OK -- so with about 25 posts on the topic of why you need to belong to a local church and not just stop by a local church -- including all the wacky meta that has accompanied it -- so what? I mean, why the beat-down on people who are frankly not happy about not having a local church? Am I seriously suggesting that these people don't really want a church to belong to?
The provocative answer is: Yes and no.
Now, before you fire off an e-mail to the board of FIRE demanding that somebody take my name out of the Reformed® Lamb's book of Life™ for insulting men and women of good conscience, we have to unpack some of our contemporary assumptions about who we are and why we think the way we do. And one of "our" cultural predispositions in American evangelicalism is premillenialism, especially the kind which wears the big cardboard sign with black hand-painted letters that reads "THE END IS NEAR".
It's that view of things -- especially the view which thinks that because the end of the world is here and we are living someplace between Rev 4 and Rev 19 in a calendar-date kind of way, and the Great Whore is deceiving all kinds of men, including the elect (as if that were possible)-- we sort of default into the view that it's not likely for us, the informed readers of blogs and books by puritans, reformers and Charles Spurgeon, that we shall find a church which, as they might have said of Lazarus, doesn't stinketh.
But here's the problem: from the day of Paul and his life after founding all those churches across the ancient world, the church was never perfect. Go back and read this post by me and look at the state of the churches Paul was writing to. The churches Paul founded were frankly not perfect -- they weren't even really very consistent. You know: it's not like 40 years had passed between the time Paul founded the church in Corinth and when they decided that the Lord's table was really a private party and not a public place where sinners demonstrate their unity in Christ, or where they had, apparently, forgotten the Gospel which is of fist importance.
And Paul's first letter to Corinth didn't say, "Dudes: flee to the hills -- your pastors and elders are apostates." He said, in effect, "remember the truth of Christ and find unity in truth."
So in our right-minded expectation for Christ to come soon -- and it is a right-minded expectation, premil, a-mil, post-mil or grist-mill -- we cannot at the same time look at Christ's church as something which we hold at arm's length.
So yes: I am suggesting that, on the one hand, many of us have (and I think it's accidental and sort of subconscious; I don't think people -mean- to think this way) bought into the "end-is-near" mistake that the church is in a pre-pre-mil state of looming apostasy and we can't be expected to join to that.
But on the other hand, no, I don't think anyone (except maybe Campingites and some other wacked-out cultists) is doing this on-purpose. I don't think you mean to profane the things God has made holy -- I think many people are simply looking for something which has never existed in the history of time and space, and our expectations of others are too high and of ourselves are too low.
That is: we want to find a church that makes us holy and perfect rather than seeing that Christ makes us holy and calls us out to be joined together in spite of the fact that none of us are right now perfect in "the things we do to ourselves and other people" kind of way. We are not the spiritual equivalent of "Mr. Clean" -- Jesus is. He is the one who cleans the whole house and everything in it, not you or your book-laernin', and certainly not the perfection of the pastor at your church. When we get that right, we can get a lot more right in the way we act toward others.
You know: the holiness of the church doesn't come from the holiness of the members. It comes from Christ. I'm sure you've read this before --
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.It's what Christ has done which makes the church holy -- even the mediocre church with the boring pastor, even the popular church with the country-club environment, even the lowly church which is full of poor people and can't scrape up enough money to send a missionary or buy a building.
And let me dare to say something which will enrage the internet version of the Thessalonican mob: even the church which is tottering on the brink of apostasy. One of the real foundational bits of scripture for church-leaver is the section of Revelation which announces the letters from God to the churches in Asia. And before we run through that quickly, it is interesting and important to note that in 2 Tim 1, Paul says flatly to Timothy that "You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me". That's decades before John received the prophecies and messages in Revelation, readers. Around 65 AD, Paul told Timothy that all in Asia have jumped ship.
But then John, at the end of his life, sees visions and hears the Glorified Christ say stuff, has the audacity to write stuff like this:
Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.Now, look at all the "us"'s there -- and he's saying "us" to churches which Paul has written off decades before, and to whom he is about to write the letters of warning and condemnation.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
That's not to soft-soak the warnings in the next 3 chapters: that to say that even in giving these churches strong warnings, John wasn't ready to say that individuals needed to flee the church. He was ready and able to say that it is for the truth of Christ that we must stand firm, and it is by being the church that we repudiate error.
So before you get to "But I have this against you" or "some there who hold the teaching of Balaam" or "you tolerate that woman Jezebel" or "I will spit you out of my mouth", go back to the greeting John gives and ask yourself if you personally should spit out of your mouth something Christ's blood has purchased.
The question here is a serious one. It requires you to be serious and loving and faithful and obedient before you are passing judgment and shaking the dust off your feet.
And there's one other question I got via e-mail which I want to address, but that'll have to be for tomorrow.
Talk amongst yourselves.