One valid criticism of my book How to Cope with the Church https://tsw.createspace.com/title/6534903 is that it assumes going to church is necessary or desirable. As not everyone agrees with that, I should have asked Why as well as How. Let us do so now.
What is your starting point?
If you are an atheist, we are so far apart that I will need to write a totally different book to address your concerns. Perhaps I will, but not yet.
For many people, however, it is not obvious that believing in God should automatically lead to going to church. There are many reasons why you might not want to. Here are some.
- You have tried it and just could not fit in. (You should read How to Cope with the Church.)
- You have not tried it but are sure you would not like it.
- You are busy on Sundays.
- You have family commitments and don’t want to inflict church on them.
- You don’t see any reason why you should. You can be a Christian on your own.
You might be surprised at the extent to which I sympathise, or rather empathise, with some of these points of view, despite the fact that I have been involved in church life for a long time. A very long time. I will write about my story soon, but first, there are a few things we need to be clear about.
What does the Bible say?
Strangely enough, nobody in the Bible goes to church, although they often go to the Temple or synagogue. The Church is always the people of God, not a building or organisation. We are exhorted to meet together for prayer, fellowship, teaching and the breaking of bread. The last phrase is usually taken to mean Holy Communion, although early Christians used to meet for a meal as well. It is evident that Christians always have met together regularly, wherever possible. This is explicit in the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 2 verse 42 but can be inferred from many passages in Acts and elsewhere in the New Testament.
What is a church?
From the above, it seems it can be any group of Christians. Of course, in the modern world, it is usually desirable for any group to have some formal existence, if it is going to manage money or property, or employ people. This applies to sports clubs, charities and self-help groups too, and many churches are connected with such groups.
There is nothing in the Bible to prescribe the form a church should take, and it is wrong to think any one style or format is the right or only one. Around the World and over the centuries a great variety of forms of worship have developed. Christians usually want to express worship in song, but some groups prefer spoken or even silent worship.
Christians usually find they grow in knowledge and experience by spending time with other Christians. They draw strength from prayer, Bible study, fellowship and worship. People involved in any activity, from sport to the arts to environmental protection, usually like to get together for support.
What can you contribute?
Being a Christian is not meant to be an exercise in self-centredness. You can contribute something too. You may not think so, but you will have something to offer. Help other Christians, or join with them to help the rest of the World.
When Christianity started, Sunday was not a day off. In the Jewish society of Jesus’s day, Saturday was the Sabbath, as it still is. Elsewhere in the Roman Empire, neither day was sacred. Christians met on Sundays, wherever possible, before or after work. In predominantly Christian societies, such as Mediaeval Britain, Sunday was an official rest day. Going to church was a rest compared with working on the land. It is certainly healthy to have one day a week off, from whatever your daily work may be.
- It would be difficult for most people to get to church on any other day, but if it can be arranged in some situations, it is not wrong.
- If you really have a problem with Sundays, try to find a church with a midweek service.
- Or just go to the midweek activities of one that has its main service on Sundays.
What are the other options?
There was a time, not so long ago, when the only way to speak to other Christians was to meet face to face. Gathering in church was pretty much essential. The invention of the telephone was first thing that changed that. In my lifetime, there has been a series of changes in technology, making many other options possible.
- You can get teaching online. It can be interactive.
- You can share problems and hear other people’s experiences.
- You can listen to Christian music, traditional or modern.
- You can crowdfund projects.
I know there are some churches that exist on the internet. Good!
Why do we not all just worship online?
- It is hard to discipline yourself to study or worship regularly. Well, it is for me. I find going to church once a week and going to certain other Christian activities in person helps me to keep going. Otherwise I know I would get distracted and become involved only intermittently. Know yourself!
- I also benefit from the collective worship. It is similar to the thing some people experience at football matches.
- I do blog, tweet and do other things online, but I feel closest to the people I meet face to face. That includes those I contact online as well.
My story. I will be writing again soon about my journey from agnosticism to faith and then to churchgoing. I may even tell about some of the different churches I have had to cope with.