The Necessity of the Church in the Christian Life
We find ourselves living in unprecedented times. For over two months, we have been living with government imposed restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Admittedly, there are many around the world who live with much worse than the comparatively minor inconveniences we have had to endure. Still, here in America, where we enjoy mostly unhindered personal freedoms, it has been an adjustment.
One thing that I have personally really missed is being able to gather with my Journey Church family. I am thankful that we are blessed to have the access to technology that enables us to still produce content and sermons that can hopefully encourage and edify our people, but regardless of how good or beneficial the "virtual" church has been, it is no comparison for the church gathered. Were it possible right now, I know we would be gathering corporately for worship and community. And I know the day it becomes possible, we will be there.
Unfortunately, in our technological age, for many genuine Christian community is not a priority in their lives. Our culture is becoming less personal. Research indicates that today's youth would prefer social media over socializing. This trend is having a widespread impact and the Church is not immune to it.
Modern Christians have access to extraordinary amounts of Christian content. Blogs, podcasts, livestreams; not to mention the old classics like books and articles; there is plenty to choose from. Some is really good. Some is really bad. Regardless of the quality though, a seemingly good thing has replaced the Church in the lives of many. This is a huge problem! As the machine of Christian content continues to output more and more, church attendance and membership is dwindling.
The irony of the fact that I am writing a devotional blog email right now to belabor the impact of technology and "virtual church" on traditional church gatherings is not lost on me. Clearly I'm not arguing for a purge of technology from our churches. In fact, I think that we can use the technology for many good things. Right now, it is completely bailing us out from being completely shutdown. I don't want to diminish that.
What I am saying though is that we, as Christians (and especially our pastors, teachers, and leaders), must be diligent to articulate sound doctrine in regards to the Church. For over 2000 years, Christians have held the Church in high regard. Throughout history, the Church has played a critical role in the lives of Christians. Not only has it been a source of theological and doctrinal teaching and training, but it has also been the primary source of community and fellowship for its people.
This isn't simply the watered-down community we find in many churches today, but rather it is a deep sense of personal devotion to and love for the brothers and sisters whom God has knit your life together with. In our churches today, we often use these familial words as part of our Christian lingo, but historically, we have used family language for the Church because the Bible is clear that the true family of every believer is the Church. Just as our flesh and blood families are meant to breathe life, so to, and moreso, is God's purpose for the Church.
The early church father, Augustine, famously said, "He who does not have the church as his mother does not have God as his Father." For him, a person's relationship to the Church is a boundary marker for those who are actually regenerate believers. To be clear, I don't believe that your church attendance or participation has the power to save anyone...and Augustine didn't either. But what his statement means is that, just as we look for the fruit of faith in our lives as an external indicator of the work of the Spirit within us, we can likewise look to our attitude towards the Church as a mirror into our souls.
In the early church, believers took scriptural commands like carry one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2), do not neglect gathering (Hebrews 10:25), confess to and pray for one another (James 5:16), and love one another (John 13:34) not simply as suggestions or wishful thinking, but rather as actual guidelines for Christian living that are to be followed. Do we still take these things seriously in our churches today? And if not, what type of impact is that having on the health of the Church and the effectiveness of her mission?
Do you love Christ's bride, the Church? Do you seek out and participate in genuine Christian community? Do you have other believer's speaking truth into your life? Are you covenantally wed to a local church community? This means that you are accountable to and live under the authority of the Church through a church in your personal life. Do you partner with a church for the proclamation of the gospel by giving of your time, talents, and treasures? Are you studying God's word in the context of Christian community? These, and many, many more, are questions we need to be seeking to answer for ourselves.
If you missed this week's sermon (or just want to listen again), follow the link below to listen. Or subscribe to our podcast in iTunes.
Part 8 - Don't Harden Your Heart
Questions discussed in this sermon:
1. What is the "rebellion" and "day of testing" referring to exactly?
2. What is the path to unbelief?
3. When is the last time you encouraged a brother in Christ?
Next week's lesson: Hebrews 4:1-11