When one of the Missional Tribe instigators spoke the title phrase in the midst of a conference call a couple of weeks ago, I wrote it down. Perhaps a bit of context is needed, but not much — I love the phrase for the shorthand way that it communicates so much by saying so little. In fact, this is one of the reasons I moved away from the institutional church… there can be a sense among many that simply showing up on Sunday mornings (or every time the doors are open, depending on your level of “commitment”) somehow absolves you of whatever it is for which you require absolution.
At one extreme, a church might be inclined to look the other way when they’re aware of an abusive father and husband, provided that “he’s trying” and he keeps repenting and keeps attending. On that basis, he must be forgiven by everyone involved, meaning no actions are taken to stop whatever form of abuse is going on. Somehow it’s presumed that any such action represents a lack of forgiveness. Never mind any legal requirements that exists to report certain forms of abuse. He’s absolved by attendance.
I’m not actually thinking of the extreme, though. I’m thinking of the more subtle idea that continued attendance absolves one’s responsibility for one’s own spiritual well-being, and that of one’s family. The biggest cry (in a rather appalled tone of voice) when one leaves the inherited form of church is “But what about the kids?” It seems to me that leaving the (“small-c”) church heightens one’s awareness of this responsibility that is so easily shuffled off to a program with the assumption it meets all needs. I acknowledge there are many different forms, but all-in-all, I wonder if “Sunday School” has really changed all that much since 1769. On the other hand, whatever one can say about its successes and failures, the educational system is always seeking ways to improve its form of educating children.
And for all of that, which kids do best in school? The ones whose parents taken an interest in and become involved in some way with their children’s education. Sure, I’m generalizing — but show me substantive proof otherwise. Why would religious instruction be any different? There is no absolution by attendance, despite what the actions and attitudes fostered by certain forms of church might imply. Sometimes it takes a deliberate removal of attendance to bring the realization home… where perhaps it belongs.