“Genesis 2:18 “It’s not good for man to be alone….”
The Barna Research Group reports that in the United States about 10 million self-proclaimed, born-again Christians have not been to church in the last six months, apart from Christmas or Easter. (Barna defines “born-again” as those who say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important today, and believe they will “go to heaven because I have confessed my sins and have accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.”) Nearly all born-agains say their spiritual life is very important, but for 10 million of them, spiritual life has nothing to do with church. About a third of Americans are unchurched, according to Barna’s national data. Approximately 23 million of those—35 percent of the unchurched—claim they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their lives today. For 23 million other Americans, faith doesn’t necessarily involve church. Tim Stafford calls this the new “Gnostic faith”.He writes “For them the spirit is completely separated from the body. They think your spirit can be with Jesus Christ while your body goes its own way.”
A man is rescued after 20 years on a desert island. His rescuer is astonished to find that the castaway has built several imposing structures.
“Wow!” the rescuer says. “What’s that beautiful stone building overlooking the bay?”
“That is my home,” the castaway says.
“And what about that building over there, with the spires?”
“That,” the castaway says, “is my church.”
“But wait!” the rescuer says. “That building over there, with the bell tower. What is that?”
“That is the church I used to belong to.”
The joke expresses a certain spirit of church life. We build ’em, and we quit ’em. Somebody will leave a church even if he is the only member.
Until Martin Luther, the church was the immovable center of gravity. The church had authority over individual Christians: to accept them as they approached the church, to baptize them, teach them, and provide them the means of grace.
In the third century, Cyprian, a North African bishop, wrote about a doctrinally orthodox but schismatic bishop named Novatian. “We are not interested in what he teaches, since he teaches outside the Church. Whatever and whatsoever kind of man he is, he is not a Christian who is not in Christ’s Church. … He cannot have God for his Father who has not the Church for his mother.”
Cyprian’s view—summed up in the slogan “No salvation outside the church”—gathered strength in subsequent centuries as the church countered heresies and divisions. It became the universal standard. You were either inside the Catholic Church, Christ’s body—or outside of Christ. No tolerance or any in betweens.
Luther never intended to move that center of gravity. He wanted to purify the church, not defy its authority. Nevertheless, his protests led to schism. Lutheranism was followed by Calvinism, and Anabaptists were not far behind. Methodists and Baptists appeared. Once people started judging for themselves, it was hard to put an end to it. The next thing you know we had 20,000 denominations worldwide—and counting. We have created “church members, not disciples” in the words of Dr Dallas Willard. When they become dissatisfied, they move on. Their salvation, they believe, is between them and God. The church is only one possible resource. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes.” They see their own pursuit as the only true path given. The author of Hebrews had something like this in mind when he wrote, “And let us consider how we may spur one another one toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together are some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another” (Heb. 10:24-25).
Encouragement needs a face; it needs a body.
The church is the body of Christ, the tangible representation of Jesus’ life on earth. As the apostle Paul wrote to the quarreling Corinthians (1 Cor. 12:21), “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!'” You could sum up his message this way: “If you miss connecting to the body of Christ, you miss Christ.” Paul allows no vague representation of the church as the sum of all Christians. The body analogy expresses Paul’s belief that Christ is available on earth in tangible form. These various gifts come in human packages. To be “in Christ” we cannot stand off distant from this body. We absolutely must serve other Christians—parts of his body—in a continuous relationship. A body part detached from other parts is clearly useless, and soon dead. It cannot experience Christ, the head of the body.
We offer perilous advice when we urge people to “find Christ” anywhere but in a local congregation. Can you imagine Paul arriving in a city, finding the local congregation not to his taste and simply staying away? For Paul, a Christian without his church is as unthinkable as a human being with no relatives. A person may quarrel with his kin, but he cannot leave them—they are his own flesh and blood. So it is with the church. And furthermore, they are Jesus’ flesh and blood. People need people. God’s people need God’s people in order to know God. Life in Christ is a corporate affair. All God’s promises were made to God’s people—plural. All the New Testament epistles address Christians in churches. The Bible simply does not know of the existence of an individual, isolated Christian.
Disappointment with Church
Yet it often happens that people go to church and get disappointed. Sometimes the crisis seems petty—”The people weren’t friendly”—and sometimes horrific—”The pastor was sleeping with the organist.” Failing to find happiness, they move on, sometimes to another church and sometimes to no church. Looking to find Christ, they meet disappointment. The effort looks like a complete failure. But this is a perspective Paul strongly contradicts in 2 Corinthians.
He had been through a horrific, unnamed experience in Asia—one bad enough to take him to the edge of death. Meanwhile he is almost equally distressed by turmoil in the Corinth church. Everything seems to go wrong. Yet Paul urgently explains that the resurrection power of Jesus is experienced only in “death”—little deaths and big deaths. In our troubles, we experience God actually comforting us (1:4). When we are weak and broken, the treasure we carry grows more apparent (4:7). “For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body” (4:11).
Furthermore, sorrow brings repentance. The Corinthians felt sorrow because of friction with Paul. Yet Paul sees it producing much good in their lives. “See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done” (7:11).
2 Corinthians completely repudiates the American doctrine of the pursuit of happiness. Instead Paul teaches as Jesus did: The way to find your life is to lose it. The way to experience the life of Jesus is to experience human weakness. You can, of course, experience human weakness anywhere. When you experience it in church, however, you are close to Christ himself—his resurrection power showing in his own body.
I don’t like what the church stands for?
Many Christians like to back away from the Christians they see in the media. They like to stay quiet and not align themselves with a church in case they are seen as weird and in case they are insulted by friends. As a Christian you have made a choice that the world sees as foolish (1 Corinthians 3:18-23). You are called as a Christian to live differently from the world and so you must make a stand and it is easier to do so with a good church community around you. Obviously if the church you attend is not handling sensitive subjects with the grace of God then you need to ask questions and seek change in the church, don’t just give up on it.
What is church?
Church is a community of Christians coming together in the presence of God (Matthew 18:20, Acts 2:42-47), focused on Christ (1 Corinthians 4, Colossians 1:15-23), worshipping (1 Corinthians 14:26), teaching (2 Timothy 4:1-2), discussing and learning, challenging (1 Corinthians 5) and allowing the Holy Spirit to work which can open the church up to spiritual gifts such as prophecy, healing and speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 12). The community of Christians (Church) should also be a place where needs are met, where the widows and orphans are cared for (1 Timothy 5:3-8), where the poor are helped with their needs and people share their belongings without question or expectation of return (Acts 2:42-47, Acts 4:32-37). Divisions within the church should also be dealt with quickly and gracefully (Matthew 18:16-18, 1 Corinthians 1:10-17).
Notice there isn’t much in the bible about the building in the bible but more about the people. This gives us a lot of flexibility about how church is done, hence why there are so many different churches around. As long as you have a community of Christians meeting together and seeking, worshipping and learning about Christ then you have a church. Before all else, we need to remember that the church is managed by humans who are seeking Christ, this means there tends to be mistakes. There is no such thing as a perfect church, BUT, the church leadership should be led by Christ (by the Holy Spirit, by prayer and by the bible) and by this, as long as mistakes are learnt from, we can encourage our leaders rather than pull them down. Many churches struggle with an imbalance, many focuses too heavily on the miraculous or the blessings, many focus too much on the social action and others focus just on themselves rather than looking outward. The parts of church you struggle with are probably parts that you are called to help out in; just turn that frustration into a passion to see something change for good.
Why should we be part of a church?
Biblically: Brennan Manning says that “biblically there is nothing as detestable as a self sufficient man.” As you can see in the previous section there is a lot in the bible about the church. I want to challenge you to read around the links above and find how important the church is to Christ.
Pastorally: Children who grow up on their own without love or care from others tend to grow up angry, distrustful and with other various issues that take years to resolve if they get resolved at all. So it is with young Christians. If a young Christian’s faith does not grow up in a community of varying ages and experiences then it is bound to take on various ideas and issues unchallenged. A lone Christian not only finds it hard to stand up against persecution but also finds it easy to justify anything they want to do because they are their own leader. If you align yourself with a church (remember the definition of church) you are more likely to learn more about who Christ is and more likely to stand firm in your faith without taking on strange ideas unquestioned.
Spiritually: Spending time with other Christians is one of the best ways for your faith to grow. If you are struggling with something in the bible, you have people to ask and find answers. If you are struggling with something personally, you have people to go and seek advice from. If you need prayer, there are people there to lift you up. If you are slacking off on spending time with God, you have people to challenge you. Self-motivation is all well and good, but it is better to be able to share your burdens and your blessings with others.
Socially: In a church you will meet people you never would have met anywhere else, let alone talk to. Immediately you have something in common with people in church and it should be the most welcoming place on earth. Churches are all about the people.
Church is an awesome community to be part of. It is an amazing place of friendship and love, a place to seek and learn more about Jesus. Sometimes it goes wrong, but hopefully forgiveness and patience rule out from those mistakes. We don’t need to be legalistic about going to church, but if you truly seek Christ as your saviour and you want to become more of an adult in your faith, church is the place to go. Learn from the Christians that have already been through what you are going through. Meet with other Christians regularly, it doesn’t have to be every Sunday, but make sure you are sharing in worshipping, learning and seeking Christ and seeing how an awesome God can affect the community around you.
Have a great day!
Rudolph P. Boshoff