May 11, 2018

Skipping Church & Other Sins…

Category: News — Ira @ 5:30 pm

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Such had been the history of the old man. His life had come up from the
wilderness, the buried past…The potent mystery of old events had passed
around him, and the magic light of dark time fell across him.

Like all men in this land, he had been a wanderer, an exile on the immortal
earth. Like all of us he had no home.

—Thomas Wolfe
___________________

The question seemed innocuous enough, when I first saw it. Posted on an online forum as I was scrolling by. I barely gave it a passing glance. But then I stopped. Scrolled back up. I saw the words again, absorbed them. Read them again, slowly, to make sure I wasn’t missing something. It was a simple question. And it simply asked, exactly as follows: Staying home from church when you could otherwise go is a sin: Yes or No.

I don’t usually get ensnared by little polls like that. It’s just not worth the hassle or the energy it takes to get involved. People get all fired up. Not that my opinion means or matters much, I guess, except to myself. Lately, though, I’ve engaged a bit more. And that day, I stopped and looked at the responses. And I was shocked to see that the vote was about 60/40, leaning the wrong way. Those sixty percent, they said, yes. Yes. It is a sin. It was a Reformed site, so I don’t know if they were talking venial sin, or mortal. Venial, probably. Or maybe that’s just a Catholic thing. But still, bottom line. Most people in the poll said it was a sin not to go to church when you could otherwise go.

And I thought about it. And I thought to myself. What’s wrong with you people? What kind of bondage are you in? Why do you insist on dragging such chains around? Why do you burden yourself with all that legal jargon? It’s like that big pack Christian lugged around on his back in Pilgrim’s Progress. You don’t have to carry it. Let it go, let it fall from you. And I just couldn’t help myself. I staked out my territory, big and bold, in my response. And short, too. I spoke it like I saw it, like I’d speak it again, about anywhere it could be spoken. Just a few words: It is most definitely NOT a sin not to go to church.

Well. My little assertion did not go over so nice. The responses were polite and good-humored, mostly. They just disagreed or went off on little bunny trails. Maybe it’s just a fault and not a sin, one commenter suggested cheerfully. Would I agree? Nope, I would not. And I kept insisting. I never said you shouldn’t go to church. I’m saying it’s not a sin not to go. We are free to go, or not. A few responses weren’t very polite. They were harsh and dismissive. If I chose not to attend church, then my heart wasn’t where it needed to be. I wasn’t right with God, I was resisting the spirit, by not assembling with believers. Whatever that means. And back and forth we went, me and one surly guy who seemed particularly perturbed at my obstinance. He didn’t change my mind. And I can say with some certainty that I didn’t change his.

We didn’t get much done that day, I don’t think, to convince each other of anything. Me and the surly one. Still. I’ve mulled over the issue a lot, since it came at me. My mind goes to all sorts of cobwebbed places. And those places are all connected by one thing. Almost all my adult life has been one long struggle, one lonely and weary slog through all sorts of rocky and harsh terrain. A protracted and relentless quest in pursuit of one simple goal. To break the shackles of legalism and walk free. Mine wasn’t a relentless pursuit of perfection, like the old Lexus commercials used to say. It was a relentless pursuit of freedom. And if you think it’s a sin not to go to church when you otherwise could, well, I have a few things to tell you.

If it’s a sin to skip your church, or any church service, anywhere, for any reason or none, if that’s a sin, I might as well pack up my things. I might as well sell my Jeep, Amish Black, for what the market will cough up on short notice. And I might as well sell all my English clothes and gather up a goodly supply of those awful barn door pants. And galluses. And shirts without pockets. I might as well go buy a Beaver brand black Sunday hat and a new Mutza suit. I might as well move back to Bloomfield, Iowa, and rejoin the Amish. Or Goshen, Indiana. I guess it don’t matter where. The Amish would still take me back, providing I was properly penitent, with downcast eyes and sorrowful face.

If it’s a sin not to go to any church on any given Sunday for any reason or none, I might as well go back to living under the law. Because that’s exactly what you’re doing, if you ever, ever go to church because it would be a sin not to. You’re living in fear of negative sanctions. Punishment. If you don’t walk right, the Lord will smack you down. He’s just waiting for you to fall, to fail. And you’ll pay when you do. Maybe you’ll even lose your salvation, if you’re not more careful. The horror is real. That’s how it feels when you’re living under bondage and in despair. That’s how it feels to be chained and shackled to the law.

You may or may not attend a church for many reasons, including no reason. Whether those reasons are actually valid is between you and God. Look to your own heart. Your reasons for attending might be as wrong as you figure mine are for not. I know how it is, not to go to church. I’ll never forget those dark and brutal days back in 2007, right after Ellen and I blew up our marriage. I quit going to the church we were attending, the early version of Chestnut Street Chapel, there in Gap behind the clock tower. I told my friends there. I’m leaving. I’ll be around, but I won’t be back until I’m ready, when and if that ever happens. And to a person, every one of my friends at Chestnut Street accepted what I told them. They didn’t preach or tell me I was sinning. Every single one of them respected my wish to be left alone. I hunkered down at home. Home and work. That was my world in those days.

I’ve thought about it many times, since. How many churches would have been that understanding? How many groups would have extended the grace I saw and felt from my “family” at Chestnut Street? Not a lot, I don’t think. There are protocols to follow, formulas to plug in. If a brother strays, go admonish him. Do this, say that, and tell him how it is. Show him the Scripture where it tells you to do what you’re doing, admonishing him. All in love, of course. Chestnut Street was young enough and raw enough that there weren’t any established procedures for running after and pestering a backsliding brother who wouldn’t “come to church.” I wanted to be left alone. They left me alone. I knew they were there, if and when I was ever ready to return. They stood aside in silence. That’s one of the hardest things to do. They gave me my space without judgment and without condemnation. Sometimes real Christian love is such a simple thing as that.

I didn’t walk away from church entirely. Just Chestnut Street. Somehow, I eventually wandered into the structured magnitude of space that is Westminster Presbyterian Church, over on Oregon Pike. A huge sanctuary with lots of seating, and a balcony on three sides. I got to going to that place about half regular. I always walked in just a moment before the service started. Walked up the stairs and way back to a far corner of the loft. And there I sat, alone, and listened to the worship. The people there sure liked to sing, seemed like. And I sat in that back corner and listened to the preacher preach. Dr. Michael Rogers was a plump and learned man, dressed in a formal black robe. High Church, compared to where I was from. And Dr. Rogers was a faithful servant of God. He simply preached the gospel. He never had any idea of who I was or that I was even there. I soaked in his words, took them with me and absorbed them in the daily grind I was slogging through. And I never let anyone near me in that place, there at Westminster. I always got up as they were singing the last song and walked out of there.

I can’t remember that I got to know more than a handful of people’s names in that congregation during all that time, during all those days when I was wandering pretty far out there in the wilderness of life and all that life can be sometimes. I expected nothing from those people at Westminster. Still, during that time in the wilderness, I heard one lone voice as I heard no other. And that was the voice of Dr. Rogers, standing up there in his black robe, faithfully proclaiming the gospel. That right there was a powerful and significant thing, in retrospect. Much more so than I could possibly grasp in the moment.

I was about as unsupervised and unaccountable as I could have been. You always hear wise trite things about accountability. How you got to have it, to walk right with God. Well, I didn’t have it. I’m not saying accountability is wrong. I’m all for it. But I am saying there are times when most of us slog along without it. As I was walking in that moment. I didn’t go to the services at Westminster when I didn’t feel like it. Sometimes, the day was too hard, the road too long to get there. Sometimes, I didn’t see the inside of that church or any other for weeks on end.

My world was bleak and desolate. And when you’re stuck in such a world, you simply absorb the desolation around you. You feel it, taste it, hold it close to you. Trace it all the way down to its roots, and then you slowly start pushing it back. Working your way out. And that was me, in those days. When I didn’t feel like going to church, I didn’t go. When I didn’t feel like hearing Dr. Rogers preach, I didn’t. As Thomas Wolfe would say. Was all this lost? Or to rephrase Wolfe. Was all that a sin? To stay away from church, when I otherwise could have gone? If you are sitting under preaching or teaching that such a thing is a sin, you are in bondage. I don’t know of any clearer way to speak it. That right there is bondage. Get out. Walk free.

I go to church regularly. Chestnut Church, out on Vintage Road. We moved from behind the Gap clock tower out into the country, to a real nice church house that got gifted to us. There, I “assemble with believers” because I want to, not because it would be a sin if I didn’t. And there at Chestnut Church, Pastor Mark Potter faithfully proclaims the gospel every Sunday. Patiently, persistently, joyfully, he proclaims. He keeps insisting that the church is a hospital, not a country club. And there is one particular refrain the man has hammered hard over the years, like a blacksmith at his forge. About addictions. Pastor Mark preaches like he always has. And he says. When you are a child of God, nothing can ever make you not be. Nothing. And so it’s safe to bring your problems to God. Tell Him. He’s your father. He’ll never get tired of listening. And if there are things in life too hard to face, if the pain is too intense, if you drown reality in alcohol or drugs, well, bring that to Him, too. Try to stop. Tell Him you want to. And try. If you fail, try again. Talk to Him again. And try again. And again. And again, and again.

What does what Pastor Mark preached have to do with going to church or not? Not a whole lot, I guess. Still, it triggered something in my memory. And thus a little bunny trail back to last summer, when I was drinking as heavy as I had in a long time. Hard. Every day. And there were a few Sundays when I woke up and the last thing I wanted to do was go face anyone at church. I didn’t feel guilty or anything. I just didn’t feel good. Well, as you don’t, when you’re all bloated and sluggish. And so I just stayed home, those Sundays. Slept in a bit, even though my sleep was extremely broken in those days. And by late afternoon, I was ready to head out and start the process all over again, to dull some of that intense inner pain. And I did, like clockwork. Every day.

And I often thought about it back then, hearing the good Pastor’s words about talking to God and trying again and again. Yeah. A fat lot of good that’s done me. Talking. Or trying. Over the years, I have tried and tried and tried to quit drinking. I even stopped, cold, a few times. The longest I ever quit was just over two years, back in 2006-07. It was one of the last-ditch things I did, to “save my marriage.” Quit drinking. It saved nothing. And after my world blew up, the lure of the whiskey, those shades of delicious amber fire, drew me right back to the bottle.

It’s all so easy to rationalize, the reasons why. I have seen hard and broken roads and so much sorrow and loss. Plus, I write. Writers drink to dull the pain of what they have seen and lived. And relived, in the writing. The real ones do, anyway, the ones I like to read. (Or they did, back when they were alive. Wolfe drank heavily, right up to his extremely unfortunate and untimely end.) That’s the crutch I used. And I settled in my cups, pouring vodka and scotch on the rocks from bottle after bottle, day after day, year after weary year.

The thing is, Pastor Mark never told me I was “sinning.” He told me I was God’s child, and that nothing could make me not be. And he told me to try again. Not directly, as in getting in my face. But in his sermons, he told me. Try again. And again, after that. And again. And again. It got so that I barely heard him when he spoke those repetitious words. Yes. It was nice that he thought God could or would help. But it just was what it was, with the whiskey and me. We were connected for life, I figured. And sure, it was a choice. I never claimed or thought anything else. But it was a choice I didn’t feel much motivated to change.

Until it all changed, kind of on its own. I wrote about it after it happened. I decided, one Tuesday evening back in late August. After I talked to the guys about it, at our Bible Study. I need to do something about the whiskey. I’m not sure how or what. Later that night, I decided. Tonight, I won’t have a drink. And the next day, that day I didn’t have one, either. And things just took off from there. It’s approaching nine months, now. It’s still for today, for tonight, and maybe tomorrow. Not much further out than that. Just enough to keep walking without a lot of inner noise or stress. So, nine months it’s been, this new stretch of road. Which means very little, statistically. I mean, it was over two years, before, that I was dry. And the day came, after those two years had passed, when I went out one night and bought a bottle of single malt scotch and took it home.

The past may be prelude to the future. I don’t know. Still, you gotta start somewhere. I have no idea what sweet whiskey lullaby the sirens will sing at me, down the road. I guess I’ll see, down the road. I’m OK with that. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. I never made any promises or vows to anyone. Not to any person. Not to God. I’m kind of whistling along, here. Right now, today, I’m feeling pretty good. And right now, today, I’ll keep walking.

Bunny trails are always so tempting and inviting. The point I’m trying to get to. All through that time last summer when the whiskey flowed hard and heavy, all through that time I felt totally free not to go to church. I knew there would be no committee meetings, no vote on who is going to see Ira and admonish him about not coming around to assemble and worship with true believers. I knew that no growling deacon was coming to poke around and smoke me out. I was free to go to church, when I went. And I was free not to go, when I didn’t. If anyone ever tells you it’s a sin to skip church, any church, anywhere, at any time for pretty much any reason, don’t listen to that person. Walk away. Don’t accept the heavy burden of false guilt that others want to load on you. You are free. Walk free.

Circling back to that Saturday morning when I saw the poll question online. It was a little ironic, what happened later that day. The comments simmered down, by afternoon. Most were good-natured. It was interesting, to see what people thought. The grim ones remained grim. It’s a sin, not to go to church if you can. I felt sorry for anyone who felt that way. And that afternoon, I was running errands here and there, when a text came pinging in. From my friend, Steve Beiler, over close to the goat path west of Leola. Stop by if you get a chance. OK, I texted back. I’ll do that.

Steve and Ada Beiler are old friends, from way back. I’ve known them for decades. They attend my church, there at Chestnut. And I have one particular memory, from back in those harsh and heavy days, right after Ellen and I split up in 2007. She had left, moved way out to Phoenix. And I hunkered down alone, at the home we had shared for seven years. I hadn’t shown up in church for a while. I wasn’t looking to hang out with much of anyone. Sometimes you feel like being alone, and all you want is to be left alone. That’s where I was.

And I remember. After a few weeks or so had passed, I got a call from Steve one day. He didn’t say a lot. Guys don’t speak a lot of words to each other in times like that. But that day, Steve called, and I answered. We chatted a bit, and he told me. He figured it was about time to connect. Would I like to meet for coffee? Um, sure, I guess, I said. I felt pretty ambivalent about it. And we agreed on a time, a few nights later.

We met at a little coffee shop in the shopping center just off 501, beside Rt. 30. Of an evening. I’m not sure if it’s still there or not. I hardly go to that area at all. I remember some of the specific things we talked about, sitting at a table, drinking coffee. It was dark when we walked back out to the parking lot. And I remember how we gripped hands just before I got into my truck to drive back to my home. Not a lot of words were spoken. But a lot of things were silently expressed. That’s where Steve and I have been together, a place like that.

I pulled in and parked my Jeep outside Steve and Ada’s house. They were sitting in the office. They have a bunch of beautiful daughters and one sturdy son. I’ve watched all the children grow from the time they were babies. I walked in and took a chair. We chatted. And after a while, Steve looked at me. “Come along with us to Dover tomorrow,” he said. I half gaped at him. Dover. The Monster Mile. They are big, big Nascar fans, Steve and Ada. I used to be, much more than I am now. Nascar isn’t all that exciting to watch, anymore. I mean, it’s three races in one. Stage one, stage two, stage three. It all seems a little watered down. Anyway, here I was invited to skip church the next day and go watch the race.

I thought about it. I haven’t been to a Nascar race since camping with friends inside the oval at the Poconos, back in 2010. That’s been a few years. It’s about time to go again, I thought. Especially when I can go with such good friends and hang out for a day. The old me would have flinched a little, hedged back. Made introverted excuses. Not the new me. Sure, I said. I’ll go. And they both smiled. Noises were made, then. Could I drive my Jeep? Gaaah, I thought. Those crowds are going to be crazy, getting in and out. But still. What’s a new black Jeep for, if you can’t take it to Dover to watch the race with friends on a Sunday? And I said, sure. Again. I can drive. I guess I was on a roll, there.

And they told me, before I left. Pack a few things. Snack bars and such. You can take a backpack in, and a water jug. No glass bottles, though. Well, there went the whiskey I figured to sneak in. Just kidding. I headed home and just putzed around that night. By nine, I had retired. I figured to get up earlier than usual, for a Sunday. I planned to pick up my friends by 7:30 for the two-hour trip south to Dover.

Sunday morning. Early. My alarm clamored. I got up and rubbed my eyes. Good grief. I usually sleep in until 8:00 or so, on a Sunday. This was more like getting up to go to work on a weekday. I got showered and cleaned up. Dug out an old camo rain jacket. That’s what I’d wear, if it got chilly. Outside, the day broke. Cloudy. I noticed the grass was wet, as was the drive. Just before seven, I sat down to put on a pair of tough leather hikers. Comfortable, since we’d park a half hour walk from the track. That’s what Steve figured. They had been to Dover before. I’ve never seen the Monster Mile, except on TV.

And right then, I heard my phone buzz. What now? I walked into the other room and picked it up. Glanced at the screen for the name. Steve. What now? I answered. Hello. Steve greeted me. And he told me. He had not purchased the tickets, yet. Those were easily available, he had told me. But he was just looking at the weather. It was raining outside, here at home. And according to the forecast he was checking online, there would be rain down at Dover, too. There was a better than even chance the race would get rained out.

Well. What do you say in a moment like that? It was going to be a long day, down there at the track. I knew that. Still. I was mentally ready to go. And still, again. The last thing I wanted was to sit huddled in the rain at any Nascar race. That just wouldn’t be any fun. So I told Steve. I’m fine, with whatever. Yesterday, I had no plans to go to the race before I stopped by your place. I can just as easily plan not to go. I’m fine, going to church. We got a fellowship meal today, anyway. (Not that I’d partake in the church meal. But I figured to sneak home a big plate of food for my one meal, that evening.) And Steve made the decision, right there. The trip to the Monster Mile was canceled. We’d go hear the preaching at our church, instead.

And there it was. Whiplash, one might suppose. Except it wasn’t. It all came and went very calmly, as things usually do when you don’t try to manipulate events. When you’re free enough to just let life flow. It was totally OK to go to the race instead of church. And it was totally OK to go to church instead of the race. It was OK, either way, whatever happened. We took all that liberty and simply walked through the door that opened. It did not matter to me, which door that was. And I couldn’t help thinking later that morning, as me and Amish Black drove through the rain to Chestnut Church.

It’s kind of fun, to be free like that.

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(17 Comments) »

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I always look forward to your new posts. The honesty in this one hit home with me. Prayers for you on your journey, the same path many travel but don’t always share so openly with fellow travelers.

    Comment by Erin Boyd — May 11, 2018 @ 8:04 pm

  2. Great post!

    Comment by Phyllisity — May 11, 2018 @ 8:43 pm

  3. I always loved church. I loved standing in the presence of the Lord. I loved being in His house. But because of my disability and the fact that my husband couldn’t get off from work to take me I stay here in my own home to worship God. Sometimes I wake up feeling well and suddenly need to go lay down for the day. I couldn’t put the burden on other people to take me home when I felt sick, so I brought the Lord home with me. I do work diligently to praise the Lord, but it takes devotion and sometimes too much time passes, so I talk to the Lord all day long so that I never forget He is near.

    Comment by carol ellmore — May 11, 2018 @ 8:58 pm

  4. I think the whole discussion requires perspective. For Roman Catholics like me, it is indeed a sin to willingly miss church on Sunday. It’s not meant so much as a punative thing to hold against one, but rather a reminder that it’s a critical part of our faith to attend mass on Sunday (or the vigil), and receive Eucharist, whereby which we grow in grace, love of God, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I was raised to believe it was a privilege to attend Mass, not a chore that had to be done, and I believe I will always feel that way. Of course, there are exceptions to the obligation, such as illness or infirmity, obstacles too great to overcome, and the like, that allow one to miss. But we believe that willingly choosing not to go to church on Sunday is essentially turning your back on God. Of course, it’s something God forgives, for he understands our humanity. God doesn’t smite you for it. He loves you all the more for trying even though you may fail.

    I see it as though it’s something we strive to do, but may not achieve. We will fail, but get up and keep going again, with God’s grace. Not unlike giving up drinking for a while, going back to old habits, but then once again abstaining. Or something like that.

    Blessings on your journey. Excellent blog too!

    Comment by Bridget Back — May 11, 2018 @ 9:58 pm

  5. Again WOW, your writing amazes me ,your stories from the heart , your pain ,your way of sharing without offending ,I think you touch so many folks .keep it up.! G.

    Comment by Georgia — May 11, 2018 @ 10:10 pm

  6. Walk free. The pursuit of freedom and happiness. I wish I could shake your hand after this post.

    Comment by Kenneth Schlabach — May 11, 2018 @ 10:28 pm

  7. The Bible doesn’t say that it’s a sin not to go to church. But it’s good for our spiritual growth to worship with fellow believers.

    Comment by Mark Hostetler — May 11, 2018 @ 11:16 pm

  8. No matter what side one takes on this question — and there may be more than two — it is for posts such as this that blogs exist. This is strong, STRONG writing.

    Comment by Mary Jane Horst — May 12, 2018 @ 9:46 am

  9. The way we “have church” today isn’t something that we learned from scripture. I agree with your take on the subject. I can hear what you are saying and since we come from somewhat similar backgrounds, it makes more sense. But, there will always be those who, in not so many words, will say, “why take a chance? Go to church every time the door is open, it’s just safer “
    PS: It also looks better.

    Comment by Joe Troyer — May 13, 2018 @ 7:49 am

  10. This is one of those areas where the world will blame legalism in the OO Amish and OO Mennonites. Since I been out of that, I have noticed how much legalism is in the world. On top of that, the liberals and the Mainstream Media lately have been actually demanding legalism on Christians. And I just think to myself that if I want to be legalistic, I need to return to the Black Bumper Church.

    Comment by Ken Martin — May 13, 2018 @ 5:57 pm

  11. “Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility and most people are frightened of responsibility.” -Sigmund Freud

    Forge on, my brave friend.

    Comment by lisa — May 13, 2018 @ 8:10 pm

  12. Many people are comfortable with religion, because at least they know what they are going to get! Others brave the wilderness, because their heart is longing for real life. You and I would rather grope in the dark for truth than live in a well-lit prison.

    Comment by Todd — May 14, 2018 @ 2:09 am

  13. I believe the reason we have this guilt when we don’t go to church when we could go, is because many people think the church is where God is. But God is everywhere and I can worship God anywhere and anytime. Going to church does not make me a better Christian, it is a place to worship God with other like-minded people. I do not feel guilty when I miss church but I do miss the fellowship with other believers.

    If Christ died for us once and for all and living for Him gives us freedom and we are no longer under the law, why do we struggle with man made rules? Your take on the subject is correct.

    Comment by Elsie Peachey — May 14, 2018 @ 9:10 pm

  14. I love your writing. Don’t know why. Just do. Yours is an authentic voice. Anyway, as a member of the choir, I attend church regularly. I used to stay home during the summer, when the choir is on vacation, and I enjoyed that, too. Now that I am deeper into the life of the church (don’t ask me how or when or why that happened) I attend during the summer, too. I wouldn’t miss it. However, when we are at our cabin in Ohio, I don’t go to church and I enjoy the time off very much.

    Comment by forsythia — May 15, 2018 @ 8:58 am

  15. I think there are a few points in this article that could be clarified. God created us with the freedom to choose whom to serve. Once we commit our life to Jesus and follow him we are his child. But to say that is now forever settled is misleading. We also have the freedom to again walk away from God and serve satan. I believe the Bible is clear that whom we serve ,his servants we are. Also we need to understand what true freedom is. It’s not the ability to do what we want, it’s the ability to do what we ought to do. True freedom in Christ is living as He taught us, surrendering our life and will to his.

    I get so tired of people talking about all the rules and legalism in our plain churches. Certainly rules can be misused and abused. But even our government has laws. Hunting laws,fishing laws,driving on the road laws. Violating these rules brings consequences. Do we consider that legalism? I don’t think so either. Imagine living in a lawless country. Even so the church has the scriptural right to makes rules for our well being and spiritual walk with God. As we submit to our brothers and sisters in Christ in a common goal for the well being of ourselves and our families we find true freedom-to do as we ought to do and live. Just doing as we ourselves want to do and serving our own desires brings us into bondage.

    Comment by Lester Beachy — May 15, 2018 @ 9:28 am

  16. It’s interesting that as discussions unfold around this question, “Is it a sin to skip church?” that no matter what side you’re on, both sides agree that there are exceptions to the rule, that there are “good reasons” for not going to church and “bad reasons” for not going.

    But that’s not what Jesus taught! He taught that the obedience that is required for any of us to enter the Kingdom has to be utterly, completely and categorically *perfect*. Jesus says in Matthew 5:20 “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” The standard is perfection. There are no special pleadings, no exceptions, no leeway. If you do not possess absolute, comprehensive perfection in obedience down to the last molecule of your being, you will go to Hell. (Jesus’ words, not mine.)

    So, good luck trying to follow the rule that says “skipping church is a sin”–because that includes people who are angry at God and the church as well as people in a coma in nursing homes; that includes people who are stuck in front of their TV for the NASCAR race as well as people that are being held in prison for their faith; that includes people who sleep through their alarm and people who get into a terrible road accident on the way to services.

    Perfection means *perfection*–the circumstances surrounding your failure to attain perfection are irrelevant. If it is a sin not to go to church, that means you can live your whole life with absolute perfect church attendance, and when you’re 85 years old you slip into a coma on Saturday night and die Sunday afternoon having missed your first church service EVER, and you will wind up in Hell.

    This monstrous infinity of the justice of God is what drove Martin Luther half-insane–he said that he secretly *hated* God, because he knew that his own attempts to follow the rules of the Church could never measure up to the perfection that God required of him. It wasn’t until he came to understand what Paul wrote in Romans 1:17–“the righteous shall live by faith”–that he was set free. What set him free is that it is not our ability to obey that God counts as righteous, but the perfect obedience of Jesus Christ that is our righteousness!

    When we come to Jesus Christ in faith, He counts His own perfect obedience to us, and He takes away our sin-stained heart and gives us a heart stained by His sanctifying blood! When He died on the Cross, He suffered under the wrath of God for all of the imperfect obedience that you and I are guilty of, and He gave us the perfection of His obedience! That means that, in Jesus, we have perfect righteousness and obedience before God. It means that He has given us a new heart–one that doesn’t *need* rules and regulations and policies to keep it in line, because it delights to do God’s will! One of the most amazing things about the Gospel is that true freedom really *is* doing as we ourselves want to do and serving our own desires–because through faith in Christ our desires change, and we want to obey Him more than anything else! We serve our own desires because our desires are for serving Him! And that is the greatest freedom of all. And a heart like that simply cannot stay away from the Body of Christ in the church forever, because Christ is its greatest delight!

    TL/DR: A rule that says “It is a sin not to go to church” makes about as much sense to a heart that really belongs to Jesus as a sign at an oasis in the middle of the desert that says “It is unlawful not to drink your fill here!”

    Comment by Tharren Thompson — May 16, 2018 @ 11:30 am

  17. Religion.Its a topic guaranteed to bring the opinions out of the wood work.And I’m going to throw my 2 cents in.Raised Old Order.Addictions due to my choices starting in my teens up into my mid 30’s.My solution.Church memberships × 4.The result.Addiction-1.Religion-0.The last resort and the last place I wanted to go due to my ego was a 12 Step program. The result.28 plus years of sobriety and the best life and relationship with God I have ever had.I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Do I go to church today?No,I don’t find anything I want there.My guilt level over not attending church?Absolutely zero.When I hear all this discussion about sin and rules and the hair splitting that goes on..it’s a bunch of white noise to me.My search for spirituality led me to research what happened to Christianity in the 3rd to 5th century after Christ.The early Bishops and the Roman Empire took control and turned it into a state religion.Some of the basic truths denied by these factions is perhaps why modern Christianity seems to have to keep re-inventing itself.Further research took me into the work and readings of Edgar Cayce,who just happened to be a devout practicing Christian.That put into perspective what I view as some of todays Western religion nonsense presented as fact by those who tell us it has to be practiced the way it is.Or else.Your beliefs are none of my business. I’m not going to tell you about mine unless you ask.Live and let live and open mindedness takes the day…peace to all..

    Comment by Lenny — May 20, 2018 @ 6:22 pm

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