A reader graciously commented on my post least week (they ripped it. It was brutal.) about how Christians are leaving the church. They said, “just because someone leaves a church doesn’t mean they aren’t Christian.” Perhaps I should have said leaving the faith, or leaving Christianity in general, not just church. That’s what I meant.
However, it brought up another good point. There’s a second phenomenon I’ve been observing, and that is Christians leaving church, but maintaining their Christianity. One must ask: Is that possible?
The answer is yes…but it sucks.
As a dozen songs have stated, all you need to be saved is Jesus Christ. You don’t need a preacher, a building, or a book; these are only means to and end, which is Jesus himself. If you have repented of sin and accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior (organ music here), then you are saved and a Christian. You’re getting into heaven. This is all very, very true.
But are you any Earthly good?
God has plans for you here on terra firma. Otherwise, he’d instantly take his converted up into Heaven. But as Christian, you must grow. If not, you’ll never be effective. A seed that does not grow into a tree will never produce fruit, much less multiply itself. There are ways to grow alone (Bible study and meditation, prayer, personal worship), and this is the very first step. But if this is all you do, you’re stuck forever.
A Christian cannot grow up alone. No matter how much you study in your house, no matter how hard you pray, no matter how much God speaks to you, if you remain alone, you will not grow to your full potential. You’ll never even get past spiritual puberty.
Why not? Because Christianity is a people system. You have to get out and contribute. Now you may say that you contribute to the poor, the unsaved, et cetera. Good. But you still aren’t growing.
Who can teach you more about basketball: someone who’s never played, or one of the Lakers? (That’s a basketball team, right?) Who can help you grow as a Christian: non-Christians or Christians?
Christians were made to do life together. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” -Proverbs 27:17. Hebrews 10:24-25 says we are to stir one-another up, “not forsaking in the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner or some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see [the End] approaching.”
The purpose of the church is not just to preach and convert, but to build up Christians. If the church is not doing this, it is an ineffective church. But if YOU are not doing this, YOU are just as ineffective. If we convert people and then forget about them, they will soon fall away, and what have we accomplished?
Yes, you are saved if you don’t go to church. But if you refuse community, you will not grow. I’m not saying you need a big, honking mega-church or a seven-step program. I’m saying you need a Christian community. A regular meeting of Christians to pray together, praise together, and learn together. To grow. If you do not grow, you will not bear fruit. If you do not bear fruit, you will not multiply.
The Christian life is hard enough. Don’t do it alone.
A FEW QUICK CONCERNS.
What about my group of friends/family members who meet in our homes? Isn’t that fine? –Test the fruit. Read Matthew 7: 15-20. I’ve known small groups that bear fruit. I’ve also known small groups that get together to commiserate and complain about other churches. Are you really growing?
What about the Prophets? Most of them were alone! Yeah, and they were miserable! God called them to a very, very hard task, and as you’ll notice, he had a special relationship with them. You’ll also notice that was Old Testament, when God revealed himself more to some than others. Now, Jesus resides in every believer, so there are no “special relationships” with God. Sometimes, God calls us to stand alone, but the norm is community.
I can’t join a church because I’ve been burned in the past. First of all, let me say how sorry I am that an institution for God did damage to one of its sheep. Now let me say this: if a black man steals your car and you punish him, that’s justice. But if a black man steals your car and you punish all black people, that’s racism. If you’ve been hurt by church, God’s Holy Word has not changed. He still wants you in community. I’m not saying go back and take more abuse, I’m saying ask God to find you a community that will love you.
Also, check your pride. I’ve known Christians who leave a church because someone told them they were sinning. That’s not hatred; that’s what God tells us to do. They may be misguided, perhaps, but don’t leave a church just because they tell you to change something. You may need it!
But those Christians are totally doing the wrong thing! First off, check your Bible. Is it an essential point? If not, don’t get into a tizzy. If it is, maybe you should correct them. I mean you want to change sinners, but you don’t want to change Christians? We’re all family here, and family isn’t perfect by a long shot. We have to work together.
Everybody is different. Some Churches have better worship. Some have better outreach. Some have more money. Are any of these things wrong? By no means! Romans 12: 6-8 says that we all have different gifts. I believe that applies to churches, too. I know a church that can stir up its members for Jesus. My church is good at being sensitive to the spirit. I know another church that donates more money than any other. God blesses everybody differently. Different does not equal sinful.
We’re all in this together. The Devil loves to divide and he has done a remarkable job. No other religion is so divided. We have to get past our differences and hang in there together.
Mark Lowry wrote a funny song for one of his concerts about the different denominations. Here’s the link, but here’s the big point that he makes.
“We’ve got stacks of facts and doctrines on which we could disagree, but if your heart belongs with Jesus, you belong with me!”
Do you have any concerns I haven’t touched? Do you agree or not?