In this episode John and Gregg discuss a blog post entitled “The Sin of Forsaking Fellowship,” by Dan Dailey, first raised in the Untangling Christianity private Facebook group. John wonders about a comment that Gregg left on the blog post.
Gregg explains that he was struck by what he saw as a crucial contradiction at the beginning of the post. For example, the author both appears to be writing from a personal perspective and has made a rather drastic choice for a Christian (to “quit going to church . . . permanently”), yet the author claims that his reasons for making this decision are not relevant to the post. Gregg explains that he finds this misleading (because his reasons for leaving church surely are relevant to the post!) and so wanted the author to know that this approach created distrust for Gregg.
So Gregg underscores that knowing why someone holds a particular perspective, especially where it appears to deviate radically from accepted norms, is essential to understanding the perspective (and perhaps, being persuaded by it). Particularly, the idea of being a Christian but permanently leaving the church is extremely uncommon and so Gregg wants to have information about why this decision was made and why this might be a good decision for others (which Gregg believes the post is advocating).
John, however, resonates with the majority of the article, particularly the idea that there is too much focus on “a single verse” (Hebrews 10:25) as justification for why Christians must continue attending church. John also likes Dailey’s analogy of church as a “club for married men,” such that those who attend regularly are faithful to their wives while those who stop attending eventually break relationship or can’t stay in good relationship with their wives. It’s the idea that attending church in the same way is the only way Christians can stay faithful to God.
Gregg counters that while this may be an accurate picture of many churches, this is not to say that these churches are properly carrying out their role (and accurately reflecting a New Testament depiction of “the church”). As such, Gregg argues that it is unfair to use a false or broken picture of something in order to reject that thing: if this is the wrong way of doing church that don’t reject church, do church the right way!
While John does not see the article as advocating leaving the church, Gregg does, and feels it goes to extremes. John pushes Gregg by asking if he (John) is failing in his obligation to attend church. Gregg responds that he is uncertain, though Gregg argues that John seems to be in situation than Dailey.
So Gregg re-circles to a conversation that he and John had several episodes ago (about attending church or attending a small group) and finding yourself in a position where “pat” Christian ideas are raised and everyone gives “courtesy nods.” Gregg finds this a difficult environment in which to be both unobtrusive yet effective. In fact, Gregg thinks that he would be far more optimistic about attending such a gathering if, for example, John went too.
Gregg draws a connection with the current discussion in that, if Dailey is fortunate enough to gather with a group with whom he can have authentic engagement as Christians and Christianity, then this is something that Dan should be sharing with others, notably with church-goers. In other words, Gregg believes this is something that the church needs, so if Dailey has a version of fellowship that is “working” he has an obligation to share it.
Gregg’s point is that, by and large, the greatest number of people who are both open to Christianity and who are in need of help relative to those same beliefs are churchgoers! Gregg also pushed back against the notion that attending church is down to “one verse.” Instead he notes how, in 1st century Palestine, the orientation around the family was extraordinarily strong and how Jesus, in the gospels, draws new lines of attachment such that those who believe in him should see their fellow believers as their family.
So there is an entire cultural orientation towards gathering, maintaining contact, and generally being in right relationship with one’s family, whether by blood or belief: this is much more than “one verse!” Indeed, Gregg goes further and argues that Christians have an obligation to attend church, which Johns is surprised to hear Gregg state so strongly.
Gregg believes he and others have an obligation to share valuable knowledge and experiences they have acquired and that he is not “loving his neighbour” if he “sits on” / holds back this information (i.e., he does not seek to publish it or in some way make it up more broadly available).
So while Dailey may be geographically distant from a church or may have made many such attempts in the past, Gregg believes that, given what Dailey has expressed in this post, he has valuable things that he can share with other Christians, and is actually obliged do to so.
John questions where this obligation originates from and Gregg replies that the obligation comes out of the command to “love one’s neighbour” rightly. John questions why this has to happen at an “official church.” Gregg believes because churches are where the majority of the people who need help with Christianity are!