Is there any need for church?

I’ve been musing and pondering about the blessings and curses of technology among Christians. There’s so much to love in terms of media, communication, sharing of information, and generally crossing geographic boundaries easily. I benefit from hearing what others are saying, teaching in various conferences, music and worship from every corner of the globe. Youtube, Facebook, blogs, DVD’s, Bluetooth, I can’t keep up with it all. But underneath the surface I am troubled. I hear people talking about not needing church, just gathering as friends, or in little clusters, or moving from event to event….. What troubles me is that the gathering of information, downloading inspiring songs, perhaps some teaching, and chewing on it next to a computer screen is a very poor substitute for relationships. It’s well and good for all of us to have freedom and independence, but I notice among many that I have tracked with in our community over the past twenty years that an alarming immaturity pervades Christians who have been around for a long time. It’s still all about ‘me’ and the ability to endure hardship or respond to personal; challenge is often quite frankly infantile. We just move on to another church…. or whatever will meet my ‘perceived need’.

You see my problem is that I believe our so-called freedom is a cute way for us to avoid growing up or pressing in. Community and relationships are a crucial component of Christian and spiritual growth – iron sharpening iron is not as simple as marshmellow brushing up against cotton wool. I believe there is a desperate need for people to re-commit to local churches where they get involved and stop running away from the challenges that arise ‘in them’ when they are confronted with the need to endure, be patients, sacrifice, love undconditionally, suck it up (to us a biblical prase :-))…. By all means use the technology to inspire… but also let it bear fruit in the quality and integrity of our lives lived in real time with imperfect people who are also in a process of being made new, and whole… like we are. It is important to ‘not neglect meeting together’, to break Bread, and to worship with the same passion we might bring to a great sports event. I’m tired of whining Christians who are so pampered that the diapers they wear cause a stink in the nostrils of those who would like to know Jesus but may not want to befriend them…..  What do you think? Or am I out to lunch?

John Cox

Offering Pastoral Counselling to encourage, heal, transform, and give hope.

6 comments

  • But John does “bearing fruit” have to take place within the context of church meetings? Do you not think it is possible to discuss Christianity with friends over coffee rather than in a church hall? Do we have to be ‘out of our comfort zone’ in order to grab hold of a better relationship with Jesus?

    I’m tired of whining Christians who are so pampered that the diapers they wear cause a stink in the nostrils of those who ……. what exactly do you mean by this?

    There you go John lots of reasons for you to tell me I should be going to a home group:)

    • Good question… I am not at all suggesting that bearing fruit is only possibly in church meetings. I am defining the church as a vibrant community with believers committed to the local expression of Christ and moving out to all manner of tattered and fragmented edges. Fruit should be growing, budding, or being harvested anywhere and everywhere. No individual can ever be everything for one person, which is why the local church can provide a variety of people and resources to help us and others grow in our relationship with Jesus and our relationships with one another. It’s a team effort within the context of a community very much learning how to be disciples and to ‘love one another as I have loved you’. The problem when one isolates people or Jesus’ teaching to a doctrine or belief is that it becomes detached into a cerebral discussion… All of Jesus’ teaching is rooted in identity and relationship – in other words his teaching rests on his affirmation that he was/is the Son of God and if we have seen him we have seen the Father. Similarly he challenged those who followed him to love one another as he loved… again that means… if our relationships on earth do not reflect the values of Jesus’ inaugurated Kingdom then perhaps what comes out of our mouths is theoretical noise…. because we are not trying to apply it – first and foremost to ourselves. Coincidentally I came across this quote today while doing something else:

      “The same might be said of regular attendees who never join the church. They lack an unbreakable commitment to the church and its ministry. Non-members, however active they may be in the life of the church, are outside the covenant relationship with the body of Christ that God requires. They reserve the right to pick and choose their doctrine, lifestyle, and ministry. In effect they become their own elders denying the authority of the church to carry out its mandate of gathering and perfecting the saints. To put this in theological terms, they separate union with Christ, the head of the church, from union with his body. As a result, they confuse themselves and others – outside as well as inside the church – about what it means to be a Christian. This is a costly mistake to make because membership has its privileges. Martin Lloyd-Jones went so far as to describe church membership as ‘the biggest honour that can come a man’s way in this world.’ There is no union with Christ apart from the communion of the saints. Nor can the saints have true communion without belonging to one another by belonging to Christ in his church.”

      Finally – my reference to diapers merely suggests that there is an alarming immaturity among many Christians who constantly desire to be looked after rather than step out and become servants and warriors…… and ‘yes’ most of the amazing stuff Jesus does in us and through us begins with a prod out of our comfort zone…. and then we grow and what used to be terrifying is ok…… That’s how we learn that he is powerful, faithful, and can do in us and through us more than we might imagine…. if we will only take a few risks… rather than play with building blocks in the nursery… (now don’t react to that please…).

  • I am not sure I can agree with you that ‘church’, as you call it, is the same thing Jesus intended when he said to Peter he would build it on, ‘this rock’.

    Surely it is very easy for us to define ‘church’ in the way we have become used to it here in the west.

    In my experience it is usually those who run churches are the most adamant that membership (preferably in their own church) is synonymous with being part of the body of Christ here on earth. Pastors say to their folk you need to be committed because without church membership they have no job.

    I would actually argue that your point about immature Xians is largely because of and not in spite of ‘church’.

    • Thanks for the comments…. I agree that Pastors can be biased and are often part of the problem creating unhealthy expressions of ‘church’ or Christ’s Body on earth. However there is a reality that all human organizations and relationships will be challenged to not only reflect fallen humanity but also something of the Kingdom’. What is the alternative? The declaration of Peter regarding Jesus being the Christ is the foundation of all Christian churches…. I don’t interpret that in a denominational sense.

      It seems to me that Jesus inextricably linked loving God with having that devotion reflected in human relationships. Acts talks about groups gathering together and in Hebrews we are encouraged to ‘not neglect meeting together’. I share many people’s experience of having been hurt or abused by the institutional church – Challenging it cost me my job…… and was a factor in a traumatic tailspin in my life that lasted for years. My plea is for relationship-rich communities where leadership is always within the context of team and is understood to be a ‘work in progress’. I am alarmed at how many sit on the fringes or wander around often more highly critical than anyone else, using a bad experience as a reason to be isolated, and never risking again. I don’t know how maturity, servanthood, enduring with each other, laying down your life, iron sharpening iron, or forgiveness (etc.) works in the real world if Christians are not gathering together in stimulating mutually accountable communities – which I would call church. Having said all that I still think it is frequently tough and after almost 30 years around churches I believe many full-time employees enrol too young, are lacking life experience, and too often their character and personal development lags way behind their theological theory and Biblical exegesis. I could go on…… but I do have much empathy….. believe me 🙂

  • ….you ask,

    “what is the alternative” ?

    I was hoping you were going to tell us …

    If there is no alternative other than the fractured model you speak of, then what you seem to be saying is that xians have no choice but to make the best of whatever is available and calls itself ‘church’.

    I have no doubt you mean well; but to say that Christianity is lived out in community and that community is as per your definition, albeit I can see your reasoning biblically, makes you no different from the average ‘joe pastor’ whose motives may be far less altruistic than yours.

    You say Acts talks about ‘gatherings’ and Hebrews ‘not to be neglectful’ etc. and both of statements are true, but most of the time they are used by pastors as a leverage to guilt people into joining something they don’t really want. Once they have joined, they then feel way too guilty to ever question anything especially if the leadership is powerful.
    The member then learns the art of keeping up appearances and you get the church immaturity you describe in your original post..

    No wonder Mark Twain says, “it is easier never to join than to leave”

    • Oh that there would be an easy answer! I think your Mark Twain quote is partially true. However ‘easier never to join’ also has its consequences doesn’t it? Similar to wrestling with suffering…. easier to keep those you love in a padded cell so no-one gets hurt… Except by restricting, stifling, and protecting all kinds of other damage looms on the horizon. Which is why Jesus promises to ‘be with us’ in the midst of the strife…. I believe that includes the willingness to be involved in church…. However I quite agree there is enormous cause for concern re. the behaviour and attitude of pastors… as well as those who are part of churches and profess to be Christian. If I accept that human beings are ‘sinful’ in and out of the church…. being made whole but not yet….. At least I am not naive with false expectations.

      My suggestion is for team leadership, transparency, accountability, building relationships that are committed through thick and thin but are also committed to truth-telling and growing. In other words if I have something challenging to say to you I will be committed to walking alongside in the solution. The problem in my experience is that we are mostly so fractured that we struggle to entertain many relationships that will allow such a process to take place. We invariably reference past hurts as reasons to keep our guard up. IMHO only the radical love of Jesus, his Cross, and the power of his Spirit can do such a deep work of transformation…. If Christianity stays in the head it merely produces pharisees… when it is embraced in the heart that’s when the power flows….. first dealing with me…. and then opening my eyes to others in a new way….. Surely that’s what Christianity is all about? I submit that it is precisely in the messiness and pain of community that these truths are worked out (always incompletely) but at least in a manner that keeps us honest. Honesty meaning I am always very aware of what an earthen vessel I am (humility)… but am also increasingly aware that Jesus has placed a treasure in me that is totally undeserved… but that is releasing in me my true identity as his child and a citizen of his kingdom. The problem is that many Christian leaders are patronizing and puffed up and block the view to Jesus…. and they mistakenly believe their ministry is anointed if they shout loudly…. or if the church is big etc…… Absolving ourselves is not the answer…. demonstrating a ‘better way’ is more challenging…. and how that looks varies in each situation.. But I am convinced that God is never leading us into isolation or independence… The dangers there are just as great…. and before you know it you have become like the pastors you despise 🙂

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