I’m convinced. I’ve fought it. I really have. But today I’m convinced there is no good reason not to go to church.
My church has a guy who speaks about God. He’s called the pastor and I like him a lot.
The earliest Christians were Jews and so they went to synagogue regularly. They didn’t stop doing this once Jesus left the planet. There soon came a time though when the Christians were no longer welcome in synagogues (near the beginning of the second century) so they gathered together on their own, organizing themselves the same way they had before in the synagogues. They had a guy who prayed and preached from behind a wooden pulpit, for example, just like in the synagogues. He was called a chazan.
My church has a guy who has us sing Tomlin songs with him for twenty minutes on Sunday mornings. He’s called the worship pastor and I like him a lot.
Synagogues had preceptors, or music leaders, but when Christians left the synagogues and started meeting on their own they sometimes didn’t have a preceptor. So Christians sang songs to each other with or without a leader. They sang two main kinds of songs: songs that were prayers to God and songs that told the history of God’s People and His relationship with them – Jewish songs. They used this last type of song to teach newcomers and the young the history of the faith and to remind those of all ages how faithful God had been to His People.
My church has a small troup of “actors” who do dramas for us sometimes.
Church dramas suck.
My church receives about twenty percent of my income. They use that money to pay rent, pay the worship pastor and pastor, buy grape juice and tiny square breads, sustain their food pantry and support missionaries and other good folks doing great things in our town and around the world.
I haven’t found much scholarly stuff on how finances were handled in the early church. What I have found is that equality was one financial goal of the early church. To oversee this mission leaders, deacons for one, were needed. They took the offerings of the people and gave them to those who had need. This of courses didn’t stop people from giving to their neighbors in addition.
My church let’s me sit beside Redneck Neighbor and his wife and other members of the cult-de-sac for an hour or so every Sunday, during which time we say very little to each other and mostly just sit and listen.
The early church wasn’t much different. It was made up of two basic groups: those in official leadership positions and those who participated in other ways, like listening. For example, the early church had a preacher (we’ve already mentioned the chazan) but also a nasi (James, Jesus’ brother was the first in Jerusalem). The nasi was the administrator, the judge of disputes, the admitter of newcomers, and was in charge of everything in the Christian church that the Sanhedrin was in charge of in the Jewish faith. Then there were deacons (parnasin) men and women who officially cared for the poor, doling out the offerings of the church to those who had need. Some scholars think when Acts 6:3 talks about choosing “seven good men” it was the chazan, nasi, and panasins that were being spoken of – you couldn’t have an official synagogue like meeting without them present. Then there were the batlan, scholarly leaders who were independently wealthy or supported by the church. They were around to answer any scholarly questions that would arise, about history, language, law, etc. You had to have ten of these for every 120 people in the church. You couldn’t start a synagogue like service without all of these kinds of leaders present – at least ten leaders total. Then there was the zaken, an older person who was wise and counseled/mentored everyone. They had to be at least fifty years old. Then there was the interpreter, called a meturgan, who stood by the one reading the scriptures. The scripture would be read in its original language into the interpreter’s ear and then the interpreter would speak it in the languages of the day and “add meaning” when necessary.
That’s a lot of leaders (and that’s not all of them) doing a lot of structured leader stuff at a structured time and in a structured way. Can we turn our backs on the whole idea of structure and leadership and hierarchies today given that they were so integral to the early Christian churches?
I don’t know.
I know from “going to church” my whole life that “going to church” on Sunday doesn’t keep me from being the Church all week long. The two aren’t mutually exclusive are they? If they aren’t and if I might make even the slightest positive contribution to a local chruch by “going” there and the leaders there might make the slightest positive contribution to me then why stop going?
Anti-go-to-churchers, in light of all this confession, explain to me why I should not go to church. And then please stick around and talk to us if we have questions about your reasons.
(Sometime soon I’ll propose a potentially better kind of church…or at least a way worth trying.)