One of the most common objections I hear for why professing Christians don’t need to go to church and be part of the assembly is that there are bad churches. Frankly, this is one of the worst excuses I hear, and it is time to put it to rest. In my estimation, it is simply one of many excuses people use to justify why they don’t have to go to church. If you can reduce all of the world’s churches to being unfaithful manifestations of the bride of Christ, then of course, it becomes all the easier to say you’re the faithful one by not being among them. In other words, you’ve not only taken the time to think through why you ought not go to church, but you’ve found a convenient reason that actually makes you all the more righteous in your own eyes for not doing so. This is the height of self-deception and laziness.
It is self-deception simply because the choice has long been made and the route towards justification was formed on the basis of that decision, rather than on the basis of the Word of God. In other words, you have simply found a reason to argue towards what your heart desires, rather than receiving the due correction of Scripture and aligning your own desires with God’s. It takes that which is a plain command in the Bible (Heb. 10:25) and seeks to explain it away. Some arguments may be fancier than others, yet the end-goal is the same: you twist the Scriptures in order to fit your desires, rather than submit yourself and your desires to the teaching of Scripture.
Yet this is not nearly enough—for the one who is truly self-deceived must then twist things to show how God is truly in support of their actions. This is the same exact thing progressive Christians do as they twist the Scriptures to fit progressive ethics. Universalists and Annihilationists likewise do it, as they seek to rend the Scriptures from any conception of eternal damnation, as they focus inherently on the idea that God is love. God surely is love, yet it is ultimately the individual’s conception of love that replaces God’s in this equation. So too it is with the one who refuses to gather with God’s people. They find reason enough to support their own thesis and commit egregious eisegesis upon the text, reading into it what they want, and subsequently, twisting even the image of God into their own likeness.
It is laziness simply because again, the choice has long been made and the route to idleness was formed on the basis of that decision. I have yet to meet an individual who thinks so little of the church who has exhausted themselves to find the “perfect church” they so longingly speak of. They are not willing to listen to hours upon hours of sermons, nor are they willing to travel long distances, nor are they willing to move anywhere to be among God’s people in such a place as this. The reason? They have no real desire to do so, understandably so, because they view all churches as apostate churches where the Spirit of God is entirely absent. Yet if you press people on this—and I mean in such a fashion that you demand some sort of evidence for such a claim—they have little to show for it, save hasty generalizations. Again, it is far easier to take the lazy route than to actually do the legwork necessary to show how all churches actually are apostate.
I’ll admit—this problem of idleness is not a problem contained to only those who forsake churches. Many people, and I do truly mean “many” when I say this, pretend at knowledge when they’ve done little hard work to understand a given subject. Yet the point I am drawing to is that if one has such a low opinion of Christ’s bride, what is their opinion of Christ Himself, seeing that He is united to His bride as the head? To put it more clearly: their laziness will undoubtedly carry over into other matters of self-discipline. If they hold Christ’s bride in complete disregard, they will hold Christ in complete disregard. Surely, they may have some version of Christ which they hold in high regard—yet it will certainly not be the biblical Christ.
What is amazing though is how hard people will work in order to justify their laziness elsewhere. They will find all sorts of exceptions to the rule to capitalize on. They will find examples of clerical abuse, mismanagement, etc., and congregational folly to boot—all in support of leveraging such wickedness so they may apply it inappropriately to the whole. While they may find many a reason to not be part of a particular church that bears sinful and unbiblical qualities (such that any sane, biblically faithful Christian would agree upon), they only do so in order to further rationalize why they shouldn’t go to a healthy and faithful church. The reason? Gasp! There are sinners there! Listen. If Paul can look at the Corinthians and still call them a church, even in spite of two continuously polemical letters that rip them to shreds for their unchristlike behavior, no one has a leg to stand on with this argument.
This is one reason I believe those who say there are no good churches in the land likely don’t even know what to actually look for in a church, or they’ve twisted it so far to the opposite extreme that they are demanding perfection in God’s people prior to their glorification. To borrow the sentiment of Charles Spurgeon, who treats this more concisely than I could, “The day we find the perfect church, it becomes imperfect the moment we join it.” You are imperfect. You are a wretch. You are a vile sinner that Christ shed His blood on the cross for. To presume that everyone else is worse off than you are is to miss the gospel itself! If only we would all bear the sentiments of Paul in believing that we actually are the chief of all sinners! Many may rightly echo the thought and say, “Yes!” in their minds, yet their hearts do not truly believe it, especially if they claim no church can be healthy and faithful.
Yet more to the point: they are actually accusing Christ of not being at work in and among His church to purify her and bring her to reflect His own likeness. This is truly an incredibly sad way to look at Christ’s work in and through His body. He is continually at work sanctifying her, through the preaching of the word, the administration of the ordinances within the church, and the members thereof. The Spirit Himself is our helper, ministering to us in a capacity that serves this particular desire of Christ and the Father. To say that there are no healthy and faithful churches is to say that God Himself is not only absent in this great work He promised to do, but unable to do it even if He desired! Yet much to the contrary, thankfully, God is continually at work in His people. He is faithful to all His promises and will not leave one of them unfulfilled; what’s more than this is that as a result of the sacrifice of Christ, those within the church are already pure, simply by virtue of His sacrifice on their behalf. Surely, they are being sanctified and one day will be fully glorified, yet presently, they have been justified through the blood of Christ, and as such, the love of Christ is present within them.
Furthermore, if the love of Christ is in them, they will have a desire to be among God’s people. It will never be enough to simply play a sermon and some songs on YouTube. Here I don’t simply mean that it will not effectually be enough—that is true enough on its own. Rather, I mean that it will not satisfy you. You and I were made to be in regular communion with God’s people and be a part of the local body, where we can function together in service to our Lord, with Christ as our head. We were made to be a “corporate” people, which not only demolishes the idea that there is no such thing as a healthy church, but the singular-minded Christian who senses they can somehow be saved and yet continually put the rest of the body at arm’s length. Christians were saved unto a body, not unto themselves. In other words, the individualistic focus that so many have with respect to the Christian faith is absolutely at odds with what Christ desires of us. It is shown so often within the Scriptures that I truly don’t know what else to tell one who denies this other than that they need to actually read their Bible more.
The reason I draw all of this out is simply that being part of the local body of Christ (i.e. the church) is about as basic as it gets. It is quite literally Christianity 101. No biblically-minded Christian is under the impression that there is such a thing as the perfect church, nor that one will ever come to be this side of heaven. Likewise, no biblically-minded Christian would say there are never reasons to leave a church. We’d be in full agreement that there are “churches” that are not bonafide churches; there are dead churches testified to in Scripture. There are dead churches present all over the world today simply because they have forsaken that body of doctrine the Scriptures would call “the faith.” There are, in fact, many good reasons to not be part of a church, but there are no good reasons to not be part of the church. The only reason why one wouldn’t be part of the local church is that they are not part of the universal church.
The Spirit in the Christian desires to be present where He is present in everyone else. If you don’t desire to meet with the saints, in whom the Spirit dwells, you ought to wonder if the Spirit is in you at all. The continual desire to bash the church at large seems to bear a closer resemblance to the hatred the world holds against Christ and His church, rather than one who genuinely loves Christ. That ought to be enough to make anyone pause and think more critically before bashing the Lord’s beloved. No man would dare speak evil of another man’s wife in her wedding dress; why so many professing Christians only find every reason to complain about the bride of Christ is beyond me. You would think, especially if they are joined together as part of that bride, they would realize they speak ill even of themselves. This is not how the prophets responded to the great wickedness of their own people. They wept. There was no delight as they spoke of her defilement. There was no joy as they proclaimed the Lord’s judgment upon her. Far from the heart of the prophets and Christ Himself are the many who only see fit to castigate God’s people, and imagine themselves as the only pure and undefiled ones in His midst.