I don’t care if the church is necessary
Yesterday I wrote a post about shifting from asking “is it necessary” to asking “is it beneficial.” The most prominent way this shift has impacted my life is in relation to the corporate life of the church (as a people, not a building). I went through a long time period when I was very cynical of the organized church and especially “the show” on Sunday mornings.
I looked at it all and thought “Is this really necessary?” And for years my answer to that was a resounding “no”. I agreed with the large number of people who proclaimed the utter unimportance of “going to church,” and was in partial agreement with the sentiment of being able to follow Jesus on my own.
But a few years ago I made the shift from asking “is it necessary” to asking “is it beneficial” and that has drastically altered my perspective. Everything about the gathering of the church can be beneficial to someone who is trying to be a disciple of Jesus. You have the opportunity to interact with other people, declare the worth of God together with others, and be challenged by explanation and application of Scripture.
I have also come to firmly believe that God’s best–abundance (I don’t mean financial here, but life in general), hope, joy, support, and growth, are wrapped up in the corporate life of the church. God chose the Israelites as a group of people and called them to obey and walk with him as a group. Imagine an entire nation living out Deuteronomy 6 together–they would be so much more together than they could be alone. Jesus chose the twelve apostles (not to mention many others who were consistently with him) rather than doing ministry on his own. One of the most beautiful descriptions of what can happen in a community following Jesus is Acts 2:42-47.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Yeah, I know all the objections about how the church doesn’t look like this. I also know that I want to be part of trying. I know that this kind of life can’t happen in isolation–it has to happen in the corporate life of the church–whether it’s a house church or a mega-church or whatever. And that is a huge point for me. This beautiful picture may seem difficult, and even impossible at times, in the life of the corporate church–but it is literally impossible without it. No church will ever be perfect, but what God intends for me is partially wrapped up in continuing on as an imperfect person in the context of an imperfect community. But in that imperfection the possibility of beauty, growth, and hope is infinitely greater than it is on my own.
And the corporate gathering of the church is a beneficial part of the overall corporate life of the church. It is not the total–not even close–but it is a helpful piece. In my previous post I said that the question “is it necessary” is a question of scarcity, stagnation, and hopelessness. When I avoided the corporate gathering of the church it was because of my own distorted perception of the purpose it serves and a lack of hope that it could be truly beneficial. But as I have slowly overcome my cynicism and biases, I have begun to experience these gatherings as something extremely beneficial.
So can you be a follower of Jesus without a church/community of faith? I don’t really care. Even if you could it would be settling for the very least rather than pursuing the very best.