The Gospel and the church


Editors note: This is a brand new series on the Church designed to help people think through what the local Church is, and why it is important. The first post in this series was by Dan Darling on 5 Ways You Can Help Your Church. Mike Leake wrote the second post in this series on 7 Ways to Create a Reading Culture in your Church. The third post was written by Dave Jenkins on 5 Reasons We should Gather in Local Churches. Dan Darling wrote the fourth post in this series on the best way to help your church. Dave Jenkins wrote the fifth post in this series about the importance of church history. Dan Darling wrote the sixth post in this series about why going to Church on Sunday is an act of war. Matthew Fretwell wrote the seventh post in this series about the importance of Church membership. Dave Jenkins wrote the eighth post in the series about Growing Together Towards Love and Good Deeds. Dan Darling wrote the ninth post about why your spiritual growth matters to the local Church. Dave Jenkins wrote the tenth post in this series on what it means to one another in the New Testament. Dave Jenkins wrote the eleventh post in this series on hobbling, encouragement and the local church. Dan Darling wrote the twelfth post in this series on a better way to discern. Aaron Armstrong wrote the thirteenth post in this series on going to the Church God wants you at. Mathew Sims wrote the fourteenth post in this series on The Church: Gospel, Worship, & Mission. Grant Castleberry wrote the fifteenth post in this series on church discipline. Mike Boling wrote the sixteenth post in this series about the Bride of Christ.  Joey Cochran wrote the seventheenth post in this series about church hopping and how to avoid it. Dan Darling wrote the eighteenth post in this series about why you need your church every week. Dan wrote the ninteenth post in this series about the discipline of going to Church. Dave Jenkins wrote the twentieth post in this series on loving Christ leads to loving the Church.Dave Jenkins wrote the twenty first post in this series on when to leave your local church but not the Church. Dave Jenkins wrote the twenty-second post in this series on how to engage one another in a manner worthy of the gospel.  Dave wrote the twenty-third post in this series on legalism, Gospel and the Church. In this final post in the Church series, Craig Hurst writes about the foundation of the Church grounded in Christ.

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To what does the Church owe its existence? Organizations derive their identity from their purpose or mission. Consider, charities, for example: they exist to raise money for certain causes such as the poor, those with severe medical needs or illiteracy and even sports organizations exist for the purpose of overseeing all of its related teams. When one comes to the Church, one is dealing less with an organization and more with an organism. Here, we are asking “To whom does the Church owe its existence?” In short, the Church owes its existence to Christ. Paul presents this theme in Ephesians 5:22-33 by explaining what Christ has done for the Church. This message is intertwined with Paul’s command for wives to submit to their husband in the Lord and for husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. He bases his commands for husbands and wives on what Christ has done for the Church.

First, the Church owes its existence to Christ because He has given His life for her. Verse 23 says that Christ “is himself its Savior,” and further in verse 25 that He “gave himself up for her.” This is nothing less than Christ’s death on the cross. In dying for sin, Christ redeemed for Himself a people, the Church, who only exist as such because Christ gave His life for them. If Christ had not died, and risen again, the Church would not be. There would be no basis for its existence. There would be no redeemed community and Christ would have no people for Himself.

Second, the Church exists as the Body of Christ. In verse 23 Paul says the Church is Christ’s “body,” and later in verse 30 he says we “are members of his body.” In this way the Church is an organism and not merely an organization. The Church is the body of Christ in that it is the means through which, along with the Holy Spirit in the Church, Christ functions on the earth to accomplish His purposes. Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 when he is discussion the variety of gifts Christ has given the Church through the Spirit. Just as a person’s body is one but has many different functioning members, or parts, so is the body of Christ. This body is diverse in its variety of people and the gifts to which each person serves the body as a whole. Christ has given His life for a body – the Church. Christ loves the Church because it is His body “for,” as Paul says, “no one has ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it” (vs. 29).

Third, as the redeemed body of Christ, Christ is its head. “Christ is the head of the Church,” says Paul in verse 23. Christ’s headship over the Church means that Christ is its authority and is the source of its authority. Since the Church exists because of Christ and is His body, Christ has earned the right to be head over it – to be its authority. But this authority is not an overbearing authority nor is it wielded with a heavy hammer. Christ’s authority over the Church is rooted in  His sacrificial love for the Church. This brings us back to Christ as the Churches Savior (vs. 25). It is because “Christ loved the Church” that He “gave himself for her.” His love for His people is the basis for His death for His people. Christ is a head, its authority, of love over the Church and it is in this way that the husband is the head of the wife. Consequently, this body is Christ’s bride whom he loves with a perfectly sacrificial love by which the husband is to love his wife.

Finally, as the head of His body, the Church, Christ has a purpose for it. This purpose it to “sanctify her” so that He can “present the Church to himself in splendor” (vs. 26-27). Christ has not redeemed the Church through His death just so it can assemble on earth and have things to do. Christ does not have a body, of which He is its living head, so that it can live and die. Christ is presently sanctifying the Church so that in the future He can present her “to himself in splendor.” This sanctification is accomplished through “the washing of water through the word” (vs. 26). As the Church walks in obedience to Christ’s Word, Scripture, it is washed in sanctification. There is a purpose beyond the here and now and the grave for the Church. In the resurrection of the saints to life we have a resurrecting of the body of Christ to life which will live with its living head, Christ, forever.

The Church owes its existence to Christ. It exists because Christ has given Himself for her through His death on the Cross. As Christ’s possession, the Church is His body – a living organism. As Christ’s body, His bride, the Church is being sanctified by its loving and living head Christ so that He might present her to Himself in glory “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (vs. 27). The Church owes its existence to Christ both in the here and now as it is sanctified by the Word and in the future for glory where it will be revealed in glorious splendor.

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Editors note: This is a brand new series on the Church designed to help people think through what the local Church is, and why it is important. The first post in this series was by Dan Darling on 5 Ways You Can Help Your Church. Mike Leake wrote the second post in this series on 7 Ways to Create a Reading Culture in your Church. The third post was written by Dave Jenkins on 5 Reasons We should Gather in Local Churches. Dan Darling wrote the fourth post in this series on the best way to help your church. Dave Jenkins wrote the fifth post in this series about the importance of church history. Dan Darling wrote the sixth post in this series about why going to Church on Sunday is an act of war. Matthew Fretwell wrote the seventh post in this series about the importance of Church membership. Dave Jenkins wrote the eighth post in the series about Growing Together Towards Love and Good Deeds. Dan Darling wrote the ninth post about why your spiritual growth matters to the local Church. Dave Jenkins wrote the tenth post in this series on what it means to one another in the New Testament. Dave Jenkins wrote the eleventh post in this series on hobbling, encouragement and the local church. Dan Darling wrote the twelfth post in this series on a better way to discern. Aaron Armstrong wrote the thirteenth post in this series on going to the Church God wants you at. Mathew Sims wrote the fourteenth post in this series on The Church: Gospel, Worship, & Mission. Grant Castleberry wrote the fifteenth post in this series on church discipline. Mike Boling wrote the sixteenth post in this series about the Bride of Christ.  Joey Cochran wrote the seventheenth post in this series about church hopping and how to avoid it. Dan Darling wrote the eighteenth post in this series about why you need your church every week. Dan wrote the ninteenth post in this series about the discipline of going to Church. Dave Jenkins wrote the twentieth post in this series on loving Christ leads to loving the Church.Dave Jenkins wrote the twenty first post in this series on when to leave your local church but not the Church. Dave Jenkins wrote the twenty-second post in this series on how to engage one another in a manner worthy of the gospel. Today Dave writes about legalism, Gospel and the Church.

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One of the biggest changes in my Christian life happened when I realized in my late teenage years that the Christian life had little to do with the rules and more with the grace of God. Now don’t get me wrong, Christians are expected to behave a certain way but only as a byproduct of the Gospel. I have been in churches where they preached the Gospel but had more rules than the Bible has in it. Such churches major on legalism instead of the Gospel. Churches can say, “I believe the Gospel” and then in practice have a litany of rules for how people can serve, when they can serve, and the list goes on—that it makes it hard to believe at least to me that they believe the Gospel they preach. Such churches major more in my opinion on legalism than the Gospel.

One of the major differences between churches that major on legalism and those that model grace is in the approach the leadership of the Church takes. The senior or lead Pastor of the Church sets the tone for the culture of the Church. If the lead or senior Pastor is servant-minded and seeks to be a servant of the Word of God and to His people that will reflect in the culture of the Church. Such a Church will be marked by glad service of God’s people.

I have attended and served in both types of churches I’ve described above. I’ve noticed in legalistic churches I have often become cold and calculating emphasizing more doctrinal precision and little on love. I’ve noticed in truly grace-centered churches that people feel save to serve and share their hurts, pains and sufferings. In legalistic churches if you don’t phrase things correctly in their mind; you are likely to get rebuked. Doctrinal precision is good but not at the expense of loving God and His people.

Consider John. John’s been serving as a pastoral intern for the past four months at his local Church. He’s been told that all of his activities have been good and people have been helped by his service. He makes one mistake in how he handles himself at vacation Bible school and shortly thereafter is called into the pastor’s office. His family has gotten some very tough news and he didn’t handle it well; in fact he broke down in tears. John is called into the pastor’s office and for forty-five minutes he’s reminded of his previous mistakes and told that his pastors haven’t forgotten what has transpired since he’s been at the Church. He was also told about how he failed to be an example to the flock when he broke down and cried. At this meeting there was no mention of anything good he has done nor any attempt to address the hurt he’s felt. At the end of the meeting, the pastors tell John that his internship is over. John leaves the meeting feeling dejected and not cared for. John comes to Church on Sunday and quietly participates as an attendee from the pew. A few weeks later he hears news about his dad and goes to his pastor. His pastor shows very little concern about him.

Perhaps you’ve attended a Church like this or experience a situation very similar to John. Perhaps you’ve been given “feedback” for your service but the person who originally gave the feedback never came to you but instead to your pastor. Like John you sit through the meeting in the pastor’s office. The problem with this type of feedback is it is nowhere seen in the New Testament. If this happens to you rather than gossiping about your pastor behind his back, or to another brother or sister in the congregation, I encourage you to go to your brother or sister and provide helpful feedback that will help them to serve the Lord more effectively.

In churches that are truly grace-centered, doctrinal precision and love are wedded in a beautiful tapestry. In such a Church people feel safe to share their hurts, feelings and opinions with the knowledge that they need to be biblical in what they say. Having attended both types of Churches, I can honestly say I prefer the grace-centered approach. Legalism kills but grace awakens the dead and brings them to new life in Christ. Grace-centered Churches help people address their areas of sin and grow in likeness to Jesus.

Legalism may be one of the biggest issues in the church today—even among Bible believing churches. It is one thing for the Pastor to get up on Sunday preach a perfectly biblical sermon that makes much of Jesus and then another to turn around and act in private in a way that dishonors the Gospel. Pastors and ministry leaders are called to have lives worthy of imitation (1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Heb. 13:17-18). The foibles, sins and struggles of Pastors affect the people in their congregations more than they think. Their character flaws will show up in the culture of the Church and thus by extension affect how people live out their Christian life.

While it is easy to sweep all of this under the rug—the truth is it really matters because the Gospel is the power of God to save and sanctify the people of God. Legalism cripples the Christian life by taking away the place of the Holy Spirit who convicts people of sin and points them to the sufficiency of Jesus. Rather than caring and loving people like Jesus—churches that major on legalism threaten the spiritual healthy and vitality of God’s people.

Preaching is one aspect of the ministry Pastors are called to engage in. Pastors are called to shepherd the flock of God (1 Peter 5:1-5) which means it could be argued that preaching at its core is the result of loving God’s people. After all, the reason we warn people of the fires of hell is because we love them and don’t want to see them go there. On the flip side of this, the reason we comfort those who are hurting, sick and struggling is because we love them and want them to be reassured of the love and comfort of God in the midst of pain, trials and difficulty.

Thankfully, in response to the legalism, the Gospel is superior in every way. Rather than stifling spiritual growth as legalism does—the Gospel transforms from the inside out and sets people ablaze to the glory of God so that they would be compelled to make much of Jesus as His witnesses. Since legalism is a battle that is not going away anytime soon, Christians must proclaim the Gospel all the more because it is the power of God to save and sanctify.

Here’s the good news—the Gospel will ultimately defeat legalism. While we are all prone to legalism at various points in our Christian journey; healthy pastors know that the only way to overcome legalism is not with more rules and laws but more grace. This is why Paul teaches that the grace of God superabounds (Romans 5:20-21). This is why Paul taught that the eyes of our hearts would be illumined so that we may have eyes to see (Ephesians 1:18). The Gospel opens our eyes and gives God’s people eyes to see Him, ears to hear His voice and empowerment to walk the Christian race through the Holy Spirit. Legalism is deadly but the grace of God is superior and amazing. I urge you if you are struggling today with this to run to the God of all grace. He is there before His Throne—waiting for you to come and drink from the well of His superabounding grace.

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Editors note: This is a brand new series on the Church designed to help people think through what the local Church is, and why it is important. The first post in this series was by Dan Darling on 5 Ways You Can Help Your Church. Mike Leake wrote the second post in this series on 7 Ways to Create a Reading Culture in your Church. The third post was written by Dave Jenkins on 5 Reasons We should Gather in Local Churches. Dan Darling wrote the fourth post in this series on the best way to help your church. Dave Jenkins wrote the fifth post in this series about the importance of church history. Dan Darling wrote the sixth post in this series about why going to Church on Sunday is an act of war. Matthew Fretwell wrote the seventh post in this series about the importance of Church membership. Dave Jenkins wrote the eighth post in the series about Growing Together Towards Love and Good Deeds. Dan Darling wrote the ninth post about why your spiritual growth matters to the local Church. Dave Jenkins wrote the tenth post in this series on what it means to one another in the New Testament. Dave Jenkins wrote the eleventh post in this series on hobbling, encouragement and the local church. Dan Darling wrote the twelfth post in this series on a better way to discern. Aaron Armstrong wrote the thirteenth post in this series on going to the Church God wants you at. Mathew Sims wrote the fourteenth post in this series on The Church: Gospel, Worship, & Mission. Grant Castleberry wrote the fifteenth post in this series on church discipline. Mike Boling wrote the sixteenth post in this series about the Bride of Christ.  Joey Cochran wrote the seventheenth post in this series about church hopping and how to avoid it. Dan Darling wrote the eighteenth post in this series about why you need your church every week. Dan wrote the ninteenth post in this series about the discipline of going to Church. Dave Jenkins wrote the twentieth post in this series on loving Christ leads to loving the Church.Dave Jenkins wrote the twenty first post in this series on when to leave your local church but not the Church. Today Dave writes on how to engage one another in a manner worthy of the gospel.

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With the rise of the internet have come many challenges to the Church. Before the internet, believers were relegated to sharing about events going on in the Church between one another at Church, on the phone, or if they met for a meal. Now Christians can hop on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus to comment on various issues or if one is inclined, they can start their own blog and share their thoughts on any number of topics. To say that the game has changed regarding theological conversation is the understatement of the year. In this article, I want to discuss how Christians can engage in fruitful theological conversation that demonstrates the fruits of the Spirit.

If you were to sit down and chat with me in person you would find that I naturally tend to talk about doctrinal and theological topics. It is a world that I’m obviously very familiar with since I went to Bible College and seminary. It isn’t that I can’t talk about other topics as I also enjoy chatting about sports or the news, but I just love theology.

Sometimes in the course of conversation with someone I will assume the worst about what they said rather than what they actually said. Instead of trying to gain clarification, I will immediately jump on their point and perhaps even ignore what they say. Maybe I won’t even allow them the chance to clarify their point. If we are honest, we have all done this. In the past few years though the Lord has been working on me in this area and I’ve tried to be very intentional in asking clarifying questions or making sure I understand what the other person is saying. This of course gets to the heart of this post, that of giving each other the benefit of the doubt.

The Bible has much to say about the words that come out of our mouths. We may seriously disagree with someone but I would contend until we have understood that person’s point, we don’t have a right to disagree. Someone may say something outlandish and even off the wall. Perhaps they are a new Christian or perhaps they are seasoned theologically. How are you going to correct that person until you at a minimum take the time to understand where they are coming from?

As Christians we are called to be agents of reconciliation. This means that the Gospel compels us to not assume the worst about each other, but rather to assume the best about what people say and how they say it. Now, I understand you may highly disagree with that last statement. The Gospel though reorients our priorities and even impacts our language. When we have a clean heart before God we will have clean speech. When we lack clean speech it demonstrates that we don’t have a clean heart before the Lord and need to repent. Assuming the worst about one another is a byproduct of a lack of repentance.

For example, let’s say I’m having a conversation with my wife Sarah. We chat about regular events occurring in the news and then proceed to understand those events through a biblical worldview. Rather than seeking to understand what she is saying, I immediately assume the worst. Who is at fault here? Sarah may not have been clear about what she said but I may have never asked a clarifying question. Instead, I jumped in and went on a theological rant about how she was wrong and how I was right with her point completely missed resulting in her feeling left out of the conversation. Now have I assumed the best about what my wife meant or have I assumed the worst? Have I shown love to my wife or have I sinned against her? The answer here is clearly I’ve sinned against my wife and need to repent and apologize to her, which as a side note, I do regularly. I may not have understood what my wife meant or I may have just wanted to share my thoughts about the topic. How many times have you done this also?

In the Christian blogosphere what I see are people who want to share their thoughts. Often it seems responses to my writing come from those who are only interested in sharing their thoughts about the topic of the post without considering what was in the post itself. As such, they never actually engage the content of the post. Some people’s idea of engaging a post is to quote a few sentences here and there but never engage the heart of the article. Surely there is a better way to engage each other that honors Christ and further advances the discussion so that both parties can learn and grow together right? Thankfully there is and the Bible calls it “one anothering” each other.

When we truly care about someone what do we do? Obviously we want to show that person we care about them. As Christians we have been commanded to love one another. In fact loving one another is a byproduct of the Gospel. How is it that rather than talking to one another, we often talk past each other resulting in chaotic and confrontational conversations that fracture rather than build relationships?

Rather than talking past each other, I suggest we heed the counsel of James who taught that we should be slow to speak and quick to listen (James 1:19). We should hear what the other person is saying first whether that is on a blog, podcast, or in person listening to someone talk. If we have a question or a concern about something someone said, rather than assuming the worst about what that person may said we should ask a clarifying question such as, “Did you mean to say this (insert concern)?” or even, “I’m not exactly sure what you mean there can you clarify what you mean? I think you meant this” (insert what you think you understood about what they said or wrote). By doing this we give the person the benefit of the doubt and allow them to clarify their position which ultimately will lead to a more fruitful conversation. Also, asking for clarity allows them the opportunity to restate their case which in turn allows us to engage them or the issue at hand more appropriately.

As Christians we’ve been called to love one another. That isn’t an option. It is a command. Yet, when I read blog comments or even receive them from articles I’ve written, what I see is that we don’t really care to engage one another in fruitful conversation. My question is, “How does this show love to the person who took the time to write down their thoughts or prepare their speech?” Yes you may disagree but you don’t have the right to be disagreeable or unloving. Instead try to ask questions, clarify, and take the time to be slow to speak and quick to listen. You’ll find that you learn more and in the end people will want to hear what you have to say because you actually care about them as people and what they think. At the end of the day it’s one thing to say that you love people but quite another to actually love them. Jesus calls His people to love one another as a byproduct of the gospel working within them. I urge you my brothers and sisters in Christ to love one another because of the Gospel by engaging each other in a manner worthy of the Gospel.

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Editors note: This is a brand new series on the Church designed to help people think through what the local Church is, and why it is important. The first post in this series was by Dan Darling on 5 Ways You Can Help Your Church. Mike Leake wrote the second post in this series on 7 Ways to Create a Reading Culture in your Church. The third post was written by Dave Jenkins on 5 Reasons We should Gather in Local Churches. Dan Darling wrote the fourth post in this series on the best way to help your church. Dave Jenkins wrote the fifth post in this series about the importance of church history. Dan Darling wrote the sixth post in this series about why going to Church on Sunday is an act of war. Matthew Fretwell wrote the seventh post in this series about the importance of Church membership. Dave Jenkins wrote the eighth post in the series about Growing Together Towards Love and Good Deeds. Dan Darling wrote the ninth post about why your spiritual growth matters to the local Church. Dave Jenkins wrote the tenth post in this series on what it means to one another in the New Testament. Dave Jenkins wrote the eleventh post in this series on hobbling, encouragement and the local church. Dan Darling wrote the twelfth post in this series on a better way to discern. Aaron Armstrong wrote the thirteenth post in this series on going to the Church God wants you at. Mathew Sims wrote the fourteenth post in this series on The Church: Gospel, Worship, & Mission. Grant Castleberry wrote the fifteenth post in this series on church discipline. Mike Boling wrote the sixteenth post in this series about the Bride of Christ.  Joey Cochran wrote the seventheenth post in this series about church hopping and how to avoid it. Dan Darling wrote the eighteenth post in this series about why you need your church every week. Dan wrote the ninteenth post in this series about the discipline of going to Church. Dave Jenkins wrote the twentieth post in this series on loving Christ leads to loving the Church. Today Dave writes on when to leave your local church but not the Church.

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In this series on the Church, we’ve been writing about a great deal of topics that hopefully are relevant and helpful to you as you think through the importance of the local Church for your Christian life and ministry. As I’ve thought about the Church, one topic that keeps coming up, at least to me is the subject of when to leave your church. In this post, I want to explore this topic, but before I do let me tell you what I don’t mean by leaving your local Church. Also, this post should not be viewed as a suggestion that I think you should leave your Church if you see these things occurring. I firmly believe there is something to be said for staying at one’s local Church and working through issues. With that said, I see four reasons why you could biblically leave your local Church.

Before we get started I’d like to be clear why this topic is important but before I do I want to be perfectly honest with you this is tricky territory and requires a great deal of wisdom. I can’t speak to your exact situation and why you should leave your local Church. I will say though if your pastor isn’t preaching the Word of God or prefers to preach his opinion, then you should leave that Church and find another one. You should never leave your local Church if you don’t like the singing, the way they pray, the way they fellowship, or the color of the carpet in the sanctuary. Do not let preference related issues stop you from enjoying your local Church. With that said if the Church you are attending refuses to preach the Word of God, essential doctrine issues related to biblical Christianity, or refuses to take a stand on social issues such as abortion and homosexuality or even to talk about them, I encourage you to find a different Church.

The first reason you should leave your local Church but not the Church itself is because of spiritual abuse. Over the years I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve received about people who have been spiritually abused by their pastor. Every email and situation is different. Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to help many people by the grace of God to come back to the Church. Stories of spiritual abuse are not new to me in fact I’ve experienced it in several churches I’ve been at.

Spiritual abuse occurs when the pastor and the elders overstep their bounds and rather than providing loving and caring leadership of the people of God, begin acting like dictators instead of servants. In my experience, you may be experiencing spiritual abuse when your pastor is more interested in lecturing you than ministering to you, especially after you’ve opened up to him and shared what was going on with you. If after opening up extensively to your pastor about various things he demonstrates no desire to shepherd you and care for you, I encourage you to resign your membership at that church.

Now that may be shocking to you. You may think throughout this series the writers have emphasized the importance of church membership and now you’ve just said I should leave my local Church because of spiritual abuse. As noted earlier, each situation is different. In the specific instance of spiritual abuse, it may be wise to consider leaving the Church you are at presently. Moreover, there is a significant difference between leaving the Church entirely and leaving one local Church to find another place to fellowship. I’m also not advocating for church shopping. Even if there is spiritual abuse occurring, as a Christian you have a responsibility to go to your brother in Christ who is your Pastor and talk to him. If he won’t listen then do as the Bible teaches and bring two witnesses that you might go before the board of elders to state your case. If all that fails to resolve the issue, it is then time to prayerfully seek God’s guidance regarding a new place to call your Church home.

Second, for married couples, before you even consider leaving your church it is vital to be of the same mind on this issue. I encourage you to seek godly counsel outside of your local Church about why you want to leave. Growing up I attended the same Church until I was thirteen years old when I moved to another part of Seattle. I then attended that same church into my early 20’s before I moved to another Church. When I moved to Idaho, my wife and I started attending another Church. After a few years, my wife and I left that Church to attend the one we are at now. We’ve been at our current church for almost two years and love it. I note that to comment that at times, change is necessary and as a husband and wife, it is a must to be of one accord when seeking out and planting down roots in a new fellowship of believers.

Third, if you’ve decided that leaving your local church is the best course of action and you have legitimate reasons for doing so, I encourage you to go to your pastor with those reasons. When you meet with him, you don’t need to go into everything and you shouldn’t feel the need to get defensive if he asks you why you desire to leave. Simply state why you and your spouse (if you are married) feel the need to leave and share that you are resigning your membership in this Church. I also encourage you if you can to let those you’ve done life with know that you are leaving the Church and it isn’t about them but rather a personal choice you’ve made through much prayer and after receiving godly counsel. Also, please make it clear you are not leaving the corporate Church, but this particular local expression of the Church. Encourage them to keep in contact with you and state that you care about them as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Fourth, while I can’t tell you when to leave your local Church, I can tell you from my personal experience that leaving a Church for whatever reason is hard. Please know that I haven’t always followed the advice I’m giving you to the letter but have learned through experience of leaving several churches that this is the best way to leave if you need to do so.

If you decide to leave your local Church but not the Church I encourage you to have a good system of accountability in place from Christians outside the situation. This will help you to transition from your previous church to a new one and help you deal with any unresolved issues. This will also help you to deal with any stress, feelings of shell-shock or hurt by the situation that you likely will feel or experience as you transition.

My advice is to make sure the reasons are really good ones tested by friends who know you well and who will pray for you. Also make sure you have a plan before you leave about churches you want to attend. Maybe seek out local Christian friends about where they attend and try to go there. Whatever you do, I urge you if you do decide to leave your local Church to not reject the Church. Christ bled, died, and rose to save you and placed you in His family, the Body of Christ. As such, every Christian needs you, your gifts, talents, and abilities to be used in conjunction with fellow believers so that the Gospel may advance and spread to the glory of God. I urge you to continue to love Christ and His Church at all times.

Finally, no one in any church is perfect and you aren’t either. We are works in progress becoming like Jesus by His grace and for His glory. One day we will be like Jesus but until then, it is likely you may get hurt by those in the Church. If you do experience hurt, I encourage you to not run away but to deal with the issues that are brought up. By doing so you will learn what it means to “one another” as we have been commanded by God to do. At the end of day those who love Jesus love His Church. I urge you to fall in love all the more with Jesus with the result being that you will love the people in His Body, the Church all the more by His grace and for His glory.

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Editors note: This is a brand new series on the Church designed to help people think through what the local Church is, and why it is important. The first post in this series was by Dan Darling on 5 Ways You Can Help Your Church. Mike Leake wrote the second post in this series on 7 Ways to Create a Reading Culture in your Church. The third post was written by Dave Jenkins on 5 Reasons We should Gather in Local Churches. Dan Darling wrote the fourth post in this series on the best way to help your church. Dave Jenkins wrote the fifth post in this series about the importance of church history. Dan Darling wrote the sixth post in this series about why going to Church on Sunday is an act of war. Matthew Fretwell wrote the seventh post in this series about the importance of Church membership. Dave Jenkins wrote the eighth post in the series about Growing Together Towards Love and Good Deeds. Dan Darling wrote the ninth post about why your spiritual growth matters to the local Church. Dave Jenkins wrote the tenth post in this series on what it means to one another in the New Testament. Dave Jenkins wrote the eleventh post in this series on hobbling, encouragement and the local church. Dan Darling wrote the twelfth post in this series on a better way to discern. Aaron Armstrong wrote the thirteenth post in this series on going to the Church God wants you at. Mathew Sims wrote the fourteenth post in this series on The Church: Gospel, Worship, & Mission. Grant Castleberry wrote the fifteenth post in this series on church discipline. Mike Boling wrote the sixteenth post in this series about the Bride of Christ.  Joey Cochran wrote the seventheenth post in this series about church hopping and how to avoid it. Dan Darling wrote the eighteenth post in this series about why you need your church every week. Dan wrote the ninteenth post in this series about the discipline of going to Church. Today Dave Jenkins seeks to challenge those who hold to the lone ranger view of Christianity to love Christ and the local Church.

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One of the greatest areas of concern to me when it comes to the idea of the Church is the lone ranger mentality many have succumbed to in our day and age. In seminary I used to sit with a large pile of books at coffee shops to work on homework and research papers. More often than not during the day, some people would approach me and want to know what I was studying.

These conversations would typically go one of two ways. The first approach would be the person and I would have a great conversation about what I was studying and then would encourage me to continue to love Jesus and His Church. Sadly, more often than not the person would state they were a Christian but never went to Church. These conversations often ended quickly, not because I didn’t want to chat with them, but rather because I pointed out that the New Testament knows nothing of lone-ranger Christianity.

Many Christians today believe they can just go to a Bible study or meet with other Christians at a coffee shop and equate that as going to Church. Is the Church just a meeting at a coffee shop or hanging out in a building? In the words of the Apostle Paul, “May it never be!” The biblical definition of Church is when God’s people gather to hear His Word preached, to worship Him, and to participate in the sacraments and fellowship. While fellowship may occur at a coffee shop and it is certainly possible for God’s Word to be studied in such a location, such a gathering does not meet the biblical approach to church as the essential construct of gathering corporately as a body of believers if the aforementioned elements are not properly met.

For example, recently I met with a friend from Church. We regularly meet and talk for several hours about our lives and theology. Is that meeting Church? Neither one of us would say it can be defined as such. I’ve met some people though in coffee shops who state that would constitute Church for them. My first question to such people is “Have you been hurt by the Church?” Almost always if they answer honestly, the answer is yes they have.

My concern is that such people seem to struggle with the idea that loving Christ leads to loving the Church. When Paul spoke in Ephesians 5 about husbands loving their wives, he wasn’t giving a suggestion; rather he was giving a command. Christian men are to love their wives because they love Jesus. In the context of that passage, Paul speaks of the Church. Christ bled and died for His Church to present her blameless. This means that a love for Christ according to Paul leads to a love for the Church.

The Epistle of 1 John also has much to say about love. One of the most interesting statements it makes is found in 1 John 2:19, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” The “they” here is clear as John is talking about those who belonged to Christ but left the Church and Christianity. John says such people “were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” The context of this verse is about the spirit of antichrist, specifically those whom John says are trying to deceive the people of God. Those who are truly saved will never abandon Christ for they will be kept by His grace (Jude 24). Furthermore, those who love Christ will love being part of the Body of Christ.

Jesus calls His people to love Himself and others for such love is a demonstration that we have passed from death to new life in Christ (1 John 3:14). Since loving Christ and loving His Church go together, this begs the question as to why so many Christians today hold to the lone-ranger view of the Christian life? Is it that they’ve discovered something new and therefore believe that they can legitimately live their entire Christian lives outside the scope and purview of the Christian Church?

As I’ve reflected on the above questions for quite some time, I’ve come to the settled conclusion that for many Christian past hurts or other matters have greatly impacted their understanding of what it means to be a part of the Body of Christ. The real or perceived issues far too often result in individuals rejecting the biblical command for fellowship in a local body resulting in their belief that they can live the Christian life outside the framework of the local Church. When challenged these people are likely to point out that they have a spiritual life and are growing in their personal relationship with Christ.

While I understand and can relate to being hurt by people in Church, the truth is that nowhere in the New Testament do we see Christians only living individual lives divorced from the community of God’s people gathering together in corporate worship. The gathered Church is a Church that assembles to hear, heed, and obey the Word of God through fellowship, the sacraments, preaching, and much more. Furthermore when one takes into account that almost all of the Pauline epistles were written to local churches and begin in some form with “the saints” at so and so place it is hard to reconcile the idea that one can live the Christian life outside of the Church.

Meeting at a coffee shop or other places to enjoy some fellowship with brothers or sisters in Christ is fabulous and I thoroughly enjoying doing so. But there is a difference between individual Christians meeting and the corporate gathering of God’s people. At the root of the lone ranger view of Christianity is an incomplete view of the Christian life. If the lone ranger view is right then there is no way to take seriously the fifty “one another” passages in the New Testament that instruct Christians on how they are to behave towards one another. Only in the context of the local Church do the “one another” passages make sense. While many well-intentioned Christians who hold to the lone-ranger view believe they can live their Christian lives however they want, such a view does not square with the clear teaching of the New Testament that emphasizes what we have been saved from (sin) and what we have been saved to, namely to a new life in Christ, one that is increasingly to reflect Jesus in community with other saints.

Loving Jesus leads to loving His people and others who don’t yet know Him. A love for Jesus will lead to a desire to bring others into community with Him in the context of the local Church. All of this means that as Christians, we should pray and exhort those who are like the gentleman I met at the coffee shop, specifically those who fail to grasp that we gather together in a local community of believers to hear God’s Word preached, worship Him, and love His people.


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Editors note: This is a brand new series on the Church designed to help people think through what the local Church is, and why it is important. The first post in this series was by Dan Darling on 5 Ways You Can Help Your Church. Mike Leake wrote the second post in this series on 7 Ways to Create a Reading Culture in your Church. The third post was written by Dave Jenkins on 5 Reasons We should Gather in Local Churches. Dan Darling wrote the fourth post in this series on the best way to help your church. Dave Jenkins wrote the fifth post in this series about the importance of church history. Dan Darling wrote the sixth post in this series about why going to Church on Sunday is an act of war. Matthew Fretwell wrote the seventh post in this series about the importance of Church membership. Dave Jenkins wrote the eighth post in the series about Growing Together Towards Love and Good Deeds. Dan Darling wrote the ninth post about why your spiritual growth matters to the local Church. Dave Jenkins wrote the tenth post in this series on what it means to one another in the New Testament. Dave Jenkins wrote the eleventh post in this series on hobbling, encouragement and the local church. Dan Darling wrote the twelfth post in this series on a better way to discern. Aaron Armstrong wrote the thirteenth post in this series on going to the Church God wants you at. Mathew Sims wrote the fourteenth post in this series on The Church: Gospel, Worship, & Mission. Grant Castleberry wrote the fifteenth post in this series on church discipline. Mike Boling wrote the sixteenth post in this series about the Bride of Christ.  Joey Cochran wrote the seventheenth post in this series about church hopping and how to avoid it. Dan Darling wrote the eighteenth post in this series about why you need your church every week. Today, Dan writes about the discipline of going to Church.
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Going to church can become routine. I know it, because I grew up going to church three times a week (at least). It was not a choice my parents gave me. It was something we did, part of our regular routine.

As a 2nd Generation Christian, I know full well the dangers of making spirituality overly routine. I have experienced long stretches of dryness where I was “going through the motions” and filling a pew. This can be dangerous to spiritual health. Traditionalism can become legalism. We can be satisfied with doing what we are supposed to do and avoiding spiritual introspection and growth.

However, I have come to appreciate the discipline of merely going to church. I used to say that “you shouldn’t just go to church to go to church.” But I’ve reconsidered this. The discipline of going to church every week for the majority of your life is in itself an act of worship, of sacrifice. You’re saying to yourself and to the world that assembling with the called-out people of God, that the story of Christianity, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus matters so much that you’re willing to dedicate at least one day a week to it.

I’m glad, for instance, that my father and mother made us go to church every week, three times a week. My father, by this kind of leadership, demonstrated to me that faithfulness to the local body of Christ was paramount. By going to church every week we presented our bodies as a “living sacrifice” by getting up, dressing up, getting in the car, and going to church. In the eyes of those who watched our family, we “voted” to make God a priority by committing ourselves to church.

I think I understand this more keenly now that I’m a pastor myself. Every week a pastor wonders who will show up. There are those who consider church a nice and viable option on Sunday and there are those who consider it a priority.

To be sure, faithful attendance shouldn’t be all we achieve. We should seek to serve our fellow brothers and sisters. We should come to worship God. We should come to hear the food of the Word of God. But its the very discipline of going to church that sets the stage for those things to happen, for God to work powerfully in our hearts.

Sometimes we evangelicals eschew discipline because it smacks of legalism. We speak of Christianity as “rules” versus “relationship.” And this is true and right. But the spiritual disciplines (such as attending church with God’s call-out community) bring us closer to Christ, whose power changes us.

Year after year I attended church with my parents. There were many seasons where I went for wrong reasons (I had to go, I liked the social life). But two things happened when I went to church even on days I didn’t really want to go. First, I was building into my life a habit, a discipline that would put me in the place where God works, in the midst of His church. Secondly, there were times I dragged myself to church only to hear a life-changing message.

So, its a good idea to make a commitment to be in church every single week. You’ll be surprised at how this discipline will be a benefit to your life.

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