Loving Christ, Loving the Church: A Response to Donald Miller

Posted On February 4, 2014

I was recently at the optometrist getting my eye exam. After the examination I got my new glasses and prescription sunglasses that my wife and I had picked out a few days before my eye appointment. As I sat in the chair chatting with the lady who helped fit my new glasses to my face, we chatted about Christianity. The conversation quickly turned to the fact that she believes that Christianity is a fairytale not meant for her. During the course of our conversation she stated that religion was a private matter and that she didn’t have a need for Jesus or the Church. By stating what she did, she articulated well the rugged individualism of much of Western civilization.

Recently, I read a blog post titled, “I Don’t Worship God by Singing”, in which the author, Donald Miller, states that the lecture-style format of church is not for him. He quips, “Do I attend church? Not often, to be honest. Like I said, it’s not how I learn. But I also believe the church is all around us, not to be confined by a specific tribe.”[i] My question and the purpose of this article is to ask and answer the question, “Does this statement of Miller’s align with biblical Christianity?”

Much of the New Testament, especially the epistles, follows the common pattern of giving theological instruction followed by practical application—theology, then practicality. The change can be expressed in many ways—from exposition to exhortation, from creed to conduct, from doctrine to duty, from the indicative to the imperative. This characteristic movement took place in Hebrews in the shift between chapters 11 and 12, where the writer began to exhort his people regarding their duty to run the great race laid out for them. Yet, while the continental divide in Hebrews is between chapters 11 and 12, there are numerous mini-divides that follow the theology-to-practicality pattern. One such divide follows closely in the switch from chapter 12 to chapter 13. Chapters 12 builds to an intensely theological crescendo with the statement, “God is a consuming fire”, which is then met by intensely practical command that opens chapter 13– namely to “keep on loving each other as brothers.”

Over fifty times in the New Testament Christians are instructed to “one another” each other. The New Testament passages teaching Christians to “one another” each other make no sense apart from being in the local church and doing life with one another. Donald Miller asks, “Do I attend Church?” and then answers his own question with, “Like I said, it’s not how I learn.” The real question is, “Since when did attending church become optional to the Christian life?”

Miller also states, “But I also believe the church is all around us, not to be confined by a specific tribe.” Miller is partly right and partly wrong with this statement. The Body of Christ is not confined to one particular Christian theological tribe but rather to the totality of the people of God redeemed by His grace. Yet, there is a distinction here that is missing in Miller’s point. There is no global Body of Christ without the local Church.

All who place their faith in Jesus Christ are immediately placed by the Holy Spirit into one united spiritual body, the Church (1 Cor. 12:12-13), the bride of Christ (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:23-32; Rev. 19:7, 8), of which Christ is the head (Eph. 1:22; 4:15; Col. 1:18). The formation of the church, the body of Christ, began on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-21, 38-47) and will be completed at the coming of Christ for His own (1 Cor. 15:51-52).  The church is thus a unique spiritual organism designed by Christ, made up of all born-again believers (Eph. 2:11-3:6). The establishment and continuity of local churches is clearly taught and defined in the New Testament Scriptures (Acts 14:23, 27; 20:17, 28; Gal. 1:2; Phil. 1:1; 1 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 1 Thessalonians 1:1).

The Christian is saved in order to live in community with the people of God within the context of the local church, under the care and authority of qualified men, who preach and provide pastoral care to the people of God.  Central to Miller’s statement in his blog post is idea that attending church is optional. In this vein of thought if one doesn’t feel like attending or get anything out of the service; then, one doesn’t need to attend a local church.

Christians are to love the Church because they love Christ. Attending a local church is about gathering to hear God’s Word declared, sing praises to His name, and then scattering to declare the praises of God from local churches to the nations. Unlike what Miller states, Christians from the early church to the present day believe the local Church is the hub of ministry, and from it the Gospel is brought to bear in the lives of those in our communities, neighborhoods, cities, and nations around it to the glory of God.

Loving Christ leads to loving His Church. Failing to love the Church reveals a lack of love or concern for Christ Himself. This is why Donald Miller is wrong—church attendance is not about consumerism, nor is it about us learning despite its importance. It is about Christ who redeemed His people to gather and scatter to proclaim His message; this is why a love of Christ leads to a love for His Church.

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5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    First, I didn’t get the impression from Miller’s post that he neglects to gather with other believers. All he admitted is that he doesn’t attended weekly weekly worship services built on the template of choral singing and sermon.

    Second, I’m not convinced that the formula you’ve advanced in your post represents a prescription for church that all believers should follow to the letter. God can manifest Christian community in many different ways.

    Local churches can vary in size of gatherings, location of gatherings, frequency of gatherings. Some local churches might make a weekly habit of singing songs aloud together and then listening to a prepared sermon, others might only do this once a month while joining in other activities during other gatherings, like group discussions and studies, prayer meetings, or gatherings geared toward serving others in the community.

    Some churches pay a few believers to serve the body while others depend on the volunteer service of believers. Some churches appoint specific male believers to offices like elder and pastor while other churches depend on male and female believers to fulfill the responsibilities of elders and pastors without explicitly assigning offices.

    All these varieties of Christian community add up to God making known his manifold wisdom through the church. I’m not sure Miller specified his involvement in church. The closest he got was describe the joy and fellowship he experiences working with his team in his company. How many of us are privileged enough to say that God has built a church among us and our coworkers in our jobs?

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Joel,

      Thank you for taking the time to respond to my post.
      You said,
      “Second, I’m not convinced that the formula you’ve advanced in your post
      represents a prescription for church that all believers should follow
      to the letter. God can manifest Christian community in many different
      ways.” I find it interesting that rather than responding to my comments
      with Scriptural engagement you post your opinion that “God can manifest
      Christian community in many different ways.” Also rather than dealing
      with the biblical argumentation in the post you say, “I’m not convinced
      that the formula you’ve advanced in your post represents a prescription
      for church that all believers should follow to the letter.” If that the
      case then I’m not convinced that you’ve read the New Testament epistles
      which were written to churches gathering together in local expressions.
      Read the opening of every Pauline epistle and tell me who the letter is
      addressed to? The Church! Not individuals but the church in that place.

      You
      said, “All these varieties of Christian community add up to God making
      known his manifold wisdom through the church. I’m not sure Miller
      specified his involvement in church. The closest he got was describe the
      joy and fellowship he experiences working with his team in his company.
      How many of us are privileged enough to say that God has built a church
      among us and our coworkers in our jobs?”

      Unlike what you said
      Miller is actually very clear about his thoughts on attending church
      when he states, “Do I attend church? Not often, to be honest. Like I
      said, it’s not how I learn. But I also believe the church is all around
      us, not to be confined by a specific tribe.” The Bible as I made clear
      in my post is very clear about the importance of attending a local
      church and being under godly authority. I stand by my comments in the
      post and encourage you to consider the biblical argumentation in the
      post.

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    In this age, chuch is not something we attend. Rather, it is what we become by virtue of our devotion to Christ. The organized church demonstrates that it is not the kingdom of God by it obvious divisions. If you truly want to love the church, love those who love Christ…whether they go to church or not.

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Mike,

      Thanks for taking the time to respond to my post.

      You said, “This age, chuch is not something we attend. Rather, it is
      what we become by virtue of our devotion to Christ. The organized church
      demonstrates that it is not the kingdom of God by it obvious divisions. If you
      truly want to love the church, love those who love Christ…whether they go to
      church or not.”

      According to you then a local church isn’t important
      because we can just love Christ without being a part of the Church? While I
      appreciate the sentiment of your post I disagree with your points. Furthermore,
      when one considers that the Apostle Paul opens his letters not to individual
      Christians but to Christians gathered together in local churches the point you
      make here about “If you truly want to love the church, love those who love
      Christ” is diminished. I understand what you are saying about divisions but you
      are also undermining the importance of the local church which is established by
      God. As a Christian, since you say you love Jesus you should love His Church. A
      failure in loving the Church demonstrates a lack of love for Christ. Finally, I
      find it interesting that rather than engaging the biblical argumentation of the
      post you decide to offer your opinion without engaging the content of the post
      itself.

      Reply
      • Avatar

        Thanks for the reply, Dave.

        Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. an yet ANOTHER internet controversy!: going to church | Defeating the Dragons - […] And then this happened. […]
  2. and yet ANOTHER internet controversy!: going to church | Defeating the Dragons - […] And then this happened. […]
  3. Top Posts February 2014 - - […] for February 2014. 1) Loving Christ, Loving the Church A Response to Donald Miller by Dave Jenkins https://servantsofgrace.org/loving-christ-loving-the-church-a-response-to-donald-miller/ 2) …
  4. The Daily Roundup: 4 February 2014 | - […] Loving Christ, Loving the Church: A Response to Donald Miller – Dave Jenkins provides his response to Donald Miller’s…
  5. The Daily Roundup: 4 February 2014 - Servants of Grace - […] Loving Christ, Loving the Church: A Response to Donald Miller – Dave Jenkins provides his response to Donald Miller’s…

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