There continues to be growing disdain for belonging to a local church. It has become common to hear Christians bemoan what they see as imperfections. In addition, the claim “we are all the church” has become an excuse for people who want to avoid belonging to one altogether. While I certainly believe the church is a movement of people and not a building or business, I don’t believe it gives anyone an out from living in biblical community. I’ll explain.
First, before ascending to heaven, Jesus commanded his disciples to make more disciples of all nations. They were told to baptize new believers in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus also said to teach these disciples to obey everything he had commanded (Matthew 28:16-20). We must make disciples and teach them to obey Jesus. These were and still are marching orders from our Lord, and by their very nature include the involvement of others. It’s difficult to imagine how one makes disciples if other people aren’t included. Flying solo, apart from a community of Christians and unbelievers is going to make the fulfillment of Christ’s command complicated, if not downright impossible.
Second, Jesus said he would build his church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). Building a church and growing the number of people on mission was on the mind of Jesus. It was his intention. He does not anywhere teach his followers to isolate from the world or keep their faith and hope to themselves. In the West, we have so separated our faith from every other aspect of life that our witness has all but ceased to exist. Outside of our personal prayer time, the light has virtually burned out. We are no longer displaying it for all to see. Jesus says we need to let our light shine so others will glorify the Father (Matthew 5:14-16). He also said where two or more gather in his name, he is in their midst (Matthew 18:20). We must do our Christian life with others.
Third, Christ died for the church (Ephesians 5:25). It’s his plan A with no plan B. He intends to redeem creation through the hands and feet of his bride. Every Christian should be actively pushing back darkness so the light of Christ can shine even brighter. In a world yearning for hope, the gospel should be on the forefront of our minds. It should act as a core value, directing our every decision. If the church and it’s message meant so much to Jesus, it should consume everyone of us.
Lastly, our character grows best when we are in community. There have been times when a dear brother or sister lovingly pointed out an error of mine, whether theological or otherwise, and though it hurt at the time, I have nothing but gratitude for them because of their bravery and boldness. I’m blinded to some of my sin. If I only hang out with myself or those who never challenge me, I may take certain sin patterns to the grave. We all need each other. Together we can encourage and rebuke. Together we can become more like Jesus.
If all these things are true, why do we continue to isolate from biblical community?
Me, Myself(ie), and Jesus
One reason I believe Christians isolate is because many hold their opinions and experiences above the authority of Scripture. Instead of evaluating truth from the word of God, they allow the world, the culture, and their thoughts and feelings to determine right from wrong. I’d like to think such behavior happens unintentionally, however, sin runs nightmarishly deep in us all. When sin is blended with our individualistic culture, it molds us to miss the communal aspects of Scripture and the Christian life.
Furthermore, we live in a selfie-driven world and that’s where many of us want to stay. We’d much prefer our faith to consist of “me, myself, and Jesus” rather than a mixture of imperfect people in need of grace. The cross doesn’t afford us that option. A great practice for any God-fearing person would be to search the Scriptures before searching themselves about a given topic. We should not give too much attention to an argument unsupported from Scripture. Truth for the Christian is not found in the culture. It is also not found in our imaginations. The word of God, as laid out in the Old and New Testaments, is the bedrock of truth. God exercises His authority there. Our lives must come under His authority.
A Better Way Forward
Your church is not perfect. You will undoubtedly find selfish leaders and arrogant people wherever you gather for worship. Don’t neglect your role as a disciple simply because you don’t jive with other Christians. Remember that Jesus’ rescue plan includes you but is not ultimately about you. God is after the restoration of Eden — a community of people united to the glory of His name. Though no local church is perfect, it’s what God is using to redeem creation. Stop looking at sinful leaders and start fixating on your perfect Savior.
Your church is not perfect and neither are you. Wherever you go, there you will be. It’ll always feel easier to live the Christian life solo. The problem is, you’re not called to do so. You’re just as tempted and plagued by sin as those you are trying to avoid. You can’t get away from it. Jesus, however, died for your sins. He’s more interested in your obedience than your opinion about how the church should or should not function.
Are there issues of pride, sin, elitism, and so on in the church? Yes. Has God ordained the church to move His mission forward? Yes he has. Stop looking at the imperfections of others. Begin trusting the finished work of the perfect Savior on behalf of needy sinners everywhere.