Should we bother with church? [Questioning faith #24]

Ted Grimsrud—May 16, 2023

I did not grow up with churchgoing as part of my identity. My family did go to church regularly until I was eight years old, but I don’t think it was that important for us. When their Methodist congregation folded, I don’t believe my parents grieved much. Then, for nine years I rarely went to church. At the age of 17, by my own choice, I began attending a Baptist congregation. In the 50+ years since, I have always felt that going to church was my choice, and when I have had extended periods of not going, I did not feel guilty or unhappy—unlike many of my friends over the years for whom churchgoing has been part of their identity. These days, as I think about church, I have a lot of mixed feelings.

In the Bible, human beings are given salvation so that they might embody God’s will in this life. From the calling of Abraham and Sarah to the final revelation of the New Jerusalem, the Bible portrays lived salvation as community centered. Faith communities provide the context for human flourishing. However, in our fallen world faith communities also in practice have often not actually been that healthy for people. Their legacy is ambiguous. So, when I think about the Christian church, the questions come pretty quickly—especially one set of questions: The church, comforter or afflicter? The church, a place that heals or a place that hurts? The church, oppressor or liberator? The church, a blessing or a curse?

I have an answer to these questions: “Yes!” What I mean is, in my experience, the church has been both a blessing and a curse. We invest ourselves in this community, we make ourselves vulnerable to each other, we care deeply. The rewards can be great—but so too can be the disappointment and hurt.

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