I Love Jesus but I Don’t Need the Church2
I Love Jesus but I Don’t Need the Church
A common sentiment today among professing Christians is the idea that a Christian believer can get along just fine, maybe better, without a commitment to a local congregation. In some cases, individuals are reacting to a painful encounter or experience within a particular church. In other cases, a life change has occurred, a move to a new part of the country, a teenager heads off to college. Weeks go by without finding a church and suddenly one finds they have a new habit of using their weekends for other purposes. But whatever the reason for a lack of participation, a commitment to a local church is critical.
Our lackadaisical view of church participation is in stark contrast to the prevailing view of the early church. Consider the words of Cyprian, an early church father who served as bishop in North Africa from 248-258 A.D. before being beheaded as a martyr: “He who is not in the Church of Christ is not a Christian. He can no longer have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother. There is no salvation outside the Church.” Though Cyprian may have overstated his position, his position is far closer to the tenor of the Scriptures than the position held by many today.
Before discussing why we need the local church, it is important to say the reverse—the church needs you. Obviously some individuals can contribute more to their church than others, but every contribution of time, treasure, and talents makes a difference. Even if a person only attends, your presence is an encouragement to others including those who work in planning and leadership. More specifically, many churches are missing out on the energy and creativity that comes with youth who in their 20’s allow their church commitments to lapse.
But you need the church as well. Far from being a tyranny or a kill-joy, the local church should be seen as one of God’s good gifts to Christians. We should possess the same attitude as Christ who “loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25b). Because the church is precious to God, it should be precious to us.
The key to living a faithful Christian life is maintaining a vital connection to Christ. A fruitful Christian life can’t be had by trying to gut it out or live life in our own strength. The Christian life can only be lived on God’s terms and in His supernatural grace. That grace flows as we are connected to the Triune God through the preached word, prayer, and partaking of the sacraments in close community with other sinner/saints. It comes as our covenant relationship with our Creator is renewed every time God’s people gather for worship.
A key New Testament passage puts it this way: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another all the more as we see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
If one takes a log out of a fire and throws it in the middle of a driveway, it will soon sputter and fizzle out. But if that log is cast into a hot fire with other logs, it will catch fire and burn brightly. Too many Christians are like a log trying hard to burn on its own in the middle of a driveway.
Sociologist Christian Smith is the author of Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults. To assemble the research for the book, he and his team did extensive interviews with emerging adults (age 18-25yrs). Smith talks about how many of the young adults who were interviewed fell into the category of being unattached to any church while maintaining a Christian profession. Sadly, on the basis of his interviews, he concluded that for the great majority there was little difference in the actual values and practices in comparison to those who professed no faith.
This is not to say that the church is a perfect institution or that it will never disappoint. As long as churches are led by and filled with broken sinners, they will often fail to live up to God’s standards and sometimes do considerable harm. When this happens, we who lead and serve in churches should be quick to admit our culpability, confess our sins and seek the reconciliation that our Master has made possible.
On the flipside, when the church is at its best, it leads to spiritual growth and human flourishing. It publishes the good news of a Redeemer who loves and forgives sinners. It generously provides for the poor and needy. It fosters education and literacy. It builds hospitals and cares for the sick and dying. It strives for human rights and freedoms around the world. It has produced some of the world’s greatest art, literature, and music.
We need the church.
Grace and Peace,