Why I Don’t Go To Church

This dialogue can happen over the Internet. God forbid that I should disparage the Internet as a means of communication; the irony would be a bit sickening. But realistically, all the activity out here is nothing – nothing! – compared to what is going on in real churches, with real people talking face to face. Real, honest dialogue with other people who bear God’s image and are trying just as hard as we are to understand and interpret the Bible.

I have seen so much good come out of the church I am in. Depending on how far you want to stretch the idiom, I have seen “the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.”

Have people left? Yes. Have people gotten hurt? Yes. Welcome to communal life…

-Jacob Fronczak
“Why I Go to Church”
Hope Abbey blog

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 (ESV)

I read Jacob’s latest blog post this morning before I went to work and responded to him that I’d probably have to write a “counter-point” blog from my perspective. I don’t write this to disagree with or to oppose Jacob. In fact, I have the greatest admiration for his writing and the message he has created for today. He’s one of the few people who blog, especially about religion, who consistently presents an attitude that is sane and calm. I always hope that I present myself as sane when I blog, but anyone who has followed my “morning meditations” for any length of time knows that I am not always calm.

Jacob makes some very good points about why a person who is aligned with the “Hebrew Roots” movement can still attend and even thrive in a traditional church setting. I’ve said this in the past and I have also said that a great deal of good is done by the church in pursuing the commandments of Jesus to feed the hungry, visit the sick, and to provide comfort to the widow. In fact, I experience that sort of lovingkindness more from the church and the traditional Jewish synagogue than I do from many of those groups who call themselves “Hebrew Roots” or “Messianic,” usually because those groups are more focused on establishing and maintaining their “rightness” than in actually doing “rightness” to others in the Messiah’s name.

On the other hand, I have reasons for not attending church. None of this is new and I’ve spread “my story” over many different blog posts and various comments in the blagonet, but after reading Jacob’s message this morning, I felt I should collect all of that here today. This also, by coincidence (if I can even believe in coincidence in a created universe), dovetails nicely into today’s morning meditation where I spend several paragraphs summarizing my “witness” or my history in the world of faith.

Up until last May, I was regularly attending and teaching at what you would call a “One Law/Messianic” congregation. I left after much prayer, study, and investigation of the assumptions that had originally attracted me to that movement because of two basic reasons: I no longer felt the One Law proposition, which states that both Jews and non-Jewish Christians are obligated to the full 613 commandment in the Torah (minus Jewish halacha and Talmudic judgments and rulings) was Biblically valid. Also, I didn’t want to worship in a religious venue in which my wife, by her very nature as a (non-Messianic) Jew, would be unable to attend, and which would prevent me, due to my “reputation” as “Messianic,” from fellowship with her communities in Reform and Chabad Judaism.

So for the past nine months, I have been unaffiliated with any specific house of worship or formal denomination or sect, and for nine months, I have not engaged in any form of communal prayer or worship.

I kind of miss it.

The idea was to join with my wife at some point, in her communal religious life, but she doesn’t really have one at this point. She very occasionally attends shul, usually for a bar or bat mitzvah, or to help in some event held at one synagogue or the other, but not for Shabbat services and not to go to any of the classes being offered. I’ve suggested that perhaps we could do something together at one of the synagogues, and after a number of conversations on the matter, she said, “we’ll see.”

So why don’t I attend a church in the meantime? One of the reasons I left “One Law” is that the Rabbis at both synagogues in town are generally “OK” with Christians visiting for worship and classes, but they have an extremely difficult time even tolerating the presence of “Messianics”. Certainly, if I attended a church, even regularly, I would be no more or less offensive to them than any other Christian who walked through their doors, and certainly there are other intermarried couples who attend both synagogues, so how out of place could I be? Church attendance shouldn’t be a barrier to synagogue worship as such.

Traffic ConesThe other reason I left “One Law” was because I didn’t want to worship alone. I don’t mean without fellowship, which I had in abundance, but without my wife. She would no more step one foot inside a church than she would inside a “Messianic” congregation and for pretty much the same reasons. I would be just as “isolated” from my wife in a church service as I ever was in a “Messianic” service. I might eventually gain fellowship with other Christians, but it would still be completely hollow without my wife.

I know what some Christians out there are probably thinking right now.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. –Matthew 10:34-39 (ESV)

You could reduce that down to, “the heck with your family, Jesus is more important” or words to that effect. You could even attach my desire to attend synagogue services with my wife to what the Master said in Matthew 10:33 (ESV): but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. So much for loving my wife, eh guys? But what about this?

…and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” –Matthew 19:5-6 (ESV)

It’s not so easy now to simply dispense with my “other half,” even for the sake of my faith in Jesus, unless you can come up with some handy way to reconcile the dissonance created by juxtaposing those two teachings of the Master (and I’m aware that theology has come up with some rather creative ways of making discordant verses “fit” for the sake of “smoothing over” theology when rationally, they otherwise shouldn’t reconcile).

And then there’s supersessionism in the church.

I recently wrote an article for Messiah Journal called Origins of Supersessionism in the Church, which is the first of a four-part series on this topic. While I generally oppose this theology, my writing and research has made me particularly sensitive to the extraordinary harm this teaching of the church (not teaching of Jesus and Paul) has done to the Jewish people and to the worship of the Messiah within the framework of Judaism over the past 2,000 years or so. I admit to living with a certain amount of apprehension that if I ever started attending a church again, someone, a Pastor or Bible Teacher or just one of the parishioners, would spout off something about the church replacing Jews. Then I’d feel my blood pressure rise along with my temper, and I’d either just walk out, or I tell that person what I thought of their ill-considered “theology” (and then walk out or be thrown out).

Not that it would really be their fault. After all, the church has been teaching supersessionism as Biblical “fact” ever since the days of the early Gentile “church fathers.” That still doesn’t make it right nor does it mean I have to tolerate a way of understanding the New Testament that requires Judaism and every living, breathing Jew (including my wife and three children) to be deleted from religious, spiritual, and historical significance, not to mention permanently removing them from God’s love and, in at least a historical sense, removing the Jews from their very lives.

I told you I was sensitive to this stuff just now.

So that’s why I don’t go to church.

I understand what Jacob is saying and he’s right. Internet relationships are something of an illusion. I have managed to turn one or two into “real” friendships, but it always involves meeting in real life and doing stuff together. Pretty difficult for most web connections, particularly when those contacts span the globe.

Jacob ended his blog post with an invitation to those of us who are disaffected in relation to the Christian church:

If you believe in Jesus, you’re a Christian. We’re all brothers. We can be distinctive without being destructive. We can worship together. We can live together. We have to.

And maybe, just maybe, you could drop in at church sometime. We’d love to have you.

Thanks, Jacob (where ever you live…which according to his About page, is thousands of miles away from me). I’m not sure how that would ever work out, but I guess we’ll see what God has in mind.

19 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Go To Church”

  1. James, you certainly wear your heart on your sleeve and you’re not afraid to be honest, sometimes painfully so.

    The Lord bless you. You have to be what He has made you, a pioneer; a probe into the unknown – sounds like Star Trek.

    You articulate your journey very well and it makes for painful and yet inspiring reading. My heart goes out to you because you’re clearly not yet settled and so there’s more to come.

    I guess that its only fair to say something about me and mine. Well we believe in correct interpretation and religious practice but have just had to bite the bullet and be where we can be of most service to the Lord i.e. the Church in an Orthodox Evangelical setting.

    Though raised in an unGodly household, we sung hymns at school, said prayers and heard sermons from time to time and I have always had faith in God – even sensing His fatherly spirit as a fatherless lad – but didn’t become a Christian until sovereignly delivered from alcohol addiction by Jesus in my late 30s. Fortunately, I was birthed in a Pentecostal setting and was baptised in the Holy Spirit and nothing in all creation could empty me of the faith which I have in Jesus. Amen. We fell out of love with the Church pretty quickly though – or at least our perception of how it was being led – and moved around for about 8 years, including a spell attending various Messianic Torah Observant fellowships (MTO), home fellowships and so on. We’re now back where we started and this came about when the Lord opened my eyes through the Good Samaritan story and encouraged me to some humble pie. Briefly, the story spoke to me in the following way:

    The story showed me that although being right is very important – think also of the conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well about being right etc., John chapter 4 I think – but doing right is of far more importance. And this has proved undeniable over the years where I have encountered many who know how to be right, how to interpret rightly etc but know very little about doing right and so are mostly talk with no walk. Looking and sounding good but living badly.

    Also, Paul said something somewhere about counting everything all dung for the unsurpassable knowledge of knowing the Lord Jesus Christ and whilst I admit that I may be taking Paul out of context to make my point, I can nevertheless empathise with the sentiment in the sense that I would rather serve God and be part of a fellowship of xxx than be part of a fellowship who are more concerned with correct interpretation, dress and so on than feeding the poor, healing the sick, raising the dead and preaching the glorious Gospel of salvation, the assurance evidenced by the indwelling Holy Spirit and the abundant life in the Spirit that is available for those that believe and receive by faith new birth into the family of God. Hope I’m making sense.

    Just wondering if anyone has ever encountered a MTO fellowship that are as equally concerned for feeding the poor, healing the sick, raising the dead and preaching the glorious Gospel of salvation as they are for correct interpretation and religious practice.

    Love your blog James.

    Every blessing.
    – Andrew

  2. Thank you for your kind words and thoughts, Andrew. One thing you said really got my attention:

    “You articulate your journey very well and it makes for painful and yet inspiring reading. My heart goes out to you because you’re clearly not yet settled and so there’s more to come.”

    When I read that last sentence, it suddenly occurred to me that I am almost terrified of being “settled,” as if being settled means being locked into one and only way avenue of looking at the Bible and God and being locked in there means not being able to perceive or understand any other way. I admit, my primary lens tends to be a Jewish lens, but I don’t want to talk, act, or be a person that can only understand and be understood by one audience. God talks to everyone and listens to everyone. We can’t be God, but we can try to be open to the experiences of others and help them become open to our experiences.

    There’s more to come? That’s what I’m “banking on”. Peace.

  3. James,

    My heart goes out to you. I pray that God will give you the piece you so deserve.

    You practically say what I have been saying, but in a more softer tone.


  4. James,

    No sense going into my story here, but I wonder what you’ve experience in the movement. For ten years, I’ve been praying from Artscroll as part of a MJ congregation. In fact, if a congregation isn’t conducting services that at least parallel the service found there, then they shouldn’t call themselves “Jewish”–it is an affront to English. If their teacher isn’t being fed from Jewish sources, they’ve got another problem…

    The congregations I’ve been with being small, we have made it a point of joining with the local conservative congregation for their Yom Limmud Shavuot and Tisha B’Av services. We don’t go for any reason but to join with them. There has never been a problem. I have gone to their Shabbat services when my congregation did not meet. (Was offered an aliah the first time–one of the dangers of knowing what to do with a tallit!) And when I was unemployed for a few months, I joined with the morning minyan. Then I noticed some things in the Rosh Chodesh service. I now try to make it there every Rosh Chodesh. I’m a first born, so I join them for the Fast of the Firstborn. (Got a some great reactions from that one!) The rabbi offers to sell my chametz.

    They think I’m crazy. And they expect me to be there. Two years ago, I ended up there for Simchat Torah. They handed me a Torah scroll.

    Do they know my views about Messiah? I suspect that they don’t need to be told. They can see who I know, and I know the “wheelie” MJ leader here quite well.

    If I were in a position of authority, I would have a big problem with a lot of MJ-types as well. Most of them are Charismatics with a veneer of some Christian-Jewish something or another. Loud and with evangelistic fervor. Trouble anywhere.

    Chabad is rather evangelistic. If you’ve not made an absolute nuisance of yourself, I bet that they would allow you to their study groups. Then don’t make a nuisance of yourself.

    As for your wife, it seems to me that she is having trouble connecting to Judaism. I have no end of complaint with most of Reform Judaism. But Chabad can be…rough. I’ll try to pray for you, and request a return, as we are also between congregations.

  5. Thanks for your comments, Nathan. I’m probably not successfully communicating my history, which isn’t easy to do in a blog post, but I really don’t think my wife is having difficulty connecting with Judaism. Just because there isn’t enough space, I didn’t include every last detail in my missive, and after all, I can’t simply disclose every tiny part of all of our family matters. There’s more going on and I honestly didn’t post this blog in order to request solutions, simply to paint a portrait of why I don’t go to church.

    I do have a question as a matter of halacha. Are you Jewish?

    If not, I’m a little surprised you were offered an aliyah and that you were invited to pray in a minyan. It’s likely, if you’re not a Jew or you didn’t convert, that they thought you were a convert. I know it’s an honor to receive an aliyah and to pray with a minyan, but it might be better to be forthright with the Jewish congregations you are visiting and let them know (again, for all I know, you’re Jewish…I can’t tell, so please correct me if I’m wrong) you’re status and to politely decline such honors if they are offered (in some Messianic congregations, non-Jews may be offered an aliyah and pray with a minyan as a matter of local custom, but these are non-Messianic synagogues we are addressing here). I’m sure they’d appreciate it.

  6. James,
    Thank you for sharing. I’ll give you a little bit of my story. I was raised in a Southern Baptist church and have been most of my 33 years. About 14 years ago, I left the church I grew up in because of theological differences. At the time, I didn’t know anything about hebrew roots, but the beliefs I had begun developing were very close. (Much closer than that of SB) I was out of “the church” until I starting dating the girl who eventually became my wife. I discussed with her my issues with “the church,” but honestly she wasn’t as “studied.” To her, that’s her church family who she grew up with, and she’s not as interested in the theology part.

    I started attending church regularly with her and it was and still is painful. I even taught Sunday school for about 3 years. Through a set of strange circumstances, I stumbled onto the Hebrew roots movement & Messianic Judaism. But I found myself becoming angry at “the church” again, so I stopped attending. I tried attending the nearest Messianic congregation, but it’s an hour away. My wife came with me the first time, but it made her uncomfortable and she said she would never go back.

    It could have easily destroyed our marriage. You mentioned humble pie. Well, I’ve been served a whole pie and I haven’t finished the first piece yet. After much prayer, and listening on my part. I felt the Ruach telling me to go back to the church. I’ve been attending Sunday morning services with my wife and children again. It has been awkward at times. There are some relationships that have suffered that need to be healed. Thankfully, I didn’t completely burn any bridges. I don’t know yet what my role is there. I would love to be in a teaching role again but I don’t know if they would let me anymore. I’ve been praying about leading a Hayesod group. I don’t know if they’re ready for that yet.

  7. I posted some comments back in December/January about holidays and Kabbalah. I shared some bits of my history. I got saved in 1972 during the Jesus movement. I’ve always seen the Bible as Jewish. I went to a Jewish Synagogue at 16 years old and was involved with a messianic Bible Study for a very short time. I attended my very first Messianic Seder in the 70’s. But God has other plans for us sometimes. The Messianic/Jewish thing comes in and out of my life. My family is always telling me, you’re not Jewish. They don’t see it like I do. I was married for 12 years, divorced for 14 years and remarried to that same Cuban for 6 years now. During those divorced years I went to Israel 4 times with Sar-El, with the only “All” Christian group Israel allows to volunteer in the Army (we are going on our 20th year) I thought I was going to move to Israel and possibly re-marry. I tried 3 Messianic congregations. God’s got me at a very small (196 member) Calvary Chapel Church at the moment

    I can related to why you don’t go to church and so can this blogger. She’s not attending any church at the moment. I told you I wanted to share some links with you, so now and here is as good a time as any. She writes about so many things I’ve been looking at the last 2 years.


    Sounding the Trumpet in the Midst of Apostasy – The Enemy is in the Camp!

    I like Ron Cantor blog: He’s talking about unity on his blog on this post

    I was posting on this blog,
    Until, I came to this post and commented and then I got blocked.

    That’s okay. I continue to share their blog and post it where I can. I just have to accept that sometimes, I’m not supposed to be someplace or with some groups, no matter how much I want to be with them.

  8. @Jon: Thanks for commenting and sharing your experience. Yes, it can be very painful to be in a community where you feel you don’t fit in, but in your case, for the sake of peace in the family, it’s probably better to go and be with your wife. I suppose it would be like that for me when/if I go to synagogue with my wife. I find great beauty in much of Judaism, but I’m not so naive that I don’t realize there would also be significant disagreements in some areas. No matter where I am, church of synagogue, there are some things I’d have to agree to not bring up. It’s not easy.

    @Kittii: Yes, I remember you and your comments, Kittii. The things you write remind me of how we often set goals for ourselves in our lives of faith and yet, God has His own plans which aren’t always the same. Given what you’ve said, you probably wouldn’t choose to be in Calvary Chapel right now, but I guess God’s plan needs you to worship there. My “morning meditation” for today, Uncomfortably Serving God is all about how we encounter the differences between our plan to serve God and His plan for us.

    I know you include a lot of links as part of your way to get your point across, but honestly, I think you write just fine and you have certainly shown me where you’re coming from with your words alone. Don’t worry too much about some of the things that happen in the “blogosphere”. What matters most is that we continue to pursue God with all of our heart and might and always move forward in learning what He would have us do with our lives.

    To everyone: It never occurred to me when I wrote this “meditation” that I would inspire everyone who responded to open up with their lives and their experiences. I find it very humbling and refreshing. To those of you who shared and those who will in the future, thank you.

  9. Hi, Linda.

    Recently, I’ve been considering going back to church, but in my case, there are complications. I do believe that we are better when we are in community than when we’re not, but it’s a tad easier when both people in the marriage have the same idea about “community”. And yet, we all go with God.


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