The young woman told me, “We joined our church today. It’s a big step.” And, indeed, it is! This couple, and their child, are making one of the most basic choices for building a strong faith foundation for themselves that will carry over into the lives of their children. In a conversation last week with a man, in his late 60’s, he told me that one of his regrettable choices was to abandon the local church as a teenager. He only returned in his late 30’s, after a divorce helped him to see the need of regular spiritual care. Today, he serves his local congregation joyfully as an elder.
Are you an active participant in the life of your church; serving in some way, part of a small group, really attending the Sunday services, not just sending your body to occupy a seat? Many Christians in our time are keeping a private faith but ignoring the church. I have served in pastoral ministry for 40 years and know something about discipleship. Christians who live the most authentic lives of faith, who are doing best in service, are invariably part of a church. They may attend a little fellowship in the neighborhood or a mega church in the mall. The form of their worship may include choirs and hymns or praise team with guitars. The pastor may wear a robe or be a preacher in a polo shirts. But, there is one common thread of the saints who pass the faith along – they are involved. Congregational life, as hard as it can be, changes us.
Still, millions of Americans insist: “Church is not for me!” Some point to scandalous behavior of clergy as the reason to leave church behind. Others point to boredom. Others are offended by some point of doctrine in their church. And, some just don’t want the discipline that comes with commitment. I’m a pastor and I will be transparent – some Sundays I would like to stay home, too! All the same issues that bother others creep up on me. I hate the scandalous behavior of Christians who gossip about each other or fight over stupid ego issues. I struggle with some points of doctrine, too. When I do not bring my whole self – body, soul, and spirit – to church, I get bored sometimes, too. But, I go and I would even if I were not the pastor. Why? Because the Church is not a human invention. It is God’s plan.
The attempt to practice a personal spirituality that is divorced from meaningful engagement with Christ’s Body, the Church, is in direct contradiction of the Scripture, both Old and New Testament. God first called His people together. Israel was more than a nation. God chose her to be His holy people; giving them a priesthood, a calendar of feasts and festivals, and commandments that directed their daily lives. Judaism could not be understood as a private experience. God, though known personally, revealed Himself in the context of the people. With Jesus’ coming, a new Body was born, the Church. No longer was it a matter of being born with the right DNA. Now, about being born of the Spirit. And, those who shared the Spirit were called into the Church where “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, NIV)
The Spirit empowers Christians in different and complementary ways, so that God’s work will be done wholly. But, it takes a church. Yes, the Church has been battered by sin and failure in her two millennia of existence. When the Spirit is ignored and human schemes embraced, along with politics and power, corruption follows. Yet, over and over again, God revitalized His Church. In the darkest eras, He preserved for Himself a holy people to tend the fire. And, He is doing that today.
Corruption, greed, apathy, and institutionalism are only a few of the ills that sicken the Body of Christ. But, if we abandon the church for some private, personal spirituality, we turn our back on what Christ Himself loves. The Word says that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing a 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.” (Eph 5:25) The purpose for the church is far beyond sociological. It is a place with a divine plan to display “ the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Eph 3:8)
Are you ignoring God’s calling?
Are you casual about participating in His plan?
We are “those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy.” (1 Co 1:2)
We are invited to be “trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:3)
Pray about your church involvement. Ask God where He is calling you. (Now that is a radical idea!) Many choose a church like a consumer buying something: is the building attractive, the preacher a good speaker, the children’s program and music good? Church is not about you or me. It’s about God calling us into His Body. When we answer His call, there is the joy of obedience. So, where are you going to be next Sunday morning?