I just finished reading Matt Walsh’s latest article reproving Christians who stay home from church. In his article titled, Christians, Let’s be honest. Our excuses for skipping church are lame,” Walsh fires away at all the traditional and even non-traditional excuses given by church-goers for skipping church and he unwittingly falls into all the same religious trappings that so many people before him have fallen into by trying to force people back into church for the wrong reasons.
Walsh uses the usual guilt-driven tactics like pressure, logic and conformity as reasons that you should just go to church. One slightly implied exception missing from his list, however, was relationship. In a real relationship with God I consecrate my entire life to him and that does not depend on a building. I worship him daily in everything I do. I worship him through my work, through my devotions and in my life so that I am not under the law to do anything because I have opened my life to God in everything.
The Definition of Church
That said, Walsh sarcastically argues,“Indeed, Christians who scoff at the notion of “going to some building” to pray and worship must be more enlightened than Jesus, because the New Testament frequently depicts Our Lord in the temple (Mark 1:21, Luke 2:41, etc). Jesus was so protective of “some building” that he physically drove the money changers out of it, incensed that they had comprised the integrity of ”a house of prayer” (Matthew 21:12).”
Maybe that’s true, but then again, Jesus wasn’t holding ministry meetings in multi-million dollar temples; he was holding them in the marketplace square. And that’s where he seems to make a case against his own argument by saying, “The New Testament knows nothing of the individualized Christianity of the Christian who thinks he doesn’t need church. In Scripture, we are referred to as a flock, a collective “bride” of Christ.”
Correct, “we” are the church, Matt. It’s not a flock of buildings, it’s a “flock” of “sheep” (people). No buildings required. Just add people to an upper room and you have a church.
Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered, I am there in their midst.” Matt. 18:20. That’s church. Home meetings in my house with 10 people – church! Bible study at Starbucks with 3 friends – that’s right – church! Even piping in online worship from Bethel Church from Redding for my wife and I to worship to, is a form of church.
My church definition is broader than Matt Walsh’s who sees church in very traditional terms as either an institutional formed church or a local congregation around the corner. My “church” includes that as well, but it also includes authors Bill Johnson and Graham Cooke who have spoken such incredible truths into my life and inspired my faith in ways I cannot put into words. It includes Bethel Worship and Jesus Culture, Misty Edwards and Chris Tomlin as awesome worshippers of God. It’s includes people I’m networked together with in the faith community who happen to attend different churches. It’s a leadership group that I’m a part of; it’s my friends who partner with me in marketplace ministry; my spiritual mentors, Herb Marks and Janice Seney; and yes, it even includes people like Matt Walsh who aren’t afraid to take on sacred cows both in and out of the church.
Legitimate (short-term) reasons not to attend church
Matt Walsh also tends to minimize people’s reasons for not attending church. He paints broadly in saying, “It is, as much as we like to pretend otherwise, an actual necessity and obligation of Christian life (to attend church), and that brings us finally to why all of those Christians throughout history have given up so much to do the thing that we have stopped doing for no reason.” No reason? There’s “no reason” not to go? I wonder what children of abuse at the hands of priests feel about that – just to use one grossly extreme example. That is only to point out that while we may disagree on where to draw the line, we all have a line that someone can cross that might have an impact on our own actions. Sin, to stay with the example, has consequences that we and the church are not immune from and minimizing someone’s hurt into “suck it up” statements is convenient but not very helpful. That isn’t to say that those people don’t need healing, but we might want to use a little understanding and common sense if we’re expecting that the same group of people who harmed someone, will be the same ones God uses to heal them as well. I think Walsh tends to over generalize his point and should say that in his opinion there are no [good] reasons. There are good reasons and there are seasons where people might pull back for one reason or another. Slamming these people with guilt is not the way to draw them back into the kingdom. That only serves to judge and push them farther away. That isn’t to say that I’m looking to create seeker sensitive environments, but our goal should always be to lovingly draw our arms around these people no matter what we want them to do – loving them first whether that’s reconciling them to an estranged spouse or to an estranged church is what God would do. After all, our first ministry is one of reconciliation. 2 Cor. 5:18.
It’s not about church, it’s about community
The problem isn’t whether we’re skipping church as Walsh posits, it’s whether we should be part of a greater community. But isn’t it fair to say that there is more than one way to do that? He’s not helping anything by making strict rules or by even defining church in stark black and white terms. When we do that we only make doctrines more so than bring solutions.
I won’t go to church because of Matt Walsh’s pressures unless God tells me to, nor do I go for appearances or for promotion, or anything like that. I should do it because I love God and want to serve him and him alone. And I can serve him in my going, not just to be blessed, but to be a blessing. I should be there so that I can be used by God for his good pleasure. It’s all because of relationship with Jesus and each other, not to the official church that we should go. Now some will say, “What’s the difference?” The difference is in how Walsh describes it, “Church isn’t a fun thing to do when it happens to strike our fancy. It’s not a bowling alley, for goodness sake. It’s not recreation at all; it’s adoration.”
Hmm, if it’s about adoration why put the full court press on people about skipping church? If adoration, not performance, is the motivation then isn’t that between us and God? Walsh’s entire argument is undermined by saying we should go for adoration sake but then wouldn’t it make sense we should not go if we don’t have that kind of relationship with God? I’ll hammer this part home at the end. You see this takes it out of the church context and moves it into the relationship context where it belongs and yet, Walsh falls into the performance trap like we all have at one time or another. I trust when you accepted God into your heart it was an authentic God encounter that brought you to Him in the first place. And if that’s true, then isn’t it fair to say, relationship with God which brings encounters with a living Father is one thing and doing ceremonial religious exercises is another? And isn’t Matt Walsh advocating for the latter, a form of religiosity?
Let’s say Matt goes to his parent’s house and while he is there his attitude stinks throughout the entire time of his visit. Let’s also suppose they can see his heart and know how he feels inside – stinky attitude and all. If they can see his heart and know his state of mind, that he’s bored (as he describes church), apathetic, mad, bitter, upset, or even pleased with himself that he went there in the first place, what does that accomplish for his parents? Do you think they are going be excited that he is there knowing that he’s resenting it the whole time? That’s pretty much what Matt Walsh is saying to you. Just go! You don’t have to like it and neither does God. Your bad attitude is almost irrelevant to your presence at church, whether God wants you there in that state of mind or not, you should be there. That sounds like performance to me and something we might hear from a slave instead of a son.
The right reasons to attend church
Walsh’s article is just one long guilt trip. I understand it but I don’t receive it and neither should you. But if there’s one thing that strikes a chord with me in his article it’s how he candidly feels like there’s little in it for him. I have felt this way at times but I soon realized when pressing into God about it that it was all my problem. I was as he is, sometimes expecting too much from church and at other times, expecting too little. I had a poor mindset and was putting an expectation on church and people that it should do something for me. That was my pivot to change – to move from diagnosis to prayer warrior. To partner with Heaven for “more” than it is now. Calling in through prayer that things that God showed me could be better. My old way of looking at things was the wrong way to look at church. Walsh was on the right track when he mentioned adoration because that describes a form of relationship with the Father. To that end, we are not there so God can minister to us, we are there so we can minister to God through our worship (with all our heart), with our mind directed to the things of God, through our love for others, through an encouraging word for someone, through our gifts, or through our prayers and ministry for someone in need. I never heard those examples from Walsh. What I read was, “Church isn’t a fun thing to do when it happens to strike our fancy.” Who says? I love church and love interacting with God’s people and worshiping him corporately. The things I wrote above are the fun things at church. If they aren’t fun for you, Matt, than you’re not spiritually connected, you’re religiously connected. Seeing someone’s face light up after their life changed when we prayed for them – it just doesn’t get any better than that. Walsh needs a serious upgrade in the area of worship which I declare over him and his family as I write these words!
At the same time, Walsh has his moments and he has a point with people who reject going to church for just any reason. He writes, “Call me crazy but something tells me it isn’t a sincere desire to draw closer to God that explains our decision to sleep in or sunbathe rather than attend service.”
Well for one, we can’t force that with church attendance. And I’m sure that’s more typical of people who are less passionate about their faith, but again, what is he advocating for exactly? Does he just want to see more butts in the seats just for the heck of it, or does he want more people around him who are passionate about God and who will help him take his own faith to the next level? I don’t think we’re looking to drive just anyone into the church. I am looking for world changers like God was when he pared down Gideon’s army from 30,000 to 300 mighty men based on the way they drank their water. (Judges 7). Jesus changed the world with 12 men. We don’t need more warm bodies, we need people who are on fire for God and that’s something God does no matter where you are. It’s not something we can mandate or can we assume it will come only with attendance. Jesus said, I would rather you be stone cold than be lukewarm. And let me tell you, there’s a lot of lukewarm people out there -even in the church. Jesus said, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Wow, “spit you out of my mouth?” That’s pretty harsh. In other words, it is better to be cold than to be lukewarm to Jesus. Think about that. It’s not about skipping church. It’s about relationship with Jesus.
So there you have it. Be hot. Be cold. Go to church. Don’t go to church. But above all else, do it for the right reasons. Do it only if you adore God, or are in sincere inquiry of Him, just like Matt Walsh said. But please, no matter what you do, don’t do it just for religious reasons. Ok?