by Tim Woods, 7th grade Humanities teacher
Have you ever sat down in church and just felt empty? Have you ever left a service immediately forgetting whatever you just experienced?
Perhaps you’ve been disenfranchised with church as a whole for a myriad of reasons. Maybe Sunday has become a day of fear or frustration. Let us not kid ourselves, even those raised in the church can feel all of this. As a classically Christian-educated child raised in the church myself, I confess feeling the same tug towards complacency in my own life. So what can bring us back from this Stygian Pool of spiritual forgetfulness? We must recall the heart of the Sabbath and that pursuit entails more than just shunning our weekly work in favor of the effort to keep up with our favorite football team.
The reality of the situation is that our lives are already filled with the good things of the Christian religion. You likely go to church, read your bible when prompted and even attend events put on by your church to build fellowship with one another. These are all wonderfully good things and don’t hear me say otherwise. But we can engage with them like so many “dry bones” from Ezekiel 37. Did the people of Israel first disobey the Covenant by destroying their own obedience to the Sabbath and Mosaic law? They did not. Their falling away began, and we see it in the life of Solomon, when the good things of Yahweh began to be mixed with the wisdom of other nations. We can do the same with our own “Christianeze,” as I refer to it. The goodness of the Christian faith can become diluted by the happy feeling we get by being “faithful church attenders” or “wearing our Sunday best.” My 7th graders often hear me quote Tim Keller in saying “when temporary things become ultimate things, they become dangerous.” When our Christianity becomes just a box to check off, we have lost the heart of why we do it at all.
All these good things are like the ligaments that hold the skeleton up. All the elements of religion that mark us as Christians (prayer, worship, baptism, etc.) are like the sinews and ligaments that keep the bones from coming apart and falling into a disheveled mess. The etymology of the word religion was presented by Cicero as “re-legere” or to “re-read” something. However, a more contemporary etymology is “re-ligare” to “bind fast” where the prefix “re” is used as an intensive (link). But just like if we would see a skeleton with just its connective tissue, it’s still not taking a stroll down the street! Consider a rocking chair. It gets you moving but you don’t go anywhere. So what is this body of work missing, so to speak? It’s got a structure and some ligaments to keep it from falling apart, but there’s no life in this body. We could compare this to the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (vv. 15-17). So let us keep in mind that while activities of church life together are good, without an earnestness for their true heart, it can become easy for them to just become things to do.
The heart of the faith that we so often miss is the person of Christ. It was no accident that God sought to rectify the problem of sin through a human form. The truth is that we can live our whole lives sitting in church pews and be no more alive in Christ than those model skeletons we saw in Anatomy class. Oh sure, we’ve all gotten up and gone through the motions of the Christian faith, but if you have not been made alive in Christ, what good is it? If there is an emptiness in our church activity, it is because Christ does not dwell there. Not only does he function as the head of the actual church as we read in Colossians 1, but he creates effectiveness in response to our obedience. The beauty of the Revelation 3 passage we read earlier is that it does not stop with just a condemnation of being lukewarm Christians. The next verse encourages the church to “buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see” (v. 18). The worship service in Heaven is going to be glorious, and it will be so because we receive our gold, garments, and salve at the door. Christ is aware that being warm or cold isn’t the core of the resolution, but instead oneness with the Father through salvation by the Son.