LEFT THE CHURCH?
THINKING OF GOING BACK?
The words of Israel’s king David will help put everything into proper perspective. Please read Psalm 73 carefully, then think about these reflections . . . .
A New England friend of mine told me why he quit going to church. He said: “I was not growing spiritually; nothing really changed for me. I did not become an atheist, or an agnostic. I consider myself to be a spiritual person. But “church” had no meaning in my everyday life. I live in the real world of family demands, health issues, unsteady jobs, broken relationships and moral dilemmas. I don’t see how going to church is going to help me meet these challenges. I have lots of questions and sometimes I am not sure how to work through my confusions, but is the church really going to make any difference? I don’t think so.”
It is true that many non-church goers are good neighbors, appear to be happy and successful. In fact, sometimes they have more money, bigger houses, newer cars, fewer problems, and are well on their way to fulfilling their “bucket list” of 1,000 Things To Do Before You Die. David wrote: “I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (verse 3). The ancient king protested strongly: “All in vain I have kept my heart clean, and washed my hands in innocence” (verse 13). Have you thought about all the good things that non-church people enjoy and compared all the trials you have experienced? Have you thought about the hypocrites that go to church every week but never change their dishonest ways? Organized religion is not helping them. In fact, church leaders seem to be most concerned about money.
It is also true that many who go to the “sanctuary” are financially strapped, have troubles in their marriages, appear to be “narrow minded” and emotionally unstable. Going to church is not doing much for them, either. In fact, it is like being “stuck” in religious ruts, traditions, rituals and ceremonies.
For some who have dropped out of church, it is easier to live without a consciousness of God’s presence which makes one feel accountable for the poor choices he makes. If God is not aware (or not interested) of what’s going on around us, is it because there are no absolute rights and wrongs, and we do not need to be concerned about the behavior of people who live in our town? Is it because there is no coming day of reckoning — no day of the righteousness judgment of God? (Tragically, even priests and preachers who are supposed to be the moral conscience of society are not sure if the Bible is true or relevant!) It is tempting to decide what we believe and how we are going to live on our own. As my friend said: “I just don’t need someone else telling me how to live my life!” People described in Psalm 73, put it like this: “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” (verse 11)
For King David the meaning of life had become confusing. “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to be a wearisome task.” His wearisome task continued, he said, “until I went into the sanctuary of God” (verses 16-17). According to the scriptures, God “sanctuary” today is the church Jesus built. It is called the “holy temple” (Ephesians 2:21), “God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:9). It not a physical structure, such as a cathedral or church building. God’s “sanctuary” is now the spiritual place where God dwells. God’s sanctuary is not a denomination; it was established before there were either Protestant or Catholic denominations. Jesus died on the cross so His blood could purchase His spiritual church (Acts 20:28). Today God’s spiritual sanctuary has spiritual “priests” who offer spiritual “sacrifices” (1 Peter 2:4-5).
If Jesus thought so highly of His divine church that He would die for it, why do some people have a hard time going to church? Why do those who have left have a hard time going back? What’s wrong with this picture?
First, some stop going to church because of problems they themselves have. They fail to focus their minds on what is happening in a worship environment. During the prayers, communion and hymns, they are thinking of a hundred other things they plan to do that day. Worship is boring. Their hearts are not where they need to be. Almost no time at all is spent in personal Bible study and prayer. Jesus described it like this: “This people honors me with their lips but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8). God wants His people not to let the church down! It is difficult to get more out of worship than one is putting in it.
Second, some stop going to church because of problems the church has. Often organized religion is not teaching the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. God’s church is supposed to be the “pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). The church should proclaim the word of God. Its mission is not to entertain people, take political positions, make everyone laugh, tell witty jokes or make people “feel good” about themselves. The mission of the church is much higher than that! Today we are seeing the fulfillment of a prophecy made in the Old Testament: “ ‘Behold the days are coming’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will send a famine on the land––not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and from, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.” (Amos 8:11-12). When the clergy feed people a few short readings from a religious book, focus on rituals of kneeling and rising, solicit a few “amens” and “responses” to printed liturgy, then dismiss the worshipers with rote blessings, the people are not being properly fed. When people are not properly fed they get little to nothing out of the service and eventually decide to quit going to church. They are reluctant to start back. It is our conviction that they deserve to hear the word of God which will change their lives, help them understand the will of God, bear their burdens, deepen their faith, repent of their sins, sharpen their convictions, answer their doubts and produce meaningful spiritual maturity. They deserve to “grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). In first century Christianity, God placed knowledgeable leaders in His church to help believers attain “mature manhood,” so they would no longer “be children, tossed to and fro by the waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine.” He designed His “sanctuary” as the place where believers hear “the truth in love” and “grow up in every way into Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-15). God wants His church to not let the people down!
When the psalmist returned to the sanctuary and paid attention to the message of the word of God, his confusions and doubts began to fade away. His faith became stronger! He wrote: “You guide me with your counsel and afterward you will receive me into glory…. God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever!” (verses 24-26). He concluded Psalm 73 with this affirmation: “It is good to be near God” (verse 28). What David wrote is absolutely true! If your interest in spiritual things is growing again, if you need to return to the Lord’s sanctuary, don’t let that desire pass. Seek out the Church of Christ in your community!
(All Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)
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