When I rededicated my life to Christ a few years ago, I bought into a lie that seems to be a prevalent mindset for those who are young in their commitment to following Jesus.
I believed I didn’t need the church.
I believed I could get just as close to God through my own study of scripture and prayer. I thought I didn’t need others because of my independence. I reasoned that the church was just full of a bunch of hypocrites anyway so I was better off on my own.
But was I right? Could I reach my fullest potential for Christ on my own? Was I better off without these flawed humans? The Bible said I was wrong and that felt like sandpaper against my pride and independence. Until I dove deeper, I didn’t understand why a personal God was so adamant on community. As the Bible rubbed against my rough edges, I softened and began to see the purpose in the church.
If this is a rough edge for you too, please bear with me. Clearly, I am in no position to condemn another for abstaining from corporate worship. Rather, I hope to bolster you in your trust in the words of Jesus and encourage you to see, though filled with flawed humans like you and me, how a Bible preaching church can help refine us making our jagged corners into a reflection of our Father in heaven.
I’m close to God on my own.
It’s easy to buy into the idea of not needing church when there are memes and statements plastered all over the internet and social media affirming this idea. Some that I’ve seen say something like these: “you can be closer to God in a 2 am car ride than in a pew,” “nature is my church,” or “you don’t go to church, you are the church.” While these concepts have greatly appealed to me at one time or another, we notice that there are not scripture references following each statement. These concepts are not God’s concepts.
We see the roots of the Christian church taking place in the book of Acts. Luke doesn’t write that they were each handed a Bible and set out for a nature hike as their “church.” He writes that they formed a community. “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and sharing meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.” Acts 2:42. Church is supposed to be a community of like minded people of faith who come under godly leadership and teaching, pray together, and share together as friends.
We need this community, not solidarity, for a few reasons. First, we need spiritual leaders. There’s only so much we will learn without the guidance of those wiser than us. In Hebrews 13:17, it says that our spiritual leaders watch over our souls and are accountable to God for us. While we are responsible for our own actions, God gives us leaders in the church to help us through life and our journey of trusting in Jesus. We aren’t left alone to figure Christianity by ourselves.
Second, we are to help each other when we struggle. In Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, it says that when one falls alone, no one is there to help them up. Likewise, in Galatians 6:1-2, Paul commends us to help one another out. “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back on the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens and in this way obey the law of Christ.” If we’re on our own solidarity hike for Christ, how we may not know we’re hiking in the wrong direction or we may fall and have no one to help us up. We are commanded to be in community for our own good.
Third, we are to use our spiritual gifts in the church. This is a whole blogpost on it’s own so let me just give you the quick notes on it. Paul highlights spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 (amoung other places). In this chapter, he says our spiritual gifts are like parts of a body. We each are something different, say a foot or a hand, but collectively make up the whole of the body. We wouldn’t think that our hand could be most effective disattached from our body. That’s crazy! Similarly, we ourselves and the great gifts the Spirit has put in us are most effective when a part of the whole community of believers. Our outlet for ministry and gifts is to be with and through the church.
While there are many more points I think could be argued in favor of belonging to a community of people whose trust is in Jesus, I think the point is being made. We need godly leadership. We need accountability from others. We need to contribute to the body as we lack without them and they lack without us. And lastly, we need to go to church simply because it’s commanded of us. In Hebrews 10:23, the writer emplores us to not neglect meeting together. He knew that a hike alone in the wilderness can make one more lost than found. He knew that we need each other. He knew that God made us for community.
But there’s people in the church, Rachel.
Before I close this blogpost, I think one separate point needs to be made. We need to address the people who go to church.
A comment a lot of people make in opposition to church attendance, one I’ve made myself, is that the church is full of hypocrites. Actually, it is full of much worse than hypocrites. Its full of liars, adulterers, theives, gluttons, racists, and maybe even rapists and murderers. It’s full of broken, bad people. It’s full of people just like you and me.
Jesus hung out with these types of people. He regularly co-mingled with people whose reputation had been tarnished by their actions. The teachers of the religious law at the time rebuked him for associating with such sinners. Once upon receiving such a rebuke when dining with his tax collector disciple, Matthew, Jesus replied, “healthy people don’t need a doctor–sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” (Mark 2:17) His message wasn’t to the people who believed they already were in right standing with God, but rather to those who knew they had desperately failed and needed a savior.
We shouldn’t be surprised to see people with a tarnished past or those still working through repentance of sin in church. This is the very place they belong according to Jesus’ standing. And if we think we are better than they, we are actually worse off. Jesus came for those who know they failed so let us humble ourselves and realize that we too are failures.
As much as it may appeal to our pride, comfort, and desire to sleep in on Sunday mornings, we can’t do church on our own. We were designed for community, not solidarity. While praying during a hike in nature is good and necessary at times, guidance from someone wiser, a loving rebuke from a friend, and an outlet for ministry is essential. Perhaps the stagnant state of our spirituality is due to neglecting a Christ centered community. We are commanded not to neglect this aspect of the Christian life (Hebrews 10:23). The sinful people in the church aren’t to be a deterrent for us as we ourselves are some of those sinful people. Jesus came so the whole lot of us in our failures and brokenness can be made whole in him and gather together as Holy Spirit filled reconciled saints. Let’s take ourselves to church and experience the fullness God intended for us.