Why Christians Should Not "Attend Church."
During the period of time when I was being excommunicated by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Prof. John M. Frame of the Westminster Theological Seminary in Escdondido, CA, asked me why I refuse to become a member of any church or ecclesiastical denomination. What follows is an excerpt from my letter to him.
File date: 10/11/92
Westminster Theological Seminary
1724 Bear Valley Parkway
Escondido, CA 92027
Greetings in the Name of our Savior and King!
With you, "I do see some force in their position." My "anarchism has made matters very difficult for them." But then, maybe their archism has made matters difficult for them. "After all," you ask, "how can someone be recognized as a Christian if he will not be a (conscientious, submissive) member of the church?" Three responses: -- No, I just deleted them; no point in being argumentative. You put me in a difficult position, but let me go on the offensive, as it were. Let me describe for you my life in "the church."
My day begins at 5:00 AM. Bill Gothard recommends reading 5 Psalms a day plus the chapter of Proverbs corresponding to the date of the month. I also have a program of reading the Bible through each year. I inevitably end up updating a few papers with new references.
At 6:30 our "community" of Catholic Workers meets in the prayer room. Our community presently consists of the Parfrey family (H & W and 4 kids, usually dressing for school at this hour), and four singles, including myself. We read the daily readings of the Cath. lectionary, sing a song or two, and pray for guests and other needs.
About 7:30 we fix breakfast for ourselves (most guests having already left for work) and begin preparing a meal for 100-200 people (3 days a week). A half dozen volunteers will join us and remain till 2 or 3:00 PM. During the chopping of onions and the cooking of soup we have a chance to talk to each other [Heb 3:13] and the homeless who are waiting in our back yard.
On Tuesday evening we have a Mass. Since no priest who affiliates with the Catholic Worker is conservative enough to believe in Transubstantiation, the "service" is no more objectionable to me than Protestant "services." (I'm completely anti-sacramentarian). A pot-luck dinner follows.
On Wednesday evening I often go down to the L.A. Worker House, where they do what we did on Tuesday.
On Thursday and Friday afternoons we sometimes attend services at a House of Studies for the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity, whose seminarians often join us in the preparation of our meals.
There are twelve rooms in our house. Those not occupied by the "community" are given rent-free to homeless people who are recovering from addictions. They have meetings to attend, some of which are held here at the house. During the week we try to be available to them to help them with their recovery.
We're more or less on 24-hr call, as the door can and usually does ring at any time.
It's very easy for me to find faults with everything going on in this scenario. It's far from perfect. But I know that I am doing a lot of things that the Bible says I should. Meeting needs (Matthew 25), encouraging one another daily (Heb. 3:13), searching the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:11), and keeping myself "unspotted from the world" (Jas. 1:27), at least as much as I can. I'm doing the best I can to live the life I see Jesus and the Apostles commanding me to live. I've publicly professed the first three parts of the 4- part OPC membership vow, and, after detailed study of the Westminster Standards and Reformed theology in general, agree with most of it. I would think it would [be enough to be counted as a "Christian."]
But because I refuse to agree with a certain ecclesiology, I am not recognized by some as a Christian. I have been excommunicated.
Now here is -- to me -- the supreme irony. Jesus says that when we excommunicate someone, we are to treat them as a "heathen and a tax-collector" (Matthew 18:17). Yet if I were to cease my works of mercy, cease living in community with others who follow Jesus (violating explicit commands in Biblical law concerning daily "one anothering" [e.g., Heb. 3:13]), cease my nearly-obsessive daily searching of the Scriptures, violate explicit Biblical laws against debt (Prov. 7:22; Romans 13:8) and debasement of the currency (Deut 25:13-16; Isaiah 1:22) by mortgaging my future for a small home comfortably isolated from the pain of the polis, making payments by getting a job as an IRS agent -- in short to be a tax collector and live in a way wholly indistinguishable from the heathen -- but simply attend once a week a 1+-hr regimin of activities which are utterly without NT precedent, THEN I will NOT be "as a heathen and a tax-collector." Until then, the OPC proclaims to the world that I am not a Christian.
There is something tragically and frighteningly unBiblical here, I think.
You say I have done more thinking about my anarchism than you or others, but you are not persuaded. But you "must say, I wish someone could persuade you...."
I see persuasion as a dynamic, 2-way process. When you say you wish someone could persuade me, I'm sure you don't wish for someone strong enough to intimidate me, or someone for whom I would mindlessly disengage my faculties of critical analysis and parrot their doctrine in docile acquiesence. You want me to experience genuine persuasion, an enlightenment, a process of soul-to-soul growth in solidarity of thought. I've done my part, it seems to me. I've read extensively in Reformed ecclesiology, Buchannan, Bannerman, the standard dogmatics. I've listened attentively and respectfully; even with a certain fondness. I've looked up all the verses, studied, and prayed. I even preached the party line at Reformation Bible Church with David Chilton.
But over the last decade I have come to a different conclusion. I do not expect to persuade anyone who will not go through the same process I have gone through: listening to Christian anarchists attentively, respectfully; looking up the verses.
I've worked very hard to organize my anarchism and make it accessible. Few people are willing to re-evaluate. I can survive that. But the process of genuine persuasion completely breaks down when someone who refuses to consider thoughtfully my "95 Theses on the State" (as an example) gives me a 10-minute summary of Ecclesiology 101 and expects me to jettison the last 10 years of my life.
Now if [CCC Session member] were a 9 on a scale of 1-10 and I were a 1.5, I should immediately see the truth of his position and indeed jettison even the last 50 years of my life. But assuming no major changes in the character of CCC since my departure, I have reason to believe that the Session is generally oblivious to the pain and oppression caused by archism and a society which has utterly rejected Bibical Law. The State, which I believe is demonic in origin, is lauded as "divine." The problems caused by a debased currency and an addiction-encouraging media are ignored, and attention focused on unScriptural liturgies and irrelevant doctrinal disuptes. I think the whole institutional "church" scene is just crazy. It's so far from the pain I'm trying to minister to, and from the remedies I believe God prescribes, that I can hardly describe the gulf.
And the response from the OPC, it seems to me, boils down to a diluted doctrine of Apostolic Succession.
The contemporary institutional church (in contrast, I gather, to the "mere abstraction" of an anarchist house-church), with its "submission" to "specific groups of elders," strikes me as a pathetic attempt to have "oversight" and community in a radically [autonomous], fragmented, [and] impersonalist culture. The idea of calling a Sunday AM "worship service" "Christian Community," when for an hour you look at the back of someone's neck, is surely the dysfunctional abstraction.
Peter Maurin's schedule at the Catholic Worker in New York planned for an equal amount of time during each day to be given to prayer and Bible Study as was given to work. This was based on the fact that in the Medieval era, following Scriptural precedents, there were approximately 148 days off per year, given to various religious feasts. "Work" consisted either of chores on the farm or the making of soup or publishing of the newspaper, which was not only the vocation of the House, but in effect "paid the rent." Ben Franklin said "time is money." Instead of devoting our day to the making of money as corporate serfs, we have chosen voluntary poverty so that we are wealthy in time to give to God and to others.
See also, "Why do you devote your energies to criminals, illegal aliens, and drug addicts?"
If you have a question or exhortation, I would really love to hear from you;
please write me at Kevin4VFT@aol.com.
Back to Gateway to Isaiah House
Vine & Fig Tree Home Page
Vine & Fig Tree