Monday, August 2, 2010

Ever feel like skipping church?

One time looking through my dad's bookshelf, a book caught my eye because it was prefaced by C.S. Lewis. The book was "A Faith of our Own," a collection of essays by an English theologian named Austin Farrer. I promptly stole the book. One essay in particular has stuck with me over the years. It's called, "Sabbath and Sunday," and I've never heard the points it makes anywhere else. I think they are important points for everyday, non-pastor type Christians like me. Important enough that I summarize them here for your benefit. (I'd recommend you buy the book, but it's not easy to come by.)

Farrer writes,"When Christ died and rose on the first day of the week, he made a revolution of all things, and among others, of our attitude to time. Before Christ we used to keep the seventh day, but Christ rose on the first and now we keep that...The Jew saw himself giving the seventh day to God, we see ourselves giving the first, and there is all the difference in the world between the two. The Jewish system seems very sensible. Do not indulge yourself, do the slogging first; fulfill your practical duties, get your work out of the way, and clear a block of time for God."

He explains that the Jewish thinking held that once one's house was in order, one could approach his maker. This, he says, is a religion of merits; Pharisaism. "No one's house ever is in order, that is the trouble, and so the time for appearing before God never arrives. If you were an ancient Jew you were at least forcibly stopped putting your house in order, and dragged into the divine presence by the dawning Sabbath. But if you are a modern Christian living that bad old Jewish principle, there isn't even Sabbath, and the day when you have caught up with your conscience and are fit to appear before God's altar never arrives at all."

This is one reason some Christians find it hard to go to church. Their conscience condemns them, and they misunderstand that approaching the Lord has to do with proclaiming a clean conscience, instead of receiving from Him.

"But what are we to do about the yawning gulf which opens between this Christhood of ours and our actual performance - between our laziness, selfishness, uncleanness, and triviality and the painful absurdity of our prayers? This gulf which yawns between what Christ has made us and what we make of ourselves?...What else but the very thing Christ's disciples did from the first: early in the morning on the first day of the week reassemble the whole body of Christ in our community - not a member lacking - when the sun has risen, and have the resurrection over again. In that moment, dead to the past and trusting him for the future, bathed in his blood and strong by his victory, united by his person, loved and forgiven by his Father - in that moment at least we are what he has made us; the gap is closed.

Here, another reason Christians don't want to go to church (or communicate, as Farrer calls it). We don't see the importance of remembering, celebrating and drawing from the resurrection with "not a member lacking" as the early believers did. And we don't understand that something really important happens to us at church - the gap being closed.

So some of us don't want to go because our conscience condemns us. Others stay home because we don't understand the importance of celebrating and drawing from the resurrection weekly. But others skip because of our feelings: either we feel like doing something else, or have real, emotional pain that repels us from "communicating." In most of life, getting in touch with our feelings is a healthy thing. But in regards to going to church on Sunday, discussing our feelings related to church shows that we've missed the point of church.

"What do you think St. Peter or St. Paul would have said if you had told them that you feared always to communicate, lest it should go stale on you? They would not have known what on earth you were talking about. It would have been all you could do to bring them to conceive the possibility of such emotional frivolity, such reckless individualism in a Christian man. What, is the body of Christ to lack a member because you are not feeling soulful? Don't you know that Christ wants you there, that he has died to give you what you there receive, at what is the weekly resurrection of the body of Christ?

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