About kurt bennett

Just a regular guy who loves to search the scriptures.

Church: If the earliest Christ followers didn’t do church the way we do today, why should I?

should I go to church

To Go Or Not To Go?

I had lunch with a twenty-something and thirty-something today. These two men happen to be two of my favorite people on planet earth. We had a great time together. Toward the end of our meal the conversation turned to church. During the conversation both agreed that attending church is unnecessary. One commented that Pope Francis made the statement: It is not necessary to go to church, and, for many nature can be a church. The other made the accurate observation that the early followers of Christ didn’t go to a church building to worship in the same way we do today. And I have to confess, I agree with him. And if you’re interested, you can listen to this guy who shares some of the same sentiments as the thirty-something who made that comment: If Jesus were the pastor of your church you probably wouldn’t go there

But what about that? What about the earliest Christians? If the earliest Christ followers didn’t do church the way we do today, why should we?

The Man Of God Who Did Not Attend Church

Before we look at the difference between how we do church today and how the earliest Christ followers did it, I’d like to acknowledge a biblical example of a man of God who did not attend church. That man was John the Baptist. Jesus certainly recognized him as a great man and it’s obvious he was used by God to accomplish great work for God’s kingdom. Yet it would seem that he didn’t attend services at God’s house of worship, which for him was the local synagogue. How can this be? We’ll revisit that just a little later in this post.

So What Did The Early Christ Followers Do Anyway?

I love the way the two men I had lunch with seek after knowledge. They both have a way of persistently looking for more accurate truth and better ways to live life. They often challenge me with their ideas and questions. And I often learn from them both. And you know what? What was said about the earliest Christ followers is true. The earliest Christ followers didn’t do church the way we do today. On average, church going Christians today attend church about once a month. They drive to a Christian church that is funded by church members. They usually sing praise songs or hymns for fifteen minutes or so. Then the pastor teaches for thirty to forty-five minutes. Then they drive home. A month or so later, they do it again.  (PewResearch.org)

The earliest followers of Christ didn’t do it that way. The earliest followers of Christ didn’t meet in a Christian church. They met in the Jewish temple, there in Jerusalem. (Eventually they were thrown out. After that they met in public places or private homes.) And they didn’t meet every month. They met every day. “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching…” And then after the service they would have a meal together. (I just learned today that the orthodox church still practices this tradition.) “From house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God…” And it would appear that they gave more than we do today. “…all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.”

So the earliest followers of Christ, the earliest church members, didn’t do it the way we do today, it’s true. They did more. (Acts 2:42-47)

Science And Going To Church

From my perspective there’s science supporting an answer to the question of whether or not we should attend church. Jesus said there is a foremost commandment (something I never realized until a few months ago). What Jesus said specifically was this: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

I recently heard some research on a podcast called Freakonomics. The host is an economic behaviorist who sometimes points out examples of a phenomena called social norming. If you’re interested you can check out the episode called Riding the Heard Mentality. (A further description of the podcast episode is: How peer pressure can push people to do the right thing.)

The whole deal with social norming is that each one of us believes with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind that “I am my own man (or woman). And while others may be susceptible to the influence of who they surround themselves with, I think for myself.”

But over and over again science says otherwise. I’ve heard it proven in research multiple times on the Freakonomics podcast, and by Arizona State University professor Dr. Robert Cialdini, and also in research cited by Malcolm Gladwell. The influence of those we’re surrounded by is consistently underestimated. But it turns out it’s one of the most powerful forces there is when it comes to what determines our thinking and behavior.

So, if you believe Jesus’ words, that the foremost commandment is to love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, then it makes sense to surround yourself with people who seek to love God with all their heart, and with all their soul, and with all their mind. I believe John the Baptist was one who demonstrated love for God in the way Jesus describes without “going to church” as it were. But I think John the Baptist was an outlier. I know I can’t love God the way Jesus describes without the influence of Christ’s community. I think most everybody is the same. And I think many people know this intuitively and that’s why as soon as they have kids they decide they want to start attending church. They do it out of love for their son or daughter. Because they know their child will love God more deeply if they’re surrounded by people with a deep love of God. But what I’ve noticed is the children aren’t the only ones impacted. The parents’ love for Christ grows as well. A church filled with people who love God the way Jesus describes is almost inescapably influential.

But where can we find such a church? Because there are plenty of churches filled with people just going through the motions, lukewarm churches. And there are even churches filled with people worshipping something other than God. (Sadly, I just saw a video of a sermon encouraging people to come to church so they will gain money.) But the church that influences us to love God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind is the church filled with people who love God that way. So how do we find these lovers of God? Research. Ask around. Try different churches. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t fear trial and error. Don’t stop until you find the people who love God with everything they have.

Do whatever you have to do to find that church.

And go there,

often.

That’s what the earliest followers of Christ did. That’s what it makes sense to do, even from a scientific perspective.

Go to church.

You might also like: The Angry Crowd, Freakonomics, and Doubt, and Love Like Jesus-Don’t Give Til It Hurts (and what that has to do with your inner circle)

NOTES:

Pope Francis’s Quote

From what I can gather, the quote attributed to Pope Francis isn’t real. A photo of the Pope accompanied by a statement that includes the words about not going to church has circulated around the web for awhile now. But like many other photos accompanied by quotes circulating around the web it’s false. (If you’re interested you can read more at Snopes and Wikiquotes.)

The full misattributed quote accompanying the image of Pope Francis that you may have seen on the web is below.

“It is not necessary to believe in God to be a good person. In a way, the traditional. Notion of God is outdated. One can be spiritual but not religious. It is not necessary to go to church and give money — for many, nature can be a church. Some of the best people in history do not believe in God, while some of the worst deeds were done in His name.”

Read more at Snopes and Wikiquotes.

You might also like this Love Like Jesus post about the Sabbath.

References:

HT to Anastasia Bennett for educating me on the tradition of meals after the church service in the Orthodox Church.

Image via Saint-Petersburg Orthodox – Creative Commons

Should I go to church?

Your Money (And your future)

financesNew House With A View

There’s a thirty-something I know who looked out his window the other day to see his neighbor urinating on a garage. I asked him what he did about it, and he said, “I just smiled and waved at the guy. He was very embarrassed, believe me.” This thirty-something, he very recently made a decision to buy a duplex, and now he and his family are living in one unit. They’re going to rent the other. It’s only temporary, but the thing is, his strategy comes with sacrifices. The unit is small for his family of three and his large dog. The purchase stretches his budget to the max, and then a little beyond. And–well–occasionally he might see his next door neighbor urinating on a garage. Nevertheless, I think this thirty-something has made a very wise decision only a small percentage of people make. He is Continue reading

Easter And Your Fear Of Death

fear of death

The Fountain

Kathy and I just finished watching The Fountain, starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. IMDB describes the movie this way: “As a modern-day scientist, Tommy (Jackman) is struggling with mortality, desperately searching for the medical breakthrough that will save the life of his cancer-stricken wife, Izzi (Rachel Weisz).”

Jackman’s character Tommy is obsessed with finding a cure for his wife’s cancer to the point where he devotes nearly all his time to his research, often at the expense of his relationship with his dying Izzi. He’s consumed with finding the answer to the problem of death.

Death, Dying, And Easter

I think Easter is one of the most relevant times possible for us to explore our anxiety over our own mortality. I know there are some this Easter who are struggling with the fear of death. And there’s a logic to it because the reality is, despite the amazing progress of science and medicine, one statistic about death remains completely unchanged: 100% of us die. And that inspires fear.

Life insurance companies know this. We see them play on this fear in advertisements on TV and on the internet. The content creators of mass media also recognize our fear of death. When they feature articles about health remedies that promise to help us live longer, they know they’ll attract readers, listeners, and viewers (which in turn attracts advertisers–some of which might be life insurance companies).

But what we fear, I think, is not death itself, but Continue reading

My Experience With Christians (and why it’s so hard to leave the Rogue Valley)

why are Christians so mean

The Sun Sets On The Rogue Valley

Kathy and I are moving away from the beautiful Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon. There will be more on that a little later but first I want to look at how some people view Christians.

Why Do So Many Doctors Treating Ebola Have To Be Christian?

Not long ago I read this article on slate.com about how most of the medical care for Ebola patients in Africa comes from missionaries. And the author, who wasn’t a Christian, made some interesting statements about those missionaries. He said he’s uncomfortable with the missionary medical personnel in Africa because they don’t collect data the way some secular medical organizations do, and because they lack oversight. Then he said this,

“And yet, truth be told, these valid critiques don’t fully explain my discomfort with missionary medicine. If we had thousands of secular doctors doing exactly the same work, I would probably excuse most of these flaws. ‘They’re doing work no one else will,’ I would say. ‘You can’t expect perfection.'”

Kind of weird.

A Pastor Fund Raises For A Gulf Stream Jet Aircraft

Continue reading

Couples With Amazing Marriages All Do This One Thing

great marriages all do this one thing

…and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ. (Ephesians 5:21)

A Spirited Exchange Of Ideas (An Argument) Between A Husband And Wife

Kathy and I are in the midst of transition right now, including relocating to a city nearly 300 miles away, the sale of our vacation rental business, and investing in a new area. And of course along with transition of this nature comes, shall we say, spirited exchanges of ideas between husband and wife. And that has me thinking about Continue reading

Why Didn’t God Heal Me?

Why didn't God heal me?

So last post we saw my friend Mike’s miracle: how he had a heart attack but was healed. It really was remarkable the way things turned out. But when you read that post, you may have said in your head, “Yes, that’s great that your friend Mike was healed. But what about Christians who aren’t healed? What about Christians who have a thousand people praying for them, but then they die anyway?” Continue reading

My Friend Mike’s Miracle

miracle prayer

Last post we talked about one reason God was so responsive to Jesus’ prayers was because he loved God so much. And because he loved God so much, Jesus was always seeking to give Him glory. If you’re interested you can check it out here: The One Thing You Can Do To Give Life To Your Prayers

Well Monday, two days after that post I received a text from my friend Mark. He and another friend Mike host a podcast called Solomon’s Porch Radio. And Mark’s text said,

“Hey Kurt …..let everyone know to be praying for Mike….he had a heart attack. ..and just went in for surgery.”

So I just arrived home from Portland late the night before and I missed that text. But another friend, Luke Salyer, sent me a DM on Twitter about it, so I called Mark and asked him to keep me up to speed on Mike’s condition.

Then Wednesday morning I received another text, and this one was from Mike (via Mark). And this is what it said: Continue reading

The One Thing You Can Do To Give Life To Your Prayers

The One Thing You Can Do To Give Life To Your PrayersThe one thing you can do is at the end of this post. It’s worth it, I promise. If you do it, it will change your life.

Taunts From An Atheist About Praying In Jesus’ Name

I have this friend who’s nearly an atheist. What I mean is, he’s the most atheistic leaning agnostic I know. And around the fire station he sometimes loved to taunt Christians. One time he said to me, (in the snarkiest tone possible), “So the bible says if you ask for anything in Jesus’ name that he’ll give it to you. Right? So ask for a Mercedes Benz tonight. And see if it’s in your driveway when you wake up tomorrow morning.”

In Jesus’ Name: What That Means

Now there’s an obvious answer to that taunt. Asking in Jesus’ name Continue reading

Why Did Lazarus Have To Die? (And why do I have to suffer?)

Why do I have to suffer?

Why Did Lazarus Have To Die?

I’ve been reading Eric Metaxas’s Miracles again and there’s a section where he addresses the miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. And Metaxas really made me think. Why did Lazarus have to die anyway? Why did Lazarus have to endure the suffering? Why was it necessary for his family to mourn? I mean, Jesus could have shown up earlier and healed him as he did for so many. But he didn’t. So Lazarus suffered–and died.

By the time Jesus got there his sisters and his friends were weeping. And in answer to anyone who would say that God is some sort of impersonal metaphysical force, Jesus, God incarnate, was overcome with grief himself. And he wept for his friend, and for his friend’s family, and for his friend’s friends. Jesus wept. (John 11:35)

Lazarus, Jesus’ friend, had been dead for four days. Four days. That’s significant because there was this idea in Jewish culture at the time, that when a person died their spirit hung around for three days. And here we find Lazarus dead beyond that time period. In fact when Jesus directed the men to remove the stone that sealed the tomb, Lazarus’s sister Martha protested.

“Hang on, he’s been dead for four days. He’s been decomposing,” she said, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench.”

But Jesus went ahead with it anyway.

He prayed out loud, not so God could hear him, but for the benefit of the people there.

And Lazarus walked out of that tomb.

And here’s where I have to ask: Why? Why was that necessary? Why did Lazarus and the people who loved him have to suffer that way? Why couldn’t Jesus have just healed him?

And the answer is found when we ask the question: Continue reading

How One Mistake On Twitter Destroyed A Woman’s Life (And what we can learn from it)

This one mistake on Twitter destroyed a woman's lifeMorbid Fascination

Last night (at the time of this writing) I read this very insightful article in the New York Times. I was so morbidly fascinated I just couldn’t put it down. It was about a woman traveling from New York to South Africa to visit family. While she was on a layover in London, she sent out a tweet. This tweet of hers, it was an awkward attempt at humor. But it had to do with AIDS and race–and it was definitely more awkward than it was humorous.

After she sent this tweet she checked for a response but there was none. She only had around 170 Twitter followers, so that’s not too surprising. But what happened next was very surprising.

During the eleven hours she was in the air between London and Cape Town, South Africa, a writer and editor of a blog with 15,000 Twitter followers got wind of her tweet. So he posted it on the blog he edits, and this began a chain of events the woman never anticipated. Continue reading