“Why Does the Church Do That?”
I was a naughty little girl growing up – I was mean to my sister and brothers, unkind, and very selfish. But I went to church regularly; I grew up Catholic and was baptized as an infant (according to pictures I’ve seen). Receiving “First Communion” was a memorable event. I remember that I had to wear a hat to church every Sunday, but I never understood why; one week when I forgot my hat, I had to wear a tissue on my head! I remember the first time I had to confess my sins to the priest through a little window in a booth; after confession, I was given some memorized prayers to recite as “penance” but could never understand why. As I think back, I realize now that it never changed my habits of lying and stealing. Because we were a good Catholic family, we had a large white Family Bible at home, but no one ever opened it or read it. Why did we do all these religious things? Our church expected us to.
After I was married, my husband and I decided to compromise and both leave the religions we grew up in, and start attending a Methodist church.
“Again, there were many rituals and practices that were very different than I was familiar with, and I often wondered, ‘Why do they do it this way in the Methodist church?'”
When our children were older, my husband was concerned about some of the things being practiced and taught in the church and decided we should change. I was shocked and afraid of the changes that would come as I had gotten used to our church. I felt I was a “good person.”
We started attending a church near us that preached the Bible. In fact, the people in the congregation actually brought Bibles and looked up the verses that Pastor Green mentioned from the pulpit. I was not used to that, but started bringing my Bible with me and using the index to look up the books and chapters. At first it took me so long to find the verses that I missed what the Pastor was saying about them. But then I began to realize that he wanted me to see the verses in God’s Word for myself.
I noticed that their prayers were different. I grew up reciting memorized prayers from a prayer book, but at this church they prayed like they were just talking to God. The hymns that were sung at this church were all different to me, too, and the people sang like they meant the words.
The Pastor was preaching some messages from the Old Testament, which was all new to me. I was learning that God used to require people to sacrifice sheep and calves to atone for their sins. We were raising animals at the time and I thought how hard it would be to give up my best calf to be killed for my lying and stealing. The Pastor explained that we don’t do the sacrifices today – they were picturing the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross to pay for our sins. Since then, the animal sacrifices were no longer needed.
“Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among the nations.” (Luke 24:46) I learned that Jesus is no longer on the cross – he was buried and rose again after three days. In my former church he was always pictured on the cross.
“The reality that He is no longer on the cross was something new for me!”
Pastor Green was preaching from the book of Romans and these verses really got my attention:
Romans 10:9 – “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”
Romans 10:17 – “So then faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” Faith is like the blowing wind – we can feel it and know it is real, even though it can’t be seen.
Proverbs 21:2 – “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord pondereth the hearts.”
Again, I was confused. The only “heart” I knew of was the one that pumped blood in my body. But the Bible talks about the heart as being the “real me” – where sins such as pride, temper, self-sufficiency, disobedience, and coveting wealth and prosperity resided. As I heard more preaching from the Bible, it seemed as if the pastor was talking about me personally. I began to be convicted of more and more sin in my life and see from God’s perspective just how selfish I really was – it was all about MY house, MY car, MY education, MY talents, MY money, and on and on.
I had so many questions. Everything I was hearing in the Bible preaching was so different from what I’d been hearing for 45 years. So we invited the Pastor over to the house to ask him all my questions. He patiently answered, and then explained the good news of the Gospel in a very clear way.
“I finally realized that because I was a sinner, I could not possibly save myself. I needed a Savior.”
Then it made sense – Jesus’s death on the cross was because of MY sins. Quite literally, I had put Him on that cross. But He rose again, victorious over sin, and was offering me the gift of salvation—the forgiveness of all my sins. When I finally realized that, I cried out to God asking Him to save me and accepting Jesus as my personal Savior! At that moment, it was truly like a burden had been lifted off my shoulders and the sun seemed to shine brighter! My sins had been forgiven by God – that was a huge realization and relief to me!
God is still changing me. I am constantly learning and growing in my spiritual life. I will never reach perfection in this life, and I still pray for God to help me with my sin nature. But now when I sin, I don’t need to confess to a priest or another man, I can go to God directly and He promises to forgive me. He has given me a new love for people, a hatred for sin, and a hunger to learn His Word more.
Every religion has traditions, rituals, and expectations that make them different from other churches. But the most important truth is in the Gospel – Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me” (John 14:6).