It is no secret that America is individualistically minded. We see ourselves as our own. We are islands. We are Mavericks, Rambos, and Jack Bauers. We live our own lives and choose our own paths. Independence is our banner. Self sufficiency is our highest virtue.
Without wanting to completely erase individualism from the Christian life, because there is most definitely an individual aspect to our life, salvation, and relationship to Christ, we really need to be faced with the fact that true Christianity is necessarily communal. Christianity is, in its essence, a group affair. In fact, it is so necessary that John Stott describes an unchurched Christian as a, “grotesque anomaly.”
I hope to cover this subject well in the future, but for now, allow me to make one simple point regarding the necessary, communal nature of Christianity by saying this: you cannot obey God and live disconnected from the local church.
A Church Oriented Faith
Obedience to Christ requires committed participation in His Church. One can see this clearly when faced with verses like the ones listed below which can only be obeyed within the context of commitment to a particular fellowship.
You cannot serve the good of the church if you aren’t a part of one.
“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” 1 Corinthians 12
“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Galatians 6:10
God has given His people various ministries to perform within the church for the church’s good. Some are teachers. Others are administrators. Many are encouragers. The gifts vary from person to person, but their purpose remains the same: they are given for the good of the local church. You cannot personally serve those you don’t know or never meet up with.
You cannot regularly meet with the church if you are not regularly meeting with the church…duh
“(Do not neglect) to meet together, as is the habit of some, but (encourage) one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:25
This is pretty self-explanatory. Just try to meet together regularly with Christians without meeting together regularly with Christians.
You cannot obey your leaders if you don’t have any.
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Hebrews 13:17
Who are the leaders you are responsible to obey? Who are you submitting to? Who is watching over your soul? Who will have to give an account for you to Jesus? If you are not a part of a local church, how can you live out this passage in obedience?
You can’t take communion correctly.
“So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another – if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment.” 1 Corinthians 11:33-34
According to Paul, communion had its sole context in the fellowship of believers. No where in the Bible is communion taken to shut-ins or done in an individual context. The Supper was always done with one another; a dinner party of sorts. So important was this that the Corinthians’ sin in communion seems to be not keeping to its communal aspect. Communion reminds us, among many things, Jesus didn’t just die for me, but for His church. The Supper is not intended to be a meal for one.
You cannot bear the burdens of those you don’t know or meet with regularly.
“Bear one another’s burdens” Galatians 6:2
Burdens are not things people are forthright about, but usually will only share with those they know and trust. If you are not a part of a church then you will be unable to bear the burdens of other Christian who are outside your own family. How can we bear the burdens of those we don’t know or meet with?
You cannot bear with people or forgive them if you don’t meet with them regularly.
“(Bear) with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Colossians 3:13
“(Bear) with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32
I think these are worth some serious meditation. When someone wrongs us, our knee-jerk reaction is not bear with them or forgive them but to ditch them. We have a very low tolerance for being wronged or sinned against. Often times this is the main reason why lots of folk keep their distance from church. The little Ghandi on their shoulder whispers, “Those Christians are so unlike their Christ, keep your distance.” But the Spirit speaks a different word. He says, “Have you been wronged? Forgive like Christ forgave you.” “Are you weary with others? Bear with them like I bear with you in your sin.” But again, how can you honestly bear with people you never see regularly? How can you forgive people who don’t even have the chance to sin against you?
You cannot participate in church discipline if you are not connected to a local church.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17
“For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” 1 Corinthians 6:12-13
If you have no church family, who would count as your brother whom you’re obligated to confront? The guy who flipped you the bird on the freeway? The noisy neighbor? The unhelpful and calloused DMV worker? Also, if unrepentant, to what church would you bring him to? What would it look like to treat him as a Gentile or tax collector? If no church, how is one able to “purge the evil person from among you?” Without the local, these verses becomes un-obey-able.
An Invitation to Joy
Why do I write this? For many reasons, but the greatest is the joy of God’s people. Church membership is one of the greatest blessing we receive through the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus has saved us into His family. We have a place at the dinner table. No longer are we alienated from God and His people, but we have become, “members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19)!Far from being a burden to endure, the Church of Christ is a blessing to receive! There is great joy in being a part of the body of Christ…
It is a joy to have people that are devoted to building you up in Christ (1 Thess. 5:11)
It is a joy to experience someone’s forgiveness in the face of your own sin (Colossians 3:13)
It is a joy to hear the crunching of crackers and the gulping of juice and remember, I am not alone
It is a joy to have leaders who are committed to providing for you, protecting you, and leading you to the green pastures purchased for you by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 13:17)
It is a joy to use your gifts and join Christ in making His bride more beautiful with every passing day (Ephesians 5:25-26)
Oh the joy of being among the people of God!!!
Please, do not misunderstand the heart behind this post. This post is not meant to induce guilt and leave you with your head hanging low. This post is an invitation to experience the joy, albeit messy joy, of life in the Church.