It is not uncommon at all these days to meet or know people who identify themselves as Christians, and yet are not a part of a church community. I will be very direct regarding this. I don’t believe it’s possible to be a Christian and live separate from the Body of Christ, or that is to say, live outside the Christian community.
I know that is a bold and pretty dogmatic statement and I can already hear “Ya, but” filling the air. Let me say this first: I understand how easy it is to find fault in the church. It is without a doubt flawed and lacking in so many places and so many ways. The fact that the Church is alive and thriving in the world today in spite of the massive and never ceasing fragmentations is in itself nothing short of miraculous.
But like it or not, God chose to reveal himself through the collective voice of the Church. We are His Bride, the Body of Christ, the channel by which he chooses to broadcast his love to the world. As Paul the Apostle proclaimed: “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 3:10).
If being part of a church community is not essential to our Christian lives, then why do we have letters to the Colossians, Galatians, Philippians, Romans, and Ephesians? Obviously everywhere Paul preached the gospel churches were established, and communities of faith thrived. And when a letter came to a community that had been established in a city, it would be read in the church. I am guessing here, but I’m pretty certain that they didn’t make copies or send curriers to those who had left the church because they were offended by one thing or another. I am pretty sure that I am on solid ground here when I say that when a person back then left the church, it was assumed they left the faith! I am not saying that is the case when a person chooses not to be part of a church today, but I am saying one is in danger of “leaving the faith” when one isolates and detaches from Christian community.
The New Testament is filled with ‘one another’ statements: “Have peace with one another,” “Love one another,” “Be kind and affectionate to one another,” “Be of the same mind toward one another, “Wait for one another,” “Serve one another,” “Bear with one another,” “We are members of one another,” “Forgive one another,” “Submit to one another,” “Teach and admonish one another,” “Comfort one another,” and “Edify one another.” It is obvious God created us to be in relationship with one another and it’s through our connectedness that we grow closer to Him.
I know that one reason why some Christians choose to alienate themselves from church is because they have no tolerance for the hypocrisy of greedy, prideful, and self-serving church leaders. I am aware of the spiritual abuse, the harm, the pain, the tragic effects of getting it wrong. I agree that there is no excuse for this behavior and no explanation that justifies it, but it is not a reason for people to to excuse themselves from every Christian community. You may point to how their actions hurt the reputation of the church and it’s credibility in the world, so you want no part of it. This concern is not new. The first century church faced this challenge as well and Paul the Apostle basically told the church at Philippi to get over it: “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.Yes, and I will continue to rejoice (Philippians 1:15-18). I’m with Paul. I’m going to focus on the latter. I will leave the exposing, disciplining and such up to God. I’m in no position to make those calls.
No doubt I’m curious and amazed at what I see happening in the Church and what goes on and why on earth He allows it, but in the end it’s His Church, His people and His problem, not me. I want to obey the instruction and teaching of the scripture and it is clear from scripture we are called together as a body, not individual body parts. If we detached ourselves from the Body, then we wither, die and are useless. Connected there is life and power to affect the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
One of the most compelling aspects of a church community is to be known by others; in other words, we do life together and really get to know each other, with all our blemishes and faults exposed. What’s powerful is when that happens and we experience love, acceptance and forgiveness; it is healing and transforming. That can’t happen one hour a week and it certainly can’t be done in isolation.
I personally went through a season when I didn’t go to church. I felt it did me more harm than good for a boat load of reasons. I became so tired of the hype, the promises, the visions, missions and calls to action by insecure and ambitious people. I wanted nothing to do with it, and thought I was fine without it, but I knew in my heart that God did not call me to isolation; he called me to community, to do life with other followers of Christ. He wanted me toremain engaged in the mission to which we have all been called, that is to make Him known to a lost and dying world.
I admit that connecting with a church community is not always easy. You may have to learn how to avoid some land mines and a bit of manure in your pursuit of a Christian community, but they are out there and can be found. You can find and develop replenishing relationships; ones that feed and build up, rather than discourage and deplete. But you are probably going to have to work at it, pursue it and seek it. If you find yourself feeling isolated in a church community, take the first step and initiate a conversation with someone, volunteer to serve on Sunday morning, look for new people to welcome, or help with an outreach. As much as it depends on you, stay connected.
Am I saying you are not a Christian if you are not in community? I want to, but I’m not sure that’s my call. What I know is you cannot be all that God has called you do be and you can’t do all that God has called you to do from a place of detachment and isolation, He simply did not create us for that.