This post was originally delivered as a Chapel message at a top South African boys’ boarding school, on 18 April 2018. As part of the school’s ethos Chapel attendance is compulsory.
When I was at school bracelets were not allowed. The only bracelets that were allowed were the What Would Jesus Do (WWJD) bracelets. It did not really matter what you believed, that was all which was allowed. At least you had a choice of the colour you liked. It was like compulsory Chapel.
These bracelets did, however, provide some food for thought. Like compulsory Chapel also sometimes does. You could apply the WWJD-model to everyday situation like – Would Jesus listen to an old bore in Maths? Would Jesus complain about the lunch for the day? Or we can apply it to the question of this post – Would Jesus force you to go to Church? I mean is it even Christ-like to force someone, against his will to attend a Church service.
Diocese schools was founded on the premise that as arithmetic is for the mind and exercise is for the body, so is worship, religion and specifically Christianity for the soul.
However, today I am not going to tell you why I believe you should sit in Church against your will. I am not going to highlight the advantages of Church and I am not going to put you on a guilt trip for not remembering the last message or any messages you have heard in a church.
I am here to ask questions. In asking questions and going where the answers lead, I have found many answers in my life. This is also not only the foundation of Scientific Inquiry, but also of a lot of conversations, Jesus himself had when He walked the earth.
So taking the question at hand – Would Jesus force you to go to Chapel?
I believe if we view the question only like this, we miss the bulk of the question and the whole answer.
The use of the word force assumes that you do not really want to attend Chapel. That it is against your will. This question at the heart assumes that people has a free will. At the heart of the question lies – Will Jesus force me to do something against my own free will? What is interesting to me is that lately it has been the scientific world that denies the existence of free will, not Jesus. If it is true that we have no free will, then we have a very big problem, but also an answer to our question that we need to be happy with – If you have no free will, then forcing you to attend something does not really mean anything. It just means that matter is filling up time and space due to chance as matter does. The problem with this reasoning is that it creates a ton of other problems. Not only can’t you complain about compulsory church attendance, but you can also not complain about murder, racism, cancer, rape – because it is all just a farce – it is just matter, with a presumptuous idea of free will that does not actually have free will that is doing what matter does.
The second question I want to ask is who is Jesus and what is Church? Each one of us need to consider and distinguish these two concepts. Church can be an event, church can be a building but it cannot be a person. Jesus on the other hand can be a moral leader, he can be a historic figure, he can be a legend, liar, lunatic or he can be Lord, but he is always in every context a person, regardless of people’s opinion about him. It is interesting that Napoleon Bonaparte, a man who had no time for religion and destroyed quite a few churches himself, as some of you might wish, remarked: “I know men; and I tell you that Jesus Christ is not a man. Superficial minds see a resemblance between Christ and the founders of empires, and the gods of other religions. That resemblance does not exist. There is between Christianity and whatever other religions the distance of infinity.”
Why would a man who destroyed churches make that remark? We need to answer this question for ourselves.
When you visit Rome one of the remains of the ancient empire can be found towering over the Piazza della Rotonda, it is called the Pantheon. The original Pantheon was a Roman temple build to honour all the gods during the reign of Augustus Ceasar (27 BC -14 AD), the Ceasar that reigned during the time of the birth of Jesus. The Pantheon we can see today was reconstructed in 126 AD. The ancient Romans loved their gods and any god of any nation for that matter, were worshipped.
Around the Pantheon there were shrines to honour gods. There would be sex shrines to honour the sex gods and various other gods. Worship in Rome thrived.
What is striking about Ancient Rome is that it is vast and expansive. Buildings were big and majestic. It makes you wonder who were more evolved? Who had the better architects? When you enter the Pantheon you experience this grandeur.
But the thing that struck me most about the Pantheon was that this place that was at the centre of pagan worship. This building that was dedicated to all the foreign gods became a church in the 7th century. How on earth did this came to be?
This is a question that I believe each one of us needs to ask and needs to find an answer to.
How is it that a man, from a useless town, in a useless province of the vast Roman empire that stretched thousands of miles, overthrew this empire? How was it possible for a man with no religious or political power in his time to gain a following powerful enough to change Rome? How did Jesus accomplish this if he was killed on a cross in Jerusalem more than 600 years before this place of pagan worship became a church?
I know and I understand that the church has hurt people in the past. And I understand that at this very moment the church might be hurting some people. Maybe you were hurt by the church or by people claiming to be the church, but Jesus? What did He do to you?
This is the final question I want to ask – what did Jesus do?
We started our quest with the question what would Jesus do? I want to rephrase it What did Jesus do?
Jesus said, “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again.” John 10:18.
The well-known John 3:16 says
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
Jesus laid down his life. The cross was proof of His free will, and the cross is payment from him for me and your free will. You see it is only in the cross of Christ that we have free will. It is the cross of Christ that give you the option. Believe and faith is not equal to forced, compulsory or mandatory. As Christ gave his life willingly, we have the same option.
As CS Lewis said – “In the end you will either say to God: ‘Thy will be done’ or He will say to you, ‘Okay, have it your way.’”
God gave you free will. He designed it. He ordained it. He will not take it away from you, but that does not take away your responsibility.
I want to end off with a quote from a song by Hozier, Take me to church
“My lover’s got humour
She’s the giggle at a funeral
Knows everybody’s disapproval
I should’ve worshipped her sooner
If the Heavens ever did speak
She is the last true mouthpiece
Every Sunday’s getting more bleak
A fresh poison each week
‘We were born sick, ‘ you heard them say it
My church offers no absolutes
She tells me ‘worship in the bedroom’
The only heaven I’ll be sent to
Is when I’m alone with you
I was born sick, but I love it
Command me to be well
Amen, Amen, Amen
Take me to church
I’ll worship like a dog at the shrine of your lies
I’ll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife
Offer me that deathless death
Good god, let me give you my life”
The sentiments shared by the artist is one of a church that seeks out sin to injure and set themselves up on moral high ground. And therefore he decides to rather worship his lover. He worships her. He worships sex. Some of us worships money, others work, others adventure, other fun. We are taken to church by our own free will.
Would Jesus force you to go to Church? Would Jesus force you to worship sex? Would Jesus force you to worship money? Jesus will not force you to worship anything, but He knows that there is no such thing as happiness outside himself and until we seek fulfillment in him we will be worshiping like dogs at the shrine of lies.