Thursday, January 5, 2012

Why I Don't Go to Church

 If you ask me which church I attend, I'll tell you, but in all actuality, I've not gone to any one church for quite a while. And while having worked on Sundays for years is part of it, the truth is, I have no interest in attending the today's churches anyway. Here's why. We live in an extremely complex world, filled with philosophical ideas, political stances, religious sects and fanatical beliefs that drive people to suicide in the hope that they find justice in the eyes of their god.  The customers I saw wandering about the religion and metaphysical sections wanted nothing more than something to believe in, some basis for their lives. More often than not they selected Robert Greene's The 48 Laws of Power or Hicks' The Laws of Attraction, something that would give them power over their own lives, often at the expense of a relationship with a loving God. Often I would find customers buying copies of the Jewish Kabbalah and the Koran, both at the same time, just to find the proposed mysticism of the religions. And as for Christianity, people wanted to know about the Apocrypha, the Book of Enoch, the Lost books, more than they cared about the New Testament or anything that had to do with Jesus dying for our sins. They wanted to see what powers were given to people if they joined the Christian faith. Those that did seek ancillary materials for Christianity were interested in being Prayer Warriors, choosing to believe that exorcism, the outcasting of demons and such were possible just by speaking of a word, as if they were Jesus himself.

In my opinion, looking at these lost souls, the current church does very little to prepare Christians for dealing with the issues that non-believers have. When it is successful, such as the self-help advice of Joel Osteen or the financial advice of Dave Ramsey, it's only a partial hold, without the central ideas of Christianity being brought into focus. I firmly believe that someone could sit in the Lakewood amphitheater, listen to Joel Osteen, and feel perfectly good about themselves, as if applying a band-aid, or taking Prozac would help the underlying problems in their lives. But ministerial Prozac is not what I would want, it's merely giving people fish instead of teaching them how to fish, as Jesus' parable goes.

My experience at the Sunday School at the church I have gone to has left me not at all satisfied with the training that teachers are supposed to be giving us to deal with the real world. The teachers would come in, talk about the weekend plans, the football games (and here in the South, Football is a religion, so it must be addressed.), the social rumors and the like. Then the "lesson" would begin, which was just us reading everything out of the book, verbatim, and then the teachers asking us the questions in their booklet. The questions would be, for instance, "Who is your hero?" "What was a time that you took someone for granted? Who did that hurt the most?" And so forth. And people would answer, Jesus, and God, and having swept any in-depth answers to the side (for "God" is the "right" answer for any question asked), we pray and then wait around for the time to go to the sanctuary for "big church." My fellow peers would look like they were brainwashed, only waiting for the end of the class, not willing to spend any time on actually delving into the ideas of the Christian faith, or what makes the other ideas out there so appealing. They are applying a feel-good social balm on an itch that won't go away. And when the unsaved masses walk by with their strange beliefs and their self-help books, we say nothing.

As much as I didn't like my stepdad for many reasons, I completely understood his reluctance to go to Church at all, despite being a very Christian person, a bass singer in a Southern Gospel Quartet, etc... He would invite Jehovah's Witness people in to apply his knowledge to their questions, firmly driving them from our house, never to return. He was determined to save his relatives' souls, even at the cost of having them live with us and take valuable items before we finally kicked them out. He didn't always do it right, but you couldn't argue with his belief systems. He didn't go to church because he found that there was little he could learn from the church pastors, and even less from the Sunday School teachers. He always asked me, "What did you learn at Church today?" I was always annoyed at the question, but I realize now that the answer I gave, "Nothing," was the correct one. To diligently seek (Luke 11:9) God's Word, it is better to read the Bible and other materials ourselves, and climb the path of our beliefs without the help of the current Christian population. It's why, on my Facebook page, I list my religion affiliation as "Libertarian," because I believe in having a relationship with God in my own way, learning from books and life in my own way, and when I die, God can show me where I was wrong. It is through His grace that we are forgiven of our sins, after all.

I would rather go into a Sunday School class and have the teacher say, "God doesn't exist." and then challenge us to prove him or her wrong. Train us in conversing with people, as the topic comes up, about our faith and our beliefs, as well as that of the world. Debate is only possible if we know the philosophies by which everyone believes, as well as our own. It is only possible if we listen first, not excluding those who are outside the realm of Christianity while we live in a safe zone away, apart, and superior to our gentile brethren.

I learn more from a fifteen minute lesson from someone like   Mark Lowry than I do a whole season at Sunday School. Because he thinks, he is willing to diligently seek to find the answers to his questions. And he is hilarious in doing it! Mark doesn't stand outside a college campus and shout to the top of his lungs how he is right and all the sinners on campus are going to Hell. No, he takes life, the humor in it, and crafts it like clay into a message that we can all understand. Even a serious motorcycle accident or a deadly tornado can become at once an entertaining laugh riot and a deeply affecting discussion about the Kingdom of God. And these are things we cannot get at church.

So as I was perusing the Bible section here at Lifeway, I saw an edition called the Christian Apologetics Study Bible. The Apologetics, as I have found out, do exactly what I have been talking about. They study philosophy and other "worldly" ideas as well as the Christian texts in order to understand and converse with those who aren't Christians. While I am certainly not an evangelical person, in other words, I'm not going door to door to bring people to Christ, I think the people who do should be trained in conversing and, if necessary, debating those who have other beliefs. Those who come from the Sunday Schools I've been in wouldn't stand a chance with those who have questions and doubts about the Christian faith. Being willing to talk about the answers in detail, even to challenge your own beliefs, that is the only way to become stronger in one's faith. Being brainwashed isn't going to do it. Diligently seeking is the only way to learn, be it about Christianity or any other subject or philosophy on Earth.

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