Saturday, January 15, 2011

Must I Go to Church to be a Good Chrisitan?

"Early Christians met in homes," we are reminded. "I don't need man's corrupt institution," we are told. To that, some Christians add that going to an organized service in a building on Sunday is a mere tradition, part of--again--"man's opinion" rather than something that is organic, authentic and real, which is what God really wants. Finally, we are told that what we find in the pages of the New Testament is radically different from our modern, westernized, traditional 'church-going.' These allusions to history, and the moral distastes which follow (remember that the church is "corrupt"), are used by some Christians to escape from the perceived entanglement of traditionalism, inauthenticity, and defective, life-stifling organization of "church." Instead, some Christians are not part of a local body of believers, and they take pride in meeting at whim in homes, coffee shops, bars, or wherever they might find fellowship and mutual camaraderie.

Today, I had a conversation about this with a man at the local Starbucks about "going to church." He was studying his Bible, and seemed very interested in knowing it through-and-through. I had already had some "red flags" go up while talking to him because of some of his strange ideas (hyperdispensationalism--not to be confused with dispensationalism). When I asked him where he went to church, he said that he didn't go to a church, but rather met with people in their homes--and not in any particular home; he made circular motions with his hands, and indicated that he moves from place to place. I caught the idea that he sort of "floats around." He didn't seem committed to a certain group of people.

When I asked him why this was so, he explained that he was seeking to obey God's Word rather than man's word. His explanations of why he did not go to church seemed vague. He further noted a reply about leaders who lead people and help them understand the Bible better and encourage them, and so forth. When I asked him if he considered himself such a leader, he replied in the negative. I recall he also alluded to 1 Corinthians 1 where Paul rebukes the people in the church at Corinth who were disunified in their following of either Paul, Peter, Apollos or Christ (he wrongly attributed this text to Paul's epistle to Timothy, but I didn't correct him). His commentary on this was confusing. He seemed to indicate that people need to follow other people before they follow Christ (the opposite of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1). By this time, my daughter was tugging on my arm, and 90% of my brain was staving off the "retort! retort!" mode, while the other 10% was trying to listen in all sincerity (something I need much improvement on when dealing with people who utter what I would refer to as "nonsense").

Tug tug tug. "Daddy can we go?" Guess we'll have to have this conversation another time. But I did ask him one question with a follow-up: "Can I tell you what God's Word says about going to church?"

"Sure," he says.

"Hebrews 10:25: Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching."

"Yeah, but..."

"Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together...."

"Yeah, but..."

"Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together," a third time.

"No, you see...."

"That's what God's Word says."

"No, you see...."

"That's what it says."

"Daddy, can we go?" Yes, let's go. "Have a nice day," I say to the man, whose name I'll leave unmentioned.

His final response to me was: "You have to live it out."

Oh, the irony. Yes, isn't that true? You do have to live it out. Isn't it odd that the Word of God clearly says that people who call themselves Christians are not to forsake the assembling of themselves together, and that they are to be committed to each other in worship, prayer, taking the sacraments, hearing the preaching of the Word of God, and doing good to each other and to the world, all under the auspices of structure and organization with elders, deacons, and pastors, and yet--this man apparently thinks he is living God's way without any of this.

I just have a few questions and responses to this type of thinking...

1) Q:Where did Jesus go on Saturdays to preach?
A: The synagogue. "He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom, He stood up to read," (Luke 4:16).

2) Q: What does the word "synagogue" mean?
A: meeting, assembly

3) Q: To whom did Paul write his many of his letters?A: Romans 1:7 "To all those in Rome whom God loves"; 1 Corinthians 1:2 "to the church of God in Corinth"; 2 Corinthians 1:1 "To the church of God that is at Corinth"; Galatians 1:2 "to the churches (plural!) in Galatia"; Ephesians 1:1 "To God's people who are steadfast in Christ Jesus"; Phil. 1:1 "To all the saints who are in Christ Jesus at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons...."

4) Is a church a church if it has no elders (overseers) or deacons (Phil. 1:1)? No pastors or teachers? (Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 3; 5:17; Titus 1:5 "appoint elders in every town as I directed you")? No leaders (Hebrews 13:17)?

5) Consider: 1 Corinthians 16:1-2: "Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made." Aren't we reasonable when assuming the church in Corinth gathered together on a specific day of the week for a certain purpose--undoubtedly for worship, prayer, a collection for the less fortunate and taking the Lord's Supper (chapter 11:17)?

Are there problems with "organized religion"? Yes there are. But why is that so? Perhaps because people do not naturally look to the interests of others, but rather to their own (Phil. 2:3-4). Further: when is organized religion "organized," and is that necessarily a bad thing? Isn't is true that when people get together for a common purpose they are "organized"? And if people object to an "organized" form of religion by which they mean a "system of government," then they are really rebelling at what God has instituted (!) in his word: a community of saints with overseers, elders, deacons and pastors who guide and lead the people of God in all things God has commanded (worship, prayers, teaching, training, preaching, helping the poor, encouraging one another, administering the sacraments, etc).

Even though there are problems with "church," let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater and turn our backs on 2,000 years of Scripture and tradition. If you call yourself a Christian, isn't it better for you to be a part of a body of believers who have a common purpose, a defined vision, and an organized structure? Isn't it better to be a part of a community that you know will always be there? Why do it on your own? Why do the opposite of what God has prescribed in Scripture? What was Jesus' custom (Luke 4:16)?

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