The Idolatry of “Going to Church”
by Mark Votava
I no longer go to church. If you ask me why I will say that I do not believe in church as defined by a North American paradigm. I think it is an illusion and is damaging making us arrogant consumers in the path of an idolatry of God.
It seems to me that God is not an idea to believe in, but a mystery to participate in. And church as we know it promotes an idea above a mystery to participate in. I long for a mystery to participate in. I want to participate in this mystery as I share life together with others in community where I live.
I have no interest in “going to church” anymore. It makes me allergic to God. I become sick as it pulls me into conformity to status quo ways of individualism in the name of God. The church is supposed to support us in our authentic path, but I have found that it doesn’t.
Maybe the best thing we can do is “stop going to church” and save our souls in the process. Stop reading the Bible which has oftentimes become a weapon of oppression as we use it to condemn, judge and devalue others. This makes me feel ashamed to be associated with the Christian tradition as I become sick as I think about it all.
Can we reimagine it all? Stop believing in the paradigms your family taught you or someone else who is “ordained.” There is so much mystery to participate in, but it won’t be found in “going to church.” Will we have the courage to lose everything and enter into this mystery to find something more authentic?
- What is church? Is it a building or is it the people?
For quite some time our group, Downtown Neighborhood Fellowship, had been struggling with the question, “What is the church? Is it a building or is it the people?”
- There is usually very little expression of the body of Christ in everyday life
Most would say it is the people. But if you ask them, “Where is the church on Monday (or any other day of the week apart from Sunday),” they will point to the building. This happens because there is usually very little expression of the body of Christ in everyday life.
- God becomes a subject of discovery through the relational context
Once our fellowship began to imagine the local church as the people instead of the building, we knew we had to become a fabric of relationships lived within the proximity of a local context in everyday life. We knew we had to live with the relational purpose of being present, expressing love, listening closely and collaborating together. This presence–loving, listening and collaborating–doesn’t just mean living relationally with people in the local context; it also means living relationally with God. God becomes a subject of discovery through the relational context of the neighborhood.
- The Spirit of wisdom and revelation
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart will be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way (Ephesians 1:17-23).
- The relational context always invites wisdom, revelation and enlightenment
Paul wrote this to the believers in Ephesus to encourage the body of Christ to live out the gospel where they were. The relational context always invites wisdom, revelation and enlightenment. If Christ’s power is made manifest to his church, which is the people in the context of a place, then the network of relationships within the neighborhood will soon begin to be shaped by relational revelations of deep wisdom and enlightenment.
- Throughout each day, week, season and year
Christ will begin to live out his life within his body on earth as we share life together throughout each day, week, season and year of our lives. Whether fall, winter, spring or summer, Christ’s enlightenment through our relationships in the place that we inhabit will continue to grow in our lives.
- Learning to show hospitality and love to all
We need to be the church, the body of Christ in everyday life. We are together his hands and feet every day of the week. For the first three hundred years after Christ was crucified and resurrected, the local body of Christ was a web of relationships living in a place, learning to show hospitality and compassion to all.
- Probably never even thought in paradigms of “going to church”
They probably never even thought in paradigms of “going to church.” It would have probably sounded strange to them. They saw themselves as the church, the body of Christ. They didn’t see the church as an institution or a building.
- On being the church
As missiologist Eddie Gibbs states, “In the first three centuries of the church the emphasis was not on going to church but on being the church. The church is not a building or an institution but a body to which one belongs …”
Do you believe in the idea of “going to church” over being the church together?
My new book The Mystical Imagination: Seeing the Sacredness of All of Life (2015) is finally done! It is available on kindle and paperback!
“Our crowded, overly-consumed, hyper-active, digitally-addicted lifestyle is draining the life out of us. We are desperate to transcend the chaos and find a better way to live. We need a mystical imagination. Get ready to be transported into the depths of meaning as Votava breaks open the contemplative path and shows you how to live your life to the fullest.” Phileena Heuertz, author of Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life and founding partner, Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism
My first book The Communal Imagination: Finding a Way to Share Life Together (2014) is available on kindle and paperback also!
“Inside everyone there is a longing for community, to love and be loved. We are made in the image of a communal God. But in our hyper-mobile, individualistic, cluttered world… community is an endangered thing. And community is like working out – it takes work, sweat, discipline… without that our muscles atrophy. Everybody wants to be fit, but not too many people want to do the work to get there. Mark’s book is sort of a workout manual, helping you rediscover your communal muscles and start building them up slowly. It is an invitation to live deep in a shallow world.” Shane Claiborne, author and activist