I had a dream that I had to leave the fellowship I love and go back to traditional church every week. In the dream I was trying to find some way around it because I knew I couldn’t go back to the uptight, shallow, boring Sunday ritual called church (and I grew up in a nondenominational Protestant church). But in dream-logic, there was no way around it. I woke up immensely relieved because it really felt like a nightmare.

I’m grateful for learning about God’s grace in my church upbringing, and for the people who cared about the youth there, but I know exactly why my brain interpreted this narrative as a nightmare. Church as an institution is a nightmare, compared with the new and living way God always intended.

The stuff of nightmares

As I’m studying Hebrews 9, it’s obvious that the Old Testament rituals were meant for teaching and foreshadowing. The priest, the altar, the sacrifices, the temple…it’s all obsolete now that Jesus fulfilled the Law by being perfect, offering Himself as a sacrifice, and presenting His death to God as our high priest. But oddly, most Christians still go to a special “church” building where a special person does most of the work. Even going to a non-traditional “church without walls” (i.e. special building) where many people share the work, it’s easy to get into a rut and turn what should be relational into ritual–to just show up, take notes during the teaching, participate in discussion, hang out afterward, and leave largely unaffected by the presence of God.

Living like this is absurd in light of the cross. In Jesus, the priest became the sacrifice. The  judge became the judged. The sins which were symbolically covered by goats’ blood became truly & eternally covered by the Lamb of God’s blood. When Jesus died, the temple veil tore from bottom to top because God was making a big statement: “You don’t need a human priest to approach me now. Come on into the most holy place!” If we don’t need animal sacrifices anymore, certainly we don’t need priests or rituals or sacred spaces either. And we don’t need to grovel, feel guilty, or try to impress God. We can freely, boldly enter His presence.

Though churchy rituals may not tempt me, I struggle with dragging other stuff into the throne room. I want to feel like I’ve got something to show for myself–maybe that I’m teaching a Bible study, leading a small group, or sharing the gospel. While these actions may be God’s plan for me, they cannot make me more acceptable to or loved by God. Christ’s blood is enough. In fact, you can’t enter the throne room any other way. ”So get that garbage out of here,” God says.

“Okay, I will, as long as I don’t have to go to ‘church.’”

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