I haven’t posted for several weeks. The semester was wrapping up, and holiday travels began. I’ll be writing again soon.
On another note, this is the first post from my new computer. Thanks, Mom and Dad!
I recently received a question from a dear friend asking me to comment on a blog post entitled, "Why I Do Not Attend Church." The author of the blog is a woman who refers to herself as Jean. Her view that there is no more true local church made up of true Christians is not unique. This is a growing trend in American Christianity. As people become disillusioned with the imperfections in the church, they abandon it and attempt to keep their personal relationship with Christ apart from the church. George Barna, well-known Christian pollster and cultural analyst, has written a book about the trend: Revolution (Greg Gilbert has written a helpful review of the book). A more thorough treatment of the subject would be helpful, but in order to respond in a timely way to the question posed to me, I'll deal specifically with the most serious problems with the blog post reference above.
In the New Testament, the universal church (all true believers everywhere) is not easily distinguished from the local church (a local assembly of believers who join together for worship and the pursuit of “the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God” [Eph. 4:13]). By my count, the Greek word for church (ekklesia) appears 77 times in the New Testament. 67 of those are in reference to local churches. Jean is giving up on the local church but seeking to maintain her commitment to the universal church. She says concerning true Christians, “There may be a few here, one there, two there and so on,” and these few are scattered "all over the earth." So she concludes that there is no way to assemble a true church in this present day and age: “We have to wait for the next life when we will all be together with our Lord Jesus Christ.” If Jean is right about this then the express New Testament purpose of the church has failed. The church is supposed to be a demonstration in the present age to the rulers, authorities, principalities and powers in heavenly places that Christ has conquered Satan at the cross, redeemed a people for himself, and is going to rule in uncontested fashion one day. It is the church that represents that victory. It is the church that sends that message (Ephesians 3:8-10). If believers are so sparse that assembly in this life is hopeless, then the existence of the church is not sending a message of victory to principalities and powers.
Furthermore, when Paul wants to instruct the true church, he does not compose a letter to be sent to the four winds, hoping that the few isolated Christians out there will stumble upon it. Rather, he writes to local congregations. He writes to the church at
On another note, when the New Testament speaks of the church as the body of Christ, that imagery is used with respect to the universal church (Eph. 1:19-23) and the local church (1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4:11-16 – this is clearly a local church situation because of the way Paul speaks of the individuals in the church working together toward “unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God”). If the universal church is the body, so also is the local church. To reject the local church is to reject the body of Christ. To say that there is no longer any such thing as a true local church is to say that the body of Christ is no longer present in the world, except in a dismembered form which no one can recognize.
Finally, Jean’s understanding of what it means to be a "saint" is informed by something other than the New Testament. For Jean, a saint is someone whose allegiance is perfectly directed toward Christ, with no room for error, failure, missteps, and no need for growth and maturity. In fact, after reading Jean’s post, especially the second paragraph, I am convinced that Jean believes she is the only true Christian she knows personally. She is clearly not paying attention to the way the New Testament uses the word “saint.” In the New Testament, a “saint” is certainly someone who is a truly born again believer in Jesus Christ. But consider the Christians at
To reject the local church is to reject the assembly of the saints (Hebrews 10:25). Certainly not all assemblies which bear the name “church” are true to that description. But to begin imposing standards of definition on the church which are inconsistent with and contradictory to the teaching of Scripture is problematic. The gospel of Jesus Christ sets the boundaries for whom and what really constitutes the body of Christ. Any other imposed boundary is legalism.
So, don't quit on the local church. Unite with the church, and labor diligently to serve Christ by serving his body, striving to play your part in helping the whole body grow toward a "unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God" (Eph. 4:13).