Don’t ever go to church again

One of my pet annoyances is talk about “going to church”. You know the scenarios. Mum and Dad rushing kids to the car, “Come on, we’ll be late to church”. Teenagers organizing their social life, “Hey, let’s meet after church”.

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. Acts 17:24

To speak of church this way is to fundamentally misunderstand church. Church is not some place we go, it is who we are. The building is not the church, we are!

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. Ephesians 2:19-20

This annoyance turns to exacerbation when I hear “going to church” talk coming from supposedly “aware” Christians. Because it’s not what we say in our thinking moments that reveals our deep thoughts, it’s what we say in our unthinking moments. “Oh, it was a casual slip”. Well, yes, it was a slip, but there was nothing casual about it. The roots of this distorted teaching go deeper than we’d care to admit. It needs to be weeded out.

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? 1 Corinthians 3:16

So, let us resolve never to go to church again.

23 thoughts on “Don’t ever go to church again

  1. However, one could argue that “I” am not the church either. “We” are actually the church. Therefore, when we gather together (worship, service, fellowship, etc.) we are the church – a gathered community as witnesses to the risen Lord Jesus.
    Notice the switch from plural “yourselves” to singular “temple” in the verse you quoted. We are not individually God’s “temples” but as a community we are God’s “temple.” With that in mind perhaps it is not so bad to say that we are going to church if we are referring to our gathering as a community.

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  2. Well said, Matt! We are more interested in being aware of the church as it is made manifest all around us. It has been well over a year since I went “to” church, in the old sense of it. It takes a bit of getting used to…a kind of decompression, as it were…but well worth the investment.

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  3. I don’t mind that terminology. I’m happy to use “church” to mean the church’s meeting place or even a worship activity.
    However I don’t like the phrase “I go to Church X”. I’ll say “what church are you part of?” rather than “go to”.
    And being a youth leader in a church with a traditional Sunday event, I am always stressing the Sunday gig is not more church than the other times God’s people gather.

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  4. I tried to get our “church” to change the name of the building earlier this year. I moved a motion that we stop calling it “church” and call it “community hub” or “peace place” or something, as a way of trying to deal with this.
    It got defeated. Sigh!
    Of course, I do this cos I’m an anabaptist and so have a very low spirituality of place. Which is not healthy either – there are thin places and I’d like them to be all over the place, but also when we gather.
    steve
    http://www.emergentkiwi.org.nz

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  5. Amen. Neil Cole talks about Sunday church-building services in his book Organic Church: “When you imagine the amount of resources, energy, and time invested in a service held only one day a week, it is remarkable. With all the importance placed on this event, you would expect there to be a lot of scriptural directives to make sure people get it right. But if you search all of the New Testament looking for commands or injunctions having to do with this important weekly event, you will find them sadly missing. Instead you will find verses, chapters, and entire books that speak to how we are to live together as a spiritual family. You will find commands and injunctions to serve and worship, but not just one day a week. How is it that we have gone so far away from the pure and simple priorities of the Scriptures?”
    Hmmmm.

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  6. te-he, ha-ha, chuckle… you got me on that one, Matt. When I am in a situation in which someone asks me what church I go to, I realise that I have developed a standard response: instant blank stare,preganant pause, quick glance upper right,look at my husband (if he’s next to me at the time), followed by a happy wave of the hands in an outward gesture whilst with a smile offering the alternative concept “We ARE the church!” Then I brace myself for the response. A little conversation usually ensues about how we are closely networked with all kinds of Christians, and feel especially connected with comrades of an incarnational missional persuasion, many involved with Christian creative arts, and our regular fellowship with Aboriginal Christian community friends, BUT that we don’t really do the traditional Sunday service thing. Like Peggy, we’ve “decompressed”… as one of our Australian insurance company’s recent advertising campaign expresses – we UNworry and UNstress about such things now…

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  7. Buildings aren’t church, but I’ve heard that some people can be “as thick as bricks”.
    The Israelites were at times described by God as “stoney-hearted” or similar in the OT.
    If Jesus had wanted Church to be a building surely he would have turned us into bricks.
    Probably the root idea of `church’ being thought of as a building were institutionally derived i.e. dehumanisation of church into the `it’ of being an institution.

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  8. I would think that “going to church” would be problematic even if you accept that church is a gathering of people. After all, such gatherings happen all the time. Three Christians meet at the supermarket. Hasn’t “church” just happened?
    I also think that part of the issue is that thinking about “going to church” still makes church about something people do rather than what people are. It promotes the compartmentalization of lives — something we humans seem to be all too prone to do as it is! I’m reminded of people at my job who serve dual-roles. They’ll talk about “putting on this hat” or “putting on that hat” as they’re acting or speaking from the perspective of one particular role they hold rather than another. I’d hate to think of being part of church as being a “hat” one can “put on” and “take off” like that.

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  9. My biggest concern in this conversation is the Western idolization of “self.” I have heard too many Christians abuse the idea that church is not a building to support not attending any worship gathering. No one in the entire New Testament is called the church as an individual.
    Even Jared’s idea, “Three Christians meet at the supermarket. Hasn’t “church” just happened?” makes me a bit nervous. I get what Jared is saying, and I appreciate the intent, but this is not church. Three people randomly meeting at a grocery store are not gathered to communal bear witness to the risen Jesus through worship and service.
    Although I applaud pushing against institutional/building connections to the term, I want to throw out the caution to remember that church is always a gathered community of varied individuals joined together as the body/temple of God.

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  10. “Three people randomly meeting at a grocery store are not gathered to communal bear witness to the risen Jesus through worship and service. ”
    I’m going to push back on this one, Scott.
    Why not? Can’t service and worship happen anywhere and spontaneously? Isn’t the act of just meeting and showing each other Christian love an act of worship? After all, didn’t Christ himself say that people would know his followers by how they loved one another? And once those people meet so “randomly,” what opportunities for service might they find in that “random” moment? Perhaps they can help the elderly woman who’s trying to make her way through the crowded produce aisle. Perhaps they can help the overly-tired mother with three very active children do her shopping.
    And therein lies my point. I think it’s important to see ANY gathering of believers — no matter how random or unplanned — as church simply because ANY such situation can lead to communal service and worship. And I’ll be so bold as to suggest that not recognizing each such moment as such simply blinds one to the opportunities such a moment might actually offer.

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  11. I’m gonna disagree with this and say I think one of the essential elements of church is mutual commitment. So, no, not every gathering of Christians is church, not every gathering of people is a community. To flick it back your way Jarrod I would ask, is every random gathering of Pagans a coven? I ask because I’m led to believe that it’s not. And it is because I see mutual commitment as an irreducible element that I’m somewhat skeptical of virtual church. I just don’t see online communities delivering in terms of depth of mutual commitment, mutual accountability and the like. That being said, I would affirm that worship does not have to be church-initiated to be authentically Christian. That a random gathering of Christians is not church per se should not prevent those Christians from worshipping with one another, worship here being understood as any act which glorifies God. But could a group meeting in a supermarket that has that level of mutual commitment be a church? Well, that could be another story. What would you say the essentials for church are?

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  12. No, not every random gathering of Pagans is a coven. But then, I’m inclined to question whether church and coven are equivalent terms. After all, a coven is not intended to be the community of all Pagans — or even all witches or all Wiccans of a particular tradition. It is my understanding, however, that church — or The Church — is supposed to be the community of all followers of Christ. Or are you making a distinction here between a church and The Church? And if so, I’d ask how much more theologically sound that is than talking about “going to church”? For example, how does it square with Paul’s criticism of divisions of the church and some believers saying they are “of this person” or “of that person”? (Sorry, I forget the exact reference.)
    Along those lines, I would ask if all Christians aren’t supposed to be committed to one another, each and every fellow believer anyway? (Insofar as such a thing is possible in any practical manner, mind you.) So shouldn’t those believers who meet by chance already be in mutual commitment to one another to some degree?
    Of course, I should also note that I probably wasn’t clear with the scenario I necessarily envisioned. I haven’t been envisioning random strangers meeting here. I’m talking about believers who have met because they are already a part of one another’s lives. So to me, there was probably an underlying assumption that there was some level of mutual involvement and commitment already there. I apologize for that lack of clarity.
    At this point, I’m not comfortable positing what the essentials for church would be. To be honest, that’s one of the things I’m trying to puzzle through by engaging in this conversation. One of the other things being to toss around my half-baked notions to see what happens to them. 😉

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  13. By the way, Matt, I’d like to take this opportunity to once again thank you for taking the time to respond to my comments and questions honestly and thoroughly. I’ve met a few people who aren’t as willing to engage others so openly and patiently, and that makes me value your longsuffering and kindness all the more.

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  14. Jarred, yes I am making a distinction between “a church” as a local Christian community and “the church” as the worldwide Christian movement. The New Testament itself uses the word church in a variety of ways, sometimes in reference to a local community, sometimes in reference to a geographical grouping of churches, and sometimes to Christians everywhere.
    The usage and frequency can vary from book to book. For instance, the Acts of the Apostles and Revelation of John never use the word church to designate the worldwide movement; they only ever use it to designate local communities or city groupings. The book of Ephesians, by way of contrast, does the exact opposite, and focuses on the church universal. The book of 2 Corinthians mostly refers to middle category, of geographical clusters. So, context is important for understanding the text. What church never refers to though, is a building. In the New Testament, church always refers to people in one way or another.
    So, to clarify, in my response I was referring to church as local Christian community. In that sense I would consider church and coven as reasonably equivalent terms. In fact, I’d be more than happy to refer to our church as a COVENant community or Christ-centred coven. I understand the word coven comes from the Latin word convenire meaning to come together or to gather, which also gave rise to the English word convene. Consider how that relates to the words congregate and congregation. Ekklesia, the word which church comes from, simply means assembly or mob.
    So, when Paul criticizes divisions in the church, what he’s referring to essentially is a coven split, to an internal leadership battle. He’s saying, people, wake up, you have only one leader, Christ. You and me, we’re not.
    I hope that clarifies my position somewhat.
    And Jarred it’s always a pleasure to answer questions from someone who is interested in mutual understanding. I learn much myself when you question me.

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  15. Jarred, I appreciate your thoughts. However, I think I line up with Matt on this one.
    Perhaps one reason I responded negatively is my growing concern with generational/interest based churches. Theses “churches” are formed around Christians of a certain age group and cultural interest. I don’t think this is church. Church involves committing our lives to each other – young, old, tall, loud, quiet, artistic, and intellectual. Our commitments need to go beyond common interests and age groups.
    Unless there are no other Christians in the area…
    Three teenagers are not the church.
    Three senior citizens are not the church.
    (I am also speaking of the local community and not the worldwide church)

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  16. Matt,
    Thank you for the clarification. Though I do have to wonder that when you talk about commitment, my first inclination is to wonder what members of the church are and should be committed to. For what purpose are they committed to one another and together?
    As an aside (and maybe it would be better to take this conversation someplace elsewhere), I’m still not entirely sold on the comparison between local church and coven for various reasons. One of the big reasons is the theology around membership. To be specific membership in a coven is much more strict than membership in most local churches. And I think that strict membership is theologically defensible from within Paganism, whereas a church who was so strict would be hard pressed, in my opinion at least, to justify it within the framework of Christian theology.

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  17. Scott, I can certainly appreciate your concerns over generational and interest-based church. Of course, as with Matt, I’d begin to ask what kind of commitments you’re talking about. Committed to what? To do what? For what purpose?

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  18. Scott, I share some of your concerns with generational and interest based churches and refer you a number of critiques I have launched against the “homogenous unit principle” of the church growth and missional movements.
    http://mattstone.blogs.com/christian/2009/10/beyond-tribalism.html
    http://mattstone.blogs.com/christian/2009/03/global-interaction-on-local-mission.html
    http://mattstone.blogs.com/christian/2009/01/multicultural-mission—a-graphical-illustration.html
    http://mattstone.blogs.com/christian/2008/10/just-to-explain-hopefully.html
    http://mattstone.blogs.com/christian/2007/11/homogenous-unit-principle-time-for-a-rethink.html
    But, and here’s the big but, I would still say buildings are unessential and that the church can meet anywhere.

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  19. Jarred, by commitment I mean commitment to Christ and the living out of Christian community with one another. As for membership requirements, that was one of the issues over which the Anabaptists historically fell out with the Calvinists and Catholics. Anabaptists, and the Baptists that came after them, contended that membership should be restricted to genuine believers and that baptism should be restricted to genuine believers. Hence their rejection of infant baptism, forced church attendance, etc, etc, which was practiced in these other churches. And hence why there is a far, far lower degree of nominalism in churches that hold to the believers church tradition today.
    To put it another way, you are not considered a (coven) member unless you’ve been initiated, and what’s more, initiated as a consenting adult. Non-members are permitted to participate in ritual and in community life, but they’re not considered members till they take that further step, and that’s irrespective of how long they’ve been hanging around. In truth, I am probably far more strict about membership than you’ve realized.
    Ironically, I find the stricter you are about membership, the more easy going you can be around people who reject the faith. Christendom churches do everything they can to lower the benchmarks of membership and engage in all sorts of hand wringing when people say no. Post-Christendom churches are far more likely to say, if that’s your choice, so be it. Because we’d prefer people say “no” to membership, than say “yes” to membership and not take it seriously. Choosing the Christian life should be a harder option than rejecting it.

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  20. I have enjoyed reading this series of posts, as some important issues have been raised… commitment, membership, what worship and service are understood to be. It seems that all would agree that church is not a building in terms of inanimate physical substance constructed by human beings. Whatever it is, it is certainly something that Jesus Christ is building, and against whom/which the authorities of hell will not prevail, and something that Jesus Christ loves with a passion!

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  21. I think it’s worth stating that church is not it’s institutional structures either. One of my other pet hates is when people call the hierachy the church. What, you mean they have more of a claim to the name than everyone else! How disempowering!

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  22. Just read this blog and I have been transformed in my thinking about the Church from how the media and orthodox Christianity views it, to a more holistic New Testament view. Love it guys, thanks! Keep blogging

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