Last summer I wrote a blog titled, “Faith in Recovery: Are Traditional Faith Communities Necessary?”. At the time I had left the Church and the Christian faith for a variety of reasons, but most of the reasons involved seeing hypocrisy in the Church and being hurt again and again by Christians. A year later, I have found myself exploring a faith community once again in a local church in St. Louis, Missouri, and I am identifying again with the Christian faith. I am a Christ follower, or at least I try to be. Last summer I made the argument that traditional faith communities or churches are no longer necessary and neither is meeting corporately for worship. Over my years in church, as a member and a leader, I have seen churches become buildings over people, businesses to be run, and I saw them become disengaged from both the culture and their congregants. The Church I saw was not what I think Jesus envisioned during the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20), nor was it relevant to my life or my friends who are non-believers. I am not here today to criticize the Church or argue against traditional faith communities once again, but instead, I am here to invite you to rethink church and how we as Christians are the Church.
Rethinking church begins by reexamining ourselves. After all, we (all who claim to be Christ followers), are the Church. What does it to mean to reexamine ourselves? 2 Corinthians 13:5 gives us an idea about that. I often ask myself, am I the kind of person that I would want in a church? Or, do I represent Jesus well? Would my friends see Jesus in me? With that comes accountability. It is one thing for me to think I am representing Jesus well, but it is another thing for others to think that and hold me accountable to scripture with others in community. One reason I think traditional faith communities matter is because we are called to be accountable to one another and carry each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). We are also called to share meals together, in particular the Lord’s Supper, praise God together and help others in the community who are in need (Acts 2:42-47). It is very difficult to do this outside of a traditional faith community. I think it is okay and even sometimes necessary to reimagine what a traditional faith community looks like and where and when it meets. I have no problem with a church meeting in a school, home, or even a bar, but it does matter that we meet together for worship, teaching and the Lord’s Supper.
I also think the bible was a book that by and large, was meant to be read in community. While I definitely think it is important for Christians to spend time studying scripture regularly as individuals, we will glean more from it and perhaps hear the Spirit speak differently when it is read, shared and studied in the context of community. Christians have been doing this since the beginning of the Church and continue to do so weekly throughout the world.
While I definitely think it is important for Christians to spend time studying scripture regularly as individuals, we will glean more from it and perhaps hear the Spirit speak differently when it is read, shared and studied in the context of community.
Traditional faith communities matter because they transform us and the world around us. I am made new when I meet Jesus in church and experience his presence in others in community. I am then more able to bring the gospel of the Kingdom of God (Luke 4:16-21) to my neighborhood, coworkers, friends and family and the world around me when I am part of a traditional faith community or a local church. Christianity and church was never meant to be solely an individual thing. Jesus came to save the whole world and transform it, here and now, not just after we are dead. I think often times Christians, like me, miss the point of the gospel; that it comes to renew all of creation. I think the renewal of creation process happens best through the local church or traditional faith communities.
You might be thinking, like I once did, that you can be a Christ follower on your own, outside of a traditional faith community or a church, but you really cannot. It does not work. Jesus sends out the disciples in pairs, surrounds himself with community and commissions the Church. Jesus’ ministry was marked by including people into the community, all kinds of broken, messy, sinful people, and transforming them and the world around them. We do not need to rethink if church is necessary, but we need to ask ourselves, “Why does church matter?”
You might be thinking, like I once did, that you can be a Christ follower on your own, outside of a traditional faith community or a church, but you really cannot. It does not work.
Church matters because Jesus lived in community and churches should be gospel centered communities. Jesus wants us to live in community. Traditional faith communities matter because they transform us and the world around us. We can rethink how we do church, but we cannot rethink church altogether. We can be active agents in God’s redemption story and renewal of all creation through the Church. It is time we discern our motives and do some serious soul searching if we find ourselves reaching the conclusion that traditional faith communities no longer matter.