Does it matter if people go to church? In their book Lost in America Tom Clegg and Warren Bird write, “The unchurched population in the United States is so extensive that, were it a nation, it would be the fifth-largest on the planet.” They say that number is 195 million people.
For years researchers in America have used church attendance to gauge how deeply faith in Jesus Christ has penetrated our culture and the lives of individuals. Rather than ask whether people believe in or are following Christ, they ask about church attendance.
It may not be the right question. I’m finding the number of people who call themselves Christians who do not go to church is growing. If going to church is optional, even for followers of Christ, why does it matter that people are unchurched?
Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.
TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)
2 Kings 4:18-5:27
INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS
2 Kings 4:18-5:27: This section switches from a macro view of the Israel’s struggles and the ancient Palestinian world to one examining God interacting with ordinary people. Here there is no political intrigue, no world shaping issues. Just a nameless woman who helplessly holds her son on her lap as he dies of some painful ailment and a soldier who battles the physical and social impact of leprosy. God graciously touches both.
Why are these stories in Scripture? In part to remind us that in God’s eyes we all are the same size, there are no little people. Your problems He cares about, mine too.
Acts 15:1-35: Notice that the argument to overrule Jewish Law and tradition is made from three sources of authority. First, God gave Peter a vision that set aside certain parts of the Law and gave him a call to non-Jews.
Second, experience showed the church that God filled non-Jews with the Holy Spirit in both Peter and Paul’s ministries.
Third, Simon quotes the Old Testament as the final testimony that non-Jews can belong and are part of God’s new community. In essence God uses Jewish Law and tradition–there must be three witnesses–for a truth to be accepted. Three parts of the community must affirm the new direction the church discerns God calling them.
When we have seen what we think are new movements of God, have they passed this test? Or do we depend less on God speaking through a community and more on that individual inner voice?
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THE WORD MADE FRESH
In Acts 15 Luke records the first church council ever held, the Jerusalem Council. Paul and Barnabas asked for clarification on exactly what one needs to do to be a part of what they called The Way. Peter, James, and other leaders respond with good news. No race or ethnicity matters, no membership or religious action is required. Salvation comes through grace alone.
So it may not matter if people go to church. Then why did God spend so much time and energy creating the church?
Later in the chapter, Luke tells us how they “gathered the church together” to hear what the Jerusalem Council ruled. Notice Paul and his team did not “go to church” to announce this. They gathered the church. This tells us church is not something one goes to—or does not—as the case may be. God created the church not as a place but rather a people who God gathers together around Jesus.
Church in the ancient Mediterranean world looked a felt more like a family than the voluntary organization we think of the church as today. This was so that God’s love and grace might flow through living breathing people.
Also being the church meant living as a community centered on Christ while they worked, worshiped, learned, sang, served, grieved, celebrated, prayed and grew together.
In reality depth of faith has little to do with how many of us “go to church.” It has more to do with how many of us are being the church together. The real issue is not that those of us lonely and lost and fearful don’t have a church to go to but rather may not have a Person and people to turn to.
We should join those 195 million plus people and stop going to church. Then we can let God form us into a community that those who have not fully experienced the grace of Jesus Christ will want to become a part of.
- Where do you find fellowship and faith in Christ?
- What kind of community do you belong to?
- Do you go to church?
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