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Give Me One Good Reason
Church can be a pain—full of self-righteous grumps and two-faced hypocrites. Or is it a place where you grow in Christ through interaction with others? What's your perspective?


"Why do I need to belong to a church, anyway? Why shouldn't I just believe in Jesus and try to live a good life? Church can be a real pain, you know."

If your church is a spiritual detriment to you, then you should consider finding another one.

Yes, church can be a real pain. In fact, all human relationships can be. Jesus' command that we "love one another" (John 13:34-35) would not be much of a command if there were no good reasons not to love another. When we love one another in spite of how unlovable we are at times, we are loving others the way Jesus loves us. He loves us even though we are sinners, that is, even though we betray His love.

We tend to expect the church to be close to perfect, even though, if we think about it, we realize that the church is made up of people just like ourselves—quite imperfect. The truth is, no church is "just what it ought to be." Every church has its problems. Despite problems, however, there are good reasons to belong to a church, and we will look at some of them in this article. First, however, let's look at a few good reasons a person might want to stop going to one church and begin looking for a new one.

Detrimental churches

If your church is a spiritual detriment to you, then you should consider finding another one. But caution is in order here. Your definition of "spiritual detriment" might be the problem. Your church not being perfect is not necessarily a spiritual detriment; it is the condition of all churches.

Your not getting along with someone is not necessarily a spiritual detriment either. Neither is your boredom, your inconvenience or your disgust with the hypocrisy you see in others, including leaders.

Getting along with people is a challenge at all times, boredom can be a matter of our interest level rather than the presentation of the subject, and hypocrisy is endemic to us all (if you think you are not a hypocrite yourself, you don't know yourself like others do).

An example of a church being a spiritual detriment to you is when the church does not make the Gospel its primary focus and goal. Many churches articulate the Gospel, but spend their time and resources on legalism, entertainment, judgmentalism and behaviourism.

Another example is when the church does not regularly offer Bible instruction at a level you or your family members need. A church that does not teach the Bible to its members is spiritually detrimental to its members.

Another example of a church being spiritually detrimental is when it encourages its members not to spend time with non-Christians. Such a church is self-centered rather than Gospel-focused, and values behaviourism over the Gospel (and the Gospel, remember, is good news for sinners).

When the leader of a church indicates that he is God's unique messenger or special representative in comparison with other Christian ministers, or when the church leader says that being in his church is spiritually superior and more pleasing to God than being in all other Christian churches, then you have another example of a church that is spiritually detrimental to its members.

If you consistently leave your church service with a sense of anxiety and unresolved guilt over sin, or conversely, with a sense of being special and better in God's sight in comparison with other Christians, then you ought to look for another church.

We demonstrate our love for one another in the context of committed fellowship.

If your church continually tells you that you need to measure up so that God will accept you, you need to find another church. If your church continually tells you what's wrong with the world and is always pushing legislation to stamp out sin and punish sinners, you are in a church that has papered over the Gospel with a mere moral code. That would be a good reason to move on.

Participation in Christ

"You've given me some good reasons to leave a church, but why should I find one and get involved in it?"

It boils down to New Testament teaching. Jesus said that His followers would be known by their love for one another. We demonstrate our love for one another in the context of committed fellowship. If we avoid such a commitment, we are shunning our personal participation in the very love Jesus wants us to experience.

Paul pointed out that we are called into the fellowship of the saints. In 1 Corinthians 1:9, he wrote, "God, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful." In what way has God called us into fellowship with His Son? One way, of course, is into a personal and direct friendship with Christ.

But there is also another way. In Romans 12:5, Paul wrote, "In Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others." All Christians are called into the one "body of Christ," and therefore we all have fellowship with one another because we are all in union with Christ.

Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 4:16: "From Him [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." Jesus expects each of us to do our part to build up His body in love. It is meaningless to say that Jesus is our friend, or that we love Him, if we refuse to have anything to do with the others He calls His friends.

Individualism

North Americans tend to be rather individualistic. We like to think we can do things on our own, and we don't like to feel dependent on others. But the body of Christ, the church, is far bigger than any one of us.

To be part of Christ's body is to belong to the fellowship of the saints. And the fellowship of the saints is the fellowship we all share with Jesus Christ, in whom we are made one with God as God's own children.

My, or your, local church is probably not ideal, but at some level it is a collection of believers—admittedly, each with his or her unique set of baggage, problems, quirks and sins. Despite our inadequacies, however, because we are believers, each of our local churches forms a visible sign in the world of the invisible reality of the Kingdom of God. In its weakness, every local Christian church is a declaration that God has sent His Son to save sinners—like you and me.

Freedom for action

Although we are often a sorry sight, because of what God has done through Jesus Christ we have been delivered from the slavery of sin to the freedom of God's children. That means we are free to be more than we are—more because we are never alone. We stand together in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The church is where we can practice our new life, learning to forgive others as we have been forgiven …

We are free together, as one kindred body in Christ, to take an active part in the life of the Kingdom of God, a life that no longer has to remain in bondage to destructive patterns of thought and behaviour.

The church is where we can practice our new life, learning to forgive others as we have been forgiven, and learning to love others as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us (see Ephesians 4:32).

Working together, each local church can make a strong, positive difference in its community, in the lives of hurting men, women and children. It is often a ministry (a group of concerned and motivated members) of a local church that feeds hungry people, provides clothing for those who are poor, offers after school homework help for underprivileged neighbourhood kids, organizes addiction recovery groups or provides training in finding and keeping a job. Churches become the arms and hands of Jesus in the world in countless ways, as He gives them opportunity, occasion and the love to do it.

Despite our weaknesses and sins, God has given us a new heart of love, a heart motivated not only to trust Him for personal forgiveness, not only to work on overcoming our own destructive habits, but also to extend ourselves for the good of others.

"We love because He first loved us," John tells us (1 John 4:19). Armed with His love, we are equipped to love Him in the ways He said His followers would—when we meet Him in the poor, the disenfranchised and the sick (see Matthew 25:37-40).

New creation

Yes, church can be a pain. But church is also where we participate in the communion, the body and blood of our Saviour. In the communion, we take part in the unity of the household of faith, the unity we have with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

In the church, something greater is going on than what meets the eye. When the church gathers, it is more than just a collection of sweet old ladies, tired Sunday school teachers, donut-eating men's groups, self-righteous grumps, judgmental watchdogs, nose-in-the-air gossips, sneaky, mischievous kids and two-faced hypocrites.

It is a group of redeemed sinners, made new in the death and resurrection of the Son of God.

Variety in unity

There are small churches, midsize churches and big churches. There are Bible study groups, Sunday school groups and prayer groups. There are big denominations, little denominations and independent churches.

The list of permutations goes on and on. The unity of the body of Christ obviously does not lie in such things. Rather, the unity of the body of Christ lies in Christ Himself. Only in Christ are we brought into the fellowship of the saints.

When we take part, then, in an assembly of believers in Christ for the purpose of offering praise, thanksgiving and worship to God, we are, in Christ, participating as redeemed members of the fellowship of all saints.

Whether you are looking for a church or whether you have found one, your church attendance is always more than meets the eye. It may feel like mere duty, or a chore or a burden. But it is one of those otherwise mundane activities that our merciful Saviour has chosen to enlist into His service so that we might, as individual members of His own Body, learn to experience the richness of vital union, renewal, peace and power with Him in the midst of our mutual trials, challenges, pains, fears and joys.

So why not give church, and yourself, another chance? Maybe this time you could expect things not to be just right. Maybe this time you could feel the freedom just to take your rightful place in our mutual journey of grace.

J. Michael Feazell is the executive editor of The Worldwide News. His web site is www.jmfeazell.com.

Originally published in the Northern Light Magazine, August/September 2001
www.wcg.ca


 

 
 
 
 

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