A recent poll tracked the various reasons that Christians give for not going to church. The top three reasons given were: 1.) They prefer to worship in other ways; 2.) They don't really have a reason; and 3.) They haven't found a church they like.
Are these valid reasons for not being a part of a local church? How would you respond? How confident are you on answering this question? Is your response based on feelings or on scripture? to be a Christian is to be in community together. Let me suggest three important reasons from scripture that show the responses above don't hold up:
The Analogy of the Body
Throughout the New Testament the analogy of the body used to describe the Church as a community:
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. -Romans 12:3-5
If you are not familiar with this analogy, Jesus is figuratively understood to be the head. He calls the shots. The Church comprises the rest of the body. It is to carry out the will of Christ. It is to be the hands and feet (and everything in between). This illustration is so helpful. It makes crystal clear the reality that Christians need each other. Each of the body parts represents different gifts, skill, and abilities that we all have. That the hand needs to be connected to the arm, and the arm to the shoulder, etc. is self-evident. Each body part has its role, but depends on the other. But somehow we routinely fail to see that in the same way it is self-evident that Christians are to be interdependent and connected to one another. We tend to isolate ourselves. We tend to get self absorbed. We tend to forget the mission that we are called to live out together.
The One Anothers
The emphasis of the majority of the New Testament assumes that Christians are living in community--sharing life together. There are roughly 100 commandments given to Christians to carry out in community with each other. We can simply call these the "one another" verses. Here are just a few of them:
- Love one another –John 13:34; Romans 12:10; 1 Peter 4:8; 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11, 12
- Build up one another –Romans 14:19; Ephesians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:11
- Be of the same mind toward one another –Romans 12:16
- Greet one another –Romans 16:16
- Esteem others as better than yourself –Philippians 2:3
- Serve one another –Galatians 5:13
- Rejoice or weep with one another –Romans 12:15
- Admonish one another –Romans 15:14; Colossians 3:16
- Care for one another –1 Corinthians 12:25
- Be kind and forgiving to one another –Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13
These commandments would not make any sense whatsoever if we were not joined together as a body. The original Greek translations of the New Testament reinforce this idea. In the Greek, many of of the verses that give a command to "you" would readily be understood as to "you all"--somewhat like y'all or all y'all in the South. Christians simply cannot obey the teachings of the New Testament in isolation from one another. This is true even if the form of isolation includes a few other Christian friends.
A Clear and Direct Order
Third, if there is any possible room for doubt, Christians have a very blunt command to meet together. It's as if God wanted us to be absolutely clear on the matter, in case we didn't pick it up from all that has been said above:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. -Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV
The Bottom Line
To sum it up, to be Christian is to be in Community. Christians are called and commanded to live out life in relationship together within the local church. In so many ways we have made Church about something other than what we see in the scriptures. The idea that Christians could choose to worship in some other way that does not obey the clear teachings of the New Testament is either ignorance or defiance. Ultimately, the choice to participate in the Church is not about how we are personally served or what we personally get out of it. It's about walking out the Christian life in community with other Christians in a way that provides a witness to the watching world of God's transforming power within the Christian community. This holds true for the young and the old alike. If this seems radical, it is. But isn't that what God has called his followers to...the radical life?
Will you commit yourself to living out the Christian faith in Community?
Heavenly Father, give us eyes to see and a heart to embrace your vision for the Church. We know that you died not only to save us from our sins but to bring forth the Church which you. Forgive us for the inclination that we have see the Church as simply a social gathering centered around our preferences--a gathering we might make time for if we feel we might personally benefit. Help us to take up our call to exalt your name as we encourage one another, as we serve one another, and as we spur one another to use our gifts, talents and abilities to advance your kingdom. Help us to live life together in such a way that we continuously keep your eternal purposes in view. May your power be increasingly on display as you work in and through us and as you continue to transform us together as a community into your likeness. For the praise of your glory. Amen.