I begin with remembering two conversations about going to church. First, my parents believed in going to church. They called it “big church” when they inquired if I was going to skip the congregation- wide meeting after a youth meeting. Their conviction was driven home without argument or rationale; it seemed intuitive or instinctual.
Secondly, several years ago my friend, Pastor John, ask me to spend an evening with students who were back from university for Christmas break. The assembly was typical or representative: some had lived freely and God fell off their radar (a practical rather than a theoretical atheism), some felt bullied by a skeptic professor, and some had been assigned to read Nietzsche in honors class. The students were encouraged by registering some worries and took some hope in learning these issues had history and were part of a bigger conversation. They seemed pleased I had also assigned readings in Nietzsche and even took his side in several issues. As the evening concluded my final theme was about going to church.
I explained Christianity was not merely a set of ideas to be affirmed but centered on relationship and trust. Faith is nonnegotiably participatory; it envisions practices in concrete reality and community. I told them to pick a church quickly and connect; they did not need a cool pastor but a concrete pastor who had lived out faith with family and folk. Pastor John may have initially wondered… I brought a college professor to talk to my smart college students and this is the big finish – “you guys should go to church?” Soon though, he appeared mystified by the greater wisdom concerning church. I was simply closing with the most central survival tip of the evening, but John latched on to the idea and has recently asked me to share it with the entire church. What follows is one idea in an effort to put into words the conviction of my parents – we need to go to church.
The church is comprised of believers who have been brought into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son (Colossians 1-11-13). Worship is a political act. It proclaims, celebrates, and anticipates the Kingdom. In worship we acknowledge the King’s transforming presence and declare our loyalty. As a colony or outpost we employ the King’s rules, treat one another as royal subjects, and join in the scripted language (confessions, Scripture reading, and song) to shape our minds. We denounce any other illegitimate pretender. This repetitive encounter is essential to my ongoing participation in the Kingdom. At every turn the culture and climate screams out: “rule for yourself,” “judge for yourself,” and “you know what is best for you.” Even reportedly Christian voices are enamored with leadership leaving only pity for the weak simpleton who is a follower (think disciple). [i] I need a church where I do not write the script and where follow-ship is the prize. Otherwise I may be tempted like Christ to trade follow-ship for influence. This political conviction is seen in the subversive way Paul advised Christians to treat kings.[ii] In the ancient world treating kings as gods was routine. Paul however called believers to respect but never worship, to obey but only with the recognition that all authority is given in stewardship from the one true King. My parents were right – we need to go to church.
[i] Point made by Richards and O’Brien in Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes.
[ii] Douglas Knight in The Eschatological Economy depending on O’Donovan.