If I ask people anymore why they go to a certain church, they usually respond, “My family goes there,” or “I like the music” or some other such reason. And it is no longer cool to ask people why they don’t go to church, so I don’t do that much either.
Most would agree it’s better to go to church than not. We have idolized the discipline of going to a church. We think it noble to put up with annoying people who invite themselves over for dinner, or who forcefully invite us over to watch a terrible movie that they love. We respect those who can tolerate church because most of us have tapped out. Most of us can’t take it anymore, when we do go to church, we find people who are equally cynical. Then we hide from the crazies. In the name of ‘community’.
First of all, I don’t find it that noble. I am not impressed when people go to church. I often kid myself into thinking it is a sign of strength to go to church. But if I were a strong, moral Christian, I should have learned God’s rules by now. If I had any spiritual strength I wouldn’t need some limp-wristed pastor to tell me to stop lying, or gossiping, or raping other people. If I had any strength in the community, I wouldn’t need to convince other people how holy I am by showing up in a polo shirt and smiling at the old ladies (I do that often). If I had any self-respect, I wouldn’t catch myself telling other people “I missed you last week” (Neener, neener, neener, I showed up and you didn’t). If all that is true, the church is for the consistently immoral, perpetually weak-spirited, wildly insecure braggarts (like me!). If any of that is true, I need more grace than I thought. And I need a new reason to go to church.
But, in honesty, those who don’t go to church are equally self-absorbed and weak. They are artificially strong in the fact that they don’t need church. “I can pray just fine at home.” Wow, your spirituality is so simple and impressive! Teach me, teach me! You don’t need church, even though our people have ritualized religion since the birth of our species! Teach me your enlightened ways!
In both camps – the church go-er like me and the spiritually self-sufficient – are a bunch of humans trying to assert our own glory. “I am too good for church” or “I am good enough for church” are both attitudes grasping at human glory. We want to be honored. We yearn to be praised.
And that is why we need church. Not to honor or praise ourselves! But to remind ourselves that honor and praise is not ours, and can’t be found in ourselves. The church helps us remember how devastating and lonely the search for our own glory is. Whether we do it by being pious or by transcending piety: glory is not ours for the taking. The search for glory pretty much drives our lives, so we are desperate for the message that sets us free from that fruitless search.
We need the church to preach the gospel that says Christ has come, Christ has risen. And not only that! But: Christ has come for you. And: Christ has risen for you. The work is done. The glory is ours inasmuch as we are Christ’s. By the blood, sweat and tears of another we are rewarded? This gospel is utter foolishness! Indeed, yet thank God the devastating search is over.