Stop Going To Church

Well said. Worth the read.

by Kevin A. Beck , Nov 28, 2006

Jesus was radical. After all, the powers-that-be don’t kill nice compliant people. Jesus spoke a message that shook people to their core. He announced the imminent arrival of the kingdom of God. He shunned religious dignitaries and associated with societal outcasts as proof of the nature of God’s kingdom as he perceived it.
Regularly, Jesus offended the sensibilities of the religious establishment. He welcomed sinners and tax collectors to his table. This scandalous action is almost impossible to fully conceive of in our day. Table fellowship involved recognizing people as equals. Jesus considered ritually unclean people and pro-Roman collaborators as equals. He turned no one away.
With a handful of exceptions, the only people Jesus upbraided were the self-righteous, overly-religious types. Make no mistake. Jesus was a religious man. The Gospels tell us that he celebrated the customary festivals, attended the synagogue, and participated in the temple activities. He prayed habitually and spoke daily to the crowds about God.
All the while, Jesus spoke against the idolatry of religious observance. He argued that rituals—even ones ordained by God—can become a poor substitute for God. Paying tithes may be a virtuous practice, yet they are worthless if they cause one to neglect justice, mercy, and faith. Jesus demonstrated that marking special holy days can actually interfere with one’s intimacy with God. The Sabbath was made for man, not the other way around. Even sacred places, like the temple, can hinder people from encountering God. If it does, then the tables should be overturned, and the blind and disabled should enter in.
Taking Jesus seriously when it comes to matters of religion may be the most challenging practice of all. Here’s why. Most people who think about, study, and attempt to emulate Jesus are religious practitioners. The institutional church (in all of its multifaceted manifestations) has attempted to corner the market on Jesus. Ironically, the religious establishment has boiled down Jesus and his teachings on religious celebration to a prescribed set of functions.
In other words, the institutional church has tended to emphasize ceremonial performance as the primary means of accessing, understanding, and following Jesus. All the while Jesus downplayed religious functions, and described them as hindrances to genuine intimacy with God.
Depending on the denominational bent, to honor Jesus means: eating the Eucharist, speaking in tongues, giving ten percent, singing praise songs, reciting certain creeds, consenting to specific statements, political activism, personal piety, winning converts, being baptized, confessing faults, or a combination of any of these activities.
Regardless of the specific ecclesiastical institution, they all hold a particular practice in common. If one is to be considered a true follower of Christ then one must (the argument and assumption goes) attend church. Some religious bodies are stricter on this point than others. For instance, the church of my youth required church-going on Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and Wednesday evenings. Not all churches emphasize such meticulous attendance regulations. Sunday mornings—or Saturday nights—are enough. Or just show up once a month and that will suffice. At the very minimum come to church on Christmas and Easter.
The hypothesis supposes that the more regular one is in church attendance, the more faithful one is to Christ. Sometimes, that sentiment finds verbal expression, and sometimes it is an unspoken understanding. Either way, it has worked its way into the structure of organized religion. How can you worship without being in church? How can you grow spiritually without engaging in group functions? How can anyone survive without the warmth and support of an assembly of likeminded people?
At first blush, this approach to spiritual practice seems patently correct. Why wouldn’t a follower of Jesus want to meet with compatible people to participate in worship, prayer, and sacraments? However, in practice, we find a much colder reality that the idyllic figments of our imagination.
A passing handshake and shallow conversation passes for deep fellowship. Worship events take place over service, wielding of political power is touted as the highest good, and love loses to the exaltation of sins personal and structural. Rivalries and bickering infiltrate discussions ranging from the nomination of the next senior pastor to the janitorial duties. You can overlook the poor, harbor bitterness for years, and fight with others, but as long as you attend church at least semi-regularly everything is just fine.
Does this sound familiar? You’re sitting through a Sunday service. You look across the sanctuary and see someone who has offended you, infuriated you, or otherwise turns your stomach. Maybe it was something they said, did, or failed to do. Perhaps it began in the morning’s Bible study. Now, you are so infuriated that you can’t sing Amazing Grace without wanting to toss your hymnal across the aisle.
When I ministered in a local church several years ago, a woman approached me with a request. “Please tell Sister Jeanette to move where she sits each week. When I turn my head I see her, and I can’t worship with her in my sight. She sickens me.”
Once again, the paradox makes itself known. The institutional church, making an implicit or explicit claim on being the primary vehicle for knowing Jesus, has missed Jesus. By emphasizing religious ceremony as an indispensable means for experiencing devotion to Christ, the institutional church has overlooked one of Jesus’ overt statements concerning attending religious gatherings.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus announces: “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matthew 5:23-24).
Incredibly, Jesus believed that reconciling with people takes precedence over ceremonies. Jesus didn’t condemn religious rites. Instead, he affirmed that people take priority. No religious ceremony is worth more than any individual. Anger, battles, and contentions cannot be swept under the rug by sitting in an auditorium. No amount of hymns, sermons, Bible studies, Lord’s Suppers, recitations of the Lord’s Prayer, or small groups can substitute for one estranged relationship.
We might contemporize Jesus’ statement, “Therefore, if you are singing a praise song, speaking in tongues, or taking communion leave and first be reconciled. Afterward, come and resume your activity.”
That is an astoundingly drastic suggestion. In Jesus’ context, the temple ceremonies were the highest form of piety. To instruct people to discard them in favor of reconciling relationships struck at the very heart of the religious structure. Nevertheless, Jesus teaches that people are more valuable than rites—even God ordained ones. God has fashioned people, not religion, in the divine image.
So, in the mode of Jesus, I encourage you to take a radical step. In taking Jesus seriously, in taking discipleship earnestly, in following the words and spirit of Jesus, I invite you to stop going to church—if you can think of someone with whom you are at odds. Have you crossed someone? Are you quarrelling with your sister or brother? Would you prefer to see someone dead rather than see them sitting in your pew? Church going will not resolve that situation. Only the hard work of humility can set things straight. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.
Once you go the extra mile in resolving the situation, then go back. When you do, you may discover new joy, meaning, and purpose in the ceremony.  By the grace of God, you may discover that you hold people far dearer than any observances.

Kevin Beck is President of Presence International.  He is married to Alisa, and they live in Colorado Springs with their three electrifying children.

taken from


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by JohnO on January 25, 2008 at 10:58 am

    “A passing handshake and shallow conversation passes for deep fellowship.”

    As Sal would say – Zing


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