On this Easter Sunday I found myself like a lot of others, separated from my normal fellowship group. Instead of attending church, I took a walk in the woods, both to get my exercise and to meditate as I walked.
This experience, of course, brought to mind what I had heard religiously in my youth. In those days there was no disputing that God required every “Christian” to be in church every Sunday, unless maybe you were a shift worker. There was no such thing as worshipping God in nature. God operated in a certain place at a specific time, and I had to be there and punctual. Any member who chose to be on the golf course or in the bass boat Sunday morning was a scorned backslider or pseudo-believer.
With that in my background, I have grown more and more attached over the years to the words of Paul in Acts 17. In his address to the Athenians, Paul blew the tenets of Christian Orthodoxy clear out of the water. More specifically, he dismissed all the religious emphasis on sacred buildings, sacred ritualism, and the divinely chosen. Paul stated unequivocally that God resides in no buildings, need no rituals, and is the Father of every last human being. Where in all of that is there room for all the dogmatic counter arguments about essential church attendance, required acts of worship, and limiting those who qualify as God’s children?
The counter arguments of course come from elsewhere in Paul’s writings. But in supposedly establishing a theology based on the Bible, how can the remarkable Pauline concepts in Acts 17 be excluded or ignored? If Paul told the Athenians one thing and another group something different later, what do we logically conclude? Certainly not that what Paul said anywhere, necessarily applied somewhere else in another time. What was true in Acts 17 apparently did not apply in another passage directed to a different audience.
The church and Christian Orthodoxy obviously draw a different conclusion on Paul’s confusion about required church practice and universal brotherhood. They conclude that Paul’s inconsistency is best ignored by choosing one position as the theological truth and never mentioning the other unless forced to. When on those rare occasions when the issue cannot be avoided, the force of a thousand years of Orthodox theological instruction will make any pretense of a response sufficiently effective in the vast number of cases. Particularly persistent questions can always be handled by fear of retribution, either human or divine.
For me, escaping the grip of Orthodoxy’s claim on my Sunday time and attention has opened the door for real, meaningful spiritual growth and a new relationship to the divine. I still cherish my spiritual fellowship, but I don’t treat it as a divine duty or an exercise in maintaining my right standing with God. He’s too big to demand special attention on a special day. The bigger God becomes in my understanding of Him, the freer I become in how I acknowledge Him. I can worship in the woods or anywhere else on any day of the year, Easter included.