Do Christians Have to Go to Church?

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After years of teaching, I’ve found a comment thread going like this:

“I went to church as a kid, but then XYZ-terrible-thing happened by the elders/preacher/church members/Sunday school teacher/youth pastor/parking attendant, so we stopped going.”

Often, this is followed by a statement that he is still a Christian. Many times, it’ll become apparent that the student has rarely, if ever, cracked open a Bible. That he relies more on phrases like “I feel like God wants…” or “I feel like humans should…” rather than, by knowledge of Scripture, actually knowing what God thinks on a certain topic. Sometimes, he finishes by declaring his church is in nature.

And while I have no doubt there’s something majestic in forests and rivers, and “The heavens declare the glory of God,” there is a question that remains. Do Christians have to go to church?

Here, after reading 12,653,345 critiques from students on the topic, is my response.

NO, HEAVENS NO, you do not have to go to church to be a Christian.

But before everyone starts exchanging Bibles for fishing poles, please let me clarify.

One of my all-time favorite quotes is this:

IN ESSENTIALS UNITY, `

IN NONESSENTIALS LIBERTY,

IN ALL THINGS CHARITY.

Reread this. Slowly.

What, according to Scripture, is essential in being a Christian?

Well, we have plenty in the Bible to go off of. Take Romans 10:9-10:

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

Or consider the criminal on the cross beside Jesus, to whom Jesus said in Luke 23, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” That criminal never had time to jump off the cross, get baptized, give money to the orphans and widows, apologize to those he’d harmed, and go to the [then nonexistent] church building to sing through his hymnal for an hour of good, solid worship. And yet, Christ said that this criminal would be entering paradise today.

Yes, we are saved by faith alone, and there are plenty of verses backing up this fact.

However.

Numerous, as well, are the verses emphasizing that genuine faith is demonstrated by a desire to do God’s will. How do you know God’s will? Not by going, “Well…hmm…just off the top of my head, I think that God wants…”

God states His will plenty of times in the Bible. We need to know Scripture thoroughly so that we are better equipped to please God. And one of the things emphasized is Hebrews 10:25:

“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.”

The earliest churches began with Christians meeting together in homes.

To worship God together—as Scripture states God desires.

To pray together—as Scripture states God desires.

To learn together—as Scripture states God desires.

To grow together—as Scripture states God desires.

To support one another—as Scripture states God desires.

To persevere—as Scripture states God desires.

God desires Christians to habitually meet together for these reasons. Will Christians screw up? Sure. Constantly. But that’s exactly why we need to keep meeting with each other.

Abigail Van Buren stated, “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” Try to be understanding. People inside the walls of a church are broken, too. They mess up. Say things they really, really, really shouldn’t. Do things they really, really, really shouldn’t. Forgive them.

But, if you find the broken people in a church to be too much, or those in leadership teaching something absolutely contradictory to Christ’s message, then pray about it. Perhaps go for it. Try another church.

But by all means, whatever you do, please God. Don’t quit church altogether.

 

Wishing everyone the support of a church home and family,

Melissa Ferguson

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Shooting Stars in Christendom

 

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You think it’d be a good thing to be a shooting star. After all, they’re the Maseratis of the sky. The phenomenon that draws your eye as it streaks across an otherwise black canvas. Nobody cares about the boring satellite orbiting overhead, but catch a glimpse of that moving light and you’re treacherously waving your s’more stick with flaming marshmallow in the air and interrupting your friends mid-story.

Shooting stars are special.

My pastor was spot-on this weekend, however, in his definition of shooting stars in Christendom, and exactly why that is the opposite of what we want to be. Why? Because as great as their capacity is to draw attention, as beautiful as they are, there’s still another trait they hold.

Fleeting.

I remember how jarring it was the time my dear friend told me she was rethinking this whole Christianity thing. Sure, there was no lack of people in my life who’d gone in and out of the church doors like a revolving door. I knew plenty who took Christianity about as seriously as a New Year’s Resolution. But this friend? This girl? She was so on fire! How was it possible?

She came to work with a bang the year prior, and her enthusiasm for God made waves across town. It wasn’t long before people were gathering at her apartment, driven to explore this thing called faith. I felt like she’d started a little revival—even in my own weather-worn heart. Sure, she was a bit more emotionally-driven (or was it Spirit led?) than I was used to. Yes, I’d heard of a time she used a “word from God” in a way that was self-serving and out of context from Scripture. But she was only human, and given she’d only become a Christian the year prior—and in the type of way that rivaled the drama of Paul on his missionary journeys—it was nothing less than extraordinary how hearts were revived in her presence.

Eventually she quit, relocating to another state for a healing ministry. And a few months later, she called and dropped the bomb.

While I’ve often prayed for her over the years, I also learned something that day, something I was reminded of when my pastor spoke last Sunday. We all know everybody has different gifts, as 1 Corinthians 12 states. It’s a wonderful thing to be the gal with the smile as wide as Arkansas shaking your hand on Sunday. Likewise, it’s all well and good to be the man with his hands glued to his pockets as Mrs. Big-Grin dances down the aisle beside him. God loves the silent types just as much as the vibrant. But the common thread, what’s oh-so-important about it all, is consistency.

I won’t try to guess what only God knows about my friend (and others), and neither will I pretend there aren’t real hardships that sometimes leave people doubting their faith. But I did learn it is so important to step into the circles of those who sometimes aren’t the most exciting Christians around. To build relationships and glean wisdom from those Christians who’ve been around a few terrifying blocks I haven’t turned yet and still came out with faith like a child. Who are they?

Not necessarily my peers chasing around toddlers, but the ones who’ve lived to see their toddlers grow toddlers.

Not necessarily the books with the mirthful young woman on the cover, but the old man who’s been through wars, and cancer, and still has enough hope in his bones to fold his hands in prayer.

As much fun as it is to see the shooting stars of Christendom fly across the sky—whether on a campus or the front page or on stage—the true test is watching to see if their tail lasts, or if their light fades.

 

To all you seasoned Christians who

share your lives with the younger generation,

many thanks and blessings.

 

Melissa Ferguson

 

P.S. If you’re from the tri-cities and seeking an amazing church home,

you’re going to want to click here!

 

A Snowy Day Devos


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Moments ago I stood beneath the shelter of my front porch, holding a cup of steaming coffee and watching the flurries drift onto the white canopy around me. There’s something beautiful in the silence and crisp air filling my lungs. Of course, everyone knows this. People across the country aren’t eagerly stepping out of the comfort of their own living rooms to get their feet cold and wet if it wasn’t a fairly universal feeling. There’s just something ethereal in seeing everything—from patches of dead grass to cars in driveways—covered up in delicate white.

But, and here perhaps I’m some depressing anomaly, whenever I stand around in 18-degree weather I also feel a sudden pang and worry, for what is so beautiful about winter is also deadly. What about that homeless man who always sits outside the bagel store? Did he find shelter last night? What about the children in the World Vision catalog from Mongolia, all huddled beside a fabric tent with snow piled high around them? Suddenly that crisp air able to sweep so quickly into my lungs makes me feel desperate.

Both perfect beauty—the content of a hundred jingles around the holidays—and perilous content in one single flurry. I don’t know what to do with the dichotomy of feeling equally so happy and sad.

Then, however, I shut the door and sat back on the sofa, recognizing something as I read the most stirring poem from 16th century poet, Robert Southwell:

 

This little babe, so few days old,

Is come to rifle Satan’s fold;

All hell doth at his presence quake.

Though he himself for cold do shake,

For in this weak unarmèd wise

The gates of hell he will surprise.

 

With tears he fights, and wins the field,

His naked breast stands for a shield.

His battering shot are babish cries,

His arrows made of weeping eyes.

His martial ensigns cold and need,

And feeble flesh his warrior’s steed.

 

(Read it in entirety here! Seriously…go read it.)

What similarity!

When we really think about it, we Christians seem pretty crazy. We gather on Sunday mornings, banging on piano and drums to sing merrily about things so gory and gruesome it would sound like insanity were it not so familiar. Imagine if we went Message version on the words to some of these traditional songs and everyone sang in unison:

Oh, the wonderful electric chair!

Oh, the wonderful electric chair!

Wants me to come and be fried,

To find that I, can truly live!

Tag on smiling old men and women wearing gold electric chairs necklaces as they shake your hand during greeting time and how quickly we would run away from that place, eh?

But the reality is that Christianity as a whole is this dichotomy of gruesome and incredible. Of absolutely terrifying and positively enticing. Of horrifying and exactly all that I need.

I would never wish for the snow to cease existing; I just would like to live in a world where people never suffered. Likewise, I hate everything about Jesus’ willing sacrifice of undue shame, abandonment, whips, glass, nails, and broken bones. I wish there had been some other way. But if His tears are what “won the field” and gained victory, then alleluia. May snow fall and praises ring.

Blessings and Merry Flurrying,

Melissa Ferguson

P.S. If you’d like to pitch in and protect children and families from frostbite, hypothermia, influenza, pneumonia, and death, consider providing clothing and shelter by clicking here: worldvision.org.

 

And some verses for our snow day…

Praise the Lord from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
stormy winds that do his bidding,
you mountains and all hills…

Psalm 148

Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Psalm 51

“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They will be like wool.

Isaiah 1

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
 Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

 As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
 You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure forever.”

Isaiah 55:6-13

 

Forsaking Your First Love

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It’s the phrase I’ve returned to over and over the past three months, and—of all places—it comes from the book of Revelation. I don’t hear a lot about Revelation (unless someone’s telling me the world is ending in a few days). But I was stopped as I read a passage in Chapter 2 a few months ago, specifically the admonition Jesus, through John, gave to the church in Ephesus:

“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.”

Super, right? If I’m part of the church at Ephesus, I’d be feeling pretty good about myself.

“Yeah, I am working hard,” I’d say. “Thanks for noticing, Jesus. We here have had some intense temptations to quit and give up on you, crawling back to Artemis and the old Jewish temple, especially when people have dragged off our friends. Especially when we have seen our loved ones killed. It’s terrifying, but we have held firm to our faith. Thanks, Jesus, for acknowledging how awesome we are.”

But then Jesus’ words rip the former praises away as if they were of little significance compared to what really mattered:

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.

God Himself. The first love.

“But…Jesus,” my first-century self would reply, aghast. “We are losing work, losing friends, losing our reputations as we look like crazy people following after a poor man who ‘died’ sixty years ago… losing our very lives for you. Isn’t that enough?”

No. Frankly, no.

These Christian Ephesians did so much more than I do, but above all, God wanted loyalty to their first love: Himself.

I’m not one of those people who uses phrases that sound creepily romantic regarding the God-human relationship. I find myself dropping my voice and staring at my shoes when the song plays in church, “And I’m madly in love with you, Jesus…” It’s just…God is God. He’s not a human, and while He loves us, He’s not on par with me.

Like N.T. Wright says when John fell down in Chapter 1, terrified at the sight of Jesus who had eyes like flames of fire, feet like exquisite brass, and looked like the sun in full power:

“For some, Jesus is just a faraway figure of first-century fantasy. For others, including some of today’s enthusiastic Christians, Jesus is the one with whom we can establish a personal relationship of loving intimacy. John would agree with the second of these, but he would warn against imagining that Jesus is therefore a cozy figure, one who merely makes us feel happy inside. To see Jesus as he is would drive us not to snuggle up to him, but to fall at his feet as though we were dead (Revelations for Everyone, p7).”

But sometimes in Scripture, we get glimpses of a God who isn’t just insanely powerful, insanely knowledgeable, insanely bigger than anything we are. Sometimes, like in the Bride-Christ references, we see how God uses intimate wording to emphasize that He really, truly wants an authentic relationship with each of us. A relationship so deep and real—not between a being and a thing, or a being and institution, but a being with another Being—that a marriage metaphor would suit.

“It’s easy to settle down into a vaguely comfortable existence which puts its own

needs first and, sometimes, last as well. The Ephesian church needs to wake up,

to remember how things used to be, to repent and get back on track

(Wright, Revelations, p13).”

And sometimes we do, too.

So yes, stay loyal to the faith. Yes, consider the widow and the orphan and the poor and help them in their needs. Go out and evangelize to your heart’s content.

But above all, don’t forget to do the things that show your love to your first love: God.

 

Pray. Sing. Remember. Listen.

Love.

Blessings,

Melissa Ferguson