Sunday, September 30, 2007

Confessions of a church skipper

I skipped church today.

I had no real excuse, other than weariness brought on by staying up too late and waking too early. A friend jokingly calls this worshipping in the Church of the Holy Comforter -- nestled under sheet, comforter and cats, relaxing into a new week.

When I was a child and teenager, this would have been unthinkable -- my parents saw to that. Through much of my 20s, it would have been unremarkable -- who went to church, anyway? But for many years now, my Sunday mornings have been set aside for participation in the corporate rituals of faith.

I have heard many people say that you don't have to be in a church or synagogue or mosque to commune with God, and to a certain extent that is true. God knows, organized religion has problems, from power struggles to tedium to elitism. How much easier it can be to sense the divine presence in the beauty of a day like this -- the clear blue sky, the gentle wind, the hawk's cry!

But I found in my years of sleeping in on Sundays that no amount of nature walks and solitary prayer and theological reading could take the place of being part of a community of faith.

So it is not habit but choice that makes me set the alarm on Saturday night. It's knowing that being exposed to other believers challenges my preconceptions and inspires me to put faith into action. It's knowing that I am a part of something bigger than my selfish concerns. It's knowing that together we can do more for the common good. It's knowing that even when I am too tired or too wounded or too despairing to show up, the prayer goes on ... and I am carried with it.

That is why, even though I enjoyed my lazy morning, I will return to the community that nourishes my faith.

Why do you attend or avoid religious services? What is their value to you? Does membership in a religious institution help or hinder your search for God?

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

I attended church services as a child because my parents made me. When I went off to college, I decided I would not go anymore because it was my choice and I chose to sleep on Sunday mornings. Plus, I always despised being forced to do anything. Now I'm in my mid-20s, and I've started attending church again, but not because my parents are making me, but because I choose to go... and I like that best, attending services is my choice.

Anonymous said...

I always considered (since my childhood) that church service is a form of brainwashing. I was lucky I never was forced to attempt. My parents left me with freedom of choice and to my own critical thinking. So many years later and after a lot of research and reading I came to realize we are all atheists when it comes to majority of gods and some of us take this one step further and eliminate the last one. We realize that the same reason why we don't believe in so many other gods apply to all of them. Critical reading of holy writ reveals it is man made and reads exactly as we would expect being written by men few thousand years ago. Our world around us (clear blue sky, gentle wind, hawk's cry, human eye ...) look exactly as we would expect it to see if there were no creator.

Then there was a period when I was going to church every Sunday. Sure I made some friends but I can do this somewhere else too. At least somewhere else people don't pretend to know what is inherently unknowable and know to realize facts from the fiction. But not in church, I could never find why people would not see through the sermon for what it really was, bunch of words designed to make them feel good, to come back next week and to write that check to support the clergy. I got tired of all the fallacies in the sermons (from false dichotomies, straw man arguments, misconceptions about evolution vs. evolution theory) and one day I've decided to buy a book about logic and logical fallacies to give to the pastor but I was told it would be insulting. And I wondered why on earth would someone consider such a book insulting... then it dawned on me, they don't care about being right, they care about their dogma more. They don't search for the truth, they are convincing themselves they are right. It was just like the dogmas of the communism behind the iron curtain near which I grew up. I've found my answer... and I refuse to partake in such dogmatic belief. I prefer evidence based solution to myth.

So when I wake up Sunday morning, I look outside and enjoy in awe the beauty of the day and am thankful for my existence to my ancestors. I am truly lucky I am alive, as I was dead before I was born (and there was nothing) and I will be dead after I die (and there will be nothing) and this life is all I have and I intend to live it to its fullest and help others to do the same. I am truly lucky to be alive, there could be countless millions (based on my DNA sequence) of others that could have been here in my place and yet I am the lucky one!

What an honor, I am the lucky one to be here and enjoy my life, what an honor! Life is really precious not to be enjoyed on a lovely Sunday like this one without fear of hell and false promises of heaven.

Sincerely,
Iztok

jc mac said...

I consider myself a nice person,who treat others the way I want to be treated.And it doesn't take for me to go to Church to do those things.I also volunteer 5 days a week in my West Charlotte neighborhood doing things to make my community better.Again all without the need to go to Church.

The_Weaver said...

I *do* believe that taking a walk and smelling the air of the country, listening to the crows cawing, rain or shine *is* church, and I'm there every day. Church is also getting out my dad's ultra nifty telescope and looking into the night sky. The whole of nature is a temple. What's sad is that on this earth, people are trashing it? How would people like it if in your lovely buildings, folks went in there and wrecked the place? Being outside in the Mountains, Piedmont, or Coast is my Church.

D.J. said...

To me, it is simply a matter of Biblical authority. If you hold that the Bible is God's revelation to man (I know many here do not), the Scriptures know of no Christianity divorced from community. We were designed for community, as Jane points out. If we love Christ, we will love the things Christ loves, and Christ "loved the church and gave himself up for her." And the church is not bricks and mortar but a people - the people called by God's grace. To reject the community of faith is an idea foriegn to Scripture.

BTW: Iztok, you explain to us your experiences with attending a church and your discovery that we all really don't care about truth but just about clinging to dogma. To take this experience (valid as it may have been) and say that all Christians are like this is to make the same logical fallacy that you often decry. I don't preach to keep the checks coming (if I was interested in money, trust me, I wouldn't be doing what I am doing), I preach to put a telescope to the eye of the world (and myself, for that matter) and show people the majesty and glory of a God that is much greater than the corner of obsolecence that we have all (self included) relegated him to (or explained him away altogether). You don't beleive in God. I can't change your mind, only God can. Yet I ask you not to make blanket statements about the motives of ministers, since some of us preach for motives and reasons that you, by definition of your denial of God's existence, cannot understand.

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

I have recently recommitted to attending Sunday School and church with my 3-year-old, as it's important for me that he grow up with a Christian worldview, something to fall back on when he begins his own faith journey in years ahead. Since his birth, I haven't had any more Sundays at the Church of the Holy Comforter anyway, so we may as well be in church. The lesson in his class yesterday was "God is with you." Last night, we were watching "Dumbo," and when Timothy Mouse befriended Dumbo, I reminded my son that God was his friend and always with him, just as Timothy Mouse was Dumbo's friend. My son said, "Yes, and Jesus is always with me too! And Santa Claus, TOO!" So we will continue to go to church until he gets the concept of a Trinity that does NOT include Santa Claus! ;)

rebecca said...

I take my kids to Sunday school and then go get the paper and a coffee and sit in the car and wait. We stay for "big church" only when they are singing during the service. CHurch is like every other venue in Charlotte -- just another place for me to feel "less than." I will never be pretty, rich or connected. So I have learned to live with that and have quit trying to fit in at Church or anywhere else...God loves me as I am and that is good ebough for me. I stay minimally connected for my children, who love to sing in the choir and partcipate in other activities, but church has no meaning for me and has not for years. Don't say try another church -- they are all the same.

Anonymous said...

Rebecca, I am sorry you have had such bad experiences with church, but don't say "they are all the same" unles/until you have tried every church in the area.

Also, consider this--children learn as much by observation as from what they are told. What message are you sending them when you drop them at Sunday school and don't participate in the church yourself?

Part of the reason you are not feeling like part of the community at that church is because you are not allowing yourself to become one. Showing up only when your children are doing something is not a way to become part of the community.

D.J. said...

I second your thoughts, anon.

I have a student in my youth group who visited our church with a friend about 10 months ago. She had a bad experience with churches in the past, and because of that had given up on not only the idea of church, but the idea of God. I've had the great privledge of watching her encounter God through his word and through our community of faith, and she is now a growing Christian with a strong faith and good heart. So Rebecca, as much as I sympathize with your situation, let me encourage you - churches are not all the same.

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

DJ.

you are right. I might be committing same type of fallacies.

Are you saying that your sermons are not based on "knowing" what is inherently unknowable? Do you actually ever mention that there is no real evidence of the authenticity of the Bible (outside of it) and also mention that there is no real evidence (besides personal experience) for existence of God? Are you teaching that just because we can't disprove existence of God and can't prove it it doesn't automatically make it a 50/50 proposal?

Just wondering how much real honest education are you providing in your sermons (including the aforementioned disclaimers).

Sincerely,
Iztok

D.J. said...

Iztok,

In my sermons, I simply present the Bible as is, trusting that it is God alone who can change hearts, not my persuasive arguments. I encourage questions from my students, and I try to answer them according to the best of my ability. To answer some of your other points...

What I preach is not "unknowable" if God has revealed himself to us. One simply either accepts or rejects that revelation, but it is not the realm of the unknowable.

I do not teach that there is no real evidence for the authenticity of the Bible, because that would not be true. Historians such as Josephus and Tacitus (neither of them believers) lend support to the record Scripture preserves us of Jesus' life and the effects that life had on the world. Much data exists to support the Old Testament. For example, 29 kings named in the Bible (Babylonian, Assyrian, Egyptian, etc.) are mentioned by their own cultures. The Bible perfectly reflects the name of every king and correctly places each in the proper era of history. For reference, the librarian of Alexander the Great (considered one of the greatest historians of his day) lists 38 Egyptian kings, and only three or four of them are remotly close to matching the names found in subsequent Egyptian excavations. Even the ones he got right are misspelled. This is common - in fact universal - of ancient scholarship. Our best tool for making sense of these records is cross-referencing. However, the Bible perfectly transilterates every syllable of each king's name. No inconsistencies have been found. The Masoretic Hebrew texts are the most historically attested documents in the ancient world. To say there is no evidence for their authenticity is simply false.

I don't preach a 50/50 coin flip, I preach my certain conviction that God is real and he has revealed himself to humanity through Scripture. I preach the Word of God out of a passionate desire to see others experience the grace, peace, and joy that I have from God. My hearers can take this or leave it. I have had my fair share do each. I seek to fulfill my calling to...

"...shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock." - 1 Peter 5:2-3.

The education that I seek to provide my students is an education on what the Word of God says. From there, what happens in their hearts is God's business.

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

DJ,

do you educate them on the Ten Commandments? I often find out that people can't even name them properly.

Wonder how many on the this page can name them.

Or at least the tenth one from the "Ten Commandments" list.

Sincerely,
Iztok

D.J. said...

I do, Iztok, and you raise an excellent point. Evangelicals get far too worked up about having the Ten Commandments hung on the wall of a building when many of us haven't even hung them where they truly belong - our hearts.

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

DJ,

so you do know what the tenth of the Ten Commandments is?

I think most of the people on this list really don't know the Ten Commandments.

Those who want to hung them on the wall of a building certainly have the wrong list.

Sincerely,
Iztok

Anonymous said...

Just for the record, here is the complete list of the Ten Commandments as written in the Bible:

1) Thou shalt worship no other God.

2) Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.

3) The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep.

4) Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest.

5) Thou shalt observe the feast of weeks.

6) Thrice in the year shall all your menchildren appear before the Lord God.

7) Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven.

8) Neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left until the morning.

9) The first of the firstfruits of thy land shalt thou bring unto the house of the Lord thy God.

10) Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.

Sincerely,
Iztok

Anonymous said...

Iztok,

I am not sure what bible you used to get the Ten Commandments that you listed (or should I say which atheist website you looked at), but the bible says this:

1. Have no other gods.
2. Do not make idols.
3. Do not take the Lord's name in vain.
4. Keep the sabbath day.
5. Honor your parents.
6. Do not kill.
7. Do not commit adultery.
8. Do not steal.
9. Do not falsely accuse.
10. Do not covet.

Wording may be different depending on which version of the bible you read, but they all mean the same thing.

DJ is right when he says that only God can change a person's heart. Anyone can talk to you until they are blue in the face about God but unless you allow God to reveal Himself to you, you will never accept Him. I would like to add that I love science. Apparently you do as well since you choose to believe scientific explanations for creation instead of God. Science is a great tool. The problem with science and how this world was created is that there is no definitive scientific proof. If there was, we would all know how this world and everything in it was created. I would love for someone to definitely explain to me how every different species was created on this earth from a single cell (as some say) or from a big bang. My guess is that will never happen cause you can't prove it...all I have seen are theories.

While faith in your eyes can't be proven, it is proven to me by looking around and seeing all of creation on this earth and by God revealing Himself to me through answered prayers. I am sorry you haven't felt that before and, therefore, have different views, but you have that right and shouldn't be judged for that (nor should you judge others who believe).

I, too, grew up in a family with different religious backgrounds and some that have no faith at all. I feel fortunate that I was able to find the truth on my own. I also researched to find answers and can to only accept the fact that there is a God. I am glad that I was brought up that way because I had the opportunity to experience much more than people who are just raised in the church and never question their faith...I found the answers I needed on my own.

Hope you have a great day!

Anonymous said...

anon, I am referring to THE Ten Commandments.

The first time Moses came down from Mount Sinai with commandments, he merely recited a list (Exodus 20:2-17). They were not engraved on stone tablets and not called "the ten commandments."

The first set of stone tablets was given to Moses in Exodus 31:18. Moses destroyed those tablets when he saw the people worshipping the golden calf (Exodus 32:19).

So only in Exodus 34 we get the second set of tablets and the ONLY ones called Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28). You can see for yourself that ten commandments in Exodus 34 are what I've stated.

Now unless you show me anywhere else the list you call ten commandments is actually named as such in the Bible you are wrong on your list.

Sincerely,
Iztok

Anonymous said...

Since personal experience was brought up several times as a "proof of God", here is a good explanation/answer to it:

"Most theists claim their particular god can be known through meditation or prayer, but such experiences point to nothing outside the mind. Mysticism can be explained psychologically; it is not necessary to complicate our understanding of the universe with fanciful assumptions. We do know that many humans habitually invent myths, hear voices, hallucinate and talk with imaginary friends. We do not know there is a god."

As far as asking God for revelation, I did ask several times in private and in public, I even dare to say again and again "bring it on". Guess what, nothing...

On nature... our everyday world looks just as it supposed to if it were not designed. Just look at the human eye, no engineer would design it in such inefficient way. We need to strive to explain things with simpler things not with more complex things. If you try to explain existence of our universe with God then you have to explain God as well. (Evolution theory with natural selection explains evolution while Bible doesn't. You claim all we have are theories, would you mind defining what a theory is for us so we can see if your assumption is right.)

Sincerely,
Iztok

D.J. said...

Iztok,

You are misreading Exodus 34. In Deuteronomy 10, Moses is recounting the journey the people of Israel have taken as they prepare to cross into the promised land. He recounts the events of Exodus 34 as such...

“At that time the Lord said to me, ‘Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and come up to me on the mountain and make an ark of wood. And I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets that you broke, and you shall put them in the ark.’ So I made an ark of acacia wood, and cut two tablets of stone like the first, and went up the mountain with the two tablets in my hand. And he wrote on the tablets, in the same writing as before, the Ten Commandments that the Lord had spoken to you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly. And the Lord gave them to me. Then I turned and came down from the mountain and put the tablets in the ark that I had made. And there they are, as the Lord commanded me.”

Notice what Moses says - God wrote on the tablets the same words that were on "the first tablets you broke." He says that God wrote, "in the same writing as before, the Ten Commandments that the Lord had spoken to you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly." The day of the assembly was the day recorded in Exodus 20. Thus, Moses is saying that the words written by God in Exodus 34 were the same words he gave in Exodus 20 and wrote in Exodus 31.

But what of Exodus 34? The Lord informs Moses in verse 1 that he (God) will write the words from the first tablets again. In verses 10-26, he gives Moses several instructions and commandments (what you call the "real" ten commandments). He then tells Moses to write these things down. Keep in mind, God said that he himself would duplicate the previous tablets. The final part of verse 28 declares, "And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments." Based on a surface reading of the English translation, you mistakenly assume that this "he" is Moses, when the original Hebrew indicates that "he" is actually God. God writes the ten commandments, the same ten commandments from Exodus 20, while Moses writes these additional instructions. The ten commandments were by no means the complete law of God, and these are just a few of many commandments given to Moses in addition to the laws of Exodus 20.

I believe that in dealing with this and other supposed "contradicionts" I've demonstrated that such contradictions are the result of a surface reading of the text by those who want to find problems. When Scripture is approached seriously and intentionally as a whole, it holds up with remarkable precision. This "ten commandments dilemma" is a false dilemma.

BTW, Iztok, why must you turn every post of Jane's into an assault on the Bible and on Christianity? Can we not stay on topic just once?

Soli Deo Gloria

D.J. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
D.J. said...

Iztok, you said...

"As far as asking God for revelation, I did ask several times in private and in public, I even dare to say again and again "bring it on". Guess what, nothing... "

God has alrady given a full and beautiful revelation (the Bible), which you not only reject, but scoff at and mock. Now you want something else? I imagine a starving man being given an immaculate steak dinner. He flushes said steak dinner down the toilet, then angrily shouts, "I want food! Give me food!"

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

DJ,

"And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments."

It is obvious that "he" is referring to Moses not Jealous in this passage.

Sincerely,
Iztok

D.J. said...

Iztok,

"It is obvious that "he" is referring to Moses not Jealous in this passage."

Could you please give me your Hebraic grammatical argument for stating with such certainty that the pronoun "he" in the final sentence (it is, after all a seperate sentence from the references to abstaining from food and water and remaining 40 days) is a reference to Moses and not God? Just because you say it is so does not make it so.

Case in point, your alternative "ten commandments." To come up with your neat list of ten, you have omitted several commands given in Exodus 34:10-26, such as...

- Firstborn male cows and sheep are to be given to God.

- Firstborn donkeys shall be redeemed with a lamb.

- Firstborn human children shall be redeemed with a lamb.

- Observe the firstfruits of the wheat harvest.

- Observe the feast of ingathering.

So, your list of ten is really...fifteen? Let's do serious textual study, not pull out and manipulate passages to support conclusions you've arrived at long before, creating contradictions that do not exist. Moses was not an idiot. He knew how to compose a coherent paragraph.

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

DJ, it is know that Bible doesn't count well (there is at least a list of cities that doesn't match the number mentioned). I don't have to bring Hebrew word in it simply because Bible is perfect as it is in English as well. Or are you claiming that only Hebrew version is the inerrant one and God was unable to preserve his own word throughout translations? What a blasphemy, don't you think?

Saying Bible is perfect but only if we fix all the errors in translations and typos and changes over the years doesn't paint the picture you present (inerrant word of God).

Also, no other list before in Exodus is named "the ten commandments", only the list in Exodus 34 is. Just because there is a list of 10 it doesn't automatically make "the ten commandments". The name is mentioned only in Exodus 34 and not associated with other lists before. Now I am sure you will find another excuse to defend non-coherent book, but remind yourself such book should be able to stand on its own w/o need to reinterpret and "if we look at...." things (and we can see it doesn't).

Sincerely,
Iztok

D.J. said...

Iztok,

As I said, though the phrase "the Ten Commandments" appears only in Exodus 34, Deuteronomy clearly clarifies the events of Exodus 34 and tells us that the Ten Commandments were those revealed to Moses in Exodus 20.

As to your question on whether I believe the autographs (original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts) are the only inerrant copies of the Scripture, the answer is, strictly speaking, yes. If you are truly interested in understanding and interpreting the Bible, please read the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, the commonly held position of evangelicals like myself. This is how I view Scripture...

http://www.reformed.org/documents/index.html?mainframe=http://www.reformed.org/documents/icbi.html

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

DJ, just to clear things up. You are saying that God was unable to inspire people who translated the Bible into other languages (even today!) in a way that translations would be inerrant word of God?

Or are you saying that all translated bibles are erroneous at the first place and those reading them w/o reading it in original really have no good standing when they claim their book is inerrant?

Sounds pretty weak God to me if it is not even capable of preserving his word through translations. But that is just my opinion supported by facts.

Anonymous said...

oops forgot to sign my last post.

Sorry.

Sincerely,
Iztok

D.J. said...

Iztok,

Did you read the Chicago Statement? I think it sufficiently clarifies your questions.

Soli Deo Gloria

Anonymous said...

There is a church in Belmont, NC called the Church of the Holy Comforter. Hee-hee. I wish someone had really thought that out before naming it. It's Lutheran. I know this article is older, but I'm surprised no one mentioned that church. So, I had to post this.