After my post about "What Good is a Church" went viral yesterday(I have a very loose understanding of the definition of viral) I received a few "criticisms". So I wanted to illuminate a little more on my thoughts about being a part of a church.
The most important point in all of this that I cannot repeat enough is that there is ZERO precedence in scripture for Christian's operating outside of the local church. If someone could point out to me where in the city of Corinth there was the local church AND a couple of friends hanging out at the local coffee shop(or wherever well bred hipsters liked to frequent) who never went to spend time within the local church and that this was presented as equally valid I would concede my point entirely.
Can't find it....?
Because it's not there. I have yet to come across a Biblical basis for avoiding participation in a local church. I hear lots of personal anecdotes that sound like self-serving justifications, but never the Biblical basis for it!
There is no point where the writers of the New Testament did not assume that the natural practice of believers would not include participation in the church. Paul even goes as far as to give CORPORATE instructions to how they should be conducting themselves when they met together. As Paul established churches during his missionary journeys he also appointed LEADERS(elders) of those churches who were instructed with teaching and protecting the Gospel message.
Again, everything in the New Testament points to active participation within the local church.
Does this mean that every local church lives up to its responsibilities? Of course not. But we don't quit on it all together when we encounter serious issues. For example, you are attending a church and discover that they are teaching Jesus Christ is not the only way to heaven(aka universalism). You would be well advised to exit quickly. Or another church is abusing its members in some capacity. Authoritarian control, shaming, power abuses, etc. Get out of there as well.
Sometimes, depending on where you live, finding a solid(but not perfect) Bible teaching church can be a challenge. But don't give up just because the first one you visited had significant problems.
While no analogies are perfect, I think this one can help...comparing marriage to the Church.
Sometimes there are abusive and destructive marriages. People should be protected from these situations. While we understand someone who has come out of that situation might be wary about dating again, but wouldn't we be saddened if they have decided to give up on finding love at all because of the terrible situation from their past.
To paraphrase a bit of CS Lewis, the whole reason you are able to recognize something as functioning incorrectly is that you have an indwelt sense of what is right. If you recognize a problem at a past church, it doesn't mean that there is no good church, it means that you have solidified the truth that there is an appropriate way that a church SHOULD be functioning.
Many wonderful Christians have walked away from participating in church life and, as of now, don't feel any "ill effects" from it. Sometimes this is used as proof that the church was unnecessary for them(and perhaps for anyone..??)
I have had a number good friends that due to life circumstances(job and school) have had to live for long periods of time apart from their spouse. While they certainly came through the other side with their marriage intact, how odd would it be for them to say, "I really liked not having to deal with you every day, can we keep living in different cities....?" When you marry someone you are committing to sharing your life with that person. Not just the convenient and fun stuff, but wading through the junk as well.
When I hear someone tell me that they don't have to go to church to be a Christian I have a few thoughts. First, I agree!! Going to church doesn't make you a Christian. Jesus's death and resurrection does! But then I think about marriage. Do you have to actually share your life with someone(emotionally and physically) to be married? Of course not. But you are kinda missing the point of marriage if you refuse to share your life with that other imperfectly perfect person.
The problem is we like the "idea" of things, but not the things themselves. The idealized picture I have of marriage is beautiful and inspiring. The reality is often quite different. The idealized picture we have of the Church is also beautiful and inspiring. And reality is quite different there as well.
To add one more part to this thinking. What if your husband or wife said, "Honey I love you sooo much, but living with you makes it really hard to keep loving you so much. I think we would be much better off if we spent as little time(if any) together so that I can keep thinking my lofty thoughts about the beauty of marriage".
We love marriage, we fight against married life.
We love Jesus, but we fight against Christian living.
Can you be a Christian who never goes to church? Sure. Can you be married and never spend time with your spouse? Sure. But why in the world would you accept that for yourself?