Most of us would never approach a strong man, with his wife at his side, and shout, “I like you, but I hate your bride!” Even if it’s true that his wife is not the most pleasant person, he’s going to defend her and you are about to be in pain. For this reason, most of us would probably be wise enough to keep our words to ourselves.
But we’re not so wise when it comes to the Lord’s bride. Most of us have heard the comment: “I’m a Christian, I just don’t like the church.” It’s typically followed by stories of hurt, hypocrisy, and general mistrust.
In his book Why Bother with Church?, Sam Allberry provides some helpful reminders as to why we need the church, in spite of her imperfections.
Serving Jesus by Serving the Church
It’s important to remember that the church is not a man-made institution. God has called a people to himself and has instructed us to meet together regularly. He gives his people a diversity of gifts to reflect him on earth. He provides leaders, teachers, encouragers, and others to serve the body, and since nobody has all the gifts we all need one other. Jesus calls this gathering of people his bride. He loves his bride. He died for her, and he’s coming back for her.
When the Lord saves us, he not only draws us to himself but he also draws us to one another. Consider Gal. 3:26-28: “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The same idea is in Romans 12:5: “In Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
He has made us all one in him thus we belong to one another. However, our Western individualism often leads us to isolate ourselves from others. Relationships with fellow sinners can be messy, and so we decide it’s easier to go solo than deal with drama, hypocrisy, or people “in our business.”
But, can we distance ourselves from the church and still serve Jesus? Allberry argues that we can’t serve Jesus without serving his church. In Matthew 25:40, Jesus teaches, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for me.” The way we serve the body of Christ is the way we are serving Christ; if we are not serving his people we are not serving him.
Giving and Receiving Encouragement
The author of Hebrews encourages us: “Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the day approaching” (10:24-25).
The thought that some would stop attending church is not a new idea. Scripture reminds us not to neglect assembling together because we need the mutual encouragement that it provides. Allberry explains, “That is how God designed his people to flourish. Outside of the local church, we will lack the encouragement God has for us, and we will be failing to help others grow in their faith too. To think we will carry on our Christian lives is therefore a little arrogant- I’m saying I can manage without the encouragement that God wants to provide me with through the local church-and quite selfish- I’m saying that I won’t encourage those in my local church” (34).
Not only do we need encouragement from others, but God has given us gifts to bless others with. When we withdraw from the church, we are not able to use our God-given gifts to honor him and bless his church. You might not think that you are gifted, but God has given all believers spiritual gifts and ALL are needed. As 1 Cor. 12 reminds us: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’…On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (vs. 21-22).
Jesus Displays His Love To The World Through His Church
If we are not active church members, we are excluding ourselves from God’s work in the world. Jesus says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). How will the world know? Through our relationships with other Christians in the body of Christ. When we exclude ourselves from the fellowship, we are not displaying that love to the world.
The church is made up of people from all walks of life. Socioeconomic status, race, nationality, or any other man-made barrier is broken down. Our unity is in Christ and that transcends everything else. As we display this radical love even toward those different than us, we are showing the world the love of Christ. As Allberry says, “Jesus’ expectation is that the kind of love we have for one another will be found nowhere else on earth,” (35). That radical love can only be lived out in relation to one another in a local congregation.
What We Do To The Church, We Do To Jesus
Before Paul was converted, he went by the name of Saul and he persecuted Christians. Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus and asked him, “Why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4-5). While Paul never did anything to Jesus personally, when he attacked the church he was also attacking the Head of the Church, Christ himself.
Do we consider an attack on the church as an attack on Christ? This doesn’t mean we don’t seek to improve, call out inconsistencies, or hold leaders accountable. Those are often necessary for the good of the church. But, if we are gossiping, backbiting, or slandering, then we do not have the good of the church in mind, and we are doing those things to Christ himself.
There are certainly exceptions for homebound members or perhaps other extenuating circumstances, but they are not the norm. I also know there are people who have been genuinely hurt by church members and church leaders. I don’t pretend to imagine the pain and difficulty you have been through, but I plead with you not to give up on Christ and the work he is doing in and through his church. Until he returns, the effects of sin will remain, even in the church, but Christ’s love for you is perfect. Find a local congregation and use your giftings and experience to serve her well.
Is the church perfect? No. Is there hypocrisy in the church at times? Yes. Do the church’s flaws give us excuse to abandon her? Absolutely not! Abandonment is often the easiest route, and it requires sacrificial love to stick with an imperfect church and seek her good. Christ sacrificed everything for his bride, and he calls us to lay down our lives for her as well.
So why bother with the church? Because even though she’s imperfect, Jesus is washing her with the water of his word and preparing her for that great wedding day. One day, he will return for her. He will gather his people together for the celebration of the marriage supper of the Lamb. The Lord’s bride, his church, will be dressed in fine linen and will dwell with him forever where there is no pain and suffering. By God’s grace, believers receive the great blessing to be a part of his church, then and now.