Showing posts with label #Church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Church. Show all posts

What does your church believe?—and no, I don’t mean the pastors.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 January 2024

A few years ago a pastor friend of mine posted on social media, “One of the core values at our church is…” something. I don’t remember specifically what. Some virtuous practice, like generosity or frequent potlucks. Every church should have frequent potlucks.

But all I remember is immediately thinking, “No it’s not.”

Because it’s not.

I’ve no doubt it’s one of his core values. But he’s a pastor. He’s not the church.

I’ve no doubt he wants his church to have this value. Probably preaches it in his sermons, includes it in his vision statements, sticks it on the church website. Likely practices it in his personal life. But as I keep reminding Christians (and pastors!) the church is not its leadership. The church is people.

Our pastors might declare our churches and denominations hold to certain faith statements, certain official doctrines, certain core values, certain biblical principles… but unless they’ve taken a poll of the people to find out what we really believe, all they’re really stating is what they think ought to be our churches’ central convictions.

The actual central convictions? Bit messier.

Centuries ago, our Lord Jesus had his apostle John write messages to seven churches located in the eastern Roman Empire. If you read it, you’ll notice Jesus didn’t even bother to state ’em to the church leadership—who were probably following him just fine! Instead he bypassed the church supervisors and spoke straight to the angel over each church—the spirit whom he put in charge of spiritually defending his churches. (Who isn’t actually in charge of the church, ’cause angels help, not lead; ignore anything people claim to the contrary). Addressing the angel was Jesus’s way of addressing the people, not the leaders.

Here’s what he had to say to the people of the church of Ephesus:

Revelation 2.1-7 CSB
1 “Write to the angel of the church in Ephesus: Thus says the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and who walks among the seven golden lampstands: 2 I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil people. You have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and you have found them to be liars. 3 I know that you have persevered and endured hardships for the sake of my name, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6 Yet you do have this: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7 “Let anyone who has ears to hear listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”

In this part of Revelation, lampstands represent the individual churches, Rv 1.20 and Jesus was threatening to end this church if they didn’t bother to follow him. They didn’t, so he eventually did.

And like I said earlier, the leadership of this church was probably following Jesus just fine! Sharing the gospel, serving the needy, loving their neighbors; all the stuff Christians oughta do. But they only made up maybe 20 percent of the church at best. The other 80 percent? They were the ones Jesus was critiquing for abandoning their first love, and slacking on good deeds. They did hate what certain heretics in their city were up to; Jesus hated that too; but it takes very little effort to hate stuff. It’s not that positive a thing to say about ’em.

Anyway back to my point: The leadership of our churches usually takes charge of presenting the public face of our churches. They put together the websites, publish the faith statements, show photos of the 20 percent of the church which actually participates in outreach and charity… but the great majority of the church? It’s embarrassing to say so, but they’re irreligious and fleshly, and have zero interest in following Jesus any better than they already barely do.

They’re why our supposedly “Christian” country doesn’t act it. They’re why our supposedly “Christian” churches don’t follow Christ all that much. Why the people of those churches can so easily be swayed by politicians and scam artists of low character, and think they’re right with God because they hate particular sins. But do they do anything Jesus teaches? Meh; when the mood strikes.

Baptism: Get saved, get wet.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 July 2023
BAPTISM 'bæp.tɪz.əm noun. Religious ritual of sprinkling water on a person’s forehead, or immersing them in water, symbolizing purification, regeneration, and admission to Christ Jesus’s church.
[Baptist 'bæp.təst noun, baptizand 'bæp.tɪ.zænd noun, baptismal bæp'tɪz.məl adjective.]

Whenever the ancient Hebrews did something ritually unclean, they had to ritually clean themselves before they went to temple. How they did this was to simply immerse themselves in water, then wait till sundown—after which point they were ritually clean.

Since they were only required to go to temple thrice a year, they really didn’t have to do a whole lot of ritual cleansing. That is, till Pharisees decided every form of worship required people to be ritually clean. So if you went to synagogue—whether daily, or just Friday nights for Sabbath services—you needed to be ritually clean. Gotta wash!

How Pharisees (and today’s Orthodox Jews) did so was to create a מִקְֶֶוה/mikvéh, “collection [of water].” Basically a vat or pool large enough so a person could stand upright underwater. It had to consist of “living water,” by which they meant running water—and because Pharisees were big on loopholes, any kind of running would count. Water could be dripping into it and dripping out of it; that’d count. You stepped into the mikvéh fully clothed, then walked out. Then awaited sundown.

This ritual washing, they called βάπτισμα/váptisma, “immersion.” Yep, it’s where we get our word baptism.

If you were a new Pharisee, your very first baptism would be when you joined the synagogue. And that’s where John the baptist got the idea for his form of baptism: If you were repentant, and wanted to turn from your sins to follow God, start with baptism.

Since Jesus (though he personally had no sins to repent of) submitted to John’s baptism, and instructed his students to baptize any new students, Mt 28.19 baptism has thereby become the rite of Christian initiation. You’ve decided to follow Jesus? Great! Now get baptized in water. Get forgiven. Receive the Holy Spirit. Ac 2.38

There’s another form of baptism, called baptism of the Holy Spirit, which I discuss elsewhere.

Like every sacrament, we Christians get obsessed with doing it “properly,” and believing all the correct things about it. Sacraments, you recall, represent something God’s doing. Not so much us. We do the ritual, but God does the spiritual reality behind it, and that’s the relevant part. Still, you know how self-centered we humans get: “Oh, if you did it that way, it doesn’t count.” As if God’s not gonna embrace a new follower because we used a bottle of water instead of the nearest river.

Do you have friends in your church?

by K.W. Leslie, 26 May 2023

Christians tend to go to church for five reasons.

  • MUSIC. We love music, and the church has good music. It’s like going to a weekly rock concert! And if we never help fund the church, it’s free!
  • TEACHING. We wanna learn about God, Christianity, and the bible. We want a good informative sermon. We want good informative bible studies. We wanna know more.
  • SERVICE. We feel a great personal reward in ministering to the needy, and the church has some ways to do that, and encourages us in it.
  • SACRAMENT. We gotta stay connected with God, and what helps are the rituals we can only do as a group. Like praising together, praying together, holy communion, and so forth.
  • FELLOWSHIP. We wanna see our friends.

Churches tend to focus primarily on sacrament, sermon, or music. Today I’m gonna bring up the fellowship thing. It’s a way bigger deal than a lot of Christians realize.

Well, some of us already realize it’s a big deal. It’s why certain churches structure things so people can interact a lot. They have a lot of small groups, and promote ’em constantly. They have a “meet ’n greet time” in the middle of the service, which can go on for as many as ten minutes. (I used to take advantage of my church’s meet ’n greet time to go get another cup of coffee.) They have potlucks and pizza parties and movie nights and other social functions—sometimes monthly, sometimes weekly. And they refuse to create a church café, ’cause they know the way people tend to run ’em, it’ll ultimately discourage fellowship.

This fellowship activity isn’t for any ulterior motive. That’s the motive. They want the people of their church to make friends with one another. Jesus ordered us to love one another; Jn 15.12 they’re trying to make it happen. You’re not gonna love one another when you don’t know one another. You’re not gonna make friends with your fellow Christians when they’re nothing more than the other people who go to your church.

Yeah, there are fringe benefits to the people in your church making friends with one another: They’re gonna come to church to see their friends. Or, to put it shorter, they’re gonna come to church.

That’s what got me coming to church, back in my young-hypocrite years: My friends were there. I could do without the church services themselves: The music sucked. The sermons were shallow. (Coincidentally, I and my faith were also sucky and shallow, so more likely this was just me.) I would’ve had no problem with sleeping in Sunday mornings, like every other pagan. But I looked forward to sitting in the back of the church auditorium, quietly goofing off with my buds, whether it was Sunday morning or Thursday night youth group.

I grew out of the hypocrisy, but it’s still true: Lotta times I don’t feel like going to church. But if I have friends there, and I wanna see them, I go. If I find out my friends are gonna be absent—they gotta work, they’re on vacation, they’re out sick, and so forth—there goes my motivation to attend.

or they’re on vacation, or otherwise won’t attend—sometimes I’ll attend anyway, and sometimes I won’t. And I’m far from the only one.

In fact one church I went to, I had really spotty attendance because all my friends left. I used to have lots of friends at that church, including some of the pastors. Some left for work-related reasons, some for ministry-related reasons. Lots because they were college students and graduated. Some because they just decided they were done with that church. My final year there, before I moved away, I had no friends there. Just acquaintances. Nice people, but not friends. So some weeks, when I felt like going to Noah’s Bagels instead of church, that’s precisely what I did.

Later I moved, it was time to go church-shopping, so I visited one church—we’ll call it “Mars Hill.” Went to the morning services; went to the evening services; said hi to loads of people. One evening, about a month in, the head pastor finally said hi, and we chatted a bit. He was the only one who bothered to chat a bit. He was also, sad to say, going through a severe health crisis at the time, so he couldn’t make any other time for me. But none of Mars Hill’s other leaders bothered to fill in for him, and none of Mars Hill’s other people cared to venture outside their cliques. I really patiently hung around three months, but just didn’t make connections. So I didn’t stay.

The next church: Made friends immediately. Guess where I did stay.

Why I went to an all-white church.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 May 2023

When I was 11 years old, my family moved to a city in California which was about 60 percent white, 40 percent Latino, 10 percent every other ethnicity combined. Same as much of California south of Sacramento.

New city means new church. Mom went looking for churches which’d be a good fit for young children; I’m the eldest of four. We tried a few. We ended up at a certain church; in another article I referred to this particular place as “Maypole Church,” and I don’t see any point in changing its name again. Maypole was very Fundamentalist, very dispensationalist, and very sexist—all of which I no longer am. But the folks there did make sure we kids got to know our bibles, which is the important thing.

Oh, and Maypole was super racist. Which we didn’t know at the time… but the fact they happened to be 100 percent white should’ve tipped us off.

Every so often, Maypole would be 99 percent white: A black, Latino, or Asian family would visit. There’s an Air Force base nearby, and white airmen would invite their nonwhite friends to come worship with them at Maypole. But within a few months, these nonwhite friends would stop attending. They’d go elsewhere.

I never knew why. Never thought to ask why. Never assumed it was about race. Never thought to ask. Yep, I was a clueless white kid.

Never gave the racial issue any thought at all… till I started to invite my high school friends to Maypole’s youth group. My high school was right next to the Air Force base, and was just as integrated as the U.S. Air Force. I’ve always been raised in multiethnic neighborhoods, and (other than a brief stint in the country) always lived in multiethnic neighborhoods. I never solely made friends with white kids. And most of the high school kids were fellow Christians, and if they didn’t have a youth group, I invited them to mine. So they came—for a few weeks. Then stopped. Found excuses not to come along.

ME. “Why don’t you wanna go?”
THEY. “That group ain’t right.”
ME. “Ain’t right? What ‘ain’t right’ about it?”
THEY. [uncomfortably] “It just ain’t right.”

I assumed it had to do with doctrines. Like I said, Maypole was very Fundamentalist. Maybe more so than they were comfortable with. My church wouldn’t compromise, but maybe theirs would, like the rest of all the other churches. You know; typical Fundie paranoia.

Then I finally invited a white high school friend to church. He wasn’t Christian; he was a pagan who was open to the idea. He didn’t stop attending after two weeks; he stuck around. Largely because he really wanted to have sex with one of our youth group’s girls. I never saw him make a decision for Jesus, but I did see him invite a number of his other friends to the group. He did a better job recruiting kids than I did. So that’s a win… I guess?

First he invited a white friend, who stuck around a month… till he realized Christian girls weren’t quite as loose as he’d prefer. Then a Latino friend, who stayed three weeks. But yep, as you could guess: Left because “That group ain’t right.”

Every Spring Break our youth group took a “mission trip” to Baja California Norte to pitch in at a Mexican church’s Vacation Bible School. There, I saw for myself how many of our kids were super racist towards Mexicans. Our youth pastor cracked down on it as best he could. (Well, considering how certain Maypole parents would get him fired if he ever kicked their kids out of the group.) Still, this was finally when I realized just what my nonwhite friends meant by “That group ain’t right.” Indeed they weren’t right.

And as we know, kids don’t become racist in a vacuum. They get it from their parents.

I’m not accusing the leadership of Maypole Church of racism. Not the pastors; probably not their deacons. But obviously there were just enough racists in my youth group to block any outreach I did—or anyone did—to nonwhites in my high school, in our city, everywhere. I presumed my church was a safe place, as all churches should be. It wasn’t.

I stopped going to Maypole in 1991. Last I checked, they’re still predominantly white.

Get into a bible study.

by K.W. Leslie, 26 September 2022
BIBLE STUDY 'baɪ.bəl 'stə.di noun. One’s individual reading and research of the scriptures.
2. Short for “bible study group”: A gathering of people who meet to discuss the scriptures, or Christian topics, together.

Hopefully you read your bible on a regular basis; hopefully all the way through from time to time. (You can do it in a month y’know.)

And if you want to understand certain parts of it better, I would also hope you get hold of some bible handbooks, bible commentaries, or bible dictionaries—resources which help explain some of the historical and cultural background. ’Cause too many Christians forget we, and the folks in the bible, have very different worldviews. Even if you think you have a “biblical worldview,” you still really don’t think like a first-century Judean under Roman occupation, a seventh-century-BC Jerusalemite with the threat of the neo-Babylonian Empire coming for you, a tenth-century-BC Israelite who only just found himself living in a monarchy, a 14th-century-BC Hebrew slave newly freed from captivty, or a 19th-century-BC Sumerian nomad surrounded by pagans.

So get those reference materials, and get to learning. Don’t be intimidated; they write ’em for average Christians who lack seminary degrees.

But here’s the only catch with studying the bible on our own: How do we know we’re doing it correctly?

How do we know we haven’t picked up some poorly-researched book by some crank, and instead of learning solid stuff, we’re learning weird heresy? How do we know our conclusions are accurate, and whether the Holy Spirit really is guiding us through our studies?

Simplest answer: You confirm what you’re studying through fellow Christians who also studied this stuff, or who are also currently studying it. Yeah, you could all be individually studying it at home, and come together and compare notes… or you could study it together under some teacher who already knows a bit about it.

Christians generally call these get-togethers bible studies. But I should tell ya: All my life I’ve encountered “bible studies” in which the bible is not the primary book everyone’s reading. They’re doing a study on some other book. Some bible-adjacent book. Like a commentary, or a book about important people in the bible, or a book about certain biblical principles, or prayer books. Properly those are book clubs, not bible studies… but we still call ’em bible studies. Bible’s gonna come up pretty frequently, y’see.

And in these groups we can ask questions, confirm our interpretations, and learn a few things. After all, if we’re all listening to the same Holy Spirit, our interpretations should have some consensus to them… depending on what the Spirit wants to emphasize to each individual, of course.

It’s why I always recommend we plug into one bible study or another. Go interact with some fellow Christians, let iron sharpen iron, and get to know God better.

On critiquing other churches.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 September 2022

There are Christians who believe we should never, ever criticize one another. Nor other churches. What they do is their own business; it’s between them and God; it’s not for us to say they’re right or wrong. If you need a proof text, they point to this one:

Romans 14.4-5 KJV
4 Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. 5 One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

Okay, here’s a fun paradox: Isn’t this passage of scripture… a form of correction? Isn’t Paul right here telling the Roman Christians they’re wrong, and oughta do better?

Yeah, I’m clearly not one of those “live and let live” Christians. I tend to be mighty libertarian about a lot of things, but whenever it comes to immorality and irreligion, I’m gonna say something. And I believe I have biblical precedent for this. In the scriptures, Jesus and the apostles most definitely rebuked people. Paul, who wrote the above verses, did too—in every letter he wrote. Even to really good churches like that of Ephesus.

But I believe in loving, constructive criticism. Hopefully we’re all trying to get better at following Jesus. Well, you can’t do that without other people, the Holy Spirit included, prodding us to do better. And sometimes pointing out blind spots which we’re too dense to notice. But we gotta do it as the Spirit does it—with kindness, patience, love, and all his other fruit.

I appreciate the Spirit’s criticism, ’cause he does it so encouragingly we sometimes don’t even realize it’s criticism. Other times he’s completely blunt and matter-of-fact with me… because he knows me, and knows that’s what it’s gonna take to get through my thick skull. It always depends on the person he’s working on. He knows what works. Us, not no much; we need to follow his example much better than we do.

I suspect a lot of the reason certain Christians frown on critiquing other churches, is because they don’t see the encouraging, fruitful forms of constructive criticism. They only see angry, outraged Christians ranting against some church’s practices, calling them heretics and cultists and condemning them to fiery hell. That, not gentle guidance, is what Paul was rebuking when he wrote Romans 14.

As for Jesus telling us “Judge not, that ye be not judged,” Mt 7.1 —a passage taken out of context constantly—he was critiquing our tendency to practice double standards. If you judge, expect to be judged by the very same yardstick. It’s only fair. You are not an exception.

And again, we tend to see a lot of that same inconsistency and hypocrisy when Christians critique fellow Christians and our churches. We rebuke ’em for doing stuff, but we do similar stuff. We might complain their worship music lacks spiritual depth, but I’ve heard contemporary Christian songs, ’80s-style worship choruses, and hymns, all of which were mighty shallow. We might complain about their overt sexism, but what about our subtle sexism—where we claim we recognize women can be in Christian leadership, but our churches have no women on the church board, and our few women pastors only minister to the women and children?

Like I said, I have no trouble with constructive criticism—but we gotta be prepared to stand up to the very same criticism. If we’re holding Christianity up to Jesus’s standards, we don’t get to be exceptions to those standards. No loopholes.

Why are there so many churches?

by K.W. Leslie, 31 August 2022

Properly, Jesus’s church is his followers. Not a church institution nor organization; not the hierarchy of a denomination nor the people in leadership who try to steer the masses; certainly not a building. It’s people. The church is people. All the people who are enroute to God’s kingdom… and all the hangers-on who may yet get in as well.

So since Jesus’s church is that, instead of all our individual denominations… why are there so many different denominations of church? And why do some of ’em even actively compete with one another, as if they’re a bunch of different retail businesses trying to win over customers?

Well there are lots of reasons. Some are good and valid. Some really not.

I’ve simplified them down to five. Maybe oversimplified; you can tell me whether I’m missing any particular nuances here. The first two reasons I consider valid, and even have scriptures to back me up. The last thee… not so much.

Finding the pony.

by K.W. Leslie, 10 August 2022

One of Ronald Reagan’s favorite jokes was about two little boys. One was an extreme optimist; everything was just wonderful! The other an extreme pessimist; everything was just the worst.

A psychiatrist was asked to tone ’em down a little—not make ’em not optimistic nor pessimistic, but just less extreme. So he put the pessimist a room full of toys, and put the optimist in a room full of horse manure.

He came back in a few hours to see how the boys were doing. He found the pessimist sitting in the middle of the room, playing with nothing, crying because he was afraid he’d break the toys if he even touched them. As for the optimist, he found the boy up to his armpits, furiously digging away at it: “With all this poop, there’s gotta be a pony in here somewhere!”

I use the term “finding the pony” to describe the process of looking for something, anything, good and valuable in a bad sermon. ’Cause sometimes I gotta do it.

When I go church-shopping, the first thing I look for is friendly people. After that, I want leadership who knows what they’re doing. The music pastor has to know how to sing, maybe play an instrument, and knows more than 10 songs—or at least has us worship to more than 10. The board has to know how to handle charitable works, the church’s ministries, and the infrastructure—and remember charity comes first, not expenses. The pastor has to know how to counsel people, and if the pastor also preaches (and they almost always do) has to do their homework: Don’t just wing it through a sermon, but study that bible.

First church I visited when I moved to town: Pastor didn’t do his homework. It was obvious. I later found out he was going through a heavy family crisis, so I can understand not having the time to do homework—but man, if that’s happening to you, have someone else in your church preach! If there’s nobody else in your church you can trust with the preaching, borrow the pastor of another church. But don’t preach when you’re not ready.

My church’s usual preachers are really good about doing their homework. I rarely have to dig for the pony. But every once in a great while, we’ll have a guest speaker who doesn’t really know what they’re talking about. Or I’ll visit another church, go to a conference, or some other circumstance will obligate me to sit through a badly-researched sermon full of dross instead of silver.

Cults: When churches go very, very wrong.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 June 2022
CULT kəlt noun. A religion centered on one particular individual or figurehead.
2. A group (usually small) whose religious beliefs and practices are outside the norm: Too controling, abusive, devilish, or just plain strange.
3. A misplaced devotion to a particular person or thing.
4. A heretic Christian church.
[Cultic 'kəl.tɪk adjective, cultish 'kəl.tɪʃ adjective, cultism 'kəl.tiz.əm noun.]

I throw this word “cult” around a lot, so I’d better define it. First, what other folks mean by “cult,” all of which are included in the above definition:

  • Sociologists, anthropologists, and other social scientists whose job descriptions end in -ist, tend to use definition #1: A cult is any religion with a guru in charge. Not necessarily controling, abusive, or devilish; just a group which follows a person. Technically Christianity falls under this definition: We follow Jesus, right?
  • Popular culture leans towards definition #2: A cult is any creepy religion. If it weirds people out in any way, they just call it a cult. Even if it’s Christianity. If we trust Jesus a little too much for their comfort, they call us cultish.
  • And popular Christian culture leans towards definition #4: A cult is any heretic church.

The popular Christian definition originated when Charles S. Braden used it, in his 1949 book These Also Believe: A Study of Modern American Cults and Minority Religious Movements to mean

any religious group which differs significantly in one or more respects as to belief or practice from those religious groups which are regarded as the normative expressions of religion in our total culture. Braden xii

And that’s the definition Walter R. Martin went with in his popular book The Kingdom of the Cults. It’s a book I oughta plug, since it’s mighty useful: It explains how certain churches deviate from orthodox Christianity.

But thanks to these guys, when an Evangelical Christian says “cult,” they typically mean “heretic.”

  • Jehovah’s Witnesses and Oneness Pentecostals don’t believe God’s a trinity. So they’d be cults.
  • Latter-Day Saints say Jesus (and for that matter the Father) is a created being. So, cult.
  • Christian Scientists claim death is an illusion, and therefore Jesus didn’t literally die: Cult.
  • Muslims and Buddhists don’t even believe Jesus is God: Cults.

Yep, doesn’t even matter if these groups don’t consider themselves Christian. Evangelicals will freely slap that label “cult” on any religion they consider heretic. Depending on how Fundamentalist they get—by which I mean how narrowly they define orthodoxy—everything can be a cult but their group. I grew up in such churches: If they strongly believe women shouldn’t wear makeup, yet your church lets ’em, they’ll call you a cult. Because their religion is so strict, makeup is orthodoxy, and you aren’t orthodox. Today it’s foundation, eyeshadow, blush, and lipstick; tomorrow you’re denouncing God and kissing Satan with tongue.

Of course if your church is that strict and controling, the cult is sorta on the other foot. (If you don’t mind me mixing a few metaphors there.)

Not going to church is heresy.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 June 2022

Yeah, this article’s title, “Not going to church is heresy,” is gonna be provocative. Mostly because most people don’t understand what heresy means. It means “not orthodox”—when people don’t believe what Christians have historically believed, and oughta believe, because to believe otherwise is gonna lead us away from Jesus. Most people presume heresy means “a belief that’ll send you to hell.” No; we’re saved by grace, remember? Not good works. And our belief system (our “faith,” if you wanna call it that) is a good work.

Going to church is one of those good works. Jesus created the church when he picked the apostles and told ’em to go make him more followers. Which they did; which we still do, I hope! And he expects us followers to fellowship. That means we talk about Jesus with one another, share what he’s done in our lives, encourage one another, confess shortcomings and sins if necessary, pray together, worship together, do sacraments together, listen to some teachings about Jesus together… in other words, do church. Go to church!

But people don’t wanna.

Which I get. There’s many times I didn’t wanna. I wanted to sleep in on Sunday mornings like a pagan. I wanted to listen to anything other than my pastor’s sermon series—either it was full of stuff I already know, or it’s full of stuff I don’t believe. I likewise wanted to listen to anything other than the worship music: Our worship pastor didn’t care to stay current with music, and was stuck in the 1980s… as you could tell by his wardrobe. And I wanted to avoid the jerks in my church who just frustrated me about how much partisanship has infiltrated American Evangelical Christianity, and made us less patient, generous, kind, and gracious.

Plus nowadays there are entire church services on YouTube! Didn’t have those 20 years ago; at most we had radio, and Christian radio shows are often just sermons, abridged to 25 minutes, or edited into two or three parts. But I could watch video church instead! I could even watch ’em from the bathroom, during my high-fiber-cereal-induced B.M. I love modern technology.

But. But but but.

All these things are convenient substitutes for the Sunday morning services. And while the coronavirus pandemic was raging in 2020, they were a godsend. But do I need to remind you Sunday morning services are not church? Guess I do: They’re not.

The church is people. Not the denomination, not the 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, not the leadership, not the building. It’s people. It’s the collective Christians who make up the Holy Spirit’s temple, and when we got the temple, we got church. Yet usually, those who wanna ditch church don’t even think of the people when they think of church. They’re thinking of the Sunday morning services, the unimpressive pastors, and the uncomfortable building—which is never at the right temperature. Poorly ventilated, or someone went a little bonkers with the air conditioning. Why is the only pastor undergoing menopause in charge of the thermostat?

But I digress; back to the point. The church is people. If you’re avoiding the people, you’re not doing church!

And that’s why we’re instructed to not skip meeting with one another He 10.25 if we can help it. If we’re gonna have healthy and productive relationships with our fellow Christians, and encourage one another to follow Jesus, we gotta interact. The ancient Christians, who spent most of their lives under persecution, realized this support system is absolutely necessary—and intentionally put “the fellowship of saints” in their creeds. It’s not an afterthought; it’s not something they threw in there ’cause it sounds nice. People were ditching church even back then.

Thing is, going it alone leads people astray constantly. Constantly. CONSTANTLY. Do I have to emphasize this harder?

People go astray even when we do attend church services faithfully! But when we’re not attending at all, we’re guaranteed to go wrong. Not sometimes gonna go wrong; will. Without fellow Christians to correct one another, reinforce one another, confirm what the Spirit is telling us, it’s a given that we’re gonna develop wrong beliefs and heresies, and become less and less Christian over time. I’ve seen it happen more times than I can count.

So no, it’s not just me saying skipping church is heresy. I don’t get to define orthodoxy and heresy, y’know. (Neither do you. Neither does your denomination.) Christianity determined it, centuries ago. They recognized it’s vitally important we interact—because Jesus made it important. It’s why he created the church to begin with.

The sermon.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 April 2022
SERMON 'sər.mən noun. Homily. A lecture on a moral or religious subject, usually presented to a church.
2. A long, boring lecture.
[Sermonic sər'mɑn.ɪk adjective, sermonize 'sər.mən.aɪz verb.]

In sermon-focused churches, the central part of their Sunday morning worship service (or Saturday evening, or Wednesday night, or whenever they hold it) is duh, the sermon. If they didn’t have a sermon, or if the sermon wasn’t impressive enough, they “didn’t have church.” They could shorten the music; they could skip holy communion entirely. But they’d better have a sermon.

I should point out neither Jesus nor his apostles instructed us to preach sermons as part of our worship services. Seriously; they didn’t! But I suspect that’s because they presumed religious instruction would automatically be part of the services anyway. Christians are expected to strengthen, encourage, and comfort the church, 1Co 14.3-5 and good religious instruction does that.

And religious instruction was the whole point of synagogues. Pharisees invented them so Israel wouldn’t be religiously illiterate, and fall into sin. Early Christian churches behaved an awful lot like Christian synagogues: At some point someone would go up front, read the scriptures, sit down, and answer questions about what was just read. Over time this instruction got less interactive, and more lecture-y.

For many Christians, sermons are the entire point of attending a church service: They wanna learn about God! They don’t know enough about him… or do, but wanna hear more. The newbies need to learn the basics, and the oldtimers need to be reminded to stick to these basics. As knowledgeable as we might get about theology, bible history, religious practice, and our own experiences with God, we need to be regularly reminded: Love God, love your neighbor, pray, share Jesus, be fruity, do good works, and grow his kingdom.

Go to church!

by K.W. Leslie, 20 January 2022
Church. tʃərtʃ noun. A Christian group which gathers for the purpose of following and worshiping God.
2. God’s kingdom: Every Christian, everywhere on earth, throughout all of history.
3. A denomination: One such distinct Christian organization, namely one with its own groups, clergy, teachings, and buildings.
4. A Christian group’s building or campus.

Ἐκκλησία/ekklisía, the Greek word we translate “church,” properly means “group.”

Yeah, you might’ve heard some preacher claim it means “a specially-called-out people.” It’s ’cause ekklisía’s word-root καλέω/kaléo means “call.” So those who like to dabble in language assume “call” must be part of ekklisía’s meaning. But words evolve, y’know. Our word congress used to mean “group” too… and nowadays it means “our do-nothing national legislature.” Ancient Greeks also used ekklisía to refer to their legislatures. But regardless of what it used to mean, hundreds of years before Jesus used it to refer to his group, it’s only a generic term for any group.

Yeah, Jesus used the term. Thrice in Matthew; 19 times in Revelation.

Matthew 18.17 KJV
And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

Nowadays people use “church” to mean a church building: “I’ll meet you at the church” seldom means “I’ll meet you in the group.” But church means group. That’s what it means in the bible, every time it’s used. Never the building; the church met in all sorts of different buildings. The church is a group of Jesus-followers, who get together to worship him, learn from him, and encourage one another to follow him better. Sometimes “church” meant only the local group; sometimes, as in Revelation, it meant all the groups in a given city; and sometimes all Christendom. Every Christian, everywhere, whether they regularly met together in groups or not.

But regardless of what the word means, a lot of people want nothing to do with it.

I know a lot of people, and have met a lot of people, who tell me they have no intention of going to church. They don’t believe in “organized religion”—by which they mean church.

  • They don’t wanna get up early on Sunday morning—their one day off—to go hang out with a bunch of strangers and hypocrites.
  • They don’t wanna sing a bunch of cheesy Christian worship songs, no matter how good the musicians might be (and sometimes they’re not, ’cause sometimes small churches have too few musicians to choose from… or the pastor picked a family member to do music, and yikes). And why must music pastors insist on repeating the chorus so many times?
  • They don’t wanna then listen to the pastor’s wife sing karaoke one of the songs, mediocrely, for all to applaud her, ’cause wasn’t she earnest? (Though not good. And not always earnest.)
  • They don’t wanna tithe to an organization whose pastors clearly have enough money to afford fancy suits, silk Hawaiian shirts, or whatever Urban Outfitters currently puts in their shop windows. (Depending on how old or young your pastors—and congregation—are.)
  • They don’t wanna sit through an hour-long lecture. They had quite enough of lectures in childhood. Now they’ve gotta again be told what to do, what to think, and that if they don’t, they’re going to hell. (Which, if they even believe in hell, they’re entirely sure God isn’t that wrathful, ’cause grace.)
  • Alternatively, they don’t wanna sit through a homily which does none of those things… which, instead, tells them nothing. It’s just some feel-good stuff devoid of substance, and as boring as all get-out (-of-the-building-now).
  • They don’t wanna force the kids to go to church. It’s hard enough getting ’em to go to school.

Look, I get it. I’ve been going to church all my life. I have all the same complaints as you. Probably more, ’cause I have a theology degree, so I can write a dissertation about every single one of my problems with church. You think I’m kidding? In seminary I was given an assignment to write about my problems with church, and my biggest problem with that paper was I was only permitted to write about one of my peeves. Not all thousand. So… much… bile…

Really don’t wanna go to church.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 January 2022

There’s a guy whose blog I’ve been following for years. In the past three years he’s been really amping up his message to everybody to quit their churches. Stop going, he says. Just stop; stay home. You’ll be a lot happier.

And I get it. There’ve been times in my life where I didn’t wanna go to church either. I didn’t try to drag people away from church along with me, like this guy; I figured if you like church, you do you, but for me, nah.

For the usual excuses.

I HAVE ANOTHER CHURCH. I moved about 100 miles away from home for college, and for a semester I used the excuse, “I already have a church.” I didn’t care for any of the local churches I had visited. And whenever I went home, I did go to church, with my family. But when I was at school I figured it was okay… if I missed 10 weeks of church services.

CHAPEL COUNTS. Plus my school had daily chapel services. So they became my other excuse that semester. Me and a lot of other students.

DON’T GOTTA GO EVERY WEEK. When I wasn’t in church leadership, I found it was really easy to skip a Sunday morning here and there. Sometimes skip a lot of mornings. There are some Christians who only attend a service once a month… and of course there are those twice-a-year Christians who only attend Easter and Christmas services. If that; nowadays they can watch services on YouTube.

“I have freedom in Christ, y’know,” was my usual excuse for inconsistent attendance. And I do… but in context that passage is about freedom of conscience, Ro 14 not the freedom to be irresponsible.

I CAN DO THIS ON MY OWN. Years before, when I wasn’t at school, this was my excuse for a few weeks while I was really annoyed with the people of my church. ’Cause I totally can do this stuff on my own.

  • Pray?—no problem.
  • Sing worship songs?—easily done.
  • Learn from fellow Christians?—I have their books; I have the internet; I got content.
  • Study the bible?—sure.
  • Tithing? Well yes, I could donate money to myself for “religious” expenses; or I could give that money to charity. Or I could spend all of it at a Peets one afternoon while I sat there reading some Christian book; wouldn’t that totally count?
  • Take holy communion? I could eat saltines and grape juice on my own, and call it communion. But the vital element in communion is, y’know, actual communion—with fellow Christians. So that makes it tricky.

As are all our other rituals which require the participation of other Christians. Plus evangelism: Once you lead someone to Jesus, where do you take ’em so they can be taught Christianity and mentored? Well I could do it myself… but that’d mean I’m starting a church, right?

There are plenty more excuses. Some of them get pretty complex, and as a result they kinda merit whole articles, because it takes a little time to take these excuses apart. But for many a Christian, any excuse will do.

“It counts as church, right?”

by K.W. Leslie, 02 December 2021

Though four out of five Americans identify ourselves as Christian, only one of these five actually go to church.

Nope, not kidding. Yes, the polls indicate about half of all Americans are regular attendees. In part because people play mighty loose with what “regular” means: They think it means once a month or more. Once a month counts as “regular.”

How often are Christians expected to participate in church? Well check out the standard expectations found in the scriptures:

Luke 9.23 KJV
And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.

Looks like the first Christians took Jesus’s “daily” idea and ran with it:

Acts 2.46-47 KJV
46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.

They were even able to make daily counts of their attendees:

Acts 16.5 KJV
And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.

And when it came time to instruct non-Christians, new believers, and new students, it also took place daily:

Acts 5.42 KJV
And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.
Acts 17.11 KJV
These [Bereans] were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
Acts 19.9 KJV
But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.

The usual practice among Christians nowadays is to only meet weekly for church. This means those who consider ourselves “regulars” because we attend once every week, are actually meeting a seventh as often as the ancient Christians. Less, considering those Christians would meet for hours-long services, whereas American Christians get antsy if the service lasts any longer than 90 minutes. (Some of them are even reading this article and gasping, “Ninety minutes? We’re done in an hour!” Yeah, we suck.

I know the polls say half, but as presidential polls have lately proven, people lie to pollsters all the time. They’d like to think they’re regular churchgoers. But whenever I’ve pinned down some of these so-called “regulars,” and ask ’em the last time they set foot in a church building, they gotta think about it, so it’s not recent. Nor all that regular. And when they’re being honest, the last time they attended was either Easter, Christmas, or for a wedding or funeral. “Regular” means twice a year. If that.

Heck, I’ve caught people claiming they were regulars at my church. After all, they visited for Christmas! Sometimes I’ll mess with them a little: “Oh, and how’d you like Pastor Dave’s message?” Oh, they’ll respond, they loved it. But our pastor’s name isn’t Dave. Four other churches in town have a Pastor Dave; we don’t. Still, a regular should know the pastor’s name, don’t you think?

Likewise if none of the pastors in your church know who you are, y’ain’t a regular. I’ll grant you some leeway if you attend a megachurch, where the pastors can’t possibly know everyone. But someone in your church’s leadership oughta be able to identify you in a police lineup.

Regardless—and regardless of what people imagine—any twice-a-year Christian isn’t a regular.

How about once-a-month attendees? Meh. I consider they’re doing the bare minimum to be considered “regular.” The standard in the scriptures is daily, remember?

But when I talk with strangers, and they identify as Christian, quite often they won’t bother to pretend they’re regulars at any church whatsoever. They’ll admit they have no church. At this rate, they’re not planning to find one either.

The 𝘋𝘪𝘥𝘢𝘤𝘩𝘦: How’d the earliest Christians behave?

by K.W. Leslie, 08 October 2021

In the first century, Christian leaders wrote a “teaching” for their newbies: Stuff they felt new Christians oughta know and believe. Over time it’s become known as the didache, from its first line, Didahí Kyríu diá ton dódeka apostólon toís éthesin, “The Master’s teaching to the gentiles, from the 12 apostles.” Medieval western Christians lost their copies of it sometime in the 800s, and assumed it was gone forever, but Ethiopian Christians kept a version of it among their sacred literature, and an 11th-cenutry copy in the Codex Hierosolymitanus was rediscovered by Philotheos Bryennios in 1873.

Historians notice a lot of similarities between the Didache and what the Qumran community taught in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It’s considered a Jewish-Christian catechism, a lesson to be memorized, and eventually practiced. Whether it’s precisely as the Twelve taught, we’ve no idea. But it’s safe to say it’s what a lot of early Christians taught. In fact, many early Christians felt the Didache should be included in the New Testament.

So why wasn’t it? ’Cause for the longest time, Christians thought it was written in the second century, and nearly all of ’em limited the NT to first-century writings. I’m not saying we should add it now… but it’s interesting to look at the way ancient Christians expected their newbies to behave. It’s why I include the whole of it below.

The translation and chapter titles are mine. I took the text from the Codex Hierosolymitanus. Read it yourself, and notice how many of these ideas are still taught in your own church.

Fearful churches.

by K.W. Leslie, 17 August 2021

We Christians are meant to be holy, and consider ourselves separate from the rest of the world.

No, this isn’t because we’re better than them. We’re so not.

No, this doesn’t mean we’re to move into little gated communities where nobody but Christians live, isolate ourselves from everybody else, and drive out anyone we might consider sinners. This is how cults start—assuming the cult hasn’t already started, and the compound is just another creepy symptom of how we’ve gone astray.

We’re distinct from the rest of the world because God calls us to follow Jesus. Not other people. Not one another. Not even popular Christian culture—especially its political or Mammonist variants. As the rest of the world does its thing, we’re to ask ourselves, “What would the Father rather I do?” or “What does Jesus do?” Then do that.

Believe it or don’t, sometimes this means we do as the rest of the world does. If the culture suddenly realizes society is institutionally unjust—that violence and discrimination and sexism are wrong, that evil needs to stop—we need to cheer them on, participate, and see whether the Holy Spirit uses these moments to bring people to Jesus. ’Cause he will, and does.

But of course we need to bear in mind pagans have entirely different motives than we do. They don’t do grace; on their better days they do karma. They want things to be fair and equitable, not because it’s inherently good that they’re so, but because fairness ultimately benefits them. And when it doesn’t, they don’t try to make things fair. The status quo and current social order is fine. Why discomfort themselves when reform does absolutely nothing for them, or even costs them, or makes ’em give up power? Nah.

Our motives have to be like God’s: Way higher. Wheenever we find ourselves on the same side as the world, we oughta see this for what it is: It’s a chance to draw a few pagans to Christ Jesus and God’s kingdom. But not every church realizes this, and figures we’re to stay away from the world, lest “bad company ruin good character.” 1Co 15.33 Best to stay away from pagans, turn the kingdom into a fortress, and isolate ourselves from them with both spiritual and rule-based hedges of protection.

When you visit such churches, that’s the mindset you’re gonna find among ’em. A whole lot of anti-world rhetoric. Everything inside the church is good, pure, and holy; everything “out there” is wicked, corrupt, destructive. Dabble in it just a little, even unintentionally, and it’ll ruin you. Stay away. Touch not the unclean thing.

Ostensibly the goal is holiness. The real result? Fear and dark Christianity.

Sleep-deprived Sunday morning services.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 May 2021

When I was a kid, I liked church. My friends were there, the pastor was a decent preacher, and the Sunday school classes were interesting. (The music wasn’t so great; as an adult I went to churches with way better music.) But even so, some Sunday mornings I really didn’t care to go.

’Cause sleep. I wanted to sleep.

I stayed up way too late the night before. Usually because I watched Saturday Night Live, or Doctor Who reruns on public television, or some other late-night movie or show. I’d be up till 1 a.m.; usually 2. Yeah, television is a lousy excuse for being exhausted the next morning. But in college, I hung out with friends till very late Saturday night—and that’s no better of an excuse.

So come Sunday morning, when Mom trying to get us out the door so we could be at church by 9, church was the very last thing I wanted to do that morning. I wanted sleep. Needed sleep. What good was church gonna do me if I dozed off during the sermon? You know, like my other friends. And half the adults.

I discovered this handy trick: Open your bible on your lap. If you felt yourself drifting, just bow your head so it looks like you’re reading your bible. And no, this technique fools no one. Especially if you drool in your sleep, and the onionskin paper they use on thin bibles does not handle liquids well.

In seminary, same problem. Saturday nights were spent with friends; Sunday mornings I was dead tired, tempted to sleep in. But lo and behold, I found a solution: Evening services! There was a church in Santa Cruz whose worship service began at 6 p.m. Sundays. So that’s where I went.

Sunday mornings I slept in like a pagan. Woke around 10, dragged my bones to brunch, did homework, had dinner, then went to church. And for the first time in the longest time, I was fully awake for Sunday church, and better able to appreciate it.

And then I graduated, and moved to where there was nothing but Sunday morning services. Ugh.

In any event I totally understand why so many people, Christians and pagans alike, are loath to give up their Sunday mornings for church. I’ve been there. Some mornings I’m still there: I rarely do anything Sunday nights, but sometimes I’ll have an uncomfortable night’s sleep, and be in no mood for Sunday morning church.

I’m not a morning person anyway. King David was, so it’s his fault we have this in our bibles:

Psalm 5.3 KJV
My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.

Gee thanks David. That, plus Jesus rising from the dead before dawn, Jn 20.1-2 has most of us Christians insisting upon morning services. Sometimes sunrise services. It’s like a test to see whether we appreciate God more than sleep. Whether we do or not, it still feels way too much like punishment.

Why skipping church messes us up.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 April 2021

Whenever I share Jesus with people, most of the time I discover they’re Christian. Or at least they imagine they’re Christian.

In the United States, most folks have had some exposure to Christianity. Some of us grew up churchgoers. Others said some version of a sinner’s prayer at one point in our lives. Others had Christian parents, or were baptized, or attend Easter and Christmas services and figure that’ll do. People figure they believe in Jesus and that’s all it takes to make ’em Christian. Confess, believe, and we’re saved. Ro 10.9 Right?

So by this metric they figure they’re Christian. They believe in Jesus. Following him is a whole other deal. They’re not religious. They’re “spiritual,” as they define spiritual, which usually means imaginary—’cause like I said, they imagine they’re Christian. Their Christianity wholly exists in their heads. You’d be hard-pressed to find it elsewhere in their lives, but it’s in their heads at least—and somebody’s assured them it counts if it only exists in their heads. Or “in your heart,” which they figure means their feelings—which are still only in their heads.

So to them, Christianity’s how they feel about Jesus. Not what they do for him. Not following him. They don’t. Or they’ll do the bare minimum to feel Christian: They pray every so often, and it won’t entirely be prayer requests, but some actual sucking up praise. They drop a dollar in the Salvation Army kettle.

As for going to church… well they don’t. Maybe on the holidays. ’Cause Sundays are their time. Their one day off; the one day of the week they get to sleep in, or have no obligations, or can get drunk during brunch. It’s “Sunday funday,” their weekly holiday.

Nobody’s ever explained to them that if “Christians” don’t go to church, it makes us heretic.

Seriously. Heretic. No, heretic doesn’t mean they’re going to hell; it only means they get God so wrong, it can be argued they’re not properly Christian. Contrary to what a lot of go-it-alone “Christians” imagine, there are valid standards for what makes us Christian; it’s called orthodoxy. Among these standards is “the communion of saints,” or the church. It’s in our creeds. True Christians deliberately interact with fellow Christians. And not just to have coffee or watch a game: For the purpose of encouraging one another to follow Jesus better, and to worship him together.

If we avoid the communion of saints—and it might sound like we have perfectly legitimate reasons—the cold hard fact is we’re heretic. Jesus doesn’t want his followers to go it alone. He ordered us to love one another. He made it a full-on command. It identifies us as his followers. Jn 13.34-35 When we won’t obey Jesus, we’re not followers. When we figure we can love one another just fine without ever intentionally coming together to do so… we can call ourselves Christian, but I seriously doubt Jesus recognizes us as such. Lk 6.46 And if he doesn’t identify us as his, Mt 7.21-23 we’re not.

Hey, somebody had to warn you. Better you hear this now, than when you stand before Jesus.

Three focal points of church services.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 April 2021

Obviously not all churches are alike. Practices vary. Even within the same denomination: Y’might have one church which is known for its Christian education, bible studies, Sunday school program, and teaching pastors… with a sister church known for its musicians.

Talk to any Christian about what they like best in their church, and they’ll usually emphasize a few things they particularly like: The friendliness. The informality. The kids’ program. The decor. The amiability of the head pastor. The many outreach programs. The coffee—for once it’s not Folger’s! (’Cause Folger’s is crap. But when the person in charge of the church’s coffee doesn’t even drink coffee, guess what they always buy? Right—the cheapest stuff on the shelf. Kirkland or Folger’s, or some other awful blend which tastes like Juan Valdez’s burro rolled around in it. Churches, don’t do that to your people. But I digress.)

These things aside, y’might notice churches structure their entire Sunday morning service (or Saturday evening, or whenever they do their services) around one of three things: Sacraments, teaching, or music.

Orthodox, Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans.Kinesthetic learners. They enjoy the physical motions and movements, and the visual cues. They wanna feel not just spiritually, but physically connected to our Lord Jesus and our fellow Christians.
Reformed, Baptists, Methodists, Anabaptists.Intellectuals. They enjoy knowledge about God—theology, bible background and history and study, and wisdom. (Often they enjoy the pursuit of knowledge in general.) They seek to love God with all their mind and will.
Pentecostals, charismatics, non-denominationals.Emotive people. Music appeals to their desire to worship God with all their heart. They pursue a sense of God’s presence.

Yeah, you might think there are other types. Like the snake-handling churches. But in such churches, snake-handling is a sacrament, so… yep, there they are among the three.

How d’you know which one is your church’s main focus? Simple: If you skip it, the people of your church act as though you didn’t really “have church.” Wasn’t a proper service; didn’t count.

Skip the music, or only sing for 10 minutes, in a music-focused church, and people will think something went horribly wrong. They didn’t feel the Spirit that week. They feel unfulfilled. They’d be outraged if they didn’t sing at all. Ever been in a church service during a power failure? If you don’t have a guitar or piano available, sacrament- or sermon-focused churches will figure, “Fine; we’ll sing a song or two acapella, then ‘get on with it’”—meaning the real part of their service, the message or sacrament. But in a music-focused church, people won’t settle for an abbreviated songset. They’ll try their darnedest to make the musical experience as significant as the electrified experience. And blame the devil for the power failure—“Satan tried to stop us from having church!”—and pointedly make even more joyful a noise as their voices and acoustic instruments can produce. And y’know, they’ll succeed.

Now skip the music in a sermon-focused church. No I’m not kidding; tell people, “Sorry, the music pastor’s out sick today, so we’ll have music next week.” Don’t even bother with a simple acapella chorus. And no, you won’t have a revolt: People might think it’s weird, but hey, they heard a sermon, so they’re good. Music-focused Christians would lose their minds, but sermon-focused Christians wouldn’t mind at all. Turn it around and skip the sermon (as I have seen music-focused churches do multiple times) and sermon-focused people would be really, really irritated: They came to church to get spiritual food, and music is baby food at best: They want something to chew on. You can skip communion; many such churches only celebrate it once a month, or only on Easter and Christmas. Music’s optional too… which is why I find it tends to not be very good in such churches. When I was growing up, Mom had no trouble with being as much as 45 minutes late for the service, ’cause “we’ll only miss the music.” But we’d better not miss the sermon.

And in sacrament-focused churches, holy communion (or Eucharist) must happen. Skip the music, skip the homily; don’t you dare skip communion. Otherwise it’s “not church,” and now the people will have to go to another church that week so they can receive communion. No I’m not kidding: They will.

When and where the church meets.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 April 2021

Years ago I got an email asking about what day of the week we oughta attend our church services.

My church has a Saturday night service, and I started going to that instead of Sunday mornings. My sister says Saturday nights don’t count; we’re supposed to go to church on Sundays. I told her God doesn’t care when we go to church, so long that we do. Which of us is right?

Which of you is right? The weaker believer. Always.

Romans 14.5-6 NLT
5 In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. 6A Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him.
Romans 15.1-2 NLT
1 We who are strong must be considerate of those who are sensitive about things like this. We must not just please ourselves. 2 We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord.

If our Christian sister or brother has a hangup, we might not think it’s a legitimate concern—at all—but to them it totally is. It might derail their Christianity. Shouldn’t, but could. So we have to take that into consideration, and be gracious to them. Not shout back at them, “I have freedom in Christ!”—as if that gives us license to be jerks.

No, that doesn’t mean we have to change our usual worship practices to accommodate them. If you usually attend Saturday night services, keep doing so. But don’t do it to outrage anyone—“Lookit me, I’m worshiping on Saturday, neener neener neener.” I’m mainly thinking of those Christians who attended “worship protests” during a pandemic, not to worship Jesus, but to flout government guidelines under the guise of worship. When you’re truly doing it to honor Jesus, your ulterior motives won’t include fleshly things like division and antagonism. You’re not gonna be a dick about it! And God will judge those Christians for their horrible example to fellow Christians, and their horrible witness to the lost and the sick.

So yeah: If your sister insists Saturday nights “don’t count,” she doesn’t have any biblical basis for this belief. Sunday morning worship is simply Christian custom. Nothing more. We can worship God whenever we like. We oughta be worshiping him daily! And we can worship him together, as the people of his church, whenever we schedule a service, be it Sunday morning, Saturday night, Wednesday night, Friday night, Tuesday morning, Thursday afternoon, whenever.

But till she finally realizes this, take her to Sunday morning services.