“For man to argue, ‘I don’t got to church; I pray alone,’ is no wiser than if he should say, ‘I have no use for symphonies; I believe only in solo music.’” – G.A. Buttrick
“The church is her true self only when she exists for humanity.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Why in the world would I need the church? Maybe that is the question you ask yourself. Its an easy place to go, especially now in the modern age with 10,000 Bible translations, commentaries, podcast, and books at the swipe of a finger. The problem with this question is the assumption that the church merely exists to serve you, complete you, and make you feel better. Don’t get me wrong, the church absolutely is designed by God to, “Equip the saints for the work of the ministry…to build up the body of Christ…till we become unified in faith and mature in Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13). This reality can never take hold until the members of the body of Christ recognize that they exist for the sake of others. You don’t need the church, the church needs you!
We are each uniquely gifted by God to fulfill a powerful transforming roll in others lives. When we come together as the church, wherever that may be: in a building, in a home, in a park, we are brought together by the unifying Spirit of God who uses the divine and sovereign plan of the Father to supply everything we need to reflect the life and reality of the Son of God to one another and to the world around us. This is the beautiful mystery of the church and why the gates of Hell will never prevail against it.
The church is the organic process by which God the Father draws broken and sinful humanity up into the saving life of the Trinity in the power of the Spirit and in the name of His Son. This Trinitarian life transforms humanities’ spiritual, physical, and emotional DNA, and it does not happen without the body functioning at full strength, and to do so, it uses you in your unique gifting.
When we remove ourselves from fellowship in the working life of the body of Christ, we create a malfunction, a deficiency, and a lacking that is felt at every level of the life of the church. In response, the body must compensate and attempt to fill the gaps left by the individuals who withdraw. In so many cases, because of God’s grace, the body is a miraculous organism, that is able to compensate and move as though nothing has changed. However, if vital members continue to deprive the body, then the body begins to operate at a diminished level and seeks to supplement those lacking areas in some pretty troubling ways.
Think of a pregnant mother who is iron deficient, what she needs is iron. She should take supplements, or even eat a big red steak. However, what she ends up craving is dirt! This is not right. It is dysfunctional, and yet what we see in so many churches these days is a craving after things that will not fulfill the deficiency, but instead could be detrimental. All this because a person who is gifted in a certain area begins to believe the lie that, ‘I don’t need the church, and the church don’t need me.’ In reality, life in God is impossible without life in fellowship with His body.
In the New Testament we are given the radical revelation of grace. Paul, the Apostle of the revelation of grace, takes us all the way back through the Old Testament to explain why man’s existence in relationship to God has always been built upon the sovereign grace of God. Grace overtakes the gap between sinful man and a Holy God. It fills in all the cracks and crevices of a relationship broken by sinful rebellion. Interestingly grace is also what is provided in the midst of trial, when we are pressed beyond what we can bear.
In Paul’s desperate moment recorded for us in Second Corinthians chapter twelve, God responds to Paul’s desperate plea by saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2Cor.12:9). In this moment where there is an insurmountable gap between what Paul is facing and what Paul can handle, God’s grace is there to consume the gaps, to bridge the way where there is no way. The word grace in the New Testament is the Greek word charis.
Interestingly enough, Paul uses the Greek word charisma for the word “gifts” in chapter twelve of both Romans and First Corinthians as he explain the gifts and uses of those gifts in the context of the body of Christ. Charisma is the “spiritual gifts” given to the members of the body of Christ to build up and strengthen the church. Gifts like, administration, giving, helps, serving, teaching, exhorting, leadership, faith, miracles, healing, tongues and prophecy to name a few.
Interestingly, charis (grace) is the root word of charisma (gifts). So to apply what we’ve already learned from Paul, these “graces/gifts” of the Spirit are given by God for the consuming, bridging, and overcoming of the gaps in the body of Christ! How amazingly beautiful. So when we cut ourselves off, we are not only damaging ourselves, but depriving the body of what it needs to thrive, the “graces/gifts” we have been given.
So the next time you ponder leaving a church, ditching church, or living apart from the body of Christ, please meditate on the reality of what is lost when we “forsake the assembling ourselves together, as is the manner of some, and we fail to exhort one another [by not coming together] and how fellowship in the body is becoming more and more important as we see the day of the LORD approaching” (Heb.10:25 para). Don’t go to church, be the church, and be a functioning member of a living organism that is revealing the powerful, precious, procuring love of God in Jesus Christ!