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Church: Can’t I just Leave?

Church: Can’t I just Leave? January 4, 2022

Some of you hate the church. Some of you love the church and believe that yours is the best! Some of you have been hurt by the church. Some of you have done the hurting.

For many, the church represents intolerance, hatred, and judgmentalism. It is likely quite accurate to say that most of those outside the church will have nothing to do with it.

Some of those who are now outside the church used to be in it! But their pain, their emptiness, the abuse has been too much. They are done with it (to which I say, “I’m sorry. I understand. And I hope that this series of posts will represent a voice for you.”).

Others have chosen to remain on the inside, but are seriously asking: Can I just quit on this church thing? Can’t I just be a good Christ-follower without ever having to set foot in a church again?

BTW: If you are a Christian in the West and do not know what I mean, please wake up!

The reality is that we have been asking these questions for years now, but it seems that Covid has helped accelerate the process. After all, many haven’t been to a church for almost 2 years now and their faith has been fine—maybe even better. Why, then, should they go back?

I know that many of us want to give up on the church. We want to quit. We believe that we could do more good outside the church than we could inside it!

The problem is: this is not possible.

NB: I am not saying that you must be connected to a particular church in order to do the Lord’s work. The problem is much more complicated than this and the answers must be carefully nuanced. Allow me to explain.

What is the church?

One of the problems that we are confronted with here is that we may not even be thinking of the same thing when we ask the question.

  • Some may be thinking of a local church (which may be a positive or a negative thing):
    • And even here you may not be thinking of the same thing.
    • Some are thinking of a Catholic church; others of an evangelical, mega-church; and others of a small community church.
  • Others may be thinking of the global body of Christ.

Statements such as—”the church is corrupt, the whole thing; they are all bad”—may be true or false depending on what you mean.

Let me begin our inquiry by positing a question: “What is the pillar and foundation of the truth?”

Now, I have asked this question of biblical scholars and theologians and rarely do I get a correct answer. Some are simply stumped by the question and do not even attempt an answer for fear they might get it wrong. Others are quick to offer up an answer–an answer which by evangelical standards must certainly be correct–“the Bible.” Sorry, incorrect.

NB: If “the Bible” were the correct answer, we would have a problem of a different kind—namely, how do you know what it means? And, who says your answer is correct? (And we could go on—sounds like a topic for my next series of posts)

The answer to the question is found in 1 Tim 3:15. Paul, right after detailing the requirements for being a pastor and a deacon (1 Tim 3:1-13), says,

“Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim 3:14-15 NIV).

The church, says Paul, is the household of God and is the pillar and foundation of the truth.[1] This is probably not what most people think when they consider the church.

Yet, the Church is more than this. In the letter to the Ephesians, he says that the Church is the mystery of God:

“. . . that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

The mystery of God, Paul says, is that the nations (Gentiles) have become included into the people of God. Thus, Ephesians 3 adds, the Church is the embodiment of God’s mysterious work.

If this were not enough to establish the importance of the Church, we might add that the church is also that for which Christ died! As Ephesians 5 says,

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph 5:25).

We can’t give up on the Church

So, if you are ready to give up on the church, I understand. But we can’t. To give up on it is to fail to recognize what it is: it is the body of Christ on the earth.

This is why, in my last two posts (click here and here), I noted that taking communion in an “unworthy” manner likely means doing so while sinning against one another.

We can’t give up on the Church. In fact, we too must love the Church for which Christ died.

NB: This doesn’t mean that if you have been abused or have suffered at a church, you must go running back. Not at all. Clearly, there is much more to be discussed. . . .

 

 

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[1] This is not a translation issue. All the major English translations say something similar: “pillar and support of the truth” (NAS); “pillar and buttress of the truth” (ESV); “support and bulwark of the truth” (NET); “pillar and foundation of the truth” (NLT); “pillar and ground of the truth” (NKJ); “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (NRS).


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