Saturday, April 30, 2016

Solitary Conceit and Why I Go to Church

Last year I was accused of being small-minded for my convictions on church membership and worship attendance. I was told that the only reason I attended worship and was part of a church was because I had never known anything else. I had never opened my mind to the possibility that it was just as easy to get the “church experience” from the vantage point of my home. Not only was this a massive discredit to my intelligence but to the intelligence of my parents as well. Do you think they brought me to worship every Sunday morning without bothering to explain why we attended worship? Do you think I took membership vows without first making sure I had a comprehensive understanding of church membership and why I personally was committing myself to these promises? But then I realized that a lot of Christians walk into worship every Sunday morning without knowing why they are there. Many of them eventually grow wise and begin to wonder, “What’s the point of being a part of an institution when I can replicate all the elements of worship on my own?” That is a fair question and one I will address here to the best of my abilities.

My friend’s accusations initially prompted me to go home fuming, pull out my Bible, and acquire every single Scripture reference I could find on church authority, church organization, worship, keeping the Sabbath, and fellowship. I wanted to hurl God’s Word in my friend’s face, crying, “Do you read your Bible?!” But as I further contemplated this strategy, I realized that not only would it be ineffective, but it would probably cause more harm than good to my case. So I sat and prayed and then wrote a very vehement journal entry or two or three and then prayed some more. I tried to lay out my case over and over again but every time I tried I got too emotionally invested, too defensive, and too angry. I don’t like reading angry rants any more than I enjoy writing them. So I let the issue lie for a while.

Months later I came across a quote online from C.S. Lewis and the words “solitary conceit” jumped out at me. I found the source of the excerpt and realized that Lewis had addressed this very issue long before. Now, I don’t believe Lewis is the ultimate authority on God’s Word, but he was a wise man, no doubt a bajillion times more wise than me, and I found his thoughts on the issue of church attendance pinpointed and summarized the issue at hand better than I ever could.
“My own experience is that when I first became a Christian, about 14 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 this meant being a target.

“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 (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 worthy 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.” --C.S. Lewis

Lewis’ words on the Sacraments instantly stood out to me. We may be able to replicate the "worship experience" by listening or reading sermons or devising sermons of our own at home, singing praise music on our own, and we may think that worshiping from the comfort of our home instantly simplifies all of the complications and dysfunction that comes with a church congregation, church government and worshiping with a body of believers, but in reality we have created further dilemmas. The only difference is no one is there to call us out. No one can point out our inconsistencies or hold us accountable and so we are left in the comfortable isolation of our conceit. But when we come to the Sacraments, we find ourselves in a dilemma. Baptism and the Lord's Supper cannot be legitimately administered apart from some kind of governing church authority. 

Technically, I guess you can perform the baptism ritual with water at home and make bread and wine to serve for the Lord's Supper, but who administers the baptism? Can I baptize my siblings? My friends? Can I serve the Lord's Supper? Has Christ given each of us saints license to do this? We have to draw the line somewhere. 

As much as we would like to think him so, Jesus is not anti-authority and Jesus has instituted authority in his church with a very good purpose (Matthew 28:18-20, Ephesians 4:11-16, Hebrews 13:17). If you assert yourself as the ultimate authority over yourself then you are not submitting to your King’s authority. You might be convinced that you are submitting to Jesus, but you can’t claim to submit to Jesus and blatantly reject the authority he has instituted for his people, just like you can’t claim to submit to Jesus and blatantly reject the authorities he has instituted in this world (Romans 13:1). In our rugged individualistic American minds, we often like to portray Jesus as this loaner, this guy who went against the grain and didn’t care what other people thought, who just did his own thing. But Christ was not a rugged individual. He had disciples. And he was not anti-authority. He submitted to his Father’s will in all things (Philippians 2:1-10).

When we abstain from the fellowship and worship of Christ’s saints and assert ourselves as the ultimate authority of God’s Word, it is, as Lewis describes, nothing short of conceit.
It is indeed a conceit. The solitary believer who will not join with other believers thinks himself/herself a better Christian than they. He visits a congregation and spots a class of church members he’d just as soon not be identified with. They are a little beneath him. Their brand of Christianity is not as refined as his. Their doctrines not as well thought out as his. They dress differently. Their music is not very good.--Pastor Joe McKeever


Last week a pastor visited our congregation and shared with us about his experience teaching in East Asia and ministering to the saints while he was there. He described the very real threat of persecution Christians face there. Several of them have been interrogated and beaten because of their faith. And yet in the face of adversity, the church thrives, the Gospel flourishes, and their numbers increase. The saints are zealous about spreading the Gospel, gathering together for worship, learning and understanding God’s Word, and praying together. The pastor closed by saying that he feared for the church in the United States, he feared for the comforts and luxuries we possess here and how often we make idols of our personal comfort instead of zealously loving Christ and his church and faithfully proclaiming his Gospel.

When we fall into solitary conceit, we make idols out of comfort and convenience. It is easier to stay at home and worship by ourselves. It is easier to avoid going to church, avoid the, hem, people at church, and instead worship alone or at least with people we want to be around. This attitude is nothing short of a woeful misinterpretation of worship and fellowship as well as a blatant rebellion to God’s commands. I appreciated Joe McKeever’s words on solitary conceit, because he writes specifically to pastors who isolate themselves and their churches and see no point in connecting with other pastors and reaching out to the larger global church. Just as it is dangerous for a pastor to isolate himself and his church, it is dangerous for individuals to isolate themselves from the worship and fellowship of the saints.

The saints in East Asia ask the church in the United States to pray for them, not that the persecution would stop, but that the Gospel would go forward in spite of the persecution. I think we need their prayers more than they need ours. I was reminded last Sunday why I am a member of a church and why I attend worship every Sunday morning, and the short answer always is because we need one another. I need to live in community with these saints, no matter how our lifestyles and opinions vary; I need them, just as much as we all need the saints in East Asia and around the world. We need their humbling testimony lest we slip into a collective conceit of our own. This is why I attend worship, because we need one another. We need to be reminded that the people who irritate us, the people we despise, tend to be the ones Jesus has chosen to love and in turn calls us to love. We need to be reminded that entering the kingdom of God takes the humility of a child. When we isolate ourselves, we grow stagnant in our arrogance and conceit, we lose our zeal for one another and when we lose zeal for our fellow saints, we lose our zeal for the Gospel and instead of the thriving Gospel fruit we see in East Asia, our branch is cut off and the Gospel is brought to a lonely dead-end (John 15:1-6).

One of the best examples of a saint who possessed unsurpassed zeal for the Gospel of Christ is none other than the Apostle Paul. And yet Paul equates his passion and love for Christ with his love for Christ's people, the church, so much so that he cannot choose whether he would rather suffer and die for the sake of Christ or continue to live and minister to Christ’s people (Philippians 1:21-26). I will leave you with these words of admonishment. Examine what you believe and why you believe it. Search the Scriptures—all of them—and ask yourself if your convictions concerning worship, fellowship, church membership and authority, are deeply rooted in God’s Word or deeply rooted in your own personal preferences, comforts, and convenience. Are you guilty of solitary conceit? Remember that attending worship services and being a part of a church does not mean you are exempt from arrogance and the temptation to isolate yourself.


9 comments :

  1. You brought up some great points here about why fellowship is so important! It is good food for thought. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is a very thoughtful post and well written! I know several people I've been trying to direct to a church, and it's hard to not bash it in their face.
    Thank you for bringing this up. ♥

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The important thing is to not take it personally (which, as you can see, I kind of did initially) and then realize that while we can't change the minds and hearts of other people, we can still love them and lead by example. Also, it never hurts to have our beliefs challenged and to search our own convictions and weigh them against God's Word. Thanks for stopping by, Kara! :)

      Delete
  3. If you have the patience for a set of 30 minute podcasts on a similar subject, White Horse Inn 1264-1266 might be a good listen on this and similar subjects.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That sounds fantastic! Where would I find the podcasts? I love listening to podcasts and audiobooks. :D

      Delete
    2. For starters,
      https://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/entry/2015-show-archive/2015/06/28/whi-1264-ordinary-grace
      https://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/entry/2015-show-archive/2015/07/05/whi-1265-sustainable-churches
      https://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/entry/2015-show-archive/2015/07/12/whi-1266-the-nature-of-spiritual-growth
      There's a link halfway down the page, "Listen Now", and once you've found the right link you can "save as" an mp3 for computer or portable listening device.

      Delete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...