I’m a Christian, but
I don’t go to Church
I’m a Christian, but I don’t go to Church
by The Most Revd Kay Goldsworthy AO | Archbishop
How many times you have heard people say this, or something similar? Perhaps you’ve even said it yourself on occasion?
I have certainly heard it dozens of times over the years, and I like many of us have mostly been polite. Too polite. We tend to let such remarks go through to the keeper, rarely taking up the invitation to consider them seriously, validating a very odd aside by our silence, and the failure to engage.
If we listen more attentively, however, ‘I’m a Christian, but I don’t go to church’ is a bit like saying ‘I’m wonderfully blessed in my friends, but we don’t meet or share meals together'.
Christianity, by definition, is discipleship, a friendship, a love affair, a trusting relationship with the servant Lord who calls us to follow him, to learn from him, walking in his way, seeing as he sees, living as he lives. Faith in Christ is never, in other words, just a matter of our personal belief, or an intellectual assent to a set of propositions.
As a result of our recent Clergy School, we deacons, priests and bishops are currently focusing on what it means for us to be ‘in Christ’, not simply engaged in a periodic church check-up, making sure we are doctrinally sound in terms of leadership and pastoral care, but something even more fundamental. How are we ‘in Christ’ the good shepherd, and how do we stay close to him over the long haul? What does it mean for us day by day by day?
We are concerning ourselves not only with the big questions, but with the big question. Not to put too fine a point on it, ‘How do we live in what some are calling the Trump-shaped world in a Christlike way?’ Do we really believe and trust that ‘Jesus is Lord’ means that Caesar is not?
Or, to sharpen our enquiries a little more, while it is inappropriate to ask if self-identified Christian leaders are good Christians, it is proper to ask if they are Good Samaritans. And, lest we think nots only OK to interrogate them we should also interrogate ourselves on precisely this basis, and not once or twice but daily.
After all, what does it mean to say, ‘I’m a Christian’ if it doesn’t mean turning to Christ in the waters of baptism, and in every other environment? What does it mean to be Christian if it doesn’t mean being part of the Jesus movement, that great company of the redeemed longing for God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven?
What does it signify if social media gets to us hourly, yet rarely or never do we sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to his teaching? Can we be who we are called to be and do all we are called to do if we never break bread together? Being sustained for our lives ‘in Christ’ leads us to want to be around the Lord’s table with our sisters and brothers, that place where we are continually fed and sustained by Christ’s love.
Turning to Christ is more than a good idea, like choosing a paint colour for the lounge room wall that doesn’t offend anyone, a background that won’t interfere with the details of our lives.
Believing and belonging, our life in Christ, interferes with everything and all the evidence points to some simple and not-so simple things that Christians need as sustenance for our journeying in the astoundingly beautiful gift that is God’s love. Common prayer, scripture and sacrament are not negotiable.
As Joyce Rupp OSM says of the poet who cannot imagine a day without writing, ‘We need to come to a point in our lives when we want to pray so much that we cannot imagine a day in which we do not have a time and a place for God'.
And this is never just about our own well-being, or even the health of the church, but that the world might be saved.
Published in Messenger, September 2019.