Go to Church… or Else

I’ve written on why meeting with the Church is so great. But I know in my everyday life I call it “going to church.” For years I’ve tried to alter my phrasing away from “going to church” for a variety of reasons, but I’ll admit it’s been hard to keep it up, have people understand me, and also not be feeling like I’m just weird.

Still, I like the idea of saying “I’m going to meet with the Church.” Until I can find a better way of saying it, this phrase expresses a few ideas I wish would spread through the Church about the Church.

Church is not an Event

When someone says “I’m going to church” usually they mean they’re going to a gathering of some sort at a particular time. You might call this gathering service, mass, chapel—or just church. But this event isn’t the Church. It’s a gathering of the Church.

You may notice I keep capitalizing Church. That’s because the Church is a proper name for a group, like say the Israelites or the Philistines. It’s not a nation in the traditional sense of genetically related people; the Church actually transcends nation, country, race, and ethnicity. The capital C Church is the group of people all bound together by one thing: faith in the living Christ. As I’ve written elsewhere, the Church is metaphorically the Body of Christ on Earth, a way for God to carry out His will here as it is carried out in Heaven.

Now there’s a little complication in this idea of Church as Body of Christ. The Church should never sleep. It’s 24/7/365 and worldwide if it’s to carry out God’s will on Earth, since God never sleeps. And what’s God’s will? Probably the simplest statement of it is (paraphrased) “Believe Jesus and love each other” (1 John 3:23) We can’t put a time limit on those things.

Church is not a Building

Somewhere in history, the meaning of Church also transferred from a people to a building. So another common meaning for “I’m going to church” is “I’m going to a building called Church.” And how many times have I told someone, “I’m at church” or “Meet you at church”?

Perhaps it was the idea that Church is a building that influenced the idea that Church is an event. Because buildings close. Some church buildings are always open, yes, but the idea of closure is there. So worshipping God (and by extension, serving God) becomes a limited time activity, isolated to certain dates and times.

Maybe this development helped with the compartmentalization of our lives into little pockets that rarely ever meet: school, work, play, friends, family, church. It lets us even hide the darker sides away, never letting the light touch them because we’re “at church” and we have to put on our churchy faces anyway.

No, I’m not pointing a finger at yall. Really, as I write this, I am reminded how years ago, “going to church” affected my love of God and his capital C Church. It’s why I tried to stop saying, “I’m going to church” in the first place.

Go to Church… or Else

A little thought experiment. When I’m not at church, what am I? Am I still part of the Church? Of course I am. So why don’t I feel that way? Maybe I should attend more services, join more groups, get involved in more serving projects. Maybe I should give more money in tithes, offerings, and alms. I need to stop sinning, cussing, looking at porn, being greedy, stealing WiFi. I just need to go to church more!

I might have labeled this section “Church is not an Idol.” Because an idol is what church (lowercase) can become. In this mindset, when I don’t feel I’m a good enough Christian, I want more church. I need more church. Not necessarily God, but all the stuff that goes on at church. Not necessarily His forgiveness and love and friendship, but checkmarks on my Christian Bucket List: worship music, communion, alms, tithes, potlucks. So I come to idolize church as event, as even the building itself, as the organization that runs it all, and even as a grand abstract idea. I could even end up hating most of the people at church, but as long as I go to church, it’s all good.

But my love for the people Christ died for grows cold. My love for the capital C Church turns to fine ashes. I end up disobeying the grand commandment Jesus gave us to love one another, the commandment that’s tied to the other greatest commandment: Love God. See, the Apostle John wrote:

“If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers.” (1 John‬ ‭4:20-21‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

So if I love church but hate the Church, am I really a Christian? If I yell and holler at my family to pile in the car each Sunday with curses and anger and fuming, only to argue all the way and knock our kids’ heads to quiet them down, and then not even offer the fakest of smiles to the greeter at the front doors… am I really a Christian?

“Dad, I don’t wanna go!”

“You’re goin to church, or else!!”

“Or else what?”

“Or else you’re goin to hell you little —-”

Is all this quarreling and pain worth it just to do my supposed duty and “go to church”? Is it worth it to probably end up coming home worse than I was before? Am I literally going through the motions for some idol I’ve come to call “church” that I must please… or else?

But when I meet with the Church, rather than just go to church, I become a better person each day, more conformed to the image of Jesus, which is an image of sacrifice, love, and joy, among other things. You see, meeting with the Church happens at any time of day in any place you please. I meet with the Church when my good buddy and I get coffee once a month. I meet with the Church when my friends and I go get lunch on Sunday “after church.” I meet with the Church when I discuss Jesus and his love online with you.

Let’s try tweaking our thinking about the Church along these lines and see what happens.

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