So a friend of mine is talking about women. “I’ll never date anyone ever again”, he said. I was perplexed. What happened? “I tried dating once in college, but I didn’t like the girl’s views on politics or the way her hair smelled; so I just stopped dating anyone.”
When I asked one of my smarter friends why he dropped out of college, he explained that the University he went to didn’t offer the courses he needed in computer gaming sciences, so he never went back. “Apparently, the colleges can’t meet my needs,” he said.
“I don’t understand how people can eat at restaurants,” complained another friend. “I tried it once. The cook burned my toast and the waitress didn’t have any Splenda!”
Sounds like I have a few crazy friends, doesn’t it? With the plethora of women, universities and restaurants out there, how could they possibly think their one bad experience would be repeated with every other one? It just doesn’t make sense.
Yet many Christians think it makes sense to stop going to services when something about their church rubs them the wrong way; any service; at any church. They just walk away.
To clarify my thoughts a bit, I use “Christian” as a term used for anyone who follows Jesus Christ. I make no differentiation between Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Evangelical nor any of the Protestant denominations. As far as I can tell, all these churches follow Christ. In this, we are all the same. Our faith in Jesus and belief that He came, died for us and saved us unites us.
But, as I heard Ravi Zacharias say in a recent interview, “Unity does not mean uniformity”. People can have common beliefs and goals and be very different. When I watch the Super Bowl this Sunday, there will undoubtedly be players on each team who disagree with teammates about really important things. They may even fight in the locker room; but when they hit the field on Sunday, they will be united with one goal.
There are 32 such teams in the National Football League. Each team wants to be the best. Each team wears a different uniform and has different routines. But as independent and diverse as each player on each team is, they will be forever united by common aspirations, experience, and knowledge. If a player has to leave one team, his first thought is, “What other team can I play for?” His former teammates will be happy for him if he gets signed by another team.
Why can’t it be like that for churches? When Yesenia and I visited the United States back in 2013, we attended services at four different churches. They were all Presbyterian, but they were very different. One had a large contemporary worship band and the pastor ministered from floor-level up front. Another had a pipe organ leading us in very traditional hymns and the pastor preached from a pulpit towering over us. The third used a computer to play music that the small congregation sang along with. The female pastor spoke forcefully from a podium. The fourth church played a mix of contemporary and traditional songs. The pastor walked through the aisles as he delivered his sermon to several hundred of the flock.
These churches are all Presbyterian and located within driving distance of my former home. Whether I preferred traditional or contemporary, male or female pastor, formal or relaxed sermons…. I had choices. We all do.
Of course there are situations where it is not the local church, but the doctrine or practices of a denomination that turn followers away. A large percentage of my Presbyterian church was made up of people who left other types of Christian (and other) churches. I switched because I loved the way the people there worshipped and worked for Christ. Honestly, I could not tell you any differences in doctrine between them and any other protestant church.
Over the last few years, I’ve attended services at Episcopal, Lutheran, Baptist, non-denominational, Catholic and evangelical Pentecostal churches. Wherever I worshiped, I always felt that God was pretty happy to see all of us singing and praying together and sharing His Word. I don’t think He really cares about differences in how communion is served or how ornate the building is or whether we say “trespasses” or “debts” when reciting the Our Father. If each of us is true to our personal faith and beliefs and relationship with Jesus, I also don’t think he would be bothered by who is leading us or sitting among us in the pews. Just like football players coming together during the big game, when it comes time to worship, differences and pettiness melt away. Our common faith and love for the Lord swells to a wonderful crescendo.
The Bible tells us that there is one united church. Think of it as a big progressive company who lets its middle-managers think outside the box. Each department may be a little different than the others. Some may come off as a little exclusive or stand-offish. But when someone pulls a fire alarm, no one worries about what department each person belongs to. Everyone gathers in the parking lot together and talk about what they think is happening. If someone is missing, everyone is concerned together. And when the big boss has an important announcement, he doesn’t address just one little group. He addresses the entire company.
When God decides to make another big announcement, I don’t want to miss that meeting. When the next fire alarm goes off, I don’t want to be off on my own somewhere. Leaving the company to be my own boss sounded pretty attractive once; but I struggled without company benefits.
So I would contend that if you are disillusioned by some church-wide scandal or practice; or if you are upset by new policies of inclusion or exclusion in your particular denomination, or if you just don’t like the music, the answer is not to “quit church”.
And please don’t write one of those whiny letters telling us all what is “wrong” with church institutions. I’ve read dozens of those letters this past year. From these I’ve learned that the church is too modern and too old fashioned; too much like a theater production or not well-enough planned; it either twists too many Biblical guidelines or adheres too closely to Biblical guidelines; it tries too hard to be inclusive or won’t try hard enough to be inclusive; yada yada yada. Those letters alone prove that there is great diversity among our unified purpose of worship and sharing the Word.
According to the 2010 US Religious Census report, there are about 314,000 Protestant churches and 24,000 Catholic and Orthodox church communities in the United States. We can be pretty confident that whatever your preferred way to bring glory to Jesus is, you’ll be able to find a good fit somewhere close to home. If you’re one of those who have walked away, SNAP OUT OF IT! Look for a Christian church you can relate to and rejoin the community of Christianity. I wasted too many years claiming I was alright and believing I didn’t need a church to be close to Christ. Be smarter than that. My life took off when I came back to church. Yours will too.
“For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13).