Someone I know said recently, “I feel closer to God when I am in the woods Sunday morning than when I’m at church. I prefer the church God made, not the church man made.”
While a catchy saying (and a convenient excuse to avoid going to church!) there are of course some key problems with this line of logic.
Some of the problems are of course simply a matter of Scripture — be careful not to worship the creation rather than the creator, do not forsake assembling together with other believers, etc. But I would like to use an analogy which will be close to the hearts of my fellow Southerners.
Imagine that it is Saturday — the second sacred day in the south during football season. I’m loading up to go to the Razorback game, when my neighbor sees me outside. He says, “Hog game, huh? I’m a big fan, too. I don’t really read about them, or go to the games, or watch them on TV. Maybe one game a year or so. I actually have free tickets to every game but I don’t go. In fact, I even have locker room access. But I have found that I really feel the most like a Razorback fan sitting in my house with a Hog shirt on.”
So how big a fan is this guy? Would you buy his story – that he is a fan but doesn’t want to be with fellow fans, doesn’t want to read/watch/experience the game? Of course not – you would say he was no fan at all.
Yet this is not significantly different than what is mentioned at the beginning of our post. Jesus gave us a free ticket to the games, if we choose to go. The Holy Spirit gives us updates on the team (both in writing and in inspiration). We even have ‘locker room’ access to spend time with the team, and yet we say we feel better when isolated by ourselves.
So when you choose to skip church and not study Scripture, because you say, “I just feel closer to God in the deer woods”…well it seems rather silly now, does it not? If God inspired the Scripture, and God founded the church…then isn’t it a bit arrogant to decide you know better than He and all of His millions of believers throughout history when you decide that you want to be in nature?
Chances are, you can find a church nearby that will work for you. Or, you can go the Anne Rice route and essentially begin your own house church. But typically when people say this, they are not instituting a "worship in the woods" scenario--they are simply cutting worship out altogether.
(Also, as a side note: it is always suspicious when you say that you are doing something for God or for some greater good, and the end result just so happens to be the same activity that you wanted to do before church came into your life…).
Does your standing get better with God based on church attendance? Of course not. But there is something strange about someone who claims to love God and yet feels closer to God by himself and not studying God’s word.