I’ve had issues with “church” (or, as some prefer to call it, ‘organized religion’) for many, many years. I have encountered way too much hypocrisy & legalism, and have never felt comfortable going to church every Sunday morning. I was practically forced to go to youth group as a teen, and then had issues at 2 of the 3 different churches I’ve attended in the last 20 years… issues that couldn’t just be overlooked, and so I left. My current church is definitely better than the other two were, but it still makes me uncomfortable, to an extent.

Back in 2009, while browsing in a bookstore, I came across a book called “Pagan Christianity” by George Barna & Frank Viola. I didn’t buy it, but just picked it up and skimmed through it. And, it piqued my curiosity. Here’s the description (from Amazon):

Have you ever wondered why we Christians do what we do for church every Sunday morning? Why do we “dress up” for church? Why does the pastor preach a sermon each week? Why do we have pews, steeples, choirs, and seminaries? This volume reveals the startling truth: most of what Christians do in present-day churches is not rooted in the New Testament, but in pagan culture and rituals developed long after the death of the apostles. Coauthors Frank Viola and George Barna support their thesis with compelling historical evidence in the first-ever book to document the full story of modern Christian church practices.

The book had me intrigued.

Then I picked up a book from the local library that I originally had no intention of reading: “The Year of Living Biblically” by A. J. Jacobs. An online friend reviewed it, and that review prompted me to give the book a try, and see what I thought. Well, I thought it was a fantastic book, and it got me thinking even more! What really got me, though, was the revelation I took away from that: Nowhere in the Bible does it say we have to attend church (in a building) every week!

People have always loved to quote me Hebrews 10:25, saying this was the mandate that we are to never stop going to church. Well, guess what? This verse does NOT say you have to “go to church”… it just says you aren’t to neglect meeting with other believers…

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” ~ Hebrews 10:25, NIV

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.” ~ Hebrews 10:25, KJV

And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” ~ Hebrews 10:25, NLT

See? Even in the King James Version (which is thought to be one of the most reliable — closest to what was originally written), it says not to neglect meeting together with other believers. But it does NOT say you have to meet in a church building.

Then, while online shortly thereafter, I came across yet another book: “So You Don’t Want to Go To Church Any More?” by Wayne Jacobsen. And, by Googling the author, I came across his website, LifeStream.org, where you can read a multitude of articles on why he no longer is a fan of “organized religion”, and about how he believes “church” means something different than what we have always believed it to be…

Mr. Jacobsen says “Church is not somewhere you go; it’s something that you are“. We, the followers of Christ, are His ‘church’, His bride. Wherever we are to be found, that’s where “church” exists.

And I really like this concept! 😉

I read some of the articles on this LifeStream website, and apparently this is a growing trend… people are leaving the church building — the Sunday morning gatherings — and they are seeking out other believers that they can learn from and grow with, believers who share their same belief that you can’t limit God to man-made traditions.

Personally, when I realized that the Bible doesn’t even say you have to “go to church”, but only that you have to continue meeting with other believers, I was so relieved! No longer do I have to give in to the guilt that’s heaped upon me when people ask me if I’m going to church regularly, and I have to say ‘no’. No longer do I have to accept the shame they try to instill in me for not going. Instead, I can relax, knowing that I make my weekly Bible study meetings a priority, and am thereby obeying the Biblical command to continue meeting together with other believers.

{…to be continued…}

Note: This post was originally written in 2009.

*** This article was written back in 2009, for a local newspaper, by the pastor of my church. 

Are you a Christian? That may seem like a strange question for a regular reader of this column and I suspect that most would answer with an indignant ‘yes’ except for those who are disappointed that they couldn’t find their horoscope.

This ‘yes or no question’ may elicit a common response, but if I change it slightly to “How did you become a Christian?” then I believe we could uncover a diversity of answers such as:

  • “I was born in a Christian country.”
  • “I was baptized as a child.”
  • “I was baptized as an adult.”
  • “I went through a confirmation process.”
  • “I believe all the right things.”
  • “I once prayed a prayer asking Jesus into my heart.”
  • “I go to church every week (pretty much).”
  • “I believe in God.”
  • “I am a good person (pretty much).”

The problem with all of those answers is that none of them are right. None of them are Biblically complete. None of them reflect the radical faith that Jesus came to call us to.

They may be steps in the right direction, but they fall far short of being the destination.

When Jesus came to earth 2000 years ago, He didn’t come to establish new religious practices and rituals like the ones listed above. In fact, He came to make it very clear that doing these things were not what God wanted from us at all. The mentality of religion as keeping the right rules was so prevalent in Jesus’ time that He got in trouble one day for healing a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath ~ a specific and serious offense to religious law. To paraphrase Jesus, his response was “That is ridiculous!”

Jesus didn’t come so that we could be more religious, or to initiate an adjustment in the rules. Jesus came to call us to be His followers. The great commission was not to celebrate the faith of those who would assent to a set of beliefs and agree to keep the rules. The great commission of Matthew 28 is to make disciples. What is a disciple? It is a ‘little Jesus’. It is someone who seeks to be like their master.

And so, are you in the process of becoming a ‘little Jesus’? Have you given up on pleasing God by keeping the rules and are you ready to join with Him as He changes the world while He changes you? Are you tired of focusing on an outward spirituality that is disconnected from the rest of your life? Are you a follower — a disciple — of Jesus Christ?

If your answer is ‘yes’, then you are a Christian. It’s that simple.

~ Jim B.

Sometimes I get so very frustrated with the way Christianity is portrayed to the world. More often than not, I see a Christianity that isn’t anywhere close to the one Jesus modeled and taught us to live out. And this hurts the overall message.

Hypocrisy, legalism, shame, and condemnation are rampant. But is this how Jesus behaved? Did He worship in His Father’s house with His hands raised and eyes closed, and then go out to lunch with the Disciples and laugh about the Pharisees behind their backs? Did He condemn the sinners He met, like the woman at the well who was on her 5th man, or the tax collectors, or the woman who’d been caught in adultery? Did Jesus stand on the street-corners holding a sign that read, “Repent, or you’re all going to hell”?

The answer to all of the above is: NO.

Jesus was (and still is) gentle, kind, loving, patient. He convicts us of sin, but He never condemns us. He does say that the consequences of sin is death (eternal punishment), but also that all who believe in Him can be saved! He doesn’t preach this message with a sense of shame or condemnation, but with a soft plea spoken out of the depths of His love for all of us… not JUST Christians, but every single person on the planet.

I know so many people who have walked away from, or just flat-out rejected, Christianity, because they think…

• “If that’s what Christianity is all about, I want no part of it.”
• “If being a Christian means I have to be like so-and-so, no thanks.”
• “Being a Christian will mean I can’t have fun any more — so, forget it.”

But, they have seen this “false” pseudo-Christianity, not the real thing. They have no idea how good it can really be. It’s not all about giving up the good times, or walking around all uptight, or about acting all better-than-thou, or converting everyone you see.

It’s about a friendship with Jesus… a man who was so compelling that people couldn’t help but be drawn to Him… the only One who will never, ever hurt or betray you… the only “friend” who can offer the deepest satisfaction and sense of peace.

I loved this article, written by Abby Johnson. She’s talking about the latest news regarding abortion doctor, Kermit Gosnell, but she gives a very good picture of the difference between the false, “pious” Christianity, and the REAL, grace-full Christianity that I’m talking about.

A blog post from Abby’s blog {read the full post here} had this little paragraph tucked inside it, and it, too, says what I’m trying to say — shows the difference:

{…“Well, one of our [church] members took her to the Target Café to share the Gospel with her.” So, no material assistance was offered for her or her baby? No resources offered for where she could receive assistance? No phone calls made to maternity homes or pro-life groups in the area? “No,” the woman responded. “Just the meeting at Target to talk about the Lord.”

Well, isn’t that fantastic. I’m sure the Gospel will find her a hospital to deliver her baby in. I’m sure the Gospel will help her with food to nourish her body during the last few weeks of her pregnancy. I’m sure the Gospel will help keep her safe from harm as she sleeps outside night after night. Their answer made me disgusted. How can we expect to nourish someone spiritually when their physical needs aren’t met? How can we expect someone to be receptive to the Gospel when they go physically hungry during the day? How can we expect someone to believe in the mighty power of Christ when they don’t know if they will be forced to deliver their baby in an alley somewhere? This is Christianity? This is how we treat those in need of help? Certainly not. That is not what faith is about. James clearly states that “faith without works is dead.” What is faith if we are not willing to step out of our comfort zone and get our hands dirty in service to Christ? We are called to be the “hands and feet of Christ,” right? That means service to those who need him…not just words…actions.}

Precisely. The REAL Christianity is one of compassion and love. It is actions and service. It is modeling Jesus’ actions and love to a hurting world around us. NOT condemnation. NOT shame. NOT ignoring needs because it makes you uncomfortable.

Ugh.

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For further reading, check out Acts 2. This is the story of the first community of Christian believers.