Go back to church

Go back to church December 10, 2021

Image: Crossway

2020 was a rough year for a lot of reasons. One that at first glance seems smaller than others is the fact that church attendance has declined. Given our problems with the supply chain, inflation, and political polarization, this would seem to be a small problem in an ocean of much larger and more pressing issues.

And yet, for the Christian church is an essential part of life. “Simply put, a Christian without a church is a Christian in trouble.” So says the introduction to Rediscover Church: Why the Body of Christ is Essential by Collin Hansen and Jonathan Leeman. (pg 11) I’ll go a step farther where the authors of this book don’t go, but which I think is true in a limited sense: if you are a Christian and not a member of a local church, the Bible has no category for you as a Christian, and you should not be affirmed in your faith. That’s not to say there are no circumstances where a Christian might not be a member of a local church (moving to a new city, having just been converted, living in a nation that persecutes believers, etc). But in general, the assumption of Scripture is that if you are a believer you are gathering with other believers, submitting yourself to the authority and teaching of the elders of the church, participating in the congregational government of the church, regularly attending the teaching and worship of the body, and engaging in healthy church discipline.

Whether Hansen and Leeman would say it quite as strongly as I do, they have given us a book intended to outline the basics of what a church is while calling us to return to the gathering of believers as a part of our regular Christian lives.

Obviously the big hitch here is COVID. Yes, church numbers were declining before COVID (at least some of them were–there’s complexity in that story, and the mainline churches were certainly receiving the brunt of that decline). Yet the question of what returning to church looks like in a pandemic is still with us–and is further complicated by the division in our society over whether COVID is now or ever was a crisis that needed to be dealt with.

But this is where we need the church most. These divisions and troubles that our society faces shouldn’t be obstacles to our doctrine of the church, they should be opportunities for us to grow nearer to each other and to Christ through the Gospel. We have an opportunity to practice mutual love because of the Gospel in a moment when we are bitterly divided against each other politically and culturally. That’s not saying we should ignore COVID guidelines–that’s a different conversation. It’s saying that we should draw nearer to each other despite COVID, not in defiance of it.

Rediscover Church is an excellent resource to this end. Leadership, membership, preaching, the gathering, and other topics are covered at an introductory level in a way that is faithful to Scripture and will benefit those who haven’t really thought through this issue. It will also serve as a refresher to those who are familiar with the Scriptural doctrine of the church but who have lost sight of it over the past couple of tumultuous years.

In other words, this is a worthwhile and timely book for the church and I strongly recommend you read it.

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast an Amazon Associate (which is linked in this blog), and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO

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