Hello Baysiders! Hope all is well in your souls and everyone had a spooktacular Fall season. As Halloween ends, Thanksgiving is next on the holiday docket and we are getting harassed by retail companies that Christmas is just around the corner. Because Costco, Target and Safeway start early with the Christmas stuff I feel it necessary to start early as well on talking about Christmas.
What if I told you attending a local church in person is the most Christmas thing you can do? Yes, church commitment is how you get into the holly jolly spirit! No, this is not some cheap way to hit you over the head with a guilt trip in order for you to get to church. Rather this is a way to invite you into a deeper way in celebrating the birth of Christ.
Showing up in person at church is Christmas. And when I say showing up, I mean committing to a church where the pastor knows you and you know the pastor and where other members know not just your name but your birthday, family dynamic and your personal Jesus testimony. Notice I said commitment and not attendance. Attendance is fickle, self-centered, shallow and impersonal. Yet it’s also really easy and convenient. But a problem with merely just attending church wherever you feel like it, you’ll lack the spiritual accountability that’s needed for your faith to grow in a healthy deep way. Commitment to church is how to celebrate Christmas all year because it’s how to be like Jesus. Did Jesus just attend earth? Of course not. He did more than just visit us for a Sunday. He committed to us with all of his life. From his birth to death, he was all in. That’s the essence of what Paul says in Philippians 2:5-8 when he says Christ came to us as a servant and obeyed God’s redemptive call to the point of death. Jesus committed to us so that we would receive the gift of salvation. Imagine you committing to a church to the point of your own death? What if every member in every church viewed and committed to a church that way? I would theorize the church in America would be in a better place than it is. Because Jesus committed to us by coming in our flesh and blood, we ought to do the same with one another.
At the heart of Christmas we see the DNA of church commitment: embodiment. What makes Christmas so special is for the first time God took on human form. Our Christian theology teaches us Jesus has always existed being God but at Christmas he manifested himself as a human embryo. This means prior to the first Christmas Jesus was spirit, without a body. Up to that point, maybe you can say he was not as fully committed. But than he showed up. Not through Zoom, not sitting in his car watching on a screen, not by reading the church bulletin from his heavenly home. He visited us in person. That’s the meaning of the incarnation. God became equal to us in our reality, our weakness, strengths, limitations, struggles, joys, suffering and death. God incarnated himself in Christ’s body to our world so that we might be saved. Thus we incarnate our bodies to the worlds of others. We get involved. We humble ourselves to be equal with everyone. No matter what status, privilege, wealth or benefits we have, we lower ourselves and commit to one another by showing up in person serve and love the church. This is why screen time discipleship is hogwash! When you watch a church service online instead of in person you are essentially undermining the Christmas story. You are telling God and others that our bodily impact and gift is not important which is totally against the incarnation. It’s a tragedy that going to church “weekly” is now considered unimportant, legalistic or burdensome for today’s Christians, when for the early Church, it was the natural expectation and easy standard for all professing believers.
Youversion’s Bible app verse of the day videos are the equivalent to drinking a Slurpee to satisfy your thirst. It’s tasty for the moment and briefly stops dehydration but there are zero nutrients and it doesn’t satiate. Spiritual formation through “screen time” that’s absent from embodiment in community and accountability is anathema to Scripture. Your faith needs a real pastor (not online preaching) over your life to nurture your soul with tender love and care alongside holy scripture and surrounding saints. The fact that many Christians in a post Covid world think virtual church is the same as in-person worship proves how utterly deceived and enslaved we are by consumerism, individualism and technology. Drop the Slurpee and drink the living water from the God who is embodied in Christ and with the whole town of Samaria.
Furthermore, when the apostle Peter says the Church is “the priesthood” of all believers (1 Pet 2:5), he DOES NOT mean we are all each our own priests to spiritually nurture ourselves in private and be absent in a local church. It means we’re each other’s priests! Your faith is dependent on others. A Christian not committed to a church is not only a spiritual contradiction but abysmal theology. If the church is his body, which it is, and Christ is the head, which he is, we have no business as a member of that body to foolishly assume we can be cut off from it and thrive. It may be possible to attend church and not be a healthy Christian, but it is impossible to be a healthy Christian and not attend church. To be cut off from his body is to be cut off from the Head. Essentially to say “I love Jesus but church isn’t for me” is actually saying, “I don’t love Jesus.” It’s shocking and tragic how many Christians who feel that way don’t know what they’re truly saying. Many Christians will say, “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian,” and they are right. Salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8) and not by anything we can do, like going to church. However you also don’t have to go home to be married but keep staying away from your spouse, and eventually the marriage will be affected and most likely end. Reading your Bible by yourself whenever you want, texting your friend about Galatians and listening to praise songs on Spotify is not discipleship. Faith is affirmed and cultivated in the body of Christ. As the late Eugene Peterson said, “Going to church does not make you a Christian but there is no other place to be fully Christian.”
Disclaimer: this entry does not apply to those who can’t join a local church due to vocational limitations or health concerns. God allows special graces to such members of the body who are disjointed by our post Eden world conditions.