Have you heard the term Chreastians. It’s a mash-up of Christmas-Easter-Christians that refers to those who only go to church on Christmas and Easter. It’s the Christian equivalent to only watching the season opener and the final game of the World Series. Chreastians is a bad word both aesthetically and in it’s derogatory intention. These days I’m glad when anybody shows up to worship no matter what day it is – so the good news for our Christmas and Easter friends is that we won’t be doing a Bible trivia test to see who gets a seat this Easter Sunday (although this is a hilarious scene from Rev., season 1).
The bad news is, I don’t think it’s even possible to “be a Christian” and not go to church, or perhaps only go twice a year. Obviously this gets into all kinds of questions about what it means to be a Christian. Some say right beliefs. Some say right actions (baptism, communion, even morality or baptism by the Holy Spirit). My honest opinion is—barring some sort of prohibitive limitation or a special calling to something like solitude or hermitage or a place with no churches (and in these kind of calling there is usually a significant connection to and identification with a church, even if not attending)—it’s pretty much impossible to be a Christian without being a part of a church.
The reason is that Christianity is not a status conferred upon an individual, nor is it merely about right beliefs, or behaviors, or even about “accepting Jesus.” To be a Christian is about surrendering to a new way to be a human being that is primarily expressed in a church community. Beliefs are part of it, as are behaviors and a personal connection with God. (Although we need to remember that many struggle to sense any kind of personal connection with God. See also Mother Teresa). To be a Christian names a willingness to identify as part of the body of Christ… the church.
I’ve heard many claim to be Christians in spite of the fact they never go to church, but I’ve never seen it happen—not once. At least not for a sustained period of time. The shelf-life is short for lone-wolf Christians, as it is for “alternative Christian communities” (even missional communities) that are disconnected from the traditions of the faith. Christianity is a new way of being human that must be nurtured and embodied as a community. I’ve never heard a Christian defense of disconnecting from the church that wasn’t rooted in individualism, if not out and out selfishness. Those are both things that Christianity is meant to subvert.
I don’t see any way to identify with Christ without identifying with the church, without living in fidelity to the church for our entire lives. Except in cases of abusive churches or church leaders, those who distance themselves from the church on the grounds that it doesn’t do anything for them are plagued by the pervasive individualism and egotism of our culture. The self-absorbed, “I don’t do the church thing every week, but I’m fine… really my soul’s good,” is a deeply flawed script.
The hard work of slogging to church every single Sunday morning so that we can worship with people who are different from us, is at least in part, a necessary part of what it means to follow Jesus. Weekly church attendance and deeper involvement in a church community helps us to escape the egocentric and deadly patterns of our society.
This is also why we need to worship with the poor, vulnerable, and marginalized. The hard work it takes to worship with other broken people will teach us what it truly means to be human. Worship isn’t about my weekly God-fix, it’s about learning to live peaceably with people who tend to drive us crazy, and vice versa. How I feel about it, or even worse, what I get out of worship is really beside the point. Those are questions we only ask if we have been more fully formed by a consumerist individualist culture than by the gospel.
If we must talk about what I “get out of worship,” then we need to know that its impact can only measured in decades, not by what happened today. My emotional response (or lack thereof), to the weekly song or teaching or liturgy is beside the point. Christianity isn’t about me at all. It’s about God’s mission of redemption. Only when I come to participate in God’s mission through the life of the local church will I find myself a part of the people of God. That’s what it means to be a Christian.
So if you are a Christmas and Easter Christian, I do so hope you’ll come to church this Easter. And, I hope you’ll keep on coming. Sure, you’ll see a bunch of hypocrites and screwed up people. But, you’ll find a bunch of fellow travelers on the way of life who are doing our best to organize our common life around the story of God & God’s mission of redemption, in the power of the Spirit, with (hopefully) a ton of mercy and grace for all. You might even find what I have found… that I can no longer imagine what it means to be truly human apart from God’s people.