“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Acts 20:28
These days church attenders are infected with a virus of conditional loyalty that has produced an army of church hitchhikers...“You go to the meetings and serve on the boards and committees. You grapple with the issues, teach and entertain the children, and I’ll come along for the ride. But if things do not suit me, I’ll criticize and complain and probably bail out. My thumb is always out for a better ride.” - Barbara Hughes, Disciplines of a Godly Woman, chapter 10, page 119.
Sadly, I think Hughes is dead on for many self-labeled Christians today. Loyalty to a body of believers is severely lacking. This isn’t just about official church membership, but committed, regular attendance to a gathering of believers. There are too many of us looking for an easy ride for as long as it suits us. When we start to feel confined, awkward, judged, bored or convicted out pops the thumb, time to move on.
With the rise of self-centered life styles where individualism reigns and in a culture that continues to bristle against authority, it is no wonder there is such sparse church attendance. According to a study done by Barna Group Inc. released September 2016, 73% of Americans would label themselves a Christian, yet only 31% report attending at least one church service per month (full report here). Even though I don’t think these numbers reflect the true heart of those surveyed, I do find it interesting that we have so many saying “yes” to being a Christian and “no” to the church.
Regardless of numbers or personal attitudes, what we need to be looking at is God’s opinion of his Church. Is the church where he wants us? Or is this just another human institution used to bring about order and subservience? When I use the word “church” from here on out, I am referring to God’s called out assembly of believers, the true Bible-following gatherings of his people. There are many false churches teaching false doctrines in this world, this does not apply to them. Ephesians 5:25 tells us that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Acts 20:28 tells elders “to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” God cherished his church enough to send his son to spill his blood for it. Do we dare act as if it an insignificant matter?
In many ways to reject the true assembly of believers is to reject Christ himself. Ephesians 2:20-21: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” What an awesome picture of the church. Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of supreme importance in this household of faith. We are members and together he builds us into a holy temple for his glory.
God loaded the Bible with metaphors for his church to help us understand it better: a family, a body, a household, a kingdom, a temple, a bride, a building, a flock. What do all of these have in common? Unity, a oneness, togetherness, cohesion. Many parts brought together under one ultimate authority: Christ himself- who acts as the Leader, the Head, the Father, the King, the High Priest, the Groom, the Cornerstone, and the Shepherd. Do you think God wants us to pay attention to all this? Most certainly. Do you think you will fare well as a rebel Christian, keeping your distance from “organized religion”? Living as a maverick sheep? Fat chance, lamb chop.
Not being devoted to fellowship with other believers is akin to not being devoted to Christ (very few exceptions to this). If you are a family, together is where you will be. If you are part of a kingdom, united in battle is where you will stand. Be there. Not devoted to a building or a religion, but being devoted to one another through Christ your common Savior. “Together” is the location that God has ordained that biblical good happens: teaching of doctrine, sanctification, worship, encouragement, corporate prayer, correction, opportunity for good works, a stirring up of our faith. In turn all of this fans the flames of the gospel in our hearts growing us and expanding his Kingdom.
Women, if we are seeking to discipline ourselves in godliness we cannot neglect regular fellowship with other believers. We need to come together as the church of God. In this we are like Christ who devoted his whole body in sacrifice for his people.