This topic has been simmering in my heart and mind for decades. Having attended church regularly for years, serving in many different capacities, and eventually volunteering as director of women’s ministry, I saw several examples of folks behaving badly. Worse, there are people convinced they’ve got it dialed in who think nothing of gossiping or excluding others, etc. What it all boils down to for me is, ‘If it works, it would work.’ And for sure the community of a healthy church does provide a sense of belonging, which alone is worthy of attendance for many.
What about being transformed by the spirit? How about leaders of the church living the message they preach? As people invest years of study, worship, and fellowship, are they raised up? Do the fruits of the spirit follow? The Christian faith teaches that if Jesus abides in a person it will be evidenced by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Truly, on Sunday mornings these are all presented.
It is my supposition that if organized religion was effective, we would see consistent growth of character traits and a widespread decrease in immoral and unhealthy behavior. I do not deny that some churchgoers experience this, but there are so many who walk that same path without the expected results.
How else to explain televangelists run amok? What about the president of a Christian college, Liberty University, who parties and has extramarital sex? Why would someone preach about the evils of homosexuality while secretly meeting a gay lover later? Now the prosperity gospel teaches that everyone who prays for success will be rewarded. You get a car! You get a car! We all know that most of those parishioners will face terrible difficulties ahead, despite praying faithfully, including economic challenges.
You might answer that people at the top of a large ministry were offered temptations unlike average folks, but sin trickles all the way down. It’s as insidious as cliques in high school or an unwelcoming attitude toward someone at church. Leaders have a greater responsibility because followers look to them for direction and guidance. After years of outwardly living as though they are bathed in the spirit, those leaders should be hemmed in by the fruits, most importantly self-control, after years of walking with Jesus.
My thoughts on organized religion could fill many pages and I’ll share more about my personal experiences and shortcomings in future posts. I don’t begrudge anyone a church-home if it meets their needs. For now, I will close this missive by saying that it is my firm belief that faithfully living to serve others and abiding daily in the spirit do not require you sit in a pew on Sundays and, likewise, perfect attendance will not guarantee absolution or a straight and narrow path.