I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth- 1stTimothy 3:14b-15 NIV
There’s a lot of hating on the church that goes on these days. Just this past week a prominent church leader exchanged the truth of God for a lie and took to Instagram to renounce his faith (Romans 1:25, 2nd Peter 3:17, Matthew 24:12-13). Joshua Harris proceeded to make a point of theatrically apologizing for what the church believes and why it believes it. “Church leaders” are not the only ones who have taken to bashing the church. Many believers make a regular habit of apologizing for what the church has traditionally believed and taught.
I am under no illusions regarding the church. Churches are made up of people. People, even redeemed people are always a work in progress. Consequently, any organization that people are a part of will inevitably have some flaws. It is also impossible to deny the truth that church people, even some church leaders have done terrible things and promoted terrible attitudes all in the name of the God who would categorically denounce those behaviors and attitudes.
All that being said, I still believe the church is the most critically important institution to grace planet earth. I do not believe a church must be a huge church to be a legitimate church. There is nothing wrong with small churches or even home churches as long as the church is healthy and the body of believers (who should include more than one or two families) is learning, growing, changing and holding one another accountable. The size and structure of the church is not particularly important. What really matters is that Christians make a point to be an active part of a local church.
The church is the storehouse of spiritual truth-
In spite of its many flaws, church is where sinners go to find their way to God and where the redeemed go to be built-up and sustained in their faith journey. Without church Christianity ultimately devolves into a rickety spiritual DIY project where every person does what is right in their own eyes (Judges 21:25, Proverbs 19:2, Jeremiah 51:17). Fallible humans need the church to be the arbiter of truth or we tend to go a little nutso. Furthermore, without a firm foundation of truth, we find ourselves powerless to rescue the culture God called us to save.
Church is where Christian community becomes a reality-
Truth is critical but if truth were the end-all-be-all of the Christian life Christians could become who and what God intended them to be by simply reading a theology book or listening to a sermon online (Philippians 2:15, 1st Thessalonians 5:23, 1st Peter 2:5). Instead God designed believers to be part of a greater Christian community (1st Corinthians 12:27). When we dive into a functioning Christian community we are challenged to grow, we learn to love others (John 13:35), we have accountability when it comes to controlling our fleshly urges (Galatians 5:13). We also discover our spiritual gifts and have a place to use them (Romans 12:6-8, Ephesians 4:11-13). Those things cannot happen anywhere else.
Church is where we find accountability (if we’re real with people)-
Everyone needs someone who loves them enough to call them out sometimes. For Christians church is the place we find people who care enough to tell us the truth about our attitudes and direction in life. In order for this to work we have to do more than simply attend Sunday services. We have to be actively involved in the community and prepared to be real with people. This means being humble enough to admit we don’t always have it all together and that we need other people.
Church is something Jesus told us to do-
Seriously. Church was Jesus’ idea. It is nearly impossible to be completely obedient to Jesus without involvement with His body (Matthew 16:18, 1st Corinthians 12:17, Ephesians 4:10-15).
Church is where our values, attitudes and behaviors are challenged-
There are standards, beliefs and actions that are accepted and celebrated in our culture that are entirely antithetical to the Christian way of life (self-centeredness, sexism, racism, abortion, homosexuality, adultery, contempt, materialism). Christians in a healthy church that teaches truth are reminded on a regular basis that we are commanded to be different from the rest of the world (Romans 12:2, 1st Peter 1:14, Galatians 5:13-26)
Church is where we learn to love people who aren’t like us-
Christian churches are the only places on earth where human beings of every race, gender and socio-economic class worship together side by side and serve each other out of love. This naturally creates an environment where we learn to like and sometimes even love people who we would never get a chance to meet in any other environment. The diversity of church is a beautiful thing and the essence of New Testament living.
Our world is sick and dying partly because Christians have abandoned traditional church in favor of do-it-yourself spiritually that lacks the power to transform broken people into the image of Christ. When Christians are not actively being transformed into the image of Christ they are powerless to help others.