Jesus but not the Church?

Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”[1]

Maybe you have never felt the way that formerly Christian author Anne Rice did when when she typed this Facebook post, but most of us have experienced dissatisfaction with church to some degree. Before we can see why church is important, we must first understand what church is meant to be.

We often view church as a service – typically a service with a sermon as its focal point. We may be tempted to think, “Hey, I can find more interesting, more theologically sound sermons on YouTube than I can at my local church! Why bother with going to a church when I can just have church from the comfort of my home?” There is a problem here, but the problem is not virtual sermons. The real problem is our view of church. If we view church as nothing more than a means of receiving good teaching, I’m afraid we have missed the point.

The Church as a Body

Church is not an event that takes place on Sunday mornings, rather, the church is a body. 1 Corinthians 12:13 notes that “we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free.”[2] This single body includes people all across the globe, across all time. Although the church is only one body, it is made up of people from many congregations. In the opening lines of Galatians, Paul addresses “the churches [plural] of Galatia.”[3] While recognition of these local congregations is biblical, it is important to remember that there is only one body. There are many people from congregations other than your own who are a part of the church. On the other hand, there may also be people who are a part of your local congregation who are not actually a part of the universal church. We should not assume that attending services at a good congregation is an accurate litmus test for finding committed Christians.

The Church as Community

Imagine a father standing and talking to someone in the pew ahead of him moments after the church service has ended. Suddenly, his six year old daughter goes streaking by, followed by a trail of other giggling children. The next time she tries to run past, she is stopped and reminded, “Don’t run in church! It is the house of the Lord.” While I don’t question this parent’s authority to tell his child not to run in a church building, I do question the reason he gives. If the apostle Paul had been the one standing in the pew talking to this girl’s father, I think he may have corrected him saying, “This building isn’t the temple of God, we are the temple of God!”  In both Romans 16:5 and Philemon verse 2, Paul refers to the church as the people meeting in the house, not the house itself. We must remember church is not a building where we meet to worship, rather, church is a community.

You may have noticed that in my story, Paul said “we are the temple,” yet 1 Corinthians 6:19 reads, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.”[4] Unfortunately, English doesn’t differentiate between you singular and you plural in the way that Koine Greek does. In their book Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, Richards and O’brien point out that “we typically understand the singulars and plurals in this verse backwards. In the original Greek, the you is plural and temple is singular. Paul is saying, ‘All of you together are a singular temple for the Holy Spirit.’ God doesn’t have millions of little temples scattered around. Together we make the dwelling for the Spirit. Peter uses a beautiful metaphor for this spiritual reality. He calls believers ‘living stones’ who are being built together into ‘a spiritual house for a holy priesthood’ (1 Pet 2:5 NASB).”[5] The universal church is one temple, one body, one bride, one community. Within this universal church, there are smaller, local churches.

So why not just be a part of the universal church and skip the bother of local church?

Richards and O’Brien suggest an answer to this question. “Why go to church? Why worship with a group? Because, in some way we may not fully understand, the Spirit indwells the group in a way the Spirit does not indwell the individual. We are all built together to become one, whole building: a single dwelling for his Spirit. Like it or not, we need each other.”[6] This need for other humans was noted by God back in Genesis 2:18 when He said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.”[7] God’s solution to this problem was not just marriage – it was also the creation of community.

The Church Provides Accountability

Additionally, local church connection is ideal for accountability. I have met numerous people who claim to be Christians, but do not want to be connected with other believers. They have the mentality of “All I need is a Bible and the Holy Spirit.” Interestingly, each one of these people believes rather unorthodox things which conveniently line up with their personal preferences. While the temptation to mangle doctrines in order to preserve our own agendas affects everyone, it is more difficult for individuals to accidentally do this when they are accountable to a local congregation. We need community. Hebrews 10:24-25 commands us to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.”[8] In his book, Encouragement, Larry Crabb defines encouragement as “the kind of expression that helps someone want to be a better Christian, even when life is rough.”[9] When you think about church, do you consider how you can help others desire to be more like Jesus?

Local church is important, but what about those who cannot find a good church nearby? Each situation has unique details which may change the solution, but regardless of the scenario, everyone needs accountability, community and good biblical instruction. If all these are not present in a congregation anywhere near you, find a good mentor. They may be able to offer advice for your specific case.

Conclusion

Jesus is building His church. He wants you to be a member of His body. Will you let Him make you a part of it?

Processed with VSCO with a5 preset Matt Jantzi grew up in rural Ontario, Canada. He is passionate about discipleship, personal evangelism, apologetics, and global missions. Matt loves encouraging other young Christians to radically follow Jesus, regardless of the cost. In his spare time, you can find him watching debates, studying systematic theology, or using sleight of hand magic tricks to share the Gospel with strangers.

 

  1. Jessie Kunhardt, “Anne Rice: I Quit Being a Christian,” The Huffington Post, accessed April 22, 2019 <www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/29/anne-rice-i-quit-a_n_663915.html>.
  2. The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2007, 2011.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Richards, E. Randolph, and Brandon J. O’Brien. Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes.
  6. Ibid.
  7. The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2007, 2011.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Crabb, Larry, and Dan B. Allender. Encouragement: the Key to Caring. Zondervan, 1984.

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