(Disclaimer: The truths and concepts in this article is directed toward those who have professed a belief in Jesus because, biblically speaking, there are no “real” Christians who are not a part of the church.)
I think that one of the major faults of “American Christianity” is the fact that most American Christians are more “American” than they are “Christian!” Let me show you what I’m talking about:
First of all, in the American spirit, there is a strong sense of individualism. Inbreeded in all Americans is a strong independent bent that favors the individual over the group. However, in the Bible, the emphasis is not on the individual, but rather the group. In ancient biblical cultures, the individual’s identity was found in his or her relationship to the group, the family, the clan, the tribe, the nation!
When Jesus called individuals to follow him, he always called them to be in community with one another. In Matthew 16:18, we read of Jesus saying: “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (NKJ) The word that is translated as “church” in that verse, is a Greek word that carries the meaning of; a gathering of citizens, called out of their homes into some public place, an assembly, a congregation. I’ve heard people say that they have the “church in their hearts” but according to the Lord’s definition of church, that’s an impossibility! The church is never just one person; the church is always a group of people! There must always be more than one to have a church!
Now, I understand that there are many people who are just fed up with the politics and hypocrisy of the institutionalized church. Well, they are not alone, so was and so is Jesus! In many churches, Jesus is on the outside looking in! By the way, that Bible verse that is often used in an evangelistic effort to get sinners to come to Christ is really a misapplication. Revelation 3:14, says: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (ESV) In the context of the passage, this is not a picture of Jesus; knocking on the door of a sinner’s heart. No! This is a picture of Jesus; knocking on the door of His church!
But, to leave or quit the church because of the imperfections of the people within it is like trying to travel without going anywhere! It’s like trying to leave yourself because you don’t like yourself! The bottom line is this: You need the church and the church needs you! The church is a community of believers and disciples of Christ! And it is within the context of community that God reveals Himself to the world! In his prayer in John 17, Jesus prayed to the Father: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (Jn. 17:20-23 ESV) Jesus prayed that all believers (the church) might be one in unity! Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 5:16 to let their light so shine that men might see their good works and glorify the Father in Heaven. It is interesting to note that in the Greek text, the “your” is plural (he wasn’t addressing them as individuals, but as a group) while the “light” is singular! It is a picture of the group (the church) working together to let one light shine!
The Apostle Paul likened the church to the human body, with each separate member as a part with a distinct role that fits and works together for the benefit of the whole body. (1 Corinthians 12:11-27) The church needs you and you need the church because none of us are complete by ourselves! You have something I need and I have something you need! In fact, not only is that true for the church, it is also true with life in general! That’s why when people are killed or die prematurely, it is such a tragedy! It’s tragic because they will never get the chance to contribute the gift they came to give and because of that; we all suffer! That is also another reason why it is so important that people really know or come into a right-relationship with God! Because when people are “lost” it’s not just a matter of them going to Hell when they die! When people are lost, they are also lost from their destiny and purpose, which ultimately were designed to glorify God and benefit humanity! When people are lost, they cannot make the contribution they were born to make! And when they don’t make that contribution, the rest of humanity suffers!
That’s another reason there is no church without you! The mission of the church is to “make disciples” of all ethnic groups. (Matthew 28:18-20) Why? Not just so that they might be saved, but also that they might collectively demonstrate the glory and love of God to the world! The task is too big for individuals! It can only be done with people who are committed to God and each other!
You also need the church to keep you in check! No matter how much you read the Bible and how much “alone time” you have with God, it is also important that you have communion and fellowship with people who share your aspirations, beliefs, dreams, ideals, goals, and convictions! You were not designed to function alone! According to the Bible, there is no such thing as a “Lone Ranger” or “Solo-Christian.” It is God’s will that we all live out our Christian faith in a community setting! In fact, you need that setting to authenticate your faith!
I could go on and on, but let me just conclude by saying that without “u” even the word; “church” doesn’t make sense! There is no “c-h-u-r-c-h” with you because “u-r” right in the middle of it!