In 2005, Steve McCranie published a book called Love Jesus, Hate Church in which he addressed one of the most common manifestations of modern American Christianity. More than three out of five Americans identify themselves as being Christians, but over 40% of us don’t go to church more than once a year.
One Barna survey states that almost forty percent of unchurched Americans don’t go because they have had painful experiences with church or with church people.
Do you recognize any of these comments, all taken from articles about loving Jesus and hating church?
- “You certainly don’t have to be a church member to go to heaven.”
- “I like to express my faith through my hands,”
- “I felt there was hypocrisy in the church, and I felt if I kept going, I would be a hypocrite.”
- “If the church doesn’t meet my needs, I’m going to stop going.”
- “Christians get on my nerves.”
- “So much of American religion today is therapeutic in approach, focused on things you want to fix in your life. The one-to-one approach is more attractive. People don’t go to institutions to fix their problems.”
Having easily recognized the world we live in today, dare we ask if Jesus would go to church today?
Jesus didn’t have church, but he did have synagogue—not that much different! Synagogues were places of assembly, probably begun during the Jewish Babylonian captivity after the destruction of Solomon’s temple. Synagogues were places for prayer and worship, for study of Torah, and for fellowship. As they evolved, they took on greater social and political roles, so that they were the basic organizational institution in Israel during the time of Jesus.
All of the gospel writers mention Jesus and the synagogue, so we have lots of material with which to work. Here’s what Jesus and they say about synagogues in the first century:
- Synagogues were full of hypocrites, some who blew trumpets so all would know when they donated to the poor, and others made a huge show at synagogue when they prayed in public (Matthew 6:2,5)
- Synagogues had good people flogged for breaking their rules (Matthew 10:17).
- Synagogues had special places of honor for the “better” people (Matthew 23:6)
- Synagogues were the home of special parties of Jews, like the Pharisees (Luke 11:43)
- Synagogues had the authority to excommunicate those who did not conform to their understanding of God’s Will (John 9:22)
- Synagogues were often organized around racial, national, or social distinctions (Acts 6:9).
This sounds pretty much like church to me!
Yet, here is what the writers recorded about Jesus and the synagogue:
- Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people (Matthew 4:3)
- Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues (Matthew 9:35)
- Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue (Matthew 13:54).
- and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom (Luke 4:16)
- And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea (Luke 4:44)
Some would wish that Jesus had abandoned synagogues and started house churches with no rulers and no rules and no entanglements and not many obligations.
Some would wish that Jesus had only assembled with good people, preferably those that he liked to hang out with.
Some would wish him to just continue teaching by the sea or on the mountain, just anywhere in nature! And he should only tell stories—and don’t draw conclusions—and keep them short.
Some would wish him to just stay at home in Nazareth and let anyone who wants to know what he teaches come to him. If they wanted to start their own Facebook fan page, that’s OK, just keep it to virtual meetings.
Some just want to get a podcast of his sermons whenever they want to listen—that’s all.
I have no doubt that Jesus would be at church every Sunday! He would be teaching, healing, praying, loving people, and praising God!
Wait a minute!
Jesus IS at church every Sunday!