I came across this article You Need a Pastor and a Church, Not Just a Podcast and Speakers. The author draws a contrast between those who participate in the life of a local assembly and those who suppose that streaming in a message is good enough for spiritual food. He rightly states that Christian growth requires more than a good message in individualistic practice, but a gathering together with God’s people;
Church is more than a sermon. It is singing with the saints, speaking and hearing words of encouragement, praying together, serving one another, opening your life and home, giving of your time, treasures and talents, taking communion and celebrating baptism. The preaching of the Word is a fundamental aspect of the local church but not the sole activity in which we engage.
Such reductionism is dangerous to our souls because it removes us from the very mediums through which God sanctifies His saints.
Consider a few of the more obvious costs if your primary church experience is vicarious and virtual:
- Deep community is sacrificed, and thus there are limited opportunities to be sanctified through mutual encouragement and exhortation.
- The sacraments are sacrificed, and thus there are limited opportunities to be sanctified through regular participation in communion and baptism.
- Church discipline is sacrificed, and thus there are limited opportunities to be sanctified through loving correction.
- Service and mission are sacrificed, and thus there are limited opportunities to be sanctified through selflessly giving yourself for the sake of others.
Those who seek sanctification primarily through radio, television or podcast ironically reject the very means provided by God to cultivate holiness. They, instead, foster individualism and isolationism, which begets self-centered, new age spirituality, not deep authentic Christianity.
Amen! I think he is right to point out the necessity of community. But, there are a couple of components in his proposal that don’t quite sit right with me. First, he indicates that church is not a place and that somehow the early church got it wrong. Scripture is replete with descriptions of people gathering together. Consider, Acts 2:42
And they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Whether people gathered in a home, or an outdoor court or a building, that had to gather in a PLACE. When we gather today, it is in a PLACE. I don’t think it makes us anymore authentic or spiritual to deny this.
Second, and more importantly, the author seems to contend that just by virtue of gathering together, genuine Christian community will be experienced. But this is not always the case. Sometimes, people find themselves going to the Church of the Lonely Place. They meet in a place full of people and get the same thing they would have gotten had they stayed at home. The Church of the Lonely Place is really nothing more than people together, but really isolated. Sure there may be some superficial conversations, forced greetings but contributes very little to the body growing itself up together in love.
Genuine Christian community is more than just people gathered together for the sake of having or doing church. But it is a body gathered together on the premise that it is about the corporate community as highlighted in the Acts passage. This is enforced through the liturgical elements of the service that bleeds into what happens outside of it. If we cater to individualism through music, preaching and other elements of the service, than why would this promote an attitude of corporate functioning? It wouldn’t. And without the presence of connected-ness, the place called church ends up being nothing more than a drop-in center to get individual needs met. That is not what our local gathering is supposed to be.
It takes more than just giving lip service to community. It goes back to what I said here about the church defining itself by what it does that consequently leads to a practice of making people jump through hoops. Given the contemporary church’s pragmatic orientation, the premise that ‘if we build it they will come’ is prevalent. I’m talking about structuring activities like community groups or this or that specialized group bible study and presuming that by doing that, community is formed. But without, a corporate foundational structure, what ends up happening is that people of similar backgrounds and shared interest come together and outsiders don’t feel welcomed.
The beauty of the church is that in Christ, people that don’t have anything in common and would otherwise not consort, find a common bond in Christ that should change their outlook on one another. But that becomes tenuous at best when individualism is catered to and community looks more like clicks.
I have been to the Church of the Lonely Place and thankful to not be there anymore. When I was there, of course I was blamed for the problem whenever I brought it up. It was beyond me but more on that next time.