Rogue Christianity is a growing trend and problem in our culture. More and more people happily identify themselves as Christians without submitting their lives to a local church. The situation has a bit of irony in it since our society has produced more options for choosing a church than any other society in the history of the world. Somehow, the overwhelming amount of choices out there still have not met the fancy of millions who call themselves Christian. In contrast, Christians who are living in persecuted nations risk their lives to be a part of the one church that is within their reach. Personal preferences are not even a consideration. It seems they intuitively know something that is lost on our culture about the necessity of the church.
The problem is not that we need more flavors of churches to suit a wider variety of people. Rather, the problem is a fundamental misunderstanding that many of the basic commands of the Christian life assume membership to a local church. In other words, it is impossible to be obedient to all that Christ has commanded without being a member of a local church. There are many things that could be said about this but let’s look at just three areas of the Christian life that can only be carried out within the context of the local church.
- Submission to Authority
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. -Hebrews 13:17
Authority has become a dirty word in our culture – sometimes for good reason. A cursory glance at history will provide no shortage of cult leaders and tyrannical rulers who have wielded their authority to advance their own evil agendas. But authority is not an evil thing in and of itself. In fact, church authority is a gift from God by which we are lovingly protected and equipped to live out the Christian life. Leaders in the church have been tasked with the responsibility of keeping watch over our souls and they will have to give an account for how they carry out that task. The primary way that they do this is by teaching and instructing from the Word of God (2 Tim 3:16, 2 Tim 4:2, 1 Tim 4:16). It is in being taught and instructed by the God-ordained authorities within the church that the saints are equipped for ministry, brought to maturity in their Christian life, and guarded from deception (Eph 4:11-16, Acts 20:28). Those who are rejecting the church are rejecting God’s means for their spiritual growth and protection.
- Mutual Accountability
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. -Galatians 6:1
Church is often thought of as the place in which you go to say hi to few people you hardly know, listen to a spiritual pep talk that will aid in getting you through the next week, and perhaps even give an obligatory donation in the offering box. Spiritual duties for the week – check. However, Scripture does not allow for such a narrow understanding. Christians who are a part of the same local church have an obligation to look out for each other’s spiritual well-being. We are accountable to each other in discipleship and the mutual sharpening of our spiritual lives (Heb 10:24, Titus 2:4-6). Often, this will mean that we may have to bring correction to the ones we love to stop them from drifting in a wrong direction or restore them when they have sinned (Gal 6:1, Heb 12:15, Matt 18:15). Often, this will mean that we may be the recipients of loving and needed correction. Despite what the culture tells us, correcting someone in sin is not judgmental. On the contrary, correction can be one of the most loving things a person can do for another as it may be the thing that keeps them from their own destruction. As the writer of the book of Proverbs says, “Better is an open rebuke than hidden love” (Prov 27:5). Carrying out the commands to care for others in this way requires much more than mere attendance at a church, it requires involving ourselves in the lives of others and allowing others to involve themselves in our lives. Those who neglect the church altogether, neglect the accountability that Christ has designed and commanded for His people.
- Neighborly Responsibility
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. -Galatians 6:10
The third and final commandment that assumes church membership is the obligation to do good to those who are of the household of faith. The scriptures are replete with commandments for believers to sacrifice themselves, their time, possessions, and personal giftedness for the good of the church (Rom12:3-8). While some may protest that their efforts in the realm of social philanthropy fulfill these commands, the scripture’s primary burden, and thus the burden for every believer, is for those within the Body of Christ (Rom 12:13, 2 Cor 9:12, Heb 6:10). In fact, the apostle John goes so far as to say that those who shut their hearts to the brothers in need are void of the love of God (1 Jn 3:17). The reason for the emphasis of giving of ourselves to our brothers and sisters is simple: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 Jn 3:16). Those who neglect the church cannot fulfill these commands and therefore cannot and do not emulate the Lord they claim to love.
When it comes down to it, the Christian life was not meant to be lived apart from the church. The very essence of what it means to be a Christian is wrapped up in our relationships to our fellow believers within the local church. This means that those who only attend church, like those who neglect church altogether, are not actually living out the Christian life. Christians are Christians because they claim to be followers of Christ and just as Christ came to serve His people and not to be served, so must we (Mark 10:45, Jn 10:15, 1 Jn 3:16). All three of these categories, (submission to authority, mutual accountability, and neighborly responsibility), function both as a means by which God demonstrates His love in our lives and a means by which we demonstrate our love for and obedience to Christ. In fact, how ever we treat Christ’s church, whether with engagement or apathy, is ultimately how we are treating Christ Himself (Acts 9:4).
And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ -Matthew 25:33-40 (emphasis added)