I don’t go to church much these days. I mean church in the traditional sense of the expression. It’s not because I am embittered as a result of past and unpleasant experiences, but for a number of reasons.
To be honest, the longer I travel along life’s road with my Father, the more I see regular church attendance as fundamentally flawed from a theological point of view. I’ll tell you about it some day, if you’re interested.
However, I do get a little offended at times when people say things like, ‘But you need Christian fellowship!’ I say: ‘Why do you make the assumption that I don’t?’
I appeared on a BBC Talkback programme with a certain Moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly a while ago, a man for whom I have huge respect and with whom I remain friends. He said, on air, and bravely as it turned out, ‘We trot into church, sit and gaze at the back of someone’s head for an hour and then trot back home again. That’s not fellowship!’
He went on to say that if he had his way, he would abolish the traditional Sunday morning service; ‘I would rip out all the pews, arrange seating in a circle. I would stand in the centre and make a comment, an observation, read a scripture or maybe say a prayer, and then ask, “What do you think of that?” And we could have a debate. Anyone would be free to express a view or ask a question.’
And do you know what, the next time I saw the man he told me that his elders had convened a special meeting the very next morning for the sole purpose of giving him a serious grilling. I find that sad.
Steve Chalke invited me to his church near the Elephant and Castle in London a short time later, to see what he had done, and the place was thriving. But alas, so many of us in this neck of the woods are allergic to change. As another friend of mine, a Presbyterian minister once quipped: How many Presbyterians does it take to change a light bulb? Change?
If I have told you this before, please bear with me. My favourite sermon I have ever heard lasted a mere 10 minutes, if that. The minister, an aged old saint, had forgotten that most important of all religious ceremonies, to lift the offering. He had conducted a number of baptisms that morning and had lost track of time. It was five minutes to 11and his congregation was getting restive, so he began to read from John 15: ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener..’ Then he came to verse nine: ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.’
The next few moments are permanently etched on my memory. He fixed a steely gaze on his listeners andread the verse again, and he paused and read it again: ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you,’ and then he asked:‘Doesn’t that blow your mind?’
Take a moment and think about that. Can we even begin to imagine how much the Father loves Jesus? Immeasurably and without limit, without beginning and without end, no ifs or buts, no conditions - that’s how, and how much Jesus loves us!
How our insecurities and our fears would melt away if we could only grasp that.
Why don’t I go to church? Maybe something to do with the fact that I never hear that.