When Christians get together they generally ask two questions...
"How or when did you get saved?"
"Where do you go to church?"
The first is the most inclusive thing we can ask. With it we are asking the other person to share with us the story of their relationship with Jesus Christ. This is the happy moment when we can acknowledge our familial connection through Christ -- we are members of his body, part of the Father's family, brethren together. Smiles all around...
Then we ask what can be the most divisive question -- "Where do you go to church?"
I say divisive, because almost without exception as soon as the other person answers, we immediately put them in a box: a 'good' box, a 'bad' box, or an 'indifferent' box.
Don't believe it? What is the first thing that comes to mind when you read the following:
- Catholic church
- Methodist church
- Baptist church
- Foursquare church
- Episcopal church
- Lutheran church
- Plymouth Brethren church
- Church of Christ church
- Pentecostal church
- Nondenominational church
- Community church
- Seventh-Day Adventist church
- and the list goes on...
While we may not be familiar with the specific church they attend, it only takes a couple of follow-up questions to get enough information to form our opinion about them. Quickly processing their answers, we soon identify their 'tribe' and then know how to relate to them. Regardless of our evaluation, there is one thing we know beyond a shadow of a doubt, we belong to the "best" tribe!
I guess the question I have is why we even have to ask that question?
What does it matter where, or if, a person goes to church on Sunday? Is their place of Sunday attendance any indication of their spirituality? Is it an assurance of godliness or passion for Christ? Does it guarantee doctrinal orthodoxy (whatever that is!)? Is the question of church membership/attendance a bridge to deeper relationship or an ever increasing chasm of rejection (subtle or otherwise)? Are we looking to validate them, or discern their deficiencies? Either way, is this what God want's among his people?
What if someone answers, "I don't." Do we assume they are rebellious or backsliders? Does it indicate they are not walking with the Lord? Out from under God's covering? Resisting or rejecting submission to authority? A tare in the wheat field of God's harvest? Irreverent, deceived or both?
What if they declare that they meet with others as brethren, don't have a name for the group, aren't incorporated, don't have paid staff, won't rent or buy a building, aren't married to any particular pet doctrine, have no membership contracts to sign and are not affiliated with any denomination? Does that indicate that they are not a 'real' church fellowship? That they are part of a cult? That they should be avoided, investigated or both?
What if they indicate they go to an Episcopal church? Do we presuppose that they are not believers? Are we going to ask if they are 'high church' or 'low church'? Question them about infant baptism? Transubstantiation? The priesthood? Or what their stand on gay marriage is?
There are literally thousands of possible answers to the question, "Where do you go to church?" And while the question will probably come up eventually, why does it have to be asked to lay the foundation of our relationship? Why couldn't our relationship lay the foundation for the question?
What if our esteem and estimation of one another were first built on conversation, increasing trust, vulnerability and openness? What if we were less inclined to uncover differences and more inclined to celebrate commonalities. What if our primary goal in relationship was to see Christ in one another? What if our preoccupation was how we could serve one another, affirm one another and stand with one another on our journey with Christ? What if 'different' could be seen as an intriguing opportunity to learn, rather than a constantly looming threat to our spiritual 'security'?
If seeing Jesus in our brother or sister was the focus of our heart's attention, wouldn't the world see more and more of the Glory of God and less and less of the flawed religious institutions that we have spent so much time and effort erecting and defending? Wouldn't it lead to a whole different set of questions, where we could give joyful testimony of what God has done in our lives and what he can do in theirs?