The other day the area circuit pastors gathered for our monthly meeting. We were all honored to have present with us the President of our Eastern District, Rev. Chris Wicher. Of course the continual topic of the shape of our church life comes up – and we again rehashed the concern that “things are different” these days and even though there are seemingly plenty of people in our congregations who confess Jesus Christ, they don’t know any compulsion to take part in the worshipping community. And so the question comes up: Can “The Church” exist without “the church”? Now, we all know that a church building is not necessary for the Christian life. But we are asking: Is the “congregation of the saints” in worship a necessary element of the existence of “The [True] Church”? Is it necessary for the Christian life? We tossed around the idea that we maybe should just be happy with the fact that people still believe in Christ – even if they don’t participate in the worshipping community.
So… can we be happy and satisfied with a churchless Christianity? In my estimation: No. As a general rule, the worshipping community is most definitely an essential part and measure of the Christian life. Now, obviously, if you are stuck on a deserted island you can still be a Christian without having a congregation to worship with. And yes, there are many good reasons that any one of us might not be able to worship on any particular Sunday. And it is most definitely true that we love the fact that there are no “good works” (including “going to church”) that we need to do in order to be saved. But the general reality is obvious: No matter the “different age” that we live in, there really must be a congregation that worships and makes manifest the Word and Power of God in their locality.
Why is it necessary? Let me count just a few of the reasons that are quite obvious to me!!!!!
1) Christians follow Christ… and we might notice where was Jesus was on a regular basis. He was in the synogogue gathered with God’s people! “Don’t you know I must be in my Father’s house?” Jesus said to his earthly parents!
2) The public confession and profession of our Lord is a necessary outcome of our faith.
“I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you.” Psa. 22:22
3) Blessed are the two or three people on this earth who are disciplined in the reading of scripture enough to not need the regular refreshment of the preaching and study of the Word of God. The rest of us just are not “there”. The Word of God is sweeter than honey and is to to be zealously consumed. It is the lifeblood of the Christian. It points to the hope and glory that Christ has won for us on the cross. We dare never loose sight of it!
4) The celebration of the Sacraments are also included with the Word of God as essential elements in the life of faith… They are the astounding blessing of God for the forgiveness of sins and Life everlasting. The washing of rebirth in Baptism. Joy! And then the Lord of the universe literally invites His people to commune with Him in a sacred and holy way. Is there anyone who can stand, look him in His eyes, and refuse his invitation? Lord have mercy on us (and He DOES!)
5) The reality is that the persistent lacking of our participation in the congregation has absolutely tragic consequences for the generations to follow. It is simply astounding that there is no realization that if we have the beautiful prayer that our grandchildren and great grandchildren will have a church to be baptized in, learn “Jesus Loves Me”, and hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ that they might be saved from eternal death – it very much depends on what we do today and what our priorities in life are!
6) And further, not counting our own grandchildren and great grandchildren, we certainly cannot forget that God calls us to proclaim His name to ALL people – that they might come to saving faith. The congregation is that place where people can be invited to be a part of the communion of saints in heaven and on earth, to live a new life and work for God’s glory. It is the locus of God’s grace in our communities. It is a powerful witness that cannot be substituted for.
Jesus said: “Where two or three are gathered in my name: there I am with them.” (Mat. 18:20) And so it is that I will always, as your pastor, exhort you to know that your zealous participation, prayers and support are essential not only to your life as a Christian, but to the salvation of MANY.
Yes, the age is different… but yet, what does the Lord say to us?
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Rom. 12:2
I will see you in worship! May we be blessed forever!