Church, is it worth your time? Does it matter that you go? Maybe I’ll just stay home and listen to Frank or Elvis. In my 40 plus years I’ve have been able to observe a large swath of American christianity. I’ve been to church all over the country and around the world. To get an idea of the variety of church’s just go to youtube and you can find all kinds of differences even within bible believing evangelicalism. Take a look out the car window as you drive around town and you’ll see the First Church of Us or the Second Church of Them, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, Non-denoms, or the cool kids at Relevant, Vertical, Bridge, The Point, Life, Crossroads, Innovate(I sure hope not!) or my favorite original name, City Church. It’s seemingly endless. And with all this comes the usual negative comments.
Unfortunately, there is a common theme that I’ve heard repeatedly regarding the church and it basically boils down to ‘Jesus is good, church is bad’. Now, this is a generalization but the idea being presented is that: church’s are too divided, there are too many church denominations and of course they’re bad so who in their right mind would want or even claim to be in one, church is man’s organized religion, church denominations are divisive and fight amongst each other, there is no unity, Jesus wasn’t part of a denomination, the church’s creeds and confessions are old and out dated spirit-quenching religion, church should only be in houses, I have no creed but Christ etc. etc. and so, I’ll just do it my way.
Some of those criticisms are justly deserved, and yes, church can be held in a house, but, they miss the most important point. The church was ordained and commissioned by Jesus Christ and Christ is its head and the church is his body, Colossians 1:8 tells us, ‘he is the head of the body, the church’. Further in Ephesians 1:22 it says, ‘He put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body the fulness of him who fills all in all’. So yes, the church you see in front of you and all of its shortcomings is the way God has chosen to use to bring his people to himself.
So, why all the resistance to church? I would suggest the first issue is one of submission and authority. Hebrews 13:17 says we are to submit to our leaders and James 4:7 says to submit to God. However, we’d rather be our own final authority. Our natural tendency is to want to do things our way and so we rebel against God and what he’s built (Acts 2:27) by making church about us and not about God. Church should cater to ‘my’ needs, right? Paul repeatedly tells his fellow workers to appoint elders and overseers in the newly formed churches. The books of Timothy and Titus give us full lists of qualifications for these leaders who are to care for the church of God (Acts 20:28). However, when we reject the fellowship of Christ’s body (Heb 10:25) because we don’t like the music or the preaching or all the hypocrites or the presumed lack of unity or the discipline, we close ourselves off to the body of Christ, and so we are in a sense, rejecting Christ.
Next, by isolating ourselves from the church body we are forsaking our perfecting (KJV) or equipping (ESV). Ephesians 4 is very descriptive of all the benefits of being in the body of Christ, the church: we are built up, we help minister to others, we mature in the unity and knowledge of God, we stay grounded in sound doctrine, we learn discernment, we learn to love, and we grow up into Christ in love. Furthermore, returning to Ephesians 1:22, since the church is the fullness of Christ we receive grace upon grace from being a part of his body. John 1:16 says, ‘For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace’. We grow into the image of Jesus when we are with other believers reading, praying, singing, confessing, and bumping into one another in what my pastor calls ‘The Holy Jostle’!
Finally, the unity of the church universal is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. We are unified in Christ. 1 Cor 12:12 says, ‘For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body’. We are bound together in Christ by his spirit that seals us to God the Father. If you trust in the person and work of Jesus you and I are unified.
Our unity won’t be gained when all the church signs read the same name. Unity won’t be achieved when there is only one denomination. Our unity is found when we gather together and worship the same Jesus Christ. It is beautiful to see the unity and power of Christ’s Church in its variety. We are the body, the church, Christ is our head and by his grace, we do it his way.