I’ve heard it from strangers, and I’ve heard it in my own mind in the past. It is the statement that “I love Jesus, but I’m not concerned with the church” or any other number of phrases proclaiming the same thing. It’s in some senses the hip thing to do, to abandon the organized local institution of the church, privatizing one’s faith and seeking to simply walk with Jesus on your own. I do not intend to demean or pretend like I can interpret the hearts of those who make such statements and live such lifestyles, rather I hope to cast a vision for church involvement and how essential it is to the life of a Christian.
The logical rationale behind this departure from organized church at times seems fair. Local churches make mistakes, they don’t always walk out the gospel in their communities as best they could. Local churches are full of imperfect people or hypocrites. Local churches don’t always have a passion for that which the individual may have a passion for.
Yet despite these perceived flaws, it is my experience personally, and my opinion humbly that I cannot grow in my faith outside the local church, that I can’t proclaim to love the Lord if I do not also love His church. So my heart and cry is that we would hold fast to the local church, submitting ourselves to it, in order that we may experience all the blessedness of church community and just how God can move through a local body of believers.
One of my favorite Scripture passages on this matter is found in the book of Ephesians:
For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. . .Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless… After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body. – Ephesians 5:23, 25-27, 29-30
Interlaced in a beautiful description of the mutual submission that is to take place in a marriage relationship (a passionate blog for another day), we see just how valuable the church is to Jesus Christ. Just look at the language: the church is his body, Christ loved the church, Christ presents the church to himself without blemish, Christ feeds and cares for the church.
All throughout the book of Ephesians we see similarly passionate language in regards to the church:
God placed Christ over the church, and the church is His body (1:22-23)
The church body is full of differences that are united in Christ, and together becomes a temple for the Spirit of God to reside (2:21-22)
The wisdom of God is to be made known through the church (3:10)
The church is given men and women with gifts to unify the church and mature the church (4)
It is thus my belief that you simply cannot say that you love Jesus but do not love His church. To love Jesus is to recognize that the church is how God intended to see the world come to know the saving grace of God. To love Jesus is to recognize that He was passionate about the church, and so we should be as well.
As far as personal growth in faith is concerned, I tend to find hope in these passages about what a church community should look like:
And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. – 1 Thessalonians 5:14
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. – Romans 12:10-13
Simply put, the church is for hypocrites. There will be times in my life where I will be idle, disheartened, weak. There will be times where I fail to match my actions with my beliefs. The beauty is that inside the context of a local body of believers I can be warned, encouraged, helped, loved. I cannot grow in my faith outside of my brothers and sisters in Christ (Let me make clear that this isn’t a theological statement, rather a personal one).
I urge you to get plugged into a local body of believers. I urge you to submit yourself to the leadership they have in place (submission isn’t vastly popular these days and it’s quite humbling but it’s oh so rewarding).
I guarantee you this, when you get plugged in, the church experience won’t be perfect for you. It won’t be your style of worship, your style of preaching, your age group or your social demographic. Yet let me remind us all that the church isn’t about you it’s about us and Him.
I can attest from personal experience that I’ve learned so much about my faith from those who are nothing like me at all. I go to a men’s Bible study where I’m the youngest in the room by far. I’m involved in a young adult community where I’m spurred on in my faith by brothers and sisters from different cultures than the one I came from. Yet these experiences have been the spark that have lit the fire for spiritual growth in me.
If you feel like something you’re passionate about is missing from your local body of believers, be the change. Are you passionate about foster-care and adoption? Try and get a ministry started that partners church members together to meet each others needs in the journey. Are you passionate about justice for sexually abused or trafficked women? Try and get a ministry started in your church that works in that demographic for God’s glory. I think non-profits are great and beneficial and impactful in the community but part of me wonders if they exist because the church isn’t being the hands and feet of Christ in fullness. Despite that, I want to get involved in them and if you do too, then do so with your brothers and sisters in Christ.
The local church isn’t sexy. The local church isn’t hip. The local church at times feels old school (maybe because it’s 2000 years old). Yet if you’re willing to humbly submit to it you’ll find oftentimes the love for the church that Christ had.
I urge you brother and sister in Christ.
Love the church.
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