Can you believe and not go to church?
Yes. No question!
However, if you choose to be a Christian without sharing that experience with others, you choose to exclude yourself from many of the good things that an active relationship with God can bring. Service sits at the centre of the Gospel narrative, and service, by its very nature, requires us to be committed to others. Service starts with a simple ‘putting up with’ everyone else. And true service requires us to serve everyone, even those we don’t much like. Throughout the Bible, this begins with those who are walking the same journey and aspiring to the same joyful enlightenment. The small community we see Jesus walking with has its ups and downs, but in every example, the Bible shows us that the long journey is necessary if we are to be included in the richness of what follows. But that means bearing with and being generous to each other. It would be far easier to just walk away every time we feel aggrieved or less inspired, but it is in the commitment and faithfulness, over a long period of time, that our faith bears fruit. From this stable foundation, service then explodes out into the wider world helping to bring the same benefits to those outside, especially those in the most need. There is nothing more pleasing to God, nor beneficial to us personally, than being faithful to Christ’s church community for a lifetime, through all the ups and downs.
The Bible contains a description of what the followers of Jesus did in the days following his death and then the weeks following his resurrection. Following his death, they moped around, not knowing what to do. They weren’t very good company and they no doubt argued and bickered – allot. But they stuck together and continued trying to work out what it was that Jesus wanted them to do next. Of course, all he wanted them to do for that time, was to stay faithful, and they did.
Following the Resurrection things changed. Their life together is then described as being full of excitement and joy. This group of disciples were the first church and they had overcome the first difficulty with remarkable faithfulness. It is unquestionable that Christ designs the Church to become the home of the faithful and the guarder of faith, he even calls it a Church (Upon this rock, I will build my Church – Matthew 16:18). Ever since then, the witness of the Early Church has given Christians a model of how the experience of being a follower of Christ, part of the church, rather than just an individual, could and should be:
- It focusses on two tables
- The Altar – The Eucharist (Holy Communion – Sharing Bread and Wine)
- The Dining Table – Sharing of Meals
- Welcoming each other into their homes and offering hospitality
- Learning from their spiritual leaders (Bishops and Priests) what the way of Jesus should mean in practice, and supporting these leaders in their vision to grow God’s kingdom locally (through the Church)
- Praying for their shared concerns and the concerns of the world
- Praising and worshipping God with reverence and awe
- Rejoicing and celebrating – Jesus loved a party!
- Recognising God’s action in doing miraculous things in the everyday world
- sharing any excess personal possessions and money so that they could be used to grow God’s kingdom further.
- Trusting each other that when a need arose, help would be at hand.
- Being generous about each other’s faults, giving each other the benefit of the doubt and forgiving each other – constantly!
In the New Testament we see how this was so appealing that the group grew and grew, with people who had never met Jesus coming to faith, putting their trust in God and committing themselves to the Church and through it, Jesus’ way of life.
It is undeniably true that some people’s experience of church in the UK is not entirely positive. But Church should not be held up in comparison to entertainment, or sport, or shopping, or a caring profession, or a service industry. Church is all about something much less tangible and far deeper than any of these things and it has something to do with our personal commitment to God and each other. Christianity is a whole way of life, often quite at odds with the negative values of the world (such as personal success at others’ expense, personal wealth accumulation ect.). But those who open their hearts often find the church community entirely transformative.
Churches are places where people receive what they give, but often not in the way they expect.