(6) Shotgun Forsakes the Assembly

hillsongchurch

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?

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11 Responses to (6) Shotgun Forsakes the Assembly

  1. Laurel Loflud says:

    Hey, Shotgun! Hope you are doing well, or as well as an unchurched guy can.
    :-)

    My take on this is that sometimes it seems as if no church can encompass the private beliefs of every member because, try as the pastor might, he is still a human being and subject to personal flaws and occasional foot-in-mouth syndrome. I personally would search for a Reformed church in which the pastor avoids topical sermons and simply marches through the Bible faithfully, week after week.

    In my view, it’s topical sermons that are a curse upon modern churches. Some things are eternal, and hence eternally relevant, like careful study of the Bible. Where pastors get crazy is when they start believing they have to relate the Bible to modern life.

    I pray you are able to find a simple church like this. I think you will feel better once you do.

    God bless,
    Laurel

    • You must not think highly of local Reformed churches to wish me on them. :)

    • Hans Gygax says:

      Laurel, we sat in such an assembly for a year, recently, and we can tell you it was the furthest from bearing the fruit of the spirit that I have yet to see. If a man of God cannot take the word of God and make it applicable to real life, you get a congregation of church goers that know the Bible intellectually, yet live as a friend to the world (James 4:4). Yet they pat themselves on the back because they “love to go to church”. In fact, the Pastor told us that loving to go to church was the biggest evidence of being saved. I would rather settle for an Anabaptist church that is preaching topical sermons that result in obedience than to have vain repitition.

      Another huge difference is that the Anabaptist ones around here are organic communities rather than an EVENT to go to on Sunday.

  2. Kirk Forlatt says:

    The short answer to your question is, of course, yes. Yes, you are hell-bound.

    You’re going to hell because you don’t walk into a mortgaged building once or twice a week. The God of the universe may have known you as His child before time began, but if you have legitimate reasons not to subject yourself to the torturous nonsense going on inside the organized church — reasons He already knows about, mind you — it’s “no deal, Lucille,” and He WILL throw you into a barbecue pit for all eternity. Because your merely declining to walk into a church building caused Christ to suffer the equivalent of an eternity in the great Weber Grill of Forever & Ever, which we know was prepared specifically for the hapless children of God who violated one of His extremely clear and nondiscussable commandments.

    So by all means, follow the advice of your commenter and find yourself a Reformed church where you can prove how holy you are by forcing yourself to sit still each week while the pastor (the soft fellow you pay to read books and prepare little speeches while you try to figure out where your next meal is coming from) drones his way through each verse of whatever version of the bible your denominational HQ has deemed holy this year. Yes, just BEING THERE will make God smile upon you, whereas if you ponder the deep questions and seek to be alone with Him because being around most of the people in the pews makes your mind hurt and your spirit nauseous, He will hate you, disown you, and torture you. He’s our heavenly Father, don’t you know, and He treats us EXACTLY like we’d treat our children. And we all know that if one of OUR children questioned something we said or implied or hinted at, we’d disown them and hate them and throw them into a torture chamber that we designed for demonic entities. So rush to the nearest Reformed church or you will certainly go to hell. The Reformed have a corner on truth, and that’s why they are forever splitting over micro-issues and doing their own virtue-signaling to each other.

    Just keep in mind that while you’re IN that good, simple little Reformed church, you’ll be working undercover. You will NOT be allowed to say what you really think about race, intermarriage, slavery, culture, etc. Because if you do, they’ll cast you out immediately and trash you in the pulpit and in their weekly gossip sessions — I mean prayer meetings. If you told them you were a hail-fellatio-well-met faggot, they’d welcome you with open arms (as long as you didn’t try to grab the cracker and Welch’s) and be very patient with you. But if you are yourself, if you tell the truth and ask honest questions, they will excommunicate you and declare you anathema. But going to the BUILDING each week is what’s really important, so living a lie is what you’ll do, and living a lie won’t displease the peevish, easily-pissed-off God Who wants you to grovel before Him in the presence of these nice people, so by all means, run to the church building.

    Do bear in mind that Christ and the apostles were all liars, that the New Covenant is NOT in effect and was never really ratified. You remember the New Covenant, don’t you? The one one in which your Father said He would be your God, and in which He said that He would put His law in your heart? The one in which He said that you wouldn’t need anyone to tell you to know Him? That covenant never made it out of committee. And we know that the beloved apostle John was a liar and a fool, because he claimed to be writing under His spirit’s direction when he said that you don’t need anyone to teach you because you have His spirit within you. Be sure to run these treasonous idea past that paid pastor of yours. He’ll lean back in his comfy chair, steeple his fingers, point to his bookshelf, and spend a half hour developing syllogisms and talking about logic and rhetoric and helping you understand that the Scripture IN THIS INSTANCE doesn’t mean what it plainly says, and don’t ask too many other questions because we’re considering asking you to be a deacon one day soon.

    Yes, you are certainly going to hell. You’re going to hell because refusing to be a part of the filthy insanity known as the 21st Century organized church = FORSAKING the assembling together of the saints. Because the bible is VERY clear that the only time you can assemble is in a church building on a Sunday morning. It says so right there. And that thing about “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name?” Lies and more lies. Probably inserted by a bunch of Luther-hating Catholics or low church Moravians. And it’s clear that the one verse in the NT used to build this theology applied to all children of God for all times and couldn’t possibly have been very time-specific. Yes, it’s all been settled a long time ago, by better men than you. Seminary grads, I mean. The same seminary grads who want you to give your daughters to cretinous nonwhites.

    The heart of the matter is that a Christian has to agree with his superiors, and his superiors have to agree with him. It’s all about getting each other to agree with each other, because disagreement brings about tension, and tension brings about bad feels, and bad feels are sinful.

    Just remember how happy you’ve been in the past when you were sitting in the pews, slowly being tortured to death by petty men rehashing for the millionth time the same abstract, arcane point about The Apostle Paul’s underwear. Remember how full of joy you felt when you submitted to those spiritual tyrants who clearly wanted to keep you immature and dependent on their “care and oversight?” Yes, yes….by all means, run back to the leeks and garlic they offer. But remember to keep your [redacted] mouth shut while you’re there, because God wants you to lie about what you really think and feel and believe and question. Having an open and honest friendship with your Father is not important. Being in a building is what’s important.

    And if you don’t, you’re going to hell. And if you don’t repent of this serious sin of Forsaking The Assembly Which Can Only Be Done In A Specific Place On A Specific Day, you’ll regret it someday. You’ll look up from the bowels of the briquettes and you’ll see your heavenly Father just a-laughing and a-laughing at your screams, and laughing alongside Him will be all those people you used to attend church with. Because they’ll be safe in His arms. Because they went to the church building.

    That all makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

  3. Joshua Cloud says:

    The Hebrews verse is interesting. Hireling pastors love to use it as a passive-aggressive admonishment. But notice the reference to mutual exhortation and the absence (indeed, in the entire NT) of anything like a sermon. I don’t know where we got the dangerous and slavish notion that working men must pay a man who bought his title to teach them how to read their bibles.

    I believe the church is a community organism, not an institution. Worship is service, the priesthood is decentralized, exhortation is conversational rather than sermonic, and fellowship is best achieved in homes and neighborhoods where we know and work with one another, not in an expensive building a zip code away with a budget and staff run like a business.

    The sacraments are another issue. I know that an honest, authentic, God-fearing man can diligently avail himself of the “means of grace” for a decade with no spiritual growth. I know he can be denied them for loving his own people more than savages from the Congo. I also know he can grow leaps and bounds without them. Perhaps they’re expired? Perhaps they’re not and never were a means of grace but only a means of enforcing kosher compliance? Maybe the good feelings they engender is no different than any other mental or meditation exercise we can use to alter our serotonin levels?

    I think there are answers. I got mine when I put away the belief that I’m too incompetent to find them, the view that spiritual loneliness is abnormal, and the fear that an Elder in a black robe would knock on my door the moment I entertained an unorthodox view. I also had to stop doing stuff to be liked (like proving how orthodox I was), which pretty much sums up much of 501(c) church life.

    Your concluding observation is a good one. Why *wouldn’t* we believe unchurched children are superior to their counterparts? It’s similar to the threadbare “socialization” argument from anti-homeschoolers. I’m skeptical of any view that sees socialization and maturity as impossible apart from centralized institutions.

    I’m convinced the only “benefit” of the corporate church involves a confusion between “social” and “social excitements,” a distinction Alexis de Tocqueville noticed between North and South cultures. He observed that Northern culture centered around fast-paced, energetic productivity and achievements. Very industrious, institutional, cool. He called it assiduous culture. The term he used for Southern culture was “aromatic,” or antisocial. He meant a dislike not of social life but of social excitements. The South favored slow, quiet, interpersonal relations based around family, land, and community rather than what there is “to do.”

    The modern church is patently Northern. Its benefits are the activities, the lauded pastor you sit under, the building you visit, and the status you receive by participating in those social excitements. Sunday school? Done. Worship? Check. This and that program? Got it. Very, very experience and event based. I think this is shallow and I don’t see how real social life is possible on this model. I think if we didn’t care for social excitements, more would see that “going to” Church® and not forsaking the assembly are opposites.

    • First – thank you for the kind words stranger. Do I know you?
      (We’ll have to have cigars again soon).

      Second – you raise a lot of good points that I can’t deal with properly in a comment box. Lots to “unpack” (to use Reformed jargon). I love the comments about any institutionalized authority.

      Third – on the church being a Northern, or Yankee phenomenon, I have a lot to say and will write more on in the future.

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