People often form their views of God by observing those who claim to represent God. It is assumed or understood churchgoers are God’s representatives. No one went “to church” in biblical times as “the church” (followers of Jesus) were simply to encourage one another anywhere anytime. So, is going “to church” the best way for followers to love others as radically as Jesus did which could be world- changing?
I don’t wish to be totally hypocritical. I will conclude by suggesting going to church is for some and not others. I worked for a company for twenty years and I didn’t agree with everything they taught. Sometimes I spoke up; sometimes I didn’t feel it was worth it as nothing would change. My disagreements were not moral as they aren’t with churches most of the time, but honestly I didn’t leave the company many times because of the paycheck. I am not sure churches are going away for the same reason, but personally I believe spiritual health is paramount.
The world seems better off with churches, than without churches, because a lot of morality is taught in such places. Most places of worship whether Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish teach Jesus’ main message of treating others like you want to be treated. Some people admit church has made them a more moral person which makes for a better world. Gatherings that teach the golden rule is a good thing but such structures can water down Jesus’ hope for the world.
The church can be a great place for people to organize as a group to serve others in need. Individuals might not reach out otherwise without group encouragement. Some will admit though often the church gathers only to be with one another, thus isolating themselves from others in a world in need. Layers of structure can take money away from those who need it most. Groups outside the church act similar to serve others, but they aren’t claiming to represent God and adhere to a set of beliefs other than the moral laws that must be adhered to by all.
It is assumed church teachings or creeds represent God’s beliefs. For example many churches teach husbands are to lead their wives, albeit as Jesus lead others. Many intuitively sense any emphasis on male leadership can be twisted to justify subtle or blatant mistreatment of women. Men in leadership of or authority over women can be an environment conducive for domestic abuse and the other atrocities women face at the hands of men throughout history. Organized groups by nature develop structured beliefs but biblical interpretations are fallible. Individual beliefs typically only happen when “the church” meets wherever without an official structure.
The Bible was not meant to be a book to worship, but Church creeds don’t encourage sharing and considering one another’s opinions gracefully as God helps individuals work out their own convictions with as much consistency as possible. Imagine if our discussions about God were civil and lead to agreeing to disagree. Maybe then Christianity would have more of an impact in our culture. People have enough conflict in their own relationships. Organizing as Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, etc., only muddles God’s message of peace.
Jesus was a calm person in interactions with others but the religious, who claimed to represent God, got his dander up the most. Jesus is more of a spiritual than religious person. Religions tend to emphasize rules and obedience rather than a relationship and God’s unconditional love. It is a friendship with God, without fear, that best transforms followers to being the kind of unselfish person they deep down desire to be. Obedience is not taught but caught when you get to know who God really is. God’s love and His mercy, not gloomy uncertainty of God’s favor, is our necessary nourishment for lasting changes. It is very challenging for a church with an organized structure to encourage a relationship versus adherence which is simply another form of legalism.
Each person in their relationship with their Creator decides which environments give the most encouragement. I am convinced because of the challenges involved that the world is better off without organized religion. Jesus and twelve followers changed the world for the good, but it doesn’t seem followers have come close to duplicating that despite millions of believers since then. The institution of church worked for me for years and continues to work for many, but people need to feel free than obligated to pursue God on their own terms. Obligatory relationships are seldom life transforming. Some may want to continue receiving teaching about their faith and attend traditional church for those and other reasons. No one though needs a mediator between God and them such as a pastor or priest. You may feel at some time like I do that I have graduated from “church.”