The church is beautiful. I’ve seen it first hand. And many of you have as well. It’s not a building of bricks and mortar. Instead, it’s the body of Christ functioning together to provide communion with one another while glorifying God by its existence. And when the church is rightly focused on its mission, it’s a stunning display of God’s goodness and grace.
But how does this definition of the church measure up against your own past experiences? When you compare the two, you may not get warm fuzzies reminiscing over the “biblical fellowship” you’ve experienced. It may even be hard for you to think about the churches you’ve been a part of glorifying God with their existence. Let’s be really honest-some of them don’t. But no matter what your past experiences are, and no matter how dysfunctional our churches can be at times, we must never abandon the local church.
Although our churches have flaws and errors, there is no question as to the importance that God places upon the church. or is there any question as to the significant role God intended the local church to play in the life of His people. I use the word “local” intentionally, because a person could make the argument that you can be a part of the church without going to a building or joining a fellowship of believers. In that understanding, all that’s really meant by “church” is a belief in Jesus Christ. That’s not what I’m talking about.
This article is an excerpt from Blemished: How the Message of Malachi Confronts Empty Religion, a five-week study from Threads.
I’m talking about the local church, as described in Acts 2:42-47:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers. Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. Now all the believers were together and had everything in common. So they sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need. And every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them those who were being saved.”
Throughout history, God has chosen to use the local church as the primary vehicle to spread His name and fame across the world. Don’t get me wrong-I affirm parachurch ministries. I applaud missions sending agencies. I support conference and camp gatherings. Obviously, I work for a non-profit that resources the church. But, we must not replace our commitment to the local church in favor of such things. These things should be pointing people toward the local church, not acting as a substitute for it.
Any negative experiences you’ve had with churches are not cause to abandon it. We can’t throw the baby out with the bath water. We may be disgusted with what the church has become, but it’s only become that way as a result of our unholy hijacking. We can’t give up on it. I applaud what my friend Ed says about the church: “You can’t love Jesus and hate His wife.” But that’s exactly what has happened, both inside and outside the faith.
If you haven’t noticed, the world has decided that it is OK with Jesus, but not so OK with the church. Unfortunately, many Christians have decided the same. That’s not acceptable. The Scripture says:
“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our meetings as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:22-25).
But if Scripture insists you be active in the local church and yet the local church around you isn’t God honoring, what do you do? That’s the million dollar question, right? Well, my suggestion is simple: Either find a new church, or better yet, take active involvement in helping it change. Either way, we as Christians must not separate ourselves from the local church simply because of the transgressions of its people. We are the people of the church. We must come to grips with the fact that we will be held just as accountable for our relationship to the local church as those who have turned many of us away from it.
Let’s fight for the church. It’s worth it!