Back slider, out of fellowship, un-redeemed, not in fellowship, just a few of the words that are often bandied about in the church. Generally these are words that are used for people who are no longer attending church. I know that some of these words have been used to describe me at times. I was pondering on this as I struggled last Sunday, I was at church for a change but felt overwhelmed by the wall of sound that assailed my eardrums as we sang or attempted to as I could not hear anyone else, but that is another matter altogether. My mind wandered to an old adage that I have oft heard, that living in a garage does not make you a car, and that going to church does not make you a Christian. So then I wondered, if you can go to church and not be a Christian, can you not go to church and be a Christian? In my book a rhetorical question of course. Then if the answer to that is so easy then why is it such an issue to many in the church when people stop going.
There are many reasons why people stop going to church, ranging from boredom through to hurt. Some like me have beliefs and philosophies that are diametrically opposed to some more conservative minded people, although as I have written before I don’t think that conservatism in the church has anything to do with Christianity per se, I think it is like a lot of things in the world it is born out of competition for resources and a sense of self-righteousness. To engage in a narrative outside of a right wing neo-liberal work ethic is to threaten many peoples comfortable existence yet it is what many churches profess to want to do. Many churches are involved in providing budget advice and food banks, surely a laudable thing? I am not so sure, budget advice is about people telling other people how to manage on the income they have, sometimes it is about providing a buffer between debtors and the people they owe money to. It is not very often about economic or social justice but I digress.
I think in my experience one of the problems with people who are not in “fellowship” that is regularly attending church is that people point the finger and speculate as to why they don’t attend church. Many people are quick to jump to conclusions and look for reasons, a synonym for sin. Many people in the church have been very quick to point out sin in others especially the non -attenders. The more speculation the more gossip. Gossip is just destructive and even worse is where it is based on truth or it may even be the truth.
In my book we are each responsible for our own actions and we need to work out our lives in the best way we can. Narrow-minded accusations from others, we are supposed to have freedom when we come to the cross and yet so often it seems to be the opposite. We are either saved by grace or not, nothing half-way, no buts, maybes, perhaps. Christians need to get their minds out of the gutter and firmly on the cross. This is the only hope for a redemptive and real relationship. You see in my belief (and according to the scriptures) as we judge others so we are so judged, something to think about when we next are tempted to point the finger at others. I use the collective her of we, because I have to fight the urge to judge others as well, I am often working it out on a day by day basis.
I don’t know where your journey is or your beliefs but regardless of your relationship with Jesus, I think this stands as sound advice, if we could only get a real glimpse of the truth of being set free by grace….