A lot of people, especially where I live in the Pacific Northwest, tend to make claims like "I do Christ but I don't do the Church" or "I have a relationship with God but I don't need the Church."
I get it. I really do.
A lot of folks (myself included) have been burned by Christians, even groups of them. Particular local congregations have upset and even wronged us at times. We're hurt. We may be bitter.
Sometimes we need to realize that in our pain and bitterness, though they may seem fair, we've become unforgiving. That's not too Christ like. That's a problem.
The bigger problem is this: While attendance at local congregation gatherings isn't the defining characteristic of a righteous relationship with Christ and doesn't prove our salvation, we need to have a proper understanding of the Church at large and how Christ, the Church, the local congregation, and ourselves are all connected. And I assure you, they're all connected.
We can't allow ourselves to neglect the Church because a group of imperfect people hurt us. Sure, our pain is valid, but our cold shoulder isn't valid if we claim Christ Jesus as our Lord (ruler). Here's the deal: We're going to hurt each other. We're messed up. That's why we agree that we need Jesus day after day. Let's not deny Jesus' healing and reconciliation among us because we've created need for that healing by being imperfect people.
Last night I sent out a few tweets on the issue of Christ and his Church that are truths I've been taught which have greatly altered my perspective.
- You don't get Christ without the Church because you can't have Christ without his Body.
- We can not be individualistic & relativistic about God & his Church if we wish to be Christian. We are baptised into a concrete community.
- Being part of the Church is as important as being with Christ because they are one in the same.
- Church: It's not about you (or me). It's about Jesus. We worship him as one selfless body, HIS body which is selflessly sacrificed.
- If we do not have a high view of the Church we simultaneously have a low view of Christ.
Too often we think of the universal Church spoken of in scripture as merely the local church (Notice the capital C and the lower case c). The universal Church is God's people world wide and through time, both living and dead. So that makes the local church the building down the street right?
Wrong. The local church is the Church in your local area. Stick with me. That means the local church is the people, the community, the family of God that is in your neighborhood or city (not just the building or the gathering event). In other words, you don't go to church; you are
the Church. You go to buildings and events but the Church is neither of those. It's a community of people that make up a bigger organism. Christians are the small bits that make up the whole which we call Church. The person is the arm, the Church is the body.
The local church is as much a group of people unified through Christ as the universal Church. This is why we need to have a deep respect and honor for the local church; because it's the Church.
I'm not saying you are going to lose your salvation if you miss a Sunday gathering or the weekly potluck (but why would you want to miss them if you can help it). I'm saying that we tend to think our relationship with Jesus is strictly between Jesus and ourselves. We don't tend to think it's everyone else's business. But it is. We tend to think we can love Jesus and ignore the Church. But we can't.
Our faith/salvation is a public matter. It's personal but it's not private. We are baptised into a community of believers which Christ calls his Body on earth (that's the Church). We are adopted by the Father to be his children. We belong to each other and each time we partake of the Eucharist (the communion elements) we open our eyes to Christ knitting us together through his Spirit.
We too often want our life to be out of the hands, eyes, and ears of others but that's not what God wants for us. He has always called us to community. We were created for community and we know this because the very first thing that God deemed as "not good" in scripture is man being alone. We are not meant to know God privately in isolation. We are meant to be a family, blessed by God, so that we may bless all the families of the world (this is what God promised Abraham Israel would be).
We are meant to uplift one another through encouragements, rebukes, teachings, songs, accountability, discipline, leadership, and more. These truths are written throughout the New Testament very plainly. If we read from the book of Acts all the way to Jude we'll be unable to justify the type of attitude which states "I can have a relationship with Christ but not his Church." It's simply impossible.
I don't want this to sound condemning. I merely want to spark something inside the reader which leads him/her to a place where he/she embraces Christ fully by embracing his bride/body which he loves and refuses to be separated from. Christ brings us into him and simultaneously into the Church. It's an unavoidable happening and if we attempt to have one and not the other we will find ourselves causing a great tearing within ourselves and the kingdom of God.
If we are serious about loving Christ then we must love one another. The people loving one another as they love Christ are called Church. Each of the members are called Christians. The people who love a god who accepts and encourages isolation, individualism, bitterness, unforgiveness, and selfishness are not worshipping Jesus Christ. Yet, Christ knows them, loves them, and desires for them to know him fully and he uses his people (the Church) in an effort to draw those individuals closer to him. He invites those people to be his body and bride, his family, his Church.
God willing, I'll see you Sunday (if you can make it).