So…..What's the Point?

Musings from a Fellow Struggler

Archive for the month “December, 2011”

Why Go to Church?

Why go to Church? This question is posed primarily to non-church goers but might be helpful to those who attend church but sometimes wonder why. And the answers I suggest by no means exhaust all possible ones; in fact, you can add your own reasons in the response box if you’d like.

At any rate, there is an important distinction that must be made in order to answer this question properly and it has to do with the word ‘church’ itself.  Now, many secular people associate this word with a place, an address where certain kinds of people, Christians (whatever that might mean), meet to engage in mysterious religious ceremonies directed towards an equally mysterious being, God, who may or may not truly exist. They notice that there are many of these addresses representing many, and sometimes conflicting beliefs about how these religious ceremonies should be performed and equally conflicting ideas about who and what God is, if He exists, and what He expects from us. There are Baptist, Methodist (Free and United) Congregational, Catholic, Orthodox, Mormon, Evangelical, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Reformed (Dutch and otherwise), Non-denominational (i.e. none of the above) churches and even further subcategories of these. To outsiders this is all very confusing and often leads to a rejection of ‘church’ as being anything useful or meaningful and certainly not something worth the time.

Martin Luther said the church, any church (for now anyway, important differences will be pointed out later), is a ‘hospital for sick souls’. The fact is, and this is a tenant of Christianity, that every human being is a ‘sick soul’ that needs hospitalization, intensive care even. But, herein lays the rub, namely admitting you are sick. Getting to this point entails at the very least diverting attention away from the many criticisms of church and focusing on your own personal foibles, inconsistencies, and, yes, that unpopular thing called personal sin.  The main difference between you, the non-church goer and those who do go is they are seeking healing from their admitted sickness while you deny yours. The most important reason for going to church, then, is to begin recovering from that sickness unto death, namely the sin that you share with the rest of humanity.

So, when you go to church, be prepared to meet people just like yourself. You’ll find some trying to hide their sickness from others, a few debating whether their sickness is as bad as someone else’s, the always present hypocrites who deny they are sick but there to help others get over their ailments, and those who know they are sick and give themselves over to the mercy of the Great Physician, Jesus Christ.

But, you might think that it’s possible to have fellowship with God, to get this sickness healed without the burden of church life. We are taught to be independent, self-reliant and masters of our own destiny and, you say, even Christianity has its hermits and monks. But, even so, monks have their monasteries and hermits are never totally isolated from human contact; those pesky pilgrims often disturb their contemplation. Just consider the fact that hermits and monks separated themselves from culture-at-large, not just certain parts of it. So, unless you are prepared for nearly total isolation from society and all its benefits, trying to be an “individually owned and operated” Christian is a delusion. The point is that living a Christian life and receiving continual healing from your sickness cannot be accomplished in isolation; you need a relationship with Jesus Christ and you need relationships with His people. And this leads us to the second meaning of the word ‘church’.

Think of the church on the corner as the little ‘c’ church. It is a building where individual people gather to be ‘together’ if only for a short time to worship God, receive the medicine of God’s loving grace, encourage one another, and get instruction from His Word. But there is another church, the big “C” church of which the local church is only a part. It is magnificent in its breadth, beautiful beyond knowing and more powerful than any human institution or endeavor; it is the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ established unshakeable in His love and not even the gates of Hell can prevail against it.

Unlike the physical building or physical relationships between individuals in a local church, the Church is spiritual and each Christian is knit together with all the others into a seamless whole empowered by and guided by the Holy Spirit. Being part of the big “C” church is being part of something bigger than the universe itself, a timeless and limitless existence that is the true and final destiny of those human beings whose sickness has been finally and completely eliminated by Jesus. However, the same characteristics of the big “C” church are also true of the little “c” church, a fact often lost to its members who forget they are so much more than meets the physical eye (more on this in another article).

Therefore, walking through the doors of church on Sunday morning is not just entering a sanctuary built of mortar, brick and stone, but a Sanctuary of living stones (all those sick people, you included) being continually built up into the House, the Temple, where God dwells and receiving from His hand all that is necessary for life in this world and the world to come. If you don’t go to church, if you don’t admit your sickness, if you don’t experience the healing of Jesus you are missing out on the biggest building project the universe has ever seen, or will ever see. But, perhaps more important, you will miss what your life really is for, namely worshipping and serving the Saviour, and will never escape the tiny, restricted, suffocating, sickly, and self-centered existence that sin has bound you to. Go to church and breathe into yourself the life God has provided for you. But be sure and choose the right church to attend; more on this in the next article “Choosing the Right Church”.

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Truth… What Truth?

Jesus said He was the way the truth and the life.

Jesus said we shall know the truth and the truth will set us free.

Jesus said that the Comforter will guide us into all truth.

There is a raging debate going on these days whether there is any such thing as objective truth and, if there is, how could we know it given our epistemological, cultural and finite subjectivity.  Ironically, the claim that there is no such thing as objective truth, or truth for all people at all times under all circumstances seems to be an objective truth.  Sure sounds like one to me.

In the face of such an absurd contradiction, I’m not sure the issue is really about truth itself but the kind of response that truth requires of us. For example,  if x is true, then going against x, denying x or ignoring x seems to be irrational and foolish. So, I think most of us can agree that holding your head under water without breathing leads to death by drowning and that this is a true statement. The appropriate response is to avoid holding your head under water for long periods. But, people don’t like being told what to do even when it is in their best interest. There is an inherent rebellion in each of us and by saying there is no such thing as absolute truth and then we can pick and choose what is ‘true’ as its suits us. Your truth is different from mine, neither is ultimately right or wrong so lets just go merrily along our way.

But, you see this just isn’t going to work. When little bands of ‘truthers’ ( we have our truth, you have yours) rub against each other, conflict is inevitable. They either have to ignore each other or try to overcome the obvious fallacious thinking that ‘they’ (the other groups) have. But, the premise that there is no such thing as objective truth disallows any kind of debate but, interestingly, debates do occur right along as though there was such a thing after all. It is what I call a ontic contradiction; that is, the very structure of human existence via the Creator requires absolute truth so saying it doesn’t exist or cannot be known is to lapse into absurdity. So, even though some would say there is no truth, they live, act, and think as if there is truth after all. And the contradiction becomes even more apparent when the claim there is no absolute truth is treated as if it were, well… true.

I think at the center of all this weirdness is ‘lawlessness’, a resistance to the demands of God upon human beings. It is all very clever; take away truth and moral and epistemological relativism become the norm. However, we know this truth: that for all people at all times under all circumstances there is no such thing as moral relativism but there is such a thing as absolute truth. Simply put, moral and/or epistemological relativism exists only in the absence of absolute truth; it cannot stand on its own. Hence, to justify all sorts of what we know are sinful activities, the world (kosmos) just denies the absolute truth that they are indeed sinful and all is well. And Paul said a time would come when lawlessness would be the norm, not the exception. This is why I think the lines presented at the beginning of this blog are so important. Christians believe in absolute truth; they have to if they believe Jesus is Lord and Saviour. Christians also know that the litmus test for whether truth is truth is freedom, freedom from all sorts of bondage’s. Christians also know that in matters of perplexity, of which there are many these days, the promise is that the truth will be revealed to us, that we will be guided into it and not left floundering about.

Now, it is important I emphasize the ‘we’ part of this. The ‘we’ to whom I am referring is the Body of Christ, the Church, not ‘a’ body of Christ, not ‘a’ particular church and especially not a particular person. And the ‘we’ part is also important because, whether we like it or not, this prevailing lawlessness affects us, all of us, no matter what geo-temporal fellowship we might belong to.  In fact, the more we defend truth against all that is false, the more likely we will feel unpleasant consequences. But we will hear the argument from many voices that our faith, our truth is just for us and that other faiths and other truths are equally valid, that Christianity is just one of many religious expressions pointing to some kind of ultimacy. And this alone is perhaps why understanding the litmus test of truth is so important, that ultimately it sets people free when no other freedom is possible. The absolute truth is that Christianity alone is capable of undoing the greatest bondage of all, namely sin and death.  We know this because “whom the Son sets free is free indeed” and ‘we’ Christians walk in that freedom because we know the truth and it has set us free.  But more on all this later. Stay tuned.

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