Common Objections . . . Part 1

I promised in a previous post to address many of the objections I have seen (and felt) levelled against those of us who have chosen a life outside of the institution that calls itself “church.” There are enough of them that I cannot do so in one post, but I will cover a bunch of them here, and then address the largest ones in a second post. Please keep in mind that I am not condemning those who choose to attend a local assembly. This post is addressed towards those who believe that only by attending such a local assembly can I engage in relationship with God.

Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together

This command is not found in scripture. That might shock some, but it the simple truth. The words are a misquoting of Hebrews 10:25. In the context of the two previous verses, this passage reads, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

In that context, it is clear that this has nothing at all to do with the formalized, organized operation of an institutionalized gathering. It has to do with fellow-believers encouraging one another in our faith, our hope, and our love. It is a warning not to try to isolate oneself from all other human inputs to one’s spiritual state.

It is not a command to go to church on Sundays.

Honoring the Sabbath Day

If we are going to take this (strictly Old Testament) commandment literally in the 21st century, we are already in trouble, because the Sabbath was the seventh day of the week, and there is no New Testament support for special services on any other day. It is recorded a few times in the book of Acts that Paul and others went and spoke to groups of people on the Sabbath day (i.e., Saturday) simply because that was naturally when the Jews in each town they visited attended synagogue.

As far as support for doing anything at all on the first day of the week, the phrase itself is mentioned twice.

In Acts 20:7, it is mentioned that Paul and others were gathered on the first day of the week to “break bread.” While this may provide a scriptural basis for Sunday afternoon potlucks, it provides none for a scriptural mandate to sit through a church sermon on a Sunday morning.

In I Corinthians 16:2, Paul commands the church at Corinth, “On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come.”

In other words, it looks like Paul doesn’t want to burden people by asking them for money to their faces, so he can continue his ministry . . . so he provides a way that they can save up in advance. We can’t derive anything in support of a regular weekly gathering from this, and if we use it as a mandate to take offerings on Sundays, then we’re also in trouble, because the biweekly and monthly pay cycles common in this country mean that most of us don’t really write our checks to the missions fund “on the first day of every week,” do we?

What about baptism?

I find it hard to support a scriptural mandate for churches based on the need to baptize people, given that Philip (Acts 8:38), Peter (Acts 10:48), Paul (Acts 16:15, 33) and others are all recorded as having done so outside of the context of any gathering at all, much less an organized, institutional church.

What about communion?

The only account of a ritualized communion in Scripture is found in I Corinthians 11. This verse says a great deal about the state of one’s heart as he or she takes the Lord’s Supper . . . but not so much about the venue or company in which he or she does so. The passage implies only that it is done, in this context, “when you meet together.” There are no commands issued, no particular instructions given over how the ritual is to be conducted. Paul only speaks to two issues in this passage. First, he decries the gluttony of some during the ritual, and second, he encourages those who partake to do so only after a deep and heartfelt self-examination.

Incidentally, if one is to take this account of the ritual as normative across all churches in all places for all time, then in order to be logically consistent, one must also insist that women wear headcoverings. It is mentioned, after all, in the same chapter as the Lord’s Supper, is referenced more often in the passage, is treated with much stronger language, and is characterized by a specific and overt command (I Cor 11:6), making it, according to some popular methods of hermaneutics, a more urgent matter.

On the other hand, if one doesn’t take to heart the specific command, “For if a woman does not cover her head, let her also have her hair cut off; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved , let her cover her head,” how can one logically assert that this passage commands anything binding at all vis a vis communion, much less a command to partake of it in an organized, weekly meeting that seems to have been nonexistent at the time?

What about your kids? Shouldn’t they be raised in church?

I have addressed this question in a comment.

In addition, my lovely wife has further addressed the issue in another comment, as well as in a post on her blog. She says it better than I can here. Finally, our dear friend Lynette, who actually has experience raising children outside of the institutional church, gives her input in this comment.

The “Mike-shaped hole”

One interesting take I have heard is the belief that, by failing to find a local church, I am leaving some church somewhere with a “Mike-shaped hole” in it, thereby depriving that local assembly of God’s blessings imparted through my service to the church.

To this, I would simply say that if God wants to bless a church, He hardly needs me to do it. Even if I mistake God’s desire for my life, when and if He chooses to bless a given assembly of believers, He will do so regardless of whether I attend or not. I cannot thwart God’s plan, even if I were to try . . . and I certainly cannot do so by seeking Him to the best of my ability.

Giving and ministering to others

I have also been told that by failing to attend church I am depriving anybody of my ability to minister and give to fellow believers. I am always astonished to hear this, given that my wife and I often give of our time, energy and financial resources to those in need – both those attending institutional churches, and those who don’t. In today’s extremely “connected” world, the church no longer has a monopoly on ministry opportunities . . . and hasn’t for a very long time.

What about good preaching?

In the age of the Internet, one hardly need sit in a Sunday morning service to hear preaching. When I have the urge to quit studying and writing on my own, and let someone else do the pontificating, I go here, but even more conventional churches are posting their materials online for anybody to access. Both of the conventional churches linked here are local assemblies in my area, which are adamantly in favor of active church membership to the point where one is considered spiritually deficient and where one’s salvation is questioned if one is not a member of a doctrinally solid local church . . . yet I can still access their sermons any time I choose. In the 21st Century, access to preaching – good, bad or indifferent – is no longer a logical argument for church attendance.

In my next post, I will examine the two biggest issues I have run into with regard to the institutionalization of church. They are:

What about spiritual authorities? and

Didn’t God institute the church?

stay tuned . . .

3 Comments

Filed under Ideas I stole from somebody else, Things most people won't understand at all, Things that will convince you I'm a godless heathen, Things that will convince you I'm an anarchist, Things that will piss somebody off

3 Responses to Common Objections . . . Part 1

  1. David Whyte

    I am always struck by how un original the questions (or accusations) are against what they don’t believe.

    We get the same objections down here in New Zealand(!) and I long for the day that someone can actually give me a meaty objection that really makes me think and sweat!

    Liked your comments, I have (obviously) confronted the same objections and come up with some similar and some different comments.

    Sabbath. I look at it this way Option (1). Get up early on the only day off I have. Run around for 1-1 1/2 hours stressing about getting 3 young children out the door on time and nice clothes not getting muddy/wet/wee’ed/food spillage etc. Spend next hour herding cats in a “worship” service making sure my adventurous kids are not causing havoc. Get board for the next hour while I sit by myself listening to some sermon (wife out with baby) and me being ADD I couldn’t think of less attractive pass time of listening to someone for an hour. Now spend next 1/2 hour making sure my kids are not being run over in the car park while wife talks and I get even more frustrated. Travel back home arrive exhausted (assuming not out for lunch). And try and recover! While all this morning pretending that I have perfect releationship with my wife, my kids and everyone else.

    Option (2). Sleep in until kids invade bed. Get up when ever I a ready, relaxed breakfast brunch. Hang out for a while till after lunch. Then enjoy family doing something together. Followed by some time with close friends.

    Now answer me this – which one of these was a day or rest? I think that most evanglicals actually don’t get a sabbath, cause they are to busy!

    Now there is a whole bunch about being in Christ in sabbath rest all the time…. This huge concept to unpack. But that is another day.

    My other favorite is communion. Last time I searched for it the word communion is not in the New Testament (I may be wrong, cause sometimes I word search on the wrong word). The word that I found and researched on was more meal orientated – love feast, pot luck – you fill in the blank. All the communion scriptures imply a common meal – cause in a common meal we – fellowship! So we don’t do communion “right” anyway!

    Anyway I should be going, thanks for such a worthwhile post. David

  2. I can certainly attest to the difference between running a Sunday morning show, vs. really taking a day of rest with my family!

    When we were working Sunday mornings, I led worship and helped coordinate the music, while my husband ran the A/V department. Talk about busy! We raced around our house, got to the building earlier than just about anyone, pawned off our kids to wherever while we did our prep work. We rarely, if ever (maybe once a year?) got to sit with our kids in a service, because we were onstage or behind the scenes. The kids went out for children’s church during the preaching.

    Looking back, it was a most insane way to raise a family. We were never worshiping together. Instead, we sacrificed our family dynamics so that others could benefit from our service. What a stupid thing to do! (I realize in hindsight.)

    Now, we spend TIME with our family… with other close friends who are also learning about Father. We talk, and share – about things Father is showing us, about daily problems and troubles (often getting encouragement and great counsel from one another ), about inspiring movies or books (and sometimes goofy and just-for-fun stuff), and about all sorts of REAL LIFE.

    I come away from our get-togethers feeling that I’m fulfilling and receiving all the stuff that I used to work hard to do, and never really got done (if I were truthful with myself). EVERYONE leaves feeling encouraged. EVERYONE has shared. EVERYONE has been lifted up and made to feel important, and that they have something vital to offer the others.

    Nothing like it. I’m open to wherever Father leads us, but I can’t imagine much else being better than this…

  3. This was very interesting, yep, we’ve heard all these objections too! And David, we’re Kiwis too, so obviously these objections are world-wide in churchianity!

    And as you guys have said, discovering Christ as THE Sabbath/Rest is SO much more real than simply observing a day!

    The Mike-shaped hole is an interesting one, people assume we have left the Church when we have not; we have simply left organized religion. We are, and always will be part of the Body! As Chip says “If we are one with the Head, we are one with the Body, even if we are not gathered together. But, if we are not one with the Head, we are not one with the Body, even if we are gathered together.” from http://www.theschoolofchrist.org/articles/churchianity.html

    Looking forward to seeing you address other objections Mike 🙂

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