Why Go?

(Spectrumbot) #1

I’ll admit it – church attendance is hard for me sometimes. Even on Sabbaths when I have not had a tiring week, or haven’t stayed up late the night before, or have prepared properly, I still wake up and feel the desire to not attend church. Sometimes I just can’t make myself go. In those moments when I feel that way I always end up asking the same question – why do we go to church anyway?

As an aside let me say this – if church feels like a chore, you probably shouldn’t go. I don’t think anyone (except children who have no control over their lives) should go to church solely out of obligation. Whenever someone describes their struggle to attend church as “making themselves go” (as I just did in the previous paragraph) that seems to be reason #1 why they shouldn’t go.

Now there are many people who would disagree with what I just said in the last paragraph. In fact, I don’t always agree with what I just said either. There have been tons of times I’ve made myself go to church and didn’t regret it. I have occasionally worked from the theory that the days when you don’t want to go to church are the very days when you need to make yourself go. It is true that on some days when I made myself go, someone did something or someone said something that I needed right at that moment. But I think we say things about church attendance that aren’t quite accurate. I often hear people say, “You have to come to God’s House because that’s where you’ll meet Jesus!” I don’t disagree with that, but church isn’t the only place I meet Jesus. I meet Jesus when I pray. I meet Jesus when I read His word. I meet Jesus when I extend myself in love to those less fortunate. So yes, I can meet Jesus at church, but there are plenty of other places to meet Jesus. Adventists will often say that there is a special blessing in being in God’s House on the Sabbath day. I don’t necessarily disagree with that, but I would say that the Sabbath day itself is the special blessing. The opportunity to rest from the cares of this world is the special blessing of Sabbath, regardless of how the day is spent. Now that isn’t to advocate that you spend every Sabbath day in bed, but you also don’t want to be a friend of mine who, in advocating that we go back to church after lunch yelled, “This is the Sabbath there’s no time for rest!”

Here’s the thing I think we don’t want to admit – the main reason we’re supposed to go to church is each other. That’s the reason the writer of Hebrews said,

Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised; And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (Heb 10: 23-25)

The primary goal of church attendance is to encourage one another. To grow in love towards one another, with God, and with others. If a church is not doing this, then there is no good reason for them to be around. I wonder why we make church attendance about everything but this. I have a suspicion it’s because we still want people to show up even when we’re determined to not act in love towards one another. I recently attended a seminar where the speaker advocated for a theology of church attendance, that would in essence make it somehow wrong (read: a sin) for you to not be attending a church. The one problem I had with the theory was that it seemed he was arguing that you should have to come to church even when the church is determined to mistreat you and harm you. That if you find the church unwelcoming, you have to keep coming, and it’s your fault if you stop coming. The responsibility was turned outward on the aggrieved as opposed to an examination of those of us who are already there.

When it comes to church attendance, or becoming part of a church family, I think there are 3 things that should be considered. In no particular order those things are: what you get, what you give, and who you’re with. I think a relationship with a church can be sustained if you enjoy any 2 of those things, but not if you enjoy only one. Of course, the question of what you give is dependent, because most often if you don’t enjoy what you’re getting or who you’re with, you most likely will not have a strong desire to invest (give) in the life of the community. In my own experience of the past few years, my wife and I decided to invest in the life of the church despite the fact that we did not like what we were getting on most days, and despite the fact even after a year or so we still felt like we didn’t know who the other people in the church were. Although it was incredibly difficult at times, I believe God honored our efforts and we’ve seen the other two factors improve. I don’t feel comfortable giving advice here, I think you should follow what you believe God is saying to you, but I don’t think you should languish in a church community that is not welcoming, or where you feel like your participation is unwelcome, or a place where you feel you don’t get anything out of going.

Jason Hines is an attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at http://thehinesight.blogspot.com.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6717

Shakespeare Walla Walla Presents "A Gay SDA Play"
(Thomas J Zwemer) #2

Maybe the question should be extended to which church.A college friend and retired G…C. Officer often drove either to Atlanta or Columbia until his wife.'s health wouldn’t permit him to travel. upon her death, he moved to North Carolina to be with the retired brethren. On any given weekend there are fewer than ten pastors worth a clean shirt in the greater Augusta area. pastoral pressures comes from at least three sides: The brethren, the Congregation, and the Gospel and in that order. So the Gospel takes the rear most. Wonders of wonders, I have found books by Pastors who have mastered the brethren, the congregation and have a redemptive story to tell. Free at last free at last, Thank God Almighty, Free at last!" Tom Z

(jeremy) #3

i think there really is such a thing as a toxic church, and i completely agree with jason that there’s no point in “languish[ing] in a church community that is not welcoming”…for most life-long adventists, especially for those on a personal study plan, there’s the added reality that it’s unlikely you’ll hear anything new…

for me, the real point of church is interaction with others…as i see it, sabbath school is a time to get a feel for how others think, and to float trial balloons on something you think you may have discovered during the week…potlucks and vespers are for socializing…services themselves are for that corporate worship experience, and feeling part of a group…taken together, and over time, you end up in a different place than when you stay away…there’s something special about feeling needed, and accounted for, and knowing you can depend on others…i think it’s a blessing to be aware that you’re on the common journey to heaven together with others…

(Steve Mga) #4

The Sabbath Commandment, the 4th, ONLY tells us what NOT to do.
It does NOT tell us What to do. So there are a LOT of permissible things one CAN do on Sabbath.
It does allude to Community celebration.
It DOES NOT tell us what “keeping it holy” means except for doing no every day activities that would keep us from Not Remembering, not Celebrating the Birthday of the World, the day that God ascended to His Throne in this world on the 7th day.
It proscribes no set Liturgy, no set Rituals. It does request that food preparation be simple. Serve what can be fixed the day before. [In our modern day convenience heating up food is very simple, and adding the final touches to a community feast is easy.] On the other hand there are a LOT of finger foods available. Fruit, vegetables, greens, nuts, olives, bread, cheese. Some time back for a community food thing at synagogue, the Rabbi’s wife made braided bread with chocolate chips. Every time she does this, expectations are high!
It does NOT tell us WHERE “church” is. Traditionally we meet under a “roof” and sit in “special seating” and are “entertained” with the “entertainers” on a raised platform in front.
It does not tell us WHERE to celebrate and Where to Remember.This is not in the 4th. “Church” can be outside. And “outside” can be any where on the globe.
There is nothing said that prevents the attendees from sitting in a circle and “entertaining” themselves. Nothing is said about Preaching by the one special person each gathering. Does a group NEED a Preacher Man?
Can “church” be the Reading of Scripture and everyone sit around in a circle and comment to each other on the Scripture Reading appointed by the Group for the day?
The 4th does NOT proscribe music. Either for or against. In the Psalmist day ANYTHING that was a noise maker was allowed during “church” time and played either with or without vocalization by the community. If “noise makers” were not disallowed then, WHY disallowed now as long as they contribute to things done decently and in order as we think about music both in words and noise accompaniment?
Perhaps THESE are things that keep “church” from drawing us to it each Sabbath. We have allowed Tradition and Ritual from having “Fun” at “church”. We have not been allowed to experiment with Celebration WITH God. We are AFRAID to have TOO Much FUN With God. We want to go there and be “entertained” by a few on the platform. Which means we are worshiping ourselves instead of God. We are the God being “entertained”.
Our subconscious, where God abides, finds this unpleasant. And so it tells us, “Go ahead, stay in bed, stay home, it is OK.”

(Steve Mga) #5

Is that a picture of a group going into a Seventh day Adventist church?
You will note that in some SDA churches some of those persons WOULD NOT be allowed to enter.
Think about it as you look at it.

These would keep persons out from worshiping God in an SDA world.

(Elaine Nelson) #6

Why Go? Personally, I answered that several years ago. There is no reason to drive across town to communicate with others as this site offers much more open conversations with Q&A that would almost never be heard in most Sabbath Schools. Half of the church service is music that I do not care for, period: inane, little melody and even if the words are projected, no score to be able to sing along. Inspirational music is available to suit every choice from TV, CDs or DVDs.

Additionally, there are two days for rest as most everyone works a 40/hr. week so “rest” that was originally given in the Ten were given to former slaves who had never known a day of rest. God was giving them what they had never previously enjoyed. If a rest day is of such importance as is often emphasized, a specific day is not historically provable. “Rest” was all that was ever given in the Fourth; Adventists have developed their own rules which are a loose adaption of those given originally to people camped in the desert.

The sad deaths of seven children were the direct result of strict observance of the Sabbath given in the Bible.

(Beth Again) #7

Keeping a group cohesive is another reason. Cohesive theology is difficult to maintain without frequent group activities to emphasize what you do and don’t believe.

Without the emphasis on what defines the group (who is in and who is out) the group becomes too porous and loses its distinctiveness. Church attendance is vital for helping to emphasize those distinctive beliefs.

Another somewhat related reason is it might keep people from becoming too extreme. Religion can encourage illogical and unhealthy ways of interacting with the world, and people who are vulnerable to that can benefit from the steadying influence of a community. That depends on the community not being too wacko as well of course.

(Carolyn Parsons) #8

I agree that church attendance is vitally important to reinforcing in-group out-group dynamics. I believe that the reason Mr. Hines and many others don’t find much value in attendance is that the out-group definition includes many people they know, love and respect. It is well known that more conservative people have a smaller in-group definition and more liberal people have a wider concept of in-group. This explains how some congregations seem cold, unfeeling or judgmental. They are trying to maintain a tight in-group and everyone needs to be reliably “in” to be safe.

(le vieux) #9

Meeting with fellow believers at church on Sabbath is beneficial in many ways. It keeps us from going off on a tangent–easy to do with our egotistical human natures. It gives us a chance to be a blessing to others and to gain a blessing ourselves. I’m convinced that if we focused on how we can bless others at church, rather than concentrating on our own “felt needs,” we would have less to complain about, would gain a blessing for ourselves, and find ourselves looking forward to the encounter each week.

I wonder how often Jesus didn’t feel like going to church. Yet, He went every Sabbath, in spite of the errant theology He must have heard on a weekly basis.

(Andrew) #10

I think the question should be turned around to ; why come?

This question would make the focus less ego centric.

We would be looking at what we can do to attract people to come , rather than compel people to stay.

This is more of an outward looking, growth strategy rather than an inward focused survival tactic.

(k_Lutz) #11

And your eye-witnesses are?

Trust God.

(Kim Green) #12

Yes…and this is one of the primary reasons that I no longer attend church. There are other reasons such as the lack of warmth and connection, sameness of service and boring sermons, etc.

(Kim Green) #13

Yep, you are correct.

(Andrew) #14

I’m the same as you Kim. Boring sermons, polite but inconsequential relationships.

I often come out thinking, I will never get back those three hours of my life again.

(Kim Green) #15

I truly believe that most people go for the socialization. I was involved in the church structure and contributed what I could in my positions but ultimately I found it unfulfilling. When I asked for my membership to be withdrawn, one of the responses was how much I had contributed!

Serving on the church board was interesting as well…but I wouldn’t want to do that ever again for many reasons. It just became an endless and boring “sit and listen to the sermon” and I never learned anything new for at least 10 years! I understand that this is just me but I find that most congregants have a much lower level of “boredom” then me. No, you will not get back those 3 hours again.

(Andrew) #16

It would be cool to have Jesus in Sabbath school wouldn’t it. Not right now, mind you, he can’t, as he is in the most holy place passing judgement.

But on the off chance he can take some time off for Sabbath, maybe I could ask him what is like stranding himself in a tent for centuries, flicking through the great book with a celestial quill in his hand (do you think he is right handed?, maybe ambidextrous). Maybe he gets occasional visits to spruce up his day, although, I seem to recall, only the high priest can enter the Holy of holies.

(Andrew) #17

Oh dear, you have depressed me now. Three hours, gone, vanished, with nothing to show for it.

Again, like you, I have a low boredom tolerance. As I get older, I am more circumspect about what I do with my time. I guess I become more selfish with it.

But now I am part of a small group, and things are much better.

(Kim Green) #18

Sorry…didn’t mean to depress you. Time gets more precious when you are older and you want it to count.

I am glad that you have found your “niche”.

(Andrew) #19

You didn’t depress me, I was only jesting.

I think, again, as I get older, relationships become more important; To ourself as much as anyone else. It’s funny how it takes a lifetime to get to know yourself.


Safe assumption. He was a full-blooded jew.