I haven’t been a regular church goer for well over a decade. This started out innocently enough – I was in the Navy and often had to work Sundays. Also, being on the introverted side, I’d wait until I could visit home to attend where I felt comfortable. When I had a conversion experience and became a Calvinist, I stopped going all together. I didn’t want awkward clashes and theological debate with the low-church Arminians I grew up with. I experimented with a few churches in Washington D.C., but owing to my constant moving and deployments, never became a member. Over time I became so cynical with organized religion I’ve stopped looking and am steadfastly (if not proudly) unchurched.
I used to think I was doing both the church and myself a favor by not attending. If I went, I’d either be excommunicated for my “radical” political views, which would cause all sorts of drama in the congregation, or I’d have to sit there, Sunday after Sunday, listening to government-sanitized garbage without speaking up. That would slowly kill my soul, so it wasn’t an option either. Only lately have I begun thinking that the church, itself, at least, the bureaucratic and rationalized institution we know and love today, is illegitimate. Call this a switch from being a pragmatic unchurchian to a principled one, if you will.
I’m comfortable with this as far as my salvation goes, but there are three things that haunt me about it.
1. Tell the average Christian you’re unchurched and they reply with the same, reflexive, argument: The author of Hebrews said not to forsake the assembling together of yourselves! And this is true. It is in the Bible and an unchurchian has to deal with it. Ask them to point you to the nearest church and it’ll be their own. “That one, of course!”
There’s a lot of theological baggage there. If one isn’t baptized into the Presbyterian church, or the Baptist church, or the church of Christ, or even a Roman Catholic parish, is one not in the true church? Debates rage to this day whether Reformed churches ought to accept Catholic baptisms. But this is the main problem. We don’t come to God through church membership. Church membership is a result of our being in union with God (through Christ). This, some theologians refer to as the “universal church.” I began thinking, as a Kinist, we ought to simply have the universal church, made up of all those who love Christ, and beyond that, live tribally, without all the confusion of federated Enlightenment-inspired bureaucracy. Tribes have elders, don’t they? And what, exactly, is the difference between “church” and “state”, when the “church” is all those who love Christ? In the case of a Christian nation, the same body of people would have to be both the church *and* the state; what’s the difference? In this case, the church *is* our state, and it’s arranged tribally – in my view. There’s a lot here to work through, and I’m no theologian, but it’s a basic outline.
So when do those who actually love Christ tend to congregate? Well, they congregate at all sorts of places – plays, operas, orchestra performances. And when we’re all together in one room, listening to one of Haydn’s orchestras, for example, aren’t we communing with God?
2. Communion and the sacraments are another fear I have about being unchurched. Once, when I was forward deployed, I got my hands on grape juice and crackers (they weren’t even unleavened). I had never missed a communion to that point and didn’t intend on letting circumstances stop my religious practice. There’s probably all sorts of theological issues with serving myself – I had no authority, the bread and wine were all wrong, and who knows what else. Since then, I’ve stopped all together. I haven’t taken communion in years and I feel terrible about it.
Whatever someone might say about it theologically, I still retain an almost superstitious attitude towards communion and not taking it lays heavy on me; I’m not at all sure what to do about it. I’m not honoring Christ in one of the ways He specifically said He wants to be honored…and they don’t serve the meal at an opera.
3. I suppose the last big item I’m concerned about is the missing out on the culture and traditions that come with being part of an American church. I grew up with these and everyone I care about is mired in them. What if, God forbid, I get married and have a family one day? What would it look like, raising children without church?
I list this one last because I’m sure it will be challenging, but not impossible. I imagine unchurched Christian children will be as spiritually dominate over their peers as the homeschooled children are intellectually dominate over government schooled children.
What do you think, readers? Am I hell-bound?