A Letter To Those Who Believe In God But Don’t Go To Church

Image result for going to church

Dear Friend,

You have expressed, by your words and/or your actions, that you feel no need to go to church. You don’t see how it would benefit you and your family (as I believe it would). I appreciate the frankness with which you shared how you feel, and I will also be frank even though that will entail explaining why I think you should feel differently than you do. In explaining this, I want to be clear that I don’t think you are a bad person for thinking as you do. But I do think you are mistaken on this point, and I consider it a point of sufficient importance that I want to explain why I think so.

On my mission in Taiwan and since then, I have met many people who have said they don’t see the need for church even though they believe in God. Many of these have told me something to the effect of “I’m happy with where my relationship with God is right now.” And if this is what they sincerely think, rather than glibly saying it to brush aside the matter, then I think it is their first and greatest error. That’s like saying, “I’m good enough as is–I don’t need extra help, forgiveness, or regular accountings.” It’s also like saying, “My relationship with my spouse is good enough–no need to make it better.” There is always a need for moral progress, even in the best people, and any person who does not feel this need is merely insensible of their own moral failings. Similarly, there is always a need for improving one’s relationship with one’s spouse, good as it may be. God wishes to improve us morally and to improve our relationships with each other. And he can do it! If we improve our relationship with him, we will as part of the process improve in these other ways as well.

But even more fundamentally, our relationship with God is the very best thing we have. God’s love is aptly described in the Book of Mormon as “most precious, . . . sweet above all that is sweet, . . . white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure”–as something to be “feast[ed] upon . . . even until ye are filled[.]” The most beautiful expression of the desire for God might be the first verses of Psalm 22:

1 As the deer pants for streams of water,

so my soul pants for you, my God.

2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

When shall I come and appear before God?

To say one’s relationship with God is “good enough” is like saying we don’t want more joy, more light, more knowledge, more pleasure, more meaning, more goodness. Why in the world not? This is not to say that we should be malcontented, but that we should be pressing onward. We should not be complacent.

It is easy to get muddled by the mundane. As we grow older and (especially) as we become parents, our perspective matures. A wider perspective occasionally comes into focus–an intergenerational perspective that exceeds a single lifetime. When we have this perspective, the mundane matters that soak up our attention during most of our waking hours fit in their proper place, and the weightier matters assume their proper stations. When we have this perspective neither complacency nor the mundane muddle prevent us from feeling the desire for God–not for the god we vaguely believe in, but the living God whom we do not yet know very well, but whose face we are seeking in all of our highest longings.

If we can get the desire for God right, I think everything else will fall into place.

But perhaps you already agree that you need to seek God and are only leery about the ability of organized religion to help in the quest. I could write on and on about how organized religion can be a great spiritual asset, and how the close-knit community formed by the active members of a congregation is a beautiful thing in and of itself. But I won’t. Instead, I will content myself with a single quotation from C. S. Lewis about the importance of church attendance to his own journey in Christianity. I am confident that analogous quotations could be found for every major religion the observance of which traditionally involves attendance at a place of worship.

Q: Is attendance at a place of worship or membership with a Christian community necessary to a Christian way of life?

A: That’s a question which I cannot answer. My own experience is that when I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn’t go to the churches and Gospel Halls; and then later I found that it was the only way of flying your flag; and, of course, I found that this meant being a target. It is extraordinary how inconvenient to your family it becomes for you to get up early to go to Church. It doesn’t matter so much if you get up early for anything else, but if you get up early to go to Church it’s very selfish of you and you upset the house. If there is anything in the teaching of the New Testament which is in the nature of a command, it is that you are obliged to take the Sacrament [footnote quotes John 6:53–54], and you can’t do it without going to Church. I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit. It is not for me to lay down laws, as I am only a layman, and I don’t know much.

–“Answers to Questions on Christianity,” printed in God in the Dock.

I am confident that anyone who goes to my church (and I’m sure the same is true of most churches), if they do so with the prayerful intent of coming closer to God, or of gaining one or two insights about how to be a better parent, spouse, sibling, or friend, or how to make a bit more of a difference for good in the world, they will find what they seek. “Seek and ye shall find; ask and ye shall receive.”

My invitation: Take God at his word. Try the experiment.



One thought on “A Letter To Those Who Believe In God But Don’t Go To Church

  1. Many thanks for this very excellent essay! I’m grateful for the people in my life that I know I can depend on. They will be there for me and for the precious “others” who need the security of their consistent faith and dependability.

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