Dear Christian who does not like the Church:
I have have read your books. I have browsed your blog posts. I have even sat and listened to your complaints. In fact, I may even share some of your criticisms; the most common being that the Church is not doing what it is supposed to do. Usually this complaint is followed by your desire for the Church to be more involved in social issues, or environmental concerns, or just being more outward focused rather than inward focused. All of these are valid concerns and things that many churches do poorly.
However, your solution to the problem is not valid. You use your complaints to justify simply walking away from the Church and trying to have Christianity on your own terms. You have decided it is going to be just God and you from now on with an occasional rendezvous with another Christian from time-to-time.
Unfortunately, it does not work this way. You see the Bible tells us that the Church is God’s design and His ordained instrument for accomplishing His desires for this world. Jesus said that He was building His Church and that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). Notice that He did not say He was building a small-group Bible study or radio/television program or any other entity. He was building His Church. It is also the Church who is adorned as the Bride of Christ in Scripture, not your talking with fellow believers at Starbucks.
The New Testament epistles (all of the books outside of the 4 Gospels and Acts), give us guidelines concerning how this Church that Jesus was building should look and operate. We are told that Jesus is the Head of the Church (Ephesians 5:22). As the Head, Jesus deserves our loyalty and submission. If Jesus is the Head of the Church and we reject the Church, does that not also mean we reject Him? It reminds me of Augustine’s statement: “You cannot have God as your Father if you do not have the Church as your Mother.” Augustine used the same argument that I am using here. If you reject the Church, you reject the One behind it, Jesus Christ.
Scripture also tells us that all believers are baptized into the Church by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). So, if you are a believer, you are a part of the Church. This is not optional. This means you belong to the Church and need to follow the guidelines in Scripture that tell us how those in the Church are supposed to behave. Below are some of those guidelines:
- We know that all believers are gifted by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of building up others in the church body (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). You cannot do this if you are not an active part of a church. The gifts are not for you, but are for the benefit of serving others. You must commit to others long-term if you are to effectively serve them.
- We also know that the Church has specific functions it must perform (baptism, communion, teaching of the word, public worship). These are the bare essentials given in Scripture that churches must fulfill. Are you doing these in your Bible study and/or occasional rendezvous with your Christian friends? If not, you are not fulfilling your responsibility to be a part of the Church.
- We know that one of the purposes of the Church is to hold one another accountable in our Christian life. We do not like accountability, but it happens in groups, not isolation!
- We know that the Church has Scriptural guidelines for how it is to be managed. There are specific offices that must be filled to ensure that things are orderly and do not stray from orthodoxy. Two New Testament epistles are dedicated to explaining the type of people that should be placed into the offices of pastor/elder and deacon. These letters were not written to be ignored. They are essential to how Jesus chose to order His Church. Do you have pastor/elders and deacons at your meetings? Are they qualified in character and gifted for their ministry?
You see, if you are a believer, you cannot simply leave the Church. You are a part of the Church because you were baptized into it by the Holy Spirit. If you are not part of the Church, you are not part of the body of Christ. The real question is, are you an obedient member of the Body? If so, you must act according to the way the New Testament says we are to act as members of the Body, which is in fellowship with other believers in the context of a church body that has pastors and deacons, as well as a body that practices baptism, communion, the teaching of the Word, and public worship. Also, do not forget accountability.
When you complain that the Church is not acting as it should, you may have a valid argument. However the solution is not to try to disengage from the Church. The reformers in the Protestant Reformation did not walk away from the Church when they thought the Church had strayed from truth. They acted to correct the Church. We must do the same! You can either work within an existing church to change it, or you can go to a church that is practicing correctly, or you can plant a new church that models the New Testament guidelines for the Church.
But you cannot leave. When you fall out of fellowship, you are just as guilty as the churches you criticize of not doing what you are supposed to be doing. So, if you have complaints, work to make change, but do not answer disobedience and unfaithfulness with more of the same. No one said the Church was perfect, but it is the Body of Christ and He died for Her. If Christ is so committed to His Church, should we not be as well?
Your Friend In Christ,