I grew up going to church every Sunday (mornings and most evenings), most Wednesdays and never missed Good Friday. My dad’s vocation was as a pastor. He was in the pastorate up until I was about 5 years old. After leaving the pastorate, and for several years, he would speak occasionally at various churches & sat on the board of deacons for several churches. I knew the in’s and out’s of church; the do’s and dont’s; the “thou shalt” and the “thou shalt not’s”. I wore black patton Mary-Janes and fought my mother every Sunday morning as she would use a torture instrument to curl my hair. I hated (still do) tights and panty-hose. One time I got kicked out of church choir for not spitting out my gum after we’d been told to empty our mouths of all gum prior to practice. I had just put in a fresh wad of orange Hubba Bubba and, as my mother generally didn’t let us chew gum, I wasn’t about to waste my fresh, new wad of gum on stupid, choir practice. Needless to say, I got kicked out and spent the hour wandering the halls of the church.
As time went by and I moved into college, I developed a love-hate relationship with church. I truly hated the condemnation I felt each time I walked in, but for whatever reason I always felt desperate to go. After I got married I thought hanging out with friends from my church would help. Not. The girls in my group were all stay-at-home moms with kids and I was still a working professional without a child. I was desperate for anyone in the group to talk to me. I would try picking up conversations with various ladies within the group but it just didn’t work.
I later determined that I enjoyed my non-Christian friends way more than my Christian “friends”. My non-Christian friends accepted me for me. No judgement. Just happy to have me there. I found that I much preferred going to meet friends at the local bar where…”everybody knew my name.”
I really hate how the church has crammed God into a box of self-prescribed do’s an dont’s. Don’t drink alcohol. Don’t go to this movie. Don’t go to that movie. No dancing. No caffeine. Really? Where is that in scripture? Does no one remember in Genesis that the only person on the entire Earth that God felt worth saving was Noah…a wine-maker? Or even more thought provoking, Jesus turned water into wine…and not just swill. He made the good stuff. I have been in churches where they are convinced that drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes is a sin. Because as we all know…”thou shall not smoke Marlboro’s!” Smoking is not healthy for you. Period. That’s it. You’re not going to hell because you are a smoker. Furthermore, scripture makes it clear not to get drunk. Drunk people are dumb and do dumb stuff. However, Christ said that He himself will not drink from the fruit of the vine until we are all together in Heaven. Whoa. Christ drink of the fruit of the vine..wine…fermented drink!
Church, these days, has become the “box” where we can meet God…however, we better have ourselves cleaned up and holy before we go. No. No. No…a thousand times No. Church is a place to worship but it isn’t the only place to worship. Is God at church? I think He is at quite a few churches however, I’ve been to a few “Churches of the Deep Freeze” where it is debatable. Christ died to bridge the gap between us and our Heavenly Father. When He died the veil was torn so that through Him we can pray to the Father.
If in fact God can only be met at “the Box” (Church), then it would make Christ’s death and resurrection a moot point. Either Christ was truly the Son of God, the most perfect sacrifice, the High Priest…or He was the most tragic figure in human history. We have a perfect High Priest…The High Priest…who makes it possible to enter into the presence of God anywhere, anytime no matter how deep or dirty the moment. (Romans 8:38-39 “I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. MSG) Further still, you don’t need to be at church to hear God speak to you. If you did, that would mean He is not the omnipotent being that scripture describes. It would mean not only that He has physical limitations but that Christ’s death and resurrection was not enough to completely tear down that veil.
In the end, we are incapable of making ourselves holy. We cannot do enough deeds or donate enough money. Our sacrifice was paid on the cross. Church isn’t going to make us holy. Church affords the ability to enjoy fellowship with others who are like-minded…not judgmental. Church should always be a place where anyone can go and be accepted free of judgement at any point in their lives. All of us have fallen short. That’s what the Cross did. It leveled the playing field…all of us, every person in the history of mankind needed redemption. It made it impossible for one human to make themselves out to be more important than another.
In the end, Paul said that although we have the right to do anything, not all things are beneficial. (1 Corinthians 10:23) We enjoy an enormous amount of freedom in Christ. God made clear in scripture where the sin boundaries are. All of us have fallen short of God’s glory …and whether or not we choose to acknowledge it, all of us are living by grace.