Excuses, excuses!

Steve Declaisse Walford's picture

Studies show that while some 84 percent of the population of the United States professes to be Christian, only about 16 percent (of the 86 percent) are in church on any given Sunday. Clearly there are many out there who are sufficiently enamored of Christianity to claim it as their faith, but who hold back from attending church for a variety of reasons. Here are five of the excuses I have been given, with my responses.

“I don’t go to church because . . .”

1. The church is full of hypocrites. Well, I don’t think “full” would be an accurate description, but there are certainly some who do not practice what they preach. The underlying problem with this excuse is the false idea that everyone in a Church is perfect — or should be. Far from it. In fact, hypocrites are the least of the problem; there are also very many liars, the occasional pedophile, an adulterer or two, several thieves, some embezzlers, also spouse abusers, alcoholics, drug addicts, and the like. See, the church is a hospital for the spiritually sick, not a home for the healthy. The idea of “church” is to work toward spiritual wholeness, a lifetime task during which the best therapy is to follow the behavior model Jesus set. For this, it helps to be in a community with the same common purpose. Even so, human nature will emerge from time to time. When it does, it should not be seen as a mark of the church’s imperfection, but as a reminder that everyone is welcome in God’s community — warts and all.

2. I don’t need to be in a church to be a Christian. If you think Christianity is simply professing faith in Jesus, then I can understand your logic for not being in church — but I would argue that your understanding of Christianity is seriously flawed. You see, Christianity happens in community. To be Christian is not a casual loyalty but a commitment so intense as to cause an intentional orientation toward living a life as close to that of Jesus as possible; it means having an uncontainable desire to be a better person, live a better personal life, and do as much for your fellow humans as you reasonably can. Investment in these efforts is spiritually and emotionally depleting; regularly joining in worship, feeling the presence of God and being in community with others who are similarly invested in the faith re-charges spiritual and emotional batteries and sends the faithful back into the world spiritually refreshed and emotionally reinvigorated.

3. It’s all mumbo-jumbo. What is usually meant by this is “I don’t understand how prayer, preaching and ritual work in worship.” The underlying fear is of being out of one’s comfort zone. Contrary to popular belief “church” is not a Christian social club with religious entertainment; real worship in the church is a serious attempt to separate, for a brief period, the sacred from the profane — to intellectually shift one’s mental orientation from the ordinary to the extraordinary, from the secular to the holy. In worship one acknowledges the reality of God, the relationship between oneself and God and, in respect to that relationship, enables one to see one’s life in terms of what it could be over against what it is. The (initially strange) language and ritual of worship helps to accomplish these goals.

4. It’s just a way to separate the gullible from their money. There’s no doubt that certain iterations of Christianity unquestionably take this approach — but just because some have perverted the cause of Christianity is no reason to throw out the whole thing. A Christ-centered, ethical and moral Christian church takes and uses offerings to pay its infrastructure costs of management (pastor[s] and staff) and facilities overhead and to minister, as its congregation chooses, to the local/global community. Such a church is about spiritual, not financial, enrichment. There are many more churches of this type than there are of those that are in it for the money (but the other guys get the publicity).

5. I want to bring my brain to church. Please do. Being Christian does not mean rejecting rationality. A useful guiding principle is, “An open Bible, and an open mind.” In terms of biblical interpretation none of us owns the truth — we all see it, as the apostle Paul said, as a reflection in a mirror (1 Cor. 13:12). Even so, applying our collective rational minds as we seek God’s will for our lives under the leadership of the Holy Spirit may help us see the truth a little more clearly, and live more Christian lives.

See you Sunday?

Steve deClaissé-Walford is pastor of National Heights Baptist Church, a CBF congregation located at the intersection of Old Norton Road and Highway 54 in Fayetteville. The church web page is at www.nationalheightsbaptistchurch.com

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