May I be Excused from Church Now?
The Church, the Body of Christ, evokes widely divergent responses depending on your latest experiences in church. Some have warm feelings of a loving body of believers who seem to exist solely to draw each other closer together in Christian unity. Some others may be feeling the pain, the grief, of a church split, a messy divorce as brothers and sisters in the Lord wage war on each other. There are a thousand variations of the above two choices.
How does one live through the church split, the divorce, the war between the saints? How does one work through, spiritually and emotionally, the havoc caused by the abject failure of those to whom we are called to trust and to submit? How does one deal with the fallout, as close friends, brothers and sisters, believe lies rather than the truth or use the world’s ways of solving disputes rather than God’s?
There are no easy answers to any of the above questions. Sometimes, it seems as though there are no answers at all.
But the larger question, what does one do with God, when His Church, His Body, His Bride, fails to protect and nurture His people—us?
This has been a problem down through the centuries, since the dawn of time. How does the small family in the beginning deal with Cain killing Abel? How does Job deal with the rejection by his wife and the snide remarks of his ‘friends’? How does Abraham and Sarah deal with Lot’s prideful desires? How does Joseph deal with the persecution of his brothers? How do the prophets deal with the refusal to repent by the people they came to warn? How does one deal with Eli’s sons and their treatment of women in the temple of God?
The Old Testament is full to overflowing of family problems—God’s family’s problems. Problems of sexual rape, murder, selling family into slavery, sacrificing their own children to a foreign god and other gross sins pervade the People of God, the Nation of Israel, God’s chosen ones, the ones whom He loves.
For some reason, we in the church seem to believe that on this side of the cross, that human nature will have changed, and all those sins will have been swept aside, put away from God’s people. They have not. Jesus Christ gave instructions about settling disputes, unforgiveness and unsaved leadership in the church in His first major sermon—before there even was a church. Paul’s warnings and instructions in the letters to the churches all serve to teach us that there is sin, not only in the world, but within the church.
I shake my head when I read the parable of the tares in the wheat. Why wouldn’t it be best to pull the tares now? Why do we have to wait until God’s timing? Shouldn’t His timing be now—to warn those within every church that tares are not welcome? And yet, in God’s wisdom, He knows it is best to wait, so it is. But that leaves us, His people, in a local church that is only partially safe, only partially holy, only partially His.
Ephesians 6 reminds us that we “wrestle not against flesh and blood” but against Satan and his demons, against every form of evil we can imagine and much that we cannot. And sometimes, the tares in the church, the ones who are doing so many things to make them appear godly, the ones who are gifted in making themselves look superior, are the very forces of Satan that we must be fully clothed in God’s armor to protect against.
Church today is no more safe from the sinfulness of man or the attacks of Satan than was the Nation of Israel or the family of Adam and Eve or the early church. It seems to be unrealistic to believe that we can find the perfect church, the one who lovingly ministers to the needs of its people, the one who preaches truth and lives grace, the one who reaches out into the highways and byways to win the lost. But we can hope, and pray, to find a church that is closest to those ideals and then we can diligently work and minister to ensure that we do our part to keep that church heading in the right direction.
But the fact that churches have sinful people in them who do sinful things is neither a reason to give up on God nor is it a reason to give up on church. We are no more allowed to do that than the people of Israel were to leave the Nation of Israel. We are never as strong alone as we are in the Body (Ecclesiastes 4:12 “a threefold cord is not quickly broken”) and God is with the assembled Body in a greater way than with individuals (Matthew 18:20 “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”)
To separate from the assembled church makes us colder, not warmer for the Lord, it gives us less opportunity to minister not more, it separates us from the people with whom our spiritual gift(s) are to be used, and it disobeys the clear teaching of the Lord.
It seems that there are times when Jesus Christ is no more welcome in the church than we feel at times: Revelation 3:20 KJV “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” And yet, nowhere in the scriptures are we given permission to cease attending church. We may leave one for scriptural reasons, but we must find another in which to use our spiritual gift to “exhort one another, and so much more, as ye see the day approaching.”
Have you left a church for some reason that has left you angry or distrustful of the church? Are you shell-shocked? Are you wondering if you can ever find the strength, or the desire, to ever attend church again? Anyone who has ever been in your place understands. But there is no other choice if we are going to be obedient to the Father. The Christians who were members of the early churches, the churches to whom the apostles wrote strong letters, were not given the option of sitting it out until the Lord’s return…and neither are we.