the sake of their own sanity. I find I share an awful lot in common with them and have a fair bit of sympathy with their position. I sometimes wonder why I never joined them. But I haven’t and I won’t and I can’t. Because….
Because the church is much more. The bonds are stronger than friendship. The ties are thicker than blood. It is bigger than family. The local church might seem like a collection of misfits and oddballs, rough diamonds and smoothies, saints and martyrs (“the martyrs being the ones who have to put up with the saints”*), people we get along with and people we don’t. It is made of people of different age groups, different cultural backgrounds sometimes speaking different languages, people who don’t share the same outlook, standards, interests. All of this must point to the fact that something else is going on here. That something else is God. It is God’s church and so he does the choosing. He brings us together. He does the deciding. He does the planning. He does the perfecting. It is his business and he does it and will do it in his way and in his time.
Because we live in a world that is full of fantasy and illusion, false God’s and paper kings, soaked through with a powerful pervasive philosophy that says that what we see and hear and can touch is the real world. It bombards our thoughts, bends our minds and coerces us into believing this is true. So we need to find ourselves somewhere else where we can be brought into the real world. Where we can regularly make contact with what is really important. With what is more important than life or death. And that somewhere else is the church. That is why the call to worship “We are here to worship God” is pivotal. It is a call away from the false realities to the true reality and of his purpose of salvation and redemption and glory. In his presence the other world with its great show, its charms, its promise, its money, its power, seems so pathetic, so foolish, so small and so sad.
Because, in church, I am reminded of where my true identity lies. It is not in being a man, a father, a grandparent, an architect, a dabbler in painting, music and DIY, a Scot, a European a White Anglo Saxon Protestant Christian. My identity is not in my interests, my family, my roots, my sexual orientation, my ability or disability, or in my race. My identity is in Christ. I don’t need to wonder “Who am I?” But I need that regular reminder of this knowledge which is found in the strange setting of a group of ordinary people meeting together, bowed in worship before the one true God. I need to know again that I am a sinner, who has been accepted by God because of Jesus, with nothing to bring but empty hands accepting his grace.
That’s why I still go to church.
* Quoted by Eugene Peterson in “The Wisdom of Each other” Zondervan
This was first printed in the Fintry Church magazine in 2012 celebrating the 60th anniversary of its founding.
Interesting! I hope you won’t mind me adding some brief reflections on my own experience. I did not leave the church for any of the reasons mentioned – in fact, I’m intrigued by the fact that in almost 20 years I have never been asked why!
I missed two things. First of all I missed the community singing, and I still miss that, though if I made an effort I’m sure I could find a group to sing with and of course I can always sing along to Songs of Praise occasionally.
I used to miss the sense of community- of a disparate group finding commonality around a central purpose – but I didn’t miss that for long as I find it elsewhere.
I realise there is more to say…do I feel a blog posting coming on?
Were it me, I would be more that intrigued – disappointed, hurt, possibly? But it’s also an interesting problem. In the absence of talk, is it the responsibility of the one leaving to explain why or the one staying to ask why? Tip-toeing around the subject might be out of a desire not to cause needless upset. No one has asked me why I still go to church, but I wondered if many of my friends did, and that was partly the reason for writing the piece.
Only intrigued in my case. I suspect people did not want to hurt with their question, or to be hurt by my answer, although neither was likely to happen.
It’s only lately that I have felt I’d like to open up the conversation – partly because I don’t want to be misunderstood as, e.g., a materialist, a drifter or lacking staying power. Nor do I want to misunderstand those who stay as, e.g., blinded, irrational or playing safe.
Anyway, I like your article and it may prompt me to write a similar one on why I left!