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Why bother with church at all?

I've got a question. Why bother with church at all? I have been involved in church since I was a kid and have come to a place where I just do not believe that people are better off going to this place we call "church"...

...on Sunday morning (or any other day). Regardless of what brand or franchise you choose, I cannot help but think that there is some plausible deniability built in to the fabric of the Bible, that we could go to heaven and God could easily say, "I just said gather together. I never said anything about megachurches or building programs."

I remember hearing [a respected evangelical leader] say back in 1997 that he would hand in his evangelical membership card if he could just find a centralized authority to whom to address the letter. He said, "I am holding on with my fingernails." I didn't know what he meant then. I sure do now.

I believe that all churches are doing today is pacifying people, taking their offerings and finding them ways to fit in to a particularly vocal Christian's agenda, be it a celebrity book phenomena like the Purpose-Driven Community or some building program. It isn't that these churches don't do some good because it is obvious that they do. It's just not enough for me to think that it means anything anymore. Emergent church? Same claptrap, different era. It's as dubious as the people behind Superman suggesting that the glasses somehow disguised Clark Kent.

The best examples of Christians who are influencing the world can't stand the church and have found their own ways of creating community. I think of Bono of U2, who has for years lamented the irrelevance of organized religion and yet conducts praise and worship services for 25,000 people all the while creating a commercial and culturally viable perch from which he can model a compelling vision of a social gospel. This guy is the leader of the "emergent church" movement... not a bunch of disatisfied ex-Jesus movement pastors fawning after a book deal to tell the church world how to do it better.

I guess my question is... wouldn't be better to simply close down every church in the world, put a padlock on the doors and leave a note saying, "WE'RE CLOSED. READ THE BOOK AND JUST DO IT"?

Answer: Well … I know how you feel. I feel the same way sometimes, especially when fellow Christians attack me harshly in God’s name. (By the way, was I supposed to take “a bunch of dissatisfied ex-Jesus movement pastors fawning after a book deal” personally? If so – remember that it’s easy to get mad a fundamentalists in a way that preserves the worst feature of fundamentalism – pugilism!)

But I’ve got to tell you that there are a lot of people experiencing a lot of sweet and beautiful things in their churches on most days of most years. Perhaps those aren’t the biggest or noisiest churches … but there’s a lot of quiet, unassuming, untrumpted neighbor-loving, meal-preparing, sick-visiting, conflict-resolving, art-making, virtue-developing, reflection-promoting, poor-serving, God-loving, children-nurturing, life-affirming faith communities out there. Thanks be to God. And I think we need more of them, not less … although I agree, there is so much noise, flash, marketing, hype, blah, blah, blah … that again, I know how you feel.

I try to offer a possibly redemptive perspective in The Last Word… but I hope you won’t think I’m just “fawning after a book deal” by saying that!