Tag Archives: community

On “Going to Church”

Fellow Christian and blogger John Pavlovitz makes an argument that going to church is not a necessity for the Christian.

I guess that depends on one’s definition of the word “church”. If one defines “church” as a “building”, that I believe John is 100% correct.

If one defines “church” as a “group of people gathered to worship God in community” than I disagree completely.

Why?  A cursory read through the gospels, Acts, the Pauline letters the entire Bible, will find the people of God worshiping in community. There is absolutely zero context for the worship of God and a relationship with him absent others.

In fact, we find the exact opposite. We see Jesus teaching in the synagogue. We find Paul and other church leaders worshiping in the synagogue. And yes, we find believers meeting in homes. And, while the location (except for the Old Testament) may matter very little, the thing that we consistently find is believers together in community.

To be sure, I’ve been in many “sacred places” outside the brick and mortar of a church building. I’ve found them while on a morning run, while listening to Radiohead (the guitar solo in the song “The Bends” is exquisite), in a morning cup of coffee and around my dinner table. And, I’ve worshiped God with others outside of the spacial context of a church building.

And yet, we consistently find communities of people, gathered for the express purpose of worshiping God, throughout the Bible. The Greek word for this gathering is (in English) ekklesia; it is defined as, “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place.” In the Christian sense, it is, “an assembly of Christians gathered for worship in a religious meeting.” Notice the phrase, “called out”- this is purposeful and intentional. Christians are indeed called to worship God in community.
Two thoughts:

You need other Christians who are committed to your spiritual well-being. They are the ones who will be able to get to know you and identify the fruit of new birth in your life…we are not good judges of our own hearts. Some people are entirely too easy on themselves. They imagine that they give evidence of genuine regret and repentance for their sin when in reality there is none. Others with a tender conscience are far too hard on themselves. They take every weakness and failure as evidence that they are hypocrites and false Christians. Being involved in a local church is immensely helpful for both kids of people- Mike McKinley, Am I Really a Christian?

My edits italicized below.

“Without this limitation (what is biblical), we leave ourselves open to calling anything we fancy a Spiritual Discipline. Thus, one might declare, ‘Gardening is a Spiritual Discipline (going to church) for me,’ or ‘Exercise is one of my Spiritual Disciplines (going to church),’ or claim that some other hobby or pleasurable habit is a valid Spiritual Discipline. One of the problems with this approach is that it can tempt people to assert something like, ‘Maybe meditation on Scripture (going to church) works for you, but gardening (playing with my dog, etc) does just as much for my soul as the Bible (going to church) does for yours.’ And the result is that virtually anything can be designated a Spiritual Discipline (going to church), and worse, it means that we determine for ourselves what practices are best for our spiritual health and maturity rather than accepting those God has revealed in Scripture (like the worship of God in community)”- Donald S Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

I’m in agreement with John on this point- “we do not gather to sit with strangers and consume religious entertainment…”. Rather, we gather in community with people to worship God. And yes, while I can worship God “on my own”, and while we are to worship God with all we are and through all of our activities, thoughts and deeds, we are indeed called to be in community (see Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12).
The response to bad community is not “no community” or a retreat to selfishness. This is exactly the attitude and behaviors that Paul warned against in 1 Corinthians 12. The proper response to bad community is Christian community. And that design is described for us in God’s Word.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Invitation

Friend Geoff Lawson recently posted these thoughts on Twitter (they were retweets from the music pastor at the church he serves):

“When we ‪#‎ownit‬, all who claim Christ enter the Kingdom through Him. We are then gathered together as His people.

When we #ownit, we understand that we are members of a flock. We belong to Jesus & are dedicated to those who also claim Him.

When we #ownit, we see the sheep make the flock. Everyone contributes to the whole, interconnected community.

When we #ownit, we take our part seriously in being healthy, active & participating. Everyone’s contribution matters.”

Here are my thoughts:

When we #ownit, we take joy in the invitations to participate in community with one another. We step outside of ourselves and our silos, out of our territorial selfishness because we anticipate learning and growing together. We understand that we have things to offer others, and they have things to offer us.

Paul’s instruction to the church in Romans and 1 Corinthians is clear. We are called to work together. And yet, these instructions are within the context of Jesus, whose instructions and call to both relationship and discipleship come in the form of INVITATION. Jesus invites us to join Him, then the church invites others to join us as we join Him.

One of the incredible things about this invitation is that if it is accepted, all benefit. The (so-called) individuals benefit because they take hold of God’s giftedness and truly live how they were meant to live. The Body of Christ, the church, benefits because we are many, yet one, focusing singularly on Jesus and others.

If the invitation is not accepted, then the church (lower-case) will simply degenerate into turf-wars and lines in the sand. Pride and arrogance will reign and others will see this, having their opinions, about the church, confirmed and also decline the invitation.

The church will grow, and Christ alone will be magnified, when we choose to leave behind our own desires and designs, both our pride AND our false humility accept His invitation to be part of the community that He offers and empowers. Jesus gives those in the church an open invitation to know Him and others in the body.

We decline at our peril, and accept to His glory.

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