Reflections on the Issue of "Church"
- The whole
issue of "church" is filled with complications, because we live in a world of
false definitions. Here are three examples, to illustrate this:
"Christianity" (as opposed to the fake) is a relationship with God, the
Creator, yet most people have redefined it as a religion. In reality, it
is a relationship based on the objective facts of the Bible, rather than
on the subjective feelings of human experience.
the Bible, the "church" is described as an organism, the "body
Christ"; yet today, most people use that word to describe an institution, a
building, a group of people who have put their names on a "membership list,"
etc. The Bible describes it as comprised of people - specifically all who
have been changed (given new life) by God. It includes all in the
community who have experienced such a change, not just a select few who have put
their names on some specific "membership list."
originally meant people sharing in each other's lives, often with an emphasis on
helping or encouraging each other. Today people often use the word when they are
doing nothing more than engaging in shallow talk and gluttony at a "church
social" or a "fellowship dinner."
A Look at the Issue
- The Bible
is clear about what the "church" is. The problems and difficulties come because
of what people have done to distort the concept. People have redefined the
entire concept and (because of that) do things in ways that are completely
different from the way God tells us to do them.
- We live
in an age in which the genuine (Bible's) concept of "church" and the counterfeit
(man-made) concept of "church" seem to overlap. The counterfeit sometimes looks
good and occasionally does some of the same things that the genuine would; so it
sometimes becomes difficult to distinguish them. Because of this, it can be easy
to slip from focusing on the genuine, to endorsing (or participating in) the
- If the
whole concept of "church" were being practiced the way the Bible defines it,
"joining a church" wouldn't even become an issue. When God saved you, he
already joined you to the church! Salvation is like waking up to new life.
You open your eyes and look around, and you recognize others who have also
received this new life (because you see that the evidence of life is present in
them). These are the ones you would have fellowship with - not because
they have their name on some man-made institution's "membership list," but
because the life of Christ is in them and shines out from them. (Many "church
members" who think they are "Christians," simply because they "joined" an
institutional "church," have no more light than a burnt out lightbulb.)
- Our job
is to recognize (or acknowledge) those who are part of the church. We recognize
them because the fruit of salvation (as God defines it in the Bible) is present
in their lives. It is not our job to decide for ourselves who we want to
call "church members" and to ignore the others!
- It is
more important for us to find and associate with people who have love for God
and neighbor, than it is to "join a church." The idea of Christians "joining a
church" only makes sense with the false
concept of "church." It makes absolutely no sense with God's definition;
for how can a person "join" something that God has already made him a
- We have
no obligation to go beyond what the Bible says about the concept of "church." Or
to put it more emphatically, we do have an obligation to not go
beyond what the Bible says about the concept of "church."
institutional "church" tends to want you to become involved in all sorts of
programs, activities, committees, etc. These things absorb your time like dry
sponges absorb water, and leave you with less time to do the things that God really requires you to do. The result? Such things tend to replace a
person's living relationship with Christ with the sterile life of
being busy with activity and motion. In the end, you could find yourself serving
a man-made institution, rather than the living God. Don't let those worthless
things interfere with your relationship with Christ! Leave them for the
religious fakes - the "church-goers" who love religious activities, but who have
no interest in the changes that are a part of following Jesus. Place your focus
on the things of God!
genuine follower (disciple) of Jesus is compared to an "alien" living in a
foreign land (1 Peter 2:11). Sometimes the institutional "church" is so unlike
the "church" of the Bible, that the genuine follower of Jesus will feel the same
way - like an "outsider" - in the institutional "church"!
- Some of
the things done in a man-made "church" may be good and honoring to God. (This is
in spite of it being a man-made institution, not because of it.)
Though you must oppose any distortion, omission or compromise of what is right
and true, and you must speak up about what is neglected or abused, don't tear
down what is good! In everything, follow the example of your Master and Teacher,
- There are
people (especially leaders) who know that the modern concept of "church"
disagrees with the Bible... and many of them simply don't care. But there are
other people (especially non-leaders) who hold to such views because they
don't know better. (Their leaders may have taught them the false concept.) So we
shouldn't treat all people who have those views the same way.
- The only New Testament word that bears any resemblance to the modern
definition of "church" is the word "synagogue"! You can go to a synagogue, but
you can't go to a church (as the New Testament defines the word), unless
you're an unsaved "outsider." Or unless you're a Christian who is visiting a
group of Christians who live in a different community.
to the Bible's definition of "church," we could never exclude a "neighbor" who
has been saved by God (and who has the resulting fruit of salvation), simply
because he wasn't a "member" of some specific institutionalized "church." This
would be unthinkable! Yet many people who claim to be "Christian" do it all the
time - and see nothing wrong with it! Those of us who accept the Bible have no
choice but to accept such "neighbors." As for the "church-goers" who refuse to
accept these "neighbors," all we can do is to pray that God will open their eyes
to God's Word. If their eyes remain closed, we can pray that God will somehow
bring glory to himself through them, in spite of their sin.
- Anyone who
has trusted Jesus for salvation, and who is now attempting to live as a disciple
(follower) of Jesus, is part of our "family." We are a community of
people who belong to God - and we must live that way.
How Should We React?
- In Jesus'
day, there was an ongoing conflict between the "institution" and those who were
genuine followers of God. It is no different today.
- We must
remember that we live in an age that is characterized by imperfection and
impurity. We shouldn't be surprised when people don't do things the way God says
they should - and when they are determined to stay that way. In this matter, as
in everything else, we are to rely on the perfect God (and what he says), rather
than on imperfect people.
the example of Acts 17:11. Even the preacher is not necessarily 100% accurate in
what he says!
with others who hold to a false concept of "church" can be rather difficult at
times. Try to maintain a balance in your perspective. Let God's Word define your
perspective and your expectations, and do what you can to encourage others to
accept what God says. Realize, though, that your expectations won't always be
met in those around you! Only Jesus is perfect; those around you (even those who
actually want to follow Jesus) will not become perfect until they stand in
Jesus' presence. (This applies even to you! Even though you may be correct in
this matter regarding the "church," there are other areas - whether in your
understanding of the Word, or in your application of it - in which you are still
growing. All of us will be growing, up to the day we meet Jesus face-to-face.)
- If it
seems that all the Christians where you live are associated with institutional
"churches" (whether through ignorance, or because they don't know of any other
options), and you believe it would be expedient for you to "join" such a group,
in order to have fellowship with them, you are not necessarily sinning. Just
remember that you are "joining" something that was invented by people and often
has little to do with the "church" of the Bible, and make sure that you never
let go of what is genuine. Look for a group in which you can live-out what
is genuine (whether or not the others in the group do so). Don't hide the
fact that you know what the Bible says, but don't have an arrogant attitude,
either! Some may oppose you - in Jesus' day, they opposed him, too. Others may
be encouraged to follow your example - and to begin to live for God, rather than
for a man-made institution.
- Focus on
your obligations, not on other's failures. On the Day of Justice, you will be
judged by what
you do, not by what they do.
- Love God
with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself -
even those "church-goers" who choose to be your enemies.
Dennis Hinks © 2008