Today I begin a new blog series entitled, “Church.”
I know, creative, right? (This series was requested by a friend several months ago and is one of the reasons I decided to start a blog in the first place).
In our culture it is becoming increasingly more common for individuals and families to drop out of church out of disgust for organized religion. As a pastor, I frequently hear things like, “I don’t need to go to church in order to worship God…I can do that at home.”
Trust me—I understand. I’m reminded of the old illustration of the person who is no longer willing to eat meat because they worked in the slaughter house for too long. Friends, April marks 13 years of vocational ministry for me. More than a third of my life I have been working as a paid staff member or pastor in churches and I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly…so you don’t have to explain. Churches can be unhealthy, and downright toxic.
But I feel like it’s important to share why this increasingly popular attitude is unique to the last 2,000 years of church history, and why it is important to be a part of faith community. My commitment in this series is to be short, simple, and frequent…because there is actually a lot here to discuss and I don’t want to be going on and on for months.
The New Testament
I remember as a young pastor wishing there were more passages of Scripture that talk about the importance of being connected to the church. There is one verse in Hebrews that is usually the “go-to” passage for many pastors and teachers,
“And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb 10:24-25 NRSV, emphasis added)
While the passage in Hebrews is a solid biblical text instructing believers to gather for worship, I’ve grown to have a deeper, (hopefully) more mature understanding of Scripture in more recent years. Therefore, my proposition for today is that Scripture doesn’t provide more explicit instruction for gathering for corporate worship and being a part of a faith community simply because in the first century it was an assumed part of the Christian journey.
With that being said, it is important to note that the New Testament is more descriptive than it is prescriptive in regards to being a part of a faith community. In other words, there are far less instructions in the New Testament to be a part of a church, and many more descriptions of the church gathering together on a regular basis because it is a part of our DNA. One of the best examples comes from the Book of Acts. Luke says,
“Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Act 2:46-47 NRSV).
One of my favorite examples are Paul’s letters. If we read Paul’s letters carefully we can make some important observations. First, ten out of thirteen of Paul’s letters are addressed to communities and not to individuals. Second, Paul writes his letters because he is unable to physically be in attendance and deliver a message specific to a particular church (e.g. the Galatians); therefore, he intends his letters to be read to the entire Christian community in corporate worship. As a result, Paul structures his letters to help format the worship services by including doxologies and benedictions—instructions for fellowship, holy communion, listening to the public reading of Scripture, and singing hymns and spiritual songs. A third important observation is that when Paul uses pronouns, more often than not, they are plural rather than singular.
My eyes were opened a few years ago by this particular truth while reading Philippians 2:5-8. Here Paul says,
“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross” (Phi 2:5-8 NRSV, emphasis added).
What is particularly profound to me is that the pronoun “you” in v. 5 is plural. In WV we might say “Let the same mind be in ya’ll…” This has massive theological implications, because it tells us that we as believers are supposed to be formed together in having the mind of Christ in order to collectively live out his passion and mission in the world. AS we will see, this is just one of many examples. The truth is that this mind of Christ stuff is messy business—Paul never said it would be easy or that it would always be fun—but it’s our DNA as the church.
I think there are a lot of reasons we might stop going to church: we might feel like it is no longer relevant , or that it is too complicated. Honestly, we might not like the inconvenience of fitting it into our schedules or we might feel like the commitment outweighs the benefits. We might not like being under the authority of someone else, or maybe we simply get upset when things don’t go our way…but we were intended to live out the Christian life together.
In my future posts I will discuss what it looks like to be an authentic Christian community. I hope you will stay tuned.
Grace and Peace,