My parents took me to church every Sunday for the first eighteen years of my life. It wasn’t an option in our family. My parents gave me a lot of things (more than I could ever repay), but as I approach my twilight years, I have come to the realization that the discipline of going to church may have been their most precious gift.
The Church and God’s Plan for the World
Richard Foster, in his classic book, Celebration of Discipline, includes “corporate worship” and “celebration with the spiritual community” as two of the essential disciplines of the Christian life.
I understand why some are disillusioned with the church. The church has a terrible track record on several fronts. I don’t want to minimize the church’s failures.
Also, I don’t want to come across as angry. The last thing we need is another angry pastor fuming against the culture.
However, I do want to voice a tentative concern. We are in danger of throwing away a vital part of the Christian life.
The church, even with all its flaws, is central to God’s plan for your life and the salvation of the world. There is no other plan.
Let me preface everything I’m going to say with a definition of what I mean when I say, “the church.”
The church is not a building. It’s not an address. It’s not an institution.
The church is an organism. It’s a living, breathing being. It’s a community of people who are committed to being a living manifestation of the love and grace of God in the world.
An Important Caveat
I have friends and family who are first responders in the continuous fight against Covid-19 and all its variants. They are understandably exhausted in the battle against the virus and Sunday morning (the time most churches meet for worship) is their only time to rest.
Others are in the high-risk category for the virus and are genuinely concerned about the spread of the Omicron version of Covid-19. They want to err on the side of caution and would rather worship with their church online.
To all of them, I want to offer a word of encouragement and support. Although you are in a season of retreat, I know that you still love and value the church. This blog post is not about you. It is for those who are seriously doubting the value of church life in their personal walk with Jesus.
Six Reasons to Not Abandon the Church
Here are six reasons it is spiritually disastrous to abandon the church. Three are theological and three practical.
1. The Church is the Bride of Christ.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:25-27).
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Rev. 21:2).
The Church, created by God, is the bride of Christ. There is no other bride. Period.
The church is God’s creation for the propagation of the gospel message. The gospel is not a set of tenets that you can share with another person in a one-on-one conversation.
The gospel is a living, breathing message that delivers life-giving community through the body of Christ, the church.
No church, no gospel.
2. The Church is the Body of Christ.
And he [Jesus] is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy” (Col. 1:18).
To be detached from the church is to be detached from the Body of Jesus. Conversely, the church without you is missing a limb or an eye or a finger (Rom. 12:1-8).
You cannot be in healthy communion with Jesus, apart from the church.
3. The Church is the Hope of the Nations.
His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms …” (Eph. 3:10).
The manifold wisdom of God is made known through the collective wisdom and power of the church. It is through the voice of the church that God speaks to his creation. It is the spiritual discernment of the church that offers hope for the world.
There is no other hope apart from Jesus, and there is no connection to Jesus apart from his body, the church.
Jesus’ Great Commission is to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).
The “you” in that verse is plural because the mandate was delivered to the community of disciples (the church). Jesus knew that the work of taking the gospel to “all nations,” was beyond the abilities of one person. It was going to take a community empowered by the Holy Spirit to save the world.
The community he built for that purpose is the church.
4. You were created for community.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common” (Acts 2:42-44).
“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Eccles. 4:12).
You were built to do life with other people. In Jesus’ day, this was a no-brainer. People couldn’t physically survive without a community.
Things have changed.
It is possible to live your entire life as a recluse. It is increasingly easier to have all your physical needs met without leaving your house. In addition, there are a lot of non-church options to find community. Those options will only increase in number.
I know. The community is messy. The community requires sacrifice, compromise, and capitulation.
The temptation is to believe that it’s just easier to do it alone. The temptation is to think you don’t need the church to be a Christian.
Nothing could be further from the truth. You were built for community. Not only that — you were built for a particular kind of community.
The church is a community uniquely created to fulfill your deepest and most primal needs for a sense of peace and purpose.
5. You were created for a purpose.
“But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16).
“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:10-11).
You were created for a purpose and that purpose can be found only in God’s plan for saving the world. God’s plan for saving the world runs through the life of the church.
You cannot truly fulfill God’s plan for your life without the church. You cannot be a part of God’s saving work in the world without the church.
The church is integral to his plan. He created the church for that specific purpose.
6. You were created to serve.
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
You will never know true fulfillment until you have served another human being in such a way that it changes their life. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. It may be a small gesture or a seemingly insignificant word of encouragement, but God uses it to change lives.
It happens most often in the life of the church.
Can it happen outside the walls of the church? Sure, but it happens most consistently within the life of the church. In my experience, it happens every Sunday. You can’t duplicate that in any other institution.
I know that this issue is complicated, and I understand the disillusionment that is plaguing an entire generation. I also recognize that much of the problem is the church’s fault.
I simply don’t think that God gave us any other choice but to stay inside the life of the church and work for change where it is needed.
I pray you will join me!