I was browsing library books today and stumbled over several book titles that troubled me. One that especially stood out was How to be a Christian Without Going to Church by Kelly Bean. I must admit that I haven’t read a single word of this book, so perhaps I’m off base, but the title suggests that engagement in a local church is not an essential element in the Christian’s life. This struck a chord in me because I’ve had a particular passage of Scripture running through my mind all week.
The Book of Acts records the Apostle Paul’s salvation experience on the road to Damascus. With letters of authority from the high priest, Paul set out for the Damascus synagogues so “that if he found any there who belonged to the Way [Christianity], whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem (Acts 9:2, NIV). Paul had already created enough havoc in Jerusalem to cause the Christians there to scatter and had even participated in the stoning of Stephen. His intentions in Damascus weren’t good.
Then the risen Jesus intervened.
When a flash of light from heaven appeared, knocking him to the ground, Paul heard Christ’s voice ask, ““Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4).
This single question from Jesus to Paul embodies how Jesus views the church. Paul had been attacking and harassing the Christians who comprised the Church and Jesus asked, “Why do you persecute me?”
Jesus sees the Church as an extension of Himself. In my mind, this is the single most powerful argument for the validity of the Church (both local and global) in all of Scripture. It is a game-changer in the way we should view the church. When we view the local church and the Christians that make up its numbers, we should see Jesus.
I’ve heard all the cliches:
‘I don’t need church to be a Christian.’
‘Churches are full of hypocrites.’
‘My faith is personal.”
But here’s the deal. Christ intentionally built community into our spiritual walks. The subtitle of Bean’s book suggests it will help Christians find “alternative forms of Christian community,” however, I fear reality is something quite different. Outside the local church most Christians do not bother looking for Christian community. They immerse themselves in the world and neglect God and His Word.
Scripture provides quite a different example. After Christ rose from the grave on the fist day of the week, Sunday became the day Christians began meeting to commemorate the event. On at least one Sunday gathering, Paul preached to those in attendance until midnight! (Acts 20:7).
The local church remains the best opportunity for Christians to gather with like-minded believers, to worship the Lord, and to immerse themselves in His Word. Despite all its imperfections, the church is an extension of Jesus Christ and should be seen as essential to living out our lives as Christians.
Find a church, serve, and grow.