Many think of the Bible when defining what “church” is, so I am going to explore what the Bible says church is. I will cite more bible passages than usual which may make for more difficult reading. I also will conclude with a brief discussion of my journey with attending church in case others have similar feelings. I was going to church often out of guilt which does not lead to true intimacy in spiritual or human relationships.
Jesus used the word church twice in the Gospels. It turns out Jesus and Paul when referring to the church had in mind believers or followers of Jesus as opposed to a physical building. No one said I am going to church in biblical times. Matthew 16:18 says “… and on this rock I will build my church…” Jesus wasn’t going to cram all followers over the last two thousand years in a building on a rock. Jesus’ other reference to the church was when advising how to reconcile with fellow believers engaged in harmful behaviors (Mt. 18:17). Jesus never denied the reality of lovingly confronting others. If one refuses to listen in a 1:1 situation, Jesus says: “tell it to the church.” Jesus was not suggesting we speak to buildings but to fellow believers wherever they may meet.
When the early “church” was forming after Christ left this earth, the Bible is not referring to buildings but actual followers of Jesus. “But Saul (Paul) began to destroy the church (singular). Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison” (Acts 8:3). Paul was not destroying buildings or houses where followers assembled; Paul was imprisoning people (the church) who believed Jesus was the Messiah and rose from the grave. In Acts 11:22 news reached the “ears of the church.” Church buildings can’t hear. Romans 16:5 is similar to Paul’s other letters: “Greet also the church that meets at their house.” Paul was not saying to greet a building that is somehow contained within someone’s home.
Clearly, “church” was referring to people who believed and assembled together at that time in homes. During times of persecution followers were encouraged to not give up gathering (singular) so they could encourage one another (Heb. 10:25). This passage isn’t encouraging weekly meetings at some building but to meet whenever to encourage one another. Today that could be at a building on Sunday morning, a homeless shelter, or on the tennis courts. Times together may include music and preaching or not at all. “The church” doesn’t go to church.
Christianity is better off without denominations. In New Testament times one did not refer to themselves as a Baptist, Methodist, etc. In fact, Jesus the Christ never referred to His followers as Christians. Paul warned against the harm of divisions among followers: “I follow Paul; another, I follow Apollos; another, I follow Cephas; still another I follow Christ” (I Cor. 1:12). Denominations often refer to their Creed than the Bible for guidance which is divisive. If we got rid of Denominations people might seek more Who we follow than what we believe in. The presence of Denominations suggests followers do not believe the same thing or even get alone. Why would those possibly interested in hearing what we believe want to join us?
Why I Stop Going To Church
In the Bible often the church (followers/believers) met at one another’s homes. I was expected to go a building, often with a steeple, on Sundays when growing up. Some years my parents took me to a meeting both Sunday morning and night and Wednesday evening. I went to a Sunday meeting on my own in college. I never developed deep relationships with those at these meetings. We took our children to a meeting on Sundays when they were young. We encouraged them to attend smaller meetings within the building with people their own age, but they mostly chose to continue to go to the room where adult sang and listen to preaching. We let our children when older decide whether to go to the meetings on Sunday. At the time I felt going to a meeting on Sundays helped us grow in our relationship with God.
I ended up going to Seminary out of college for one year so of course I continue going to meetings on Sundays. As I got older I begin to question some things I was taught at these meetings about what the Bible said. For instance, I was always taught a husband was to be a loving leader rather than a loving servant toward his wife. I came to realize best friends don’t need a leader whether married or not. I had seen that “give us men an inch and we will take a mile.” There were other views over the years suggesting what God was really like, such as God being a hellish torturer, which I begin to believe differently than what I was taught.
I begin to experience in meetings, when sharing what I believed, being more divisive than encouraging to fellow followers. I didn’t feel a freedom or openness to believe as God lead but to believe what those in authority taught. I wasn’t forced to believe but why attend if not being encouraged to develop your own beliefs. I was better off if I didn’t do “church” and try something different in my relationship with God. I am not sure if I went to church out of guilt all those years, but not going to church didn’t feel like a choice. The institution of church worked for me for years and continues to work for many, but people need to feel free than obligated to pursue God on their own terms. Obligatory relationships are seldom life transforming.
I gained a sense of freedom from obligation when I realized “church” in the Bible was not a building but referred to all individual believers. The Bible suggested followers meet to encourage one another. This can be done anywhere anytime. When followers meet together they may sing, teach one another, eat, play tennis or whatever is going on in being with one another. Some may want to continue receiving teaching about their faith and attend traditional church for those and other reasons. No one though needs a mediator between God and them such as a pastor or priest.
Church never was a place that I built genuine relationships. I could sit for an hour and not say one word to anyone other than my family. I certainly didn’t share my burdens openly in that meeting. Even attending smaller groups during the week, organized by church leaders for the purpose of building relationships, felt forced. I am not putting down such meetings. I just feel free and wish for other to know they can build a closer relationship with their Creator in ways best for them. Dream! I may again someday attend a building on a certain day of the week with like-minded followers. But, I do not feel obligated or believe God thinks any less of me for not doing so. I am better off seeking encouraging, genuine relationships, so I look for such relationships everywhere. They don’t have to be organized and there doesn’t have to be structured leadership. You may feel like I do that I have graduated from “church.”