Is the church necessary for the Christian life? I have met a surprising amount of people who consider themselves devout Christians and yet they do not go to church, or maybe they move from church to church so often that they effectively have no church home. That makes me wonder if the church is a necessary institution. As a pastor I may be biased, but the question is real – even for me.
Jesus can save anyone, even without the church. He did that with the thief on the cross. And yet he did envision a church that he himself would build (Mt 16:18). To say that Jesus was not interested in the church is simply not true – he died to build a church. Jesus considers the church to be his possession and the New Testament teaches us that the church is both his bride and his body – his physical representation on this earth. Is the church perfect? Absolutely not, but Jesus still uses it. As many have said, he can make a straight line with a crooked stick.
There is a movement in our culture today to do church on our own. Or maybe you have heard people talk about following Christ without getting into religion. Such talk is genuine but it is a bit like my preschool-aged daughter saying she wants the benefits of being in our family but she will go about it by living under a bridge. We often think that if we read devotional books or even the Bible we’ll be equipped for the life of faith. I have heard the slogans: “Just me and God!” or “No creed but Christ!” Those may be catchy, but are they right?
Again, Jesus envisioned a church. And it was supposed to have spiritual authority, not just spiritual access. The church, as he built it, was not just an avenue to a personal relationship with him; it was to be a body that had authority in peoples’ lives (Matt 18:17). Paul sought a commission by the church after he was called to the ministry (Gal 2:2), as did Timothy (2Tim 1:6). And when Paul started a church he put leaders in charge for the care of the people (Titus 1:5). Nobody in the Bible was a solo Christian.
My hunch is that we do not like church because we are uncomfortable with two things: intimacy and authority. A good church has both. It is much easier to gather with our friends than a bunch of people that are weird or just plain different than us. But the church is a whole body and not a bunch of legs. It has to be a place where people are different from each other or it will not be a dynamic, living organism. It is hard for me to be intimate or vulnerable with people different than myself and yet it must be this way for the church to be the church. If I isolate myself both the church and I will suffer.
We also don’t like someone telling us what the Scriptures mean or how to live our lives. And yet Peter says that the church needs to be shepherded by those God has called (1Pet 5:2). If a church is worth its salt it will not tell you what to think, it will give you the tools to think for yourself. But the truth remains that God is totally in charge of his church and he has called some to lead it on this earth (Eph 4:11-12).
Jesus did not die on the cross to create the Christian book or music industry. Nor did he do it to create good Bible studies. Jesus Christ gave his life to create his kingdom on this earth – to create the church. I believe the church is necessary for Christians. I believe having a real church home is not just important, it is commanded by God (Heb 10:25). It’s not that I always love going to church because I certainly don’t, but God loves it. And that is what matters most.