Sunday, July 22, 2012

Dissecting the question, "Where do you go to church?"

Do you ever get asked this question? I do, and will answer it below. When I get asked this question, it is usually for one of three reasons: 1. They like or don't like what I am saying about Jesus, the Kingdom and the Bible, and they are trying to place it into context as "okay" or "not okay" by learning what church I go to. Guilty or innocent by association, I guess. 2. They want to invite me to their church. (It happened recently sitting at a sidewalk cafe eating lunch--they asked, gave me the card and invited me to "Relevant Church"--really, that is its name). 3. They are concerned for my soul because there's no such thing as a Lone Ranger Christian, "a log cannot burn by itself, and the fire goes out," and Hebrews 10:25 tells us to go to church, doesn't it? Yes and no. Here is what Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us to do: "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." (Hebrews 10:24, 25 NIV) There are three parts to this command/teaching: 1. Spend time strategizing how to motivate each other to offer practical care for each other ("consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds") 2. Continue to meet together, 3. For the purpose of coming alongside and encouraging one another. Interestingly, the word for "encouraging" is the same word used for what the Holy Spirit does (parakaleĊ). Because of the Gospel of John's usage of this same term, the Holy Spirit is sometimes called the Paraklete. So to paraphrase, here is what we are told to do: We should spend time planning how to spark one another to loving acts and good deeds, and gather together to come alongside and act like little Holy Spirits encouraging and motivating each other. This is quite different than what happens in many church buildings much of the time. When this command is re-interpreted "Go to a church building" we are no longer obeying this command nor are we doing the Jesus-stuff. It is quite religious to go to the church building once a week, fellowship with the back of someone's head, stand up, sit down, kneel, listen to the pastor/priest and band/choir, but this is not what Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us to do. We can go to a church building and still not do church. That's why there is not a Scripture that asks us, "Where do you go to church?" Instead, The Good Book calls us to remember that we ARE the church, as Paul writes, "Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it" (1 Corinthians 12:27 NIV). In that chapter Paul lays out how we are interconnected and need one another because we are joined together as one connected living tissue as the Body of Christ. I can't "go to church" because I am the church. I can't go to Brian Dodd, I am Brian Dodd. But, I can and should focus on encouraging other followers of Jesus face to face, and I need them to do that for me. We need to focus on it, think about it, meet together to do it, and keep on doing it. Do I have to go to a church building and attend a religious ceremony to do this? No, and those who do often only follow this important teaching when they meet elsewhere as a small group, or Sunday school class, or two or three for a breakfast meeting. Ironically, going to the church building can have nothing to do with being/doing church, and may actually distract from it. Jesus says he is there where two or three gather in his name (but some people think Jesus doesn't show up until there are two or three hundred or two or three thousand :-) This is why so many lack the sense of the presence of Jesus in their daily lives--they think someone else has to make Jesus present for them in a religious ceremony. In fact, He is already present and reveals himself more in the face to face encouragement gathering. In fact, WHERE we do church may have nothing to do with how well we do church. The earliest Christians could not go to a church building (none of those until the 4th century, and for many reasons not a time of Christianity most conforming to the teaching of Jesus). They did church while walking on the road, in their jail cells, in the catacombs fleeing arrest, around the dinner table in someone's home. So, now my answer. Where do I go to church? I "went to church" in the Scriptural sense this last week many times in different locations. At one restaurant with Carl, and another with Vern. On the phone with Gabe. Via video Skype with Carlos. At my breakfast table with my wife. Yesterday and today with five people part of the time in their apartment, part of the time in their car, and some of the time eating outside at a restaurant together. That may sound like a lot of "church going," but I needed that much encouragement! Jesus said He is present wherever two or three gather in His name, and I experienced His presence these times. We can meet and encourage each other on a golf cart, hiking in the woods, camping on the beach or by going to someone's house for dinner. It can also happen in a church building, but you must do it. No one else can do it for you.