Read your bible, go to church.

by K.W. Leslie, 30 December

Yesterday I wrote about resolving to be religious, and how reading one’s bible and attending small groups simply won’t be enough.

Problem is, among American Evangelicals, that’s what we’re taught whenever we talk about getting more religious. “Oh, you wanna get closer to God? Then you need to read your bible and go to church.” And pray, but y’might notice not as many Evangelicals will bring up prayer—partly because they presume you’re already praying for more God; partly because they themselves do the bible thing and the church thing, but not so much the prayer thing. Usually because their prayers are still unidirectional… but that’s a whole other tangent, and best you just read the article on that.

But as you’re fully aware, plenty of Christians already read bible and go to church… for all the good it does ’em. You might already read bible and go to church, and you know firsthand it’s not doing it for you. You know more bible trivia and doctrine, but you want Jesus, and the fan club meetings are fun, but they’re most definitely no backstage pass.

The key, like I said, is obedience. You wanna grow closer to Jesus? Do as he teaches. Don’t just memorize it, then just find excuses for not doing putting it into practice. Do it. Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him.

That said, you know how Evangelicals say we gotta read bible and go to church? They’re right. Read your bible. And go to church.

Because once you’re actually obeying Jesus, you’re suddenly gonna find bible and church become way more useful and profound. See, bible and church can be good in and of themselves, but if you wanna activate them, you gotta start living the Christian life. It’s like buying a microwave oven and refrigerator, but you never plug them in, and you’ve been using them as storage cabinets. “Why is my food never hot nor cold?” Um… y’know that electricity stuff you’ve been using for the lights?

The whole reason the Spirit empowers people.

The electricity of Christianity is of course the Holy Spirit. He’s the one who inspires and empowers us to do stuff. Christians love this about him; it’s why we take spiritual gifts tests and pursue tongues and prophecy. It’s why we focus on the bible’s miracle stories, and wanna see some miracles for ourselves. We’d like to do some miracles. Maybe not part seas or make axeheads float, but curing the sick would be awesome.

Okay, but why does the Spirit empower Christians in the first place? So we can follow Jesus better. So we can do as he tells us, instead of complaining, “But it’s so hard—it’s basically impossible.” Well the Holy Spirit specializes in the impossible.

And you’d know this if you read your bible! You wanna know what Jesus teaches? You wanna see some examples of Jesus’s teaching in action, of what we’re potentially capable of when we do as he tells us, when we tap the Spirit’s power? That’s in the bible. That’s why we read bible—it’s gonna teach us practical application. It’s not just for ivory-tower speculation; we can do that too, but that speculation is meant to yield concrete results. How might we live?—okay, now let’s try it.

Too many Christians are content to keep the Holy Spirit inside our church buildings, and never tap his power outside it. They’ll try to cure the sick during church services… and they won’t bother in the workplace break room. “Oh, but those people don’t believe.” You do realize, though Jesus commended people for believing him, he sometimes cured people who didn’t believe a thing? Like when he raised dead people. You wanna turn unbelievers into believers real fast, cure ’em.

The purpose of the Spirit’s supernatural gifts is to minister to fellow Christians… and pagans. They’re for everyone. Following Jesus means we’re gonna apply them to everyone. Loving our neighbors means we’re gonna try to meet their needs, instead of being stingy and only caring for our own, same as pagans do.

Still need the communion of saints though.

So yeah, following Jesus means we’re gonna act like Christians outside our church’s facilities. Yet I’m still saying we need to go into our church facilities and interact with our fellow Christians. Because we need to act like Christians towards them too. We need to encourage them to get religious about Jesus—to upgrade their pathetic “relationships” to something interactive and obedient.

And we need the encouragement of other Christians who are likewise religious about Jesus. They do go to church, and you’re gonna find them there! They’re gonna pray for you, give you practical advice, share what they’re going through—because you’re not the only one struggling with all this—and otherwise be your support system. As church is meant to be.

Too often, Christians who are serious about getting religious assume their churches aren’t that way at all—that they’re full of silly, superficial people who are only gonna distract or discourage them—and ditch their churches. They start to go it alone. Which is heresy, actually—we’re meant to interact with a communion of saints, and when we stop doing that, we always go wrong. Not sometimes; always. It’s inevitable. It’s gonna bollix all your further religious growth.

Okay, maybe your church is full of silly, superficial people. Maybe you can’t find any of those mature believers who can help you legitimately pursue Jesus; maybe all the leaders of your church are a bunch of hypocrites who are way more interested in political power than in furthering God’s kingdom. I’m fully aware such churches exist; I’ve been to them. But it doesn’t mean abandon church altogether. It only means you need to find another church. One with serious Christ-followers.

I know many Christians who deconstructed their faith—a practice every Christian needs to go through at some point, in which we seriously examine the things we believe and make sure they’re true. It’s a necessary step in growing closer to Jesus. But for some of them, their churches freaked out when they started asking so many questions, lost patience with them, told them to cut it out, alienated them… so they quit church. They’re going it alone now; it’s just them and the Holy Spirit from here on out. And yeah, every single one of them went heretic. Toldja it’s inevitable. With no Christians to confirm it really is the Holy Spirit guiding them, they lost track of his voice and are truly on their own now.

Still need bible.

Some of these heretics ditched church first; others ditched bible first. They tend to go hand in hand.

Yeah, when we’re deconstructing, we’re always gonna ask, “Is the bible valid?”—because we kinda need to trust the gospels’ claims about Jesus, and we’re not gonna do that if we’re not sure the gospel authors’ depictions of Jesus are accurate. We’re either gonna believe the Jesus of the gospels, or drop him and pursue Historical Jesus—who, as I said in my article about him, ain’t all that historical. Heretics usually conclude they, not the gospels, get to define Jesus, and cherry-pick which parts of the gospels they choose to follow. (To be fair, plenty of us Christians do the very same thing, but claim we’re totally following all the scriptures. We aren’t honest about the fact we’re cherry-picking.)

“Is the bible valid?” is a question every Christian needs to grapple with… and not just recognize “Yes, because Jesus considers it valid,” but understand how Jesus considers it. Interpret it the same way he interprets it. But in order to do this, as well as obey what Jesus tells us inside and outside its pages, we gotta get familiar with it. We gotta read our bibles!

Too often you’re gonna get Christians who only wanna obey Jesus outside the bible’s pages. Who only care to obey what he commands them right this minute. That’s why they’re so interested in prophecy; they’re trying to see what Jesus’s current orders are. They don’t care so much about his standing orders. Or they’ll claim they do care about the standing orders—the reason they’re seeking a “now word” is because it’ll illuminate the standing orders better. So they’ll claim, but in practice they always follow the “now word” rather than the gospels—and occasionally at the expense of the gospels.

If Jesus is truly Lord, we don’t get to pick and choose which of his orders to follow. We don’t get to prioritize “now words” over the scriptures. We just do as he teaches, to the best of our ability, with the Spirit’s power where applicable, with the Spirit’s fruit lest our actions deteriorate into loveless, joyless, impatient, unkind, unclean, and bad religion.

Do get religious, but don’t ditch bible and church in so doing. They’re among the best instructional aids Jesus has provided us, and it’d be dumb to disregard ’em.