On Sunday mornings this summer, Heritage is exploring different myths commonly believed within Christianity during a “Mythbusters” teaching series. The week after each topic is taught from a biblical perspective, this blog will further dive into the issue at hand. We pray that this teaching series and the blog article that accompanies it will serve to be a resource as you reach your world for Christ.
By: Jeremy Nehf
Photo: Heather Michele Photo
When I was a kid I used to love the Choose Your Own Adventurebooks. I loved the fact that the reader was able to determine for themselves the outcome of the books. The thrill of creating your own story from the story that exists leaves the reader in control. “If you choose to jump over the snake pit, turn to page 57. If you choose to take the long way around the snake pit, turn to page 39.” What made it great was knowing that if you didn’t like the ending, you could always start over and make different choices. In fact, sometimes I would purposefully choose the dangerous options just to see what would happen because I always knew I could make a different choice after the fact. I had nothing to lose and the potential for adventure was always there as well. These books were a great escape from the way the real world works! In the real world, choices have real consequences attached to them. And sometimes the consequences are steep. A marriage can fail, the bad investment can leave you bankrupt, and jumping the snake pit can leave you with a broken leg and a visit to the ER!
Sometimes I hear people around me treating the Bible in the same manner as one of these childhood books. One area where this really comes to light is in the attitudes Christians have about the times where the church is gathered for worship. Often I will hear people say things like:
“The woods are my sanctuary; I feel closer to God in other places.”
“You don’t have to go to church to be a good Christian.”
“I just haven’t found a place to fellowship that I like.”
“I find other ways to practice my faith other than belonging to a church.”
While these often-stated quips may sound spiritual, they are not biblical. On the one hand, we can affirm that a Christian is still a Christian in the woods worshipping God all by themselves. We can definitely affirm that church attendance does not make you a Christian. We can all point to the inadequacies of different church environments; some are more unhealthy than others, and no church is perfect. We can also agree that there are a great many ways that Christians can live out their faith outside of the times that a church gathers together. What we cannot say, though, is that the gathered times of the church are somehow unnecessary.
The Bible assumes that part of being a Christian is being “born again” into the body of Christ and being connected to the body. Most of the New Testament is written to local churches. There are a few epistles that are written to individuals but the vast majority is written instruction for how to live and worship togetherrather than individually. In fact, you cannot follow all the commands of the Bible without a church. Some of these commands deal with how to correct one another in a congregational setting (1 Col. 5:1-5), how a church should function in worship (1 Cor. 14:26-40) and how to love each other (1 Cor. 13, Gal. 6:1-10). Others deal with instructions about communion together (1 Col. 11:17-34), the public reading of Scripture (1 Tim. 4:13), working together to care for the poor (James 2:1-9, Phil. 4:15-20), judging unqualified teaching in a local church (Gal. 1:6-9), corporate prayer (Phil. 4:6, 1 Tim. 2:1-8), and qualified leadership for a church (1 Tim. 3:1-7). Without the local church, these commands don’t make any sense and large portions of Scripture, such as these, have no application.
The author of Hebrews makes this plain statement to a group of Christians who were drifting from the New Testament model of a church body back into something that resembled the Old Testament temple model.
He simply says this:
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”Hebrews 10:23-25
The Apostle John has these words of warning to those that left the fellowship of the local church because of differences:
“Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” 1 John 2:9-11
To say that you love Jesus but don’t love the church that He purchased with His own life is a contradiction. Part of loving Jesus is loving His family. I won’t invite people over for dinner that hate my kids or my wife. If someone does not love and honor my family, it is an insult to me. John is pointing out this contradiction. You can’t be a recipient of the grace of Jesus and not extend that grace to those Jesus extends it to. If that is your attitude, you are still in the dark about the kind of thing Jesus died for.
The Bible is not a Choose Your Own Adventurebook. We are not free to dismiss corporate instructions in favor of only personal instructions. If we love Jesus, we must love the church, even with its inconveniences and struggles. Part of how we experience the grace of the gospel is in the moments we have to give grace to those who are not like us. Jesus died to form a community that loves each other like He has loved us.