Stop Attending Church

August 17th, 2009

(Taken from my Facebook wall and Twitter page today.)

Stop attending church.

Frank Turk’s reply:  “Indeed: what if you loved your church?”

After I posted a link to Frank’s recent blog series called Not Done Lightly (scroll to the bottom and read upward), where he discusses the reasons for his strong belief that we should almost never leave a church unless we’re asked to leave, Kelly F. posted:

I glanced at Turk’s stuff and I think he’s making very good points. A real challenge, though, in committing oneself fully to a church is that in our mobile, unrooted lives we often find ourselves in the position of ‘shopping’ for a church. There’s really no way around it when you move to a new neighborhood or town. But then after you’ve chosen a particular church you have to stop thinking of it as a commodity to choose and start thinking of it as a family you’re called to love, bear with, and serve. It’s a hard switch to make.

The flip side of this is that church leaders (in general) have to stop acting like they are trying to sell a product to a target market. We’re called to make disciples, not make a sale.

So.  Let’s try not to attend church.  Let’s try to commit to loving a church, a community, as a family.

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40 Responses to “Stop Attending Church”

  1. Emily says:

    I read the blog entry “Not Done Lightly (4)” and it has lots of good food for thought. Really. But I was definitely surprised towards the middle where he made the claim that “the calling there is greater than marriage and greater than family.” I don’t know where in the world he could get that. If anything, the family is the small version of the church.
    Has he defended that claim before? I skimmed through the rest of the Not Done Lightly blog entries and the only other reference I could find to marriage/family was in 2-B where he talked about leaving a church being like leaving one’s wife. And I’ve got to say, I don’t think I agree that Jesus said you can “never” get a divorce. Surely “God hates divorce” but he also clearly made allowances for it. Even if just for the hardness of our hearts. But that’s another issue.
    Anyway, besides the family issue, I think he makes really good points. Thanks for the links.

  2. Yeah, I’m with Emily.   I understand ‘leaving the church is like leaving one’s wife’, but not that it’s greater than that.  And saying it so strongly would be used (by me) as more of a device to push envelopes rather than being precise.  Where’s he coming from?

  3. Tim says:

    On “greater than marriage”:  My first guess was maybe Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”  Someone could try to argue that putting Christ above family would include putting the Church above family.

    I checked the comment section of that post, and others challenged the same point.  (“You’ll have to do more than a drive by with a statement like that.”)  (In general, it’s a good idea to check the comment sections–a lot of discussion and challenging happens there.  More so than on my blog.  :) )

    Frank came back with:  “How about these for starters, JR: marriage is a type of Christ and the Church, not vice versa; in heaven, there is no marriage, but there is the church.”

    There’s some point there–it reminds me of Paul talking about the superiority of Love over Faith and Hope, because Faith and Hope are transient.  But honestly, the language of “church is a higher calling” is vague.  I’d want to see how Frank fleshed out that principle to know whether I agree with him.

  4. Al Margheim says:

    I agree with Turk’s position that leaving a church should not be done lightly, but I have several problems with his reasoning.
    First, a central part of his (very extreme) position is an argument from silence. (His argument from silence being that the NT never gives instructions on how or when to leave a church.) In my opinion, extreme  positions that depend largely on arguments from silence are not worth considering.
    Second, he completely ignores what I believe is the most important step in deciding whether or not to leave a church: the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Any Christian thinking about leaving a church should be asking the Lord what His will is.
    I’ll try not to assume that Turk places little value on prayer just because he is silent about praying for guidance in his “Not Done Lightly” series.
     
     

  5. Tim says:

    Dad,

    I can anticipate a good part of Frank’s reply to the second criticism.

    He would say that prayer for wisdom certainly is an important part of every decision we make.  But:

    1.) You don’t exactly pray about whether to cheat on your wife, or abandon your family–and that’s close to how he sees electively leaving a church.  The answer is already known, that we are called to stay and serve and love a church even with major problems.  (But I agree that his case isn’t strong enough for that.)

    2.) Frank’s cessationist.  Prayer should certainly be part of every decision we make.  Prayer for wisdom and understanding.  But he wouldn’t agree with you that God informing us of His will is a normal part of Christian life. He recently posted this:

    God “saying something” to somebody today does not inherently overturn Sola Scriptura.

    For example, if God appeared here in Northeast Canada right now and told me to drive to Montreal immediately, because there’s a man with a red suitcase there he wants me to preach the Gospel to, there’s nothing anti-biblical or super-biblical about that revelation — and there’s nothing binding in that revelation for anyone but me.

    HOWEVER, seeking that kind of revelation is never implied by the Bible as normative. So wasting you time waiting for that stuff is, well, a waste of time.

    God is able to communicate like that whenever he wants to. Stop thinking that somehow He’s going to communicate that way with you because, biblically, the vast majority of people of faith never get the privilegde.

    And that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.

  6. Al Margheim says:

    Hmm…I haven’t read any of Frank’s posts on other topics and I’m not interested in reading any more of his stuff, so I have to ask you: have you read anything by Frank where he says that praying for wisdom (or guidance)  is an important part of any decision we make?  If he hasn’t said it someplace else, I wouldn’t assume that he takes that position.
    Also, the excerpt of his posting on revelation doesn’t seem germane to the topic of praying for wisdom (and/or guidance).  In the excerpt he doesn’t say that he rejects the idea that a normal part of Christian life includes God informing us of His will.  The excerpt deals with God appearing to a person and giving instructions. God appearing and giving us instructions is very different from God guiding us through the Holy Spirit.  In fact, I agree with everything he said in the excerpt on revelation that you posted.

  7. Frank Turk says:

    Somebody should ask that guy these question in the comments at his blog.  Either he’d man up and answer them and give you food for thought, or he’d start whining like a baby that you’re not listening to him.

    BTW, what does Jesus say about marriage and family in the life after life after death?  Does he say that all those bonds are mirrored and kept the same, or does he plainly say that both marriage and family are not found in the final Kingdom, but the church is — in fact, it is all that is left?

    Read Revelation — especially the end of it — to test that out.  Marriage is a form of the church; family is the lesser, foundational reality which trains one (a man) to be ready to lead the church.

  8. Frank Turk says:

    Aha, Al: so if I haven’t written anything explicitly on prayer, I must either reject it or overlook it?  What if I simply assume it?

    I think I would give any Christian person the benefit of the doubt on these four issues, unless they actively rejected them:
    [1] the fact and truth of the Gospel
    [2] the matter of personal repentance as a foundational aspect of their daily life
    [3] the willingness toward and the reliance on personal prayer as a spiritual discipline
    [4] the supremacy of Scripture over our own perceptions of what is vs. what ought to be

    Thanks for asking.

  9. Frank Turk says:

    The other thing I’d say briefly about prayer is that one of the things we don’t see in Scripture is that every decision is informed by some miraculous intervention.  God speaking in words is a miracle — anyone who denies that is, frankly, not sure what a miracle is.  Trying to make every activity we do in every day subject to miraculous intervention is simply denigrating the miraculous.

    The normal Christian life (since we have found that term in this comment sequence) looks like Ps 119 — that is, we cling to the promises God has already made, and see the all-powerful miracles God has already done, to have profound hope for the future in spite of the state of the world today.  One of the somewhat-obvious but subtle truths in Paul’s letters to Timothy is that Paul never once asks Timothy to pray for his release from prison, or for God to send some kind of miracle to release him from suffering.  Paul was given the Gospel to deliver, and Paul delivered to all through the point of being condemned to death — and saw that as a blessing.

    That doesn;t abandon or reject prayer: it simply puts it in its place among all the disciplines of a godly life — foremost, as Scripture testifies, being to hear God’s voice and to believe it.

  10. Frank Turk says:

    Last thing, and then I’ll run away: I am always nstunned by the resistence to the idea that church– the local church, where there are actual people and actual community — not only matters but is in fact demanded by God as the way Christians must live in this world.  Somehow people have come to believe the church is a negotiable part of God’s work in this world, but I suggest that you cannot find a scrap of that in Scripture.

    If your prayers tell you something else, I’d be suspicious of them.  FWIW.

  11. Tim says:

    Frank,

    On your last part… Who said anything about the local church being negotiable?

  12. Al Margheim says:

    Hi Frank,
    Please don’t take this personally, but the reason I didn’t respond on your blog is because I’m not interested in having a dialog with you. I responded on Tim’s blog because he’s my son and I am interested in having a dialog with him.

    May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing.
    Al

  13. Frank Turk says:

    Al –
     
    That’s why I came here.
    _______________________
     
    Tim –
     
    Your Dad’s arguments go there.  That’s part of the reason why, I suspect, he doesn’t want to argue about them.  The other reason would be that he doesn’t like the way I argue.
     
     

  14. Tim says:

    I’m going to try to work back and say a few things–but I’m not going to try to hit everything.

    First, I want to clarify something about linking to Frank’s article–something I said on Facebook, but not here.  Namely:  I don’t see a strong enough case for “never leave voluntarily” to bind someone else’s conscience.  Meaning, I couldn’t look at someone leaving a church and say, “This is wrong.”  However, I would certainly want to show them Christ’s call to “stop thinking of it as a commodity to choose and start thinking of it as a family you’re called to love, bear with, and serve,” as Kelly F. put it.

    Along those same lines, I’ll repeat something I said in the comment section of one of Frank’s posts.

    It looks like your core concern is to flesh out John 13:35. Loving each other deeply. Sacrificially. Serving each other in the way that God has called us to–serving the broken, messed-up people around you. Like Phil 2:1-11, and Col 3:12-17. Making our decisions as though the well-being of the body of Christ around us is at the forefront of our minds.

    Every single one of us should know the fear of God when we compare our lives to that calling. And the beauty & glory & betterness of that Christ-like spirit should be drawing us forward.

  15. Tim says:

    Frank,

    Who said anything about the local church being negotiable?

    Your Dad’s arguments go there.

    I should clarify.

    I took your comment to be an accusation about church being optional.  About whether church membership is a necessary part of Christian life.

    And looking back, I have trouble reading it another way.  If that’s what you meant… I’m at a loss to follow how my dad’s arguments go there.

    And if you meant whether electively changing churches is negotiable… Then OK.  (But your wording still looks like you’re talking about church-in-general, not staying-at-one-church-in-particular.)

    (P.S. Some people really aren’t interested in online discussions with people they don’t know. No mind-reading necessary.)

  16. Tim says:

    Dad,

    1.) About prayer for wisdom not being mentioned in Frank’s posts.

    By way of comparison, Paul doesn’t mention prayer when he discusses qualifications for elders in Titus 1 and 1 Tim. 3, or when he discusses whether particular people should get married in 1 Cor. 7:25-40.

    If you’re talking about decision-making in general, it’s pretty suspect if you don’t mention prayer.  But if you’re talking about the principles relevant to a particular kind of decision, then I think it’s understandable to assume prayer.

    2.) On guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    The excerpt deals with God appearing to a person and giving instructions. God appearing and giving us instructions is very different from God guiding us through the Holy Spirit.

    It depends on whether the guidance of the Holy Spirit means something like, “By the work of the Spirit in my heart, I have discerned that God intends for me to do X.”

    If that’s what you mean, then I don’t see a significant difference between those two.  If that’s not quite what you mean, then I may agree.

    The main senses of the guidance of the Spirit that I can find in Scripture are:  Providing the guidance & general wisdom of Scripture, illuminating that in our minds & reminding us of it, prophecy, actually speaking to us, giving us wisdom when we ask (ala James 1), and perhaps giving us the right words to say in particular circumstances.

  17. dac says:

    I am always curious when Frank takes on this topic as he himself has left his own church, a church that he holds up as a model.

  18. dac says:

    Jug-
    I have to say, your comments are better than your blog posts.  I don’t mean that derogatorily – your blog comments (here and elsewhere) are exceptionally insightful, where as your blog posts are, well, just ok.  I mean, I would rather read your comments than most peoples blog posts
     

  19. Tim says:

    dac,

    Quick reply to your first comment.  (Thanks for the second.)

    IIRC, he did say that he moved from one city to another, for job reasons.  He didn’t change churches in the same town.  Doesn’t that satisfy your curiosity?

  20. dac says:

    I know the why – what I don’t get is why that is an acceptable reason to change churches.  I mean, if the only reason to leave a church is that you hold so hard to the truth that you get shown the door by the misguided wretches, then why is it ok to leave when you get a better job?  Isn’t that putting mammon ahead of God?

  21. Tim says:

    Hmm.  I hate getting into “Was X wrong to do Y?” arguments, unless it’s a situation in my community, ala Matt 18.  But talking the general question is profitable–what the principles are, and what makes a valid exception.

    1.) Yes, if “Don’t electively change churches” is a general principle, then it should certainly apply somehow to your decision to move cities.  Meaning: If you’re invested in a church, that’s a reason not to move away.  (“How can I move away from my family?”)

    2.) I’m pretty sure that even Frank would make some exceptions.  Like, a Jewish Christian in pre-WWII Germany would be allowed to flee to another country to seek asylum, even though that would require leaving his church body.  :)   Saving your life (or your family’s) from immediate danger is probably a good enough reason.

    3.) Failing to provide for your family makes you worse than an unbeliever.  So, if you literally could not support your family in your current town, that would seem to require you to leave.

    4.) But “could not support” is pretty unrealistic.  There are virtually always jobs of some kind.  Low-paying jobs, which would require a reduction in your standard of living, but some kind of job.  And we should be willing to lower our standards of living in order to follow God.

    5.) If church is a higher calling than family… And you’ve already committed to a virtually-no-exceptions principle… Then yeah, it’s hard to see how following a job would justify it.

  22. dac says:

    that’s my take too.

  23. an says:

    i see the case for church being a ‘higher calling’ than family, although i hesitant to fully embrace that.  let’s look at the extreme case of that:  would i ‘serve my church’ to the detriment of my family?  since i can’t say yes to that, maybe  it’s not a black & white issue.
    maybe it is, but i’m being selfish.  or maybe there’s something holy in family also.
    in contrast:  would i serve my God to the detriment of my family?  it’s a tough answer, but i think we would all agree the right one is “yes”.

  24. Tim says:

    An,

    That’s why I have trouble with the generality of “church is a higher calling”.  Yes, the body of Christ is an eternal relationship, and that’s good reason to think that means it’s “higher”, somehow.

    But that doesn’t tell us how to prioritize our duties, specifically.  Like you said, there is something holy in family, too.  Maybe church is deeper, but that doesn’t automatically make our local church duties override our families, in every case.

    For instance, a church has many members, and many servants.  Your family doesn’t. Their need for you is greater than your church’s.

    So I think the Bible does give us reason to think church is a deeper call.  But I don’t think it tells us much about circumstances where church overrides family.  So it’s hard to say.

  25. an says:

    i guess we should clarify what we mean by “church”.  if it’s a building and it’s members, then it’s lesser priority.  but if it’s the whole “body of Christ” – possibly meaning all my brothers and sisters in Christ, maybe even all of humanity – well.. that deserves more personal sacrifice.
    but that circumvents the discussion of  ’leaving one church for another’.  if it’s all one big church, what’s the deal?
    so i think the discussion started with the assumption that ‘the church’ is the local body of believers we’re committed to serving.  if that’s the case, then you might be able to say that’s a different definition of  ’church’ than what the bible (and/or its author) intended.

  26. Tim says:

    An,

    I don’t know about that.  (Not the building part–buildings are close to meaningless, at least in this context.)  The word “church” means gathering/congregation.

    And you could make an argument that the Bible often does have “the local church” in mind.  Places like 1 Cor. 12, for instance, talking about spiritual gifts in the Body—it’s not abstracted away from a local congregation.  He’s actually talking to a particular congregation–the church in Corinth, and how they relate. And when they talk about appointing elders in various churches/congregations (in Acts or in Titus and 1&2 Tim.), those are elders of local churches.

    There is a universal Church. But we aren’t just part of “the Body of Christ” in general—we are meant to be part of a community, invested in actual, particular people.  (Like, if you floated from church to church each week, you would be doing church wrong.)

    That doesn’t tell me that “Church is required” means “Staying in your current church is required”, any more than “College is required” means “staying at your current school is required”.  But I do think it’s important not to think about “church” only in the general sense.

    By the way, Frank did talk about this in his entries and the comment sections.

  27. dac says:

    I certainly agree with Frank when he discusses the need to be a member of a specific local congregation.  It is biblical and it is sociologically significant.  He goes off the deep end on his stay at all times idea, as well as somewhat of a hypocrite for leaving his own church.
     

  28. an says:

    good points…  i do believe that we should be committed to and serving our local church, and leaving your church would be as grave as leaving your family (assuming you were going to church with such above ideals).  but it’s not a sin.
     
    do we also have the ideals that people shouldn’t be leaving their family? (physically leaving).  can we serve our chuch as we move to a different city (country)?
     
    i also don’t agree that we should ‘stay at all times’.  suppose the ‘church’ goes astray?  we should do what we can to keep the our local group of believers on a Godly path, but suppose the majority take on something we really can’t stand behind?  i think there should be a church splitting or possibly leaving the church.

  29. Tim says:

    “as grave as leaving your family” “but it’s not a sin.”

    What do you have in mind? Wouldn’t it be sin to abandon your family?  (Well… maybe not sin to cut off contact with an adult child or parent.)

    Frank’s idea is that we don’t leave the church when it goes astray, we work to keep them on the right path–and they’ll kick us out as trouble-makers if they’re determined to keep going.

    But I’m with you, I think.  I agree with him that we should take that approach, but I don’t think we can assume that we’ll always be kicked out in that kind of situation.  We might just be ignored.  What then?  What happens after they’ve gone completely off the deep end, and effectively left Christianity?  I just don’t see a good case for, “Stay there until they kick you out, period.”

    BUT.

    People do church-hop too easily.  We do need a correction, and I appreciate Frank’s desire to reign that in.  (Kelly F. said it well.)  People need to see leaving a church as a last resort, for extreme circumstances.  We shouldn’t leave a church just because it’s not quite up to our standards & preferences (Frank said it well here, we’re all flawed), and we shouldn’t leave without really trying to serve & love & edify them.

  30. Tim says:

    By the way, An–welcome to my blog!  Thanks for commenting.

    I’m really glad to have people from my own community here.  Online discussion can go wrong, partly because it’s more impersonal & detached.  And it seems like we should be figuring stuff out together, with people who are close to us.  Bible study should be relational.  :)

  31. an says:

    i guess that sounded pretty bad – i should clarify.  abandoning your family would be a sin.
     
    but leaving your family because you’re going to college, getting a job in a different city,  etc…  the fact that you’re “leaving your family” is a big deal, and should be taken into consideration.  but it doesn’t nix the possiblity of moving to a different city.  i think the same for your local church.
     
    and i agree – the church-hopping culture is pretty immature.  it’s kind of a way to get holy-points by going to church, but not really going to church.

  32. an says:

    thanks for the welcome.  i think these discussions, and i like the tone you maintain in them.

  33. an says:

    further clarification on my above comment about “leaving the church because there’s something your really can’t stand for”: like church-hoppers are immature, another immaturity is when people get all up in arms over something and threaten to leave the church over it.  our core committment to our church is to God and loving eachother, not making sure we all have the same views.  (i think i just got on a soapbox… i’ll step off now)

  34. Tim says:

    An,

    Oh, that makes sense.  Good point.  I wonder how leaving for college would fit into Frank’s stance.  (It raises a question–is leaving always abandonment?)

    On tone:  Hmm, thanks.  It’s not natural to me… It’s taken about 6 years to get here.  And I still get snarky.  :)   Gets me into trouble sometimes. (I had a post about this last year, BTW.)

  35. Kelly F. says:

    Tim, An, et al.,

    I know I’m a little late to this discussion, but I just discovered Tim’s great blog and was surprised (and flattered) to find my own comments on it. Great discussion, ya’ll.

    Making a connection, however strong, between divorce and leaving one’s local faith community seems both dangerous and biblical to me. We can disagree on how strong the connection is and which should be prioritized but even making the link raises the bar for commitment to a church quite a bit from where it currently is for most people. And Tim’s done a good job of making a distinction between a lively debate about general principles and not judging individual’s actions.

    I have two thoughts that I’ll try to keep brief. The first is that I keep hearing people say that they were unhappy with their church and decided to step back, give it some time, and see if it got better. Not surprisingly, this tactic then led to giving up. If a person is in a relationship then they are part of that relationship, so to step back from it is to already end the relationship.

    My second thought concerns the parallel with divorce. There is, of course, a lively debate about what the bible says about divorce. One position (taken by David Instone-Brewer, with whom I agree) is that if one person breaks their vows (through infidelity, abuse, or abandonment for instance) then the marriage is already broken. The other partner should seek reconciliation, offer forgiveness, and otherwise seek to forgo his or her right to acknowledge that the marriage has been broken through divorce. But there are difficult cases where there is continual, unrepentant hard-heartedness or the situation is extremely destructive to those involved. In these cases we shouldn’t judge those that exercise their right to free themselves of relationships that have already ended. It seems like there is some part of this logic that would be helpful in figuring out when it’s justified to leave one’s local church.

    And Tim, I agree with An: while most internet comment sections are snark-infested yours is refreshingly snark-free (but no longer pun-free).

  36. an says:

    hey kelly! i wish there was something in your post i disagree with so the discussion could carry on. but i pretty much agree with your two thoughts. it is interesting to parallel divorce with leaving your church. i think there’s some commonality there too.

    i just wanted to post because my computer is crankin’ away and i’m awaiting results (i work faster than the machine… or maybe because, in the background, i’m also making it search of alien life and sweep for mines)

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