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.