Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. — Hebrews 10.23-25 [ESV]
Once upon a time, I had ministerial credentials. I even had a Rev. title next to my name. I was so proud to have earned that title; I had such grand hopes of working with people and building a community of Christian faith on the college campus. No sooner did I earn that title and begin preparing for said work that I ran headlong into a political and bureaucratic ecclesiastical buzzsaw. Long story short, I had no idea that I had a dark cloud following me wherever I went and unwittingly made a liar of myself to ministers with whom I met regarding introduction and fundraising. As a result, we were left broke, deep in college debt–much of it racked up with the intent of going into vocational ministry–and living in a city and state where we were greeted with scorn whenever we darkened the doorway of a church in the denomination left unsaid.
I let those credentials lapse in 2008, walked away from vocational ministry in 2009 and have seldom looked back. Since I left the strictures of Evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity, I’ve found myself more able to represent Christ-likeness to more people who otherwise would have never given two craps. I’m not saying that I’ve led scores to Jesus; frankly, that’s none of my concern, as someone’s personal commitment is and ought to be made on their own recognizance with no strings attached. All we can do is live in a way that loves, serves and is generous with the produce of a life lived in communion with God. The rest is God’s work; always has been, always will be.
So, why is it that I still have that nag in my mind that says it’s Sunday, why don’t you have a church home?
I remember our denomination had a bible quiz for children, some of it was biblical trivia, other parts scripture memory and, naturally, doctrinal programming. I recall the above passage being the answer to a quotation question, particularly the part about what I recall–since it was all KJV at the time–as not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together. Rephrased, if I don’t go to Sunday morning service, I’m not only sinning, but committing sacrilege by defying the verbally-given word of God. (See the circular logic? When the seams are this obvious, doesn’t it tell you just how cheap the material is?)
Such, I imagine, is the plight of the kidnapped or the habitually abused. And, if that is indeed the case, then our houses of God–places where liberty and community should be shared freely because, umm, they were given to us by a decidedly unfickle and victorious Christ–are really bondage dungeons nominally for Jesus.
My commitment to Christ is not reliant on my attendance at an institutional gathering, it is contingent upon my relationship with Christ itself. Period. That’s it. My tithe does not make me more righteous, my involvement in 200 different ‘ministries’ in the church does not get me more treasure in heaven. The fact that Christians tend to be enamored with the notion of getting bigger crowns–a distinctly American religious idea if there ever was one–seems to me to lessen the fact that we are fortunate to even be eligible for admittance to eternal rest to begin with. Grace is meaningless without the mercy that makes it possible to live in it. Everything else is gravy; that is to say, ultimately can be lived without.
I will be even more short: for the Christian, anyone else matters more than you do. And those people who matter more were likely not on your left or right in the pews this morning while you, in all likelihood thoughtlessly, sang your songs, endured a crappy offertory, perhaps a human video, a title package and a feckless minister stumbling through an acrostic. Those people were probably asleep this morning while you were in your Sunday best, or trying to fend off the headache earned as capital gains on the night before. And while God may have graced you with God’s presence–grace after all is a two-way street–the work of Christ was left neglected in favor of a day of ‘rest’ that, ironically, is seldom ever restful for the religious.
I don’t miss that life, though I do miss my friends honestly doing the Lord’s work in Kansas City. The difference here is that the true work of the gospel requires risk. Perhaps my decision to part company with the denomination in which I was raised, and to part company in general with ‘church’ gatherings and services is a risk to share generously of what little I have with a segment of culture who could either care less or once did care. Perhaps I’m too honest for the Sunday liar’s club, but what does that say of the membership?
So, no, I don’t miss a Sunday. I also don’t miss the conditioning I endured to become a good little naive, braindead Pentecostal, and I don’t miss a moment to recognize that I am still in relationship to the one who waived his right to divinity to risk living amongst us to allow us to be restored to the liberty in which we were created. Is this not at the heart of Advent, which begins in two weeks in Roman Catholicism?
(Wait, I almost forgot that, as a fundamentalist, I’m not supposed to recognize advent. Oops.)
My ‘church’ is wherever I am with friends who share my ultimate concern. My worship is being able to exist day-to-day in gratitude to a gracious God for the many blessings in my life: people, places, puppy, employment, talents, things. My ministry is to represent that in my world to those in it. It’s not the Romans road and gospel tracts or inviting everybody to a bait-and-switch Christmas cantata. It’s the choice to lead an unglamorous, unrecognized, thankless life. If that doesn’t sound, by definition, Christian, I don’t know what is.
And, without a massive shake-up in the status quo in the ecclesiastical realm, I think I’ll stick elsewhere for a while. Thanks for the memories, and for the scars, too. They allow me to fit right in out here.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I hope you all have a restful holiday with family and or friends. sailerb may have a quick Wednesday post, but as of now, I’m planning to take the day off. Be safe, and if for nothing more, I’ll see you in a week.