I recently read a statistic that 80% of people in the United States believe you can be a good Christian and have no connection with a church community.
That means: follow Christ, know Christ, relate to Christ.
80% of Americans polled said that it is possible to do these things without being related to any church.
Jesus would disagree.
In the Gospel of John, chapter 17, as Jesus is praying to the Father the night before he is crucified – he looks at his disciples, and he looks forward to the church, which he is going to create by what he’s about to do, and he says:
Father, for their sake I consecrate myself, so that they may be sanctified. (John 17:19)
That word “consecrate” means: “I set myself apart for them! I am dedicated to them! I live for them!”
Jesus lives for the church. He died for the church. He is wholly committed to the church.
That means that there is never a time when Jesus says to himself, “The church… that little organization I left behind down there… I haven’t thought about them in a while; I wonder how they’re doing… ”
No! Rather, he lives for the church, he died for the church, and he is wholly committed to the church.
The church is God’s masterpiece, which he gave his life to create – and which he promised to protect forever, never allowing it to be overcome by evil.
In Ephesians chapter 1, it says that Jesus rules all things for the church.
The church is God’s expression of Himself in the world.
The church is God’s chosen and designed vehicle for the carrying out of his mission in the world.
In the Book of Acts, we see God bringing the church into existence, then adding to the church, then multiplying the church – and then sending out missionaries to start more churches.
In the Book of Revelation, where do we see Jesus? He is walking amongst the lampstands, which represent the churches.
God loves the church! It is his masterpiece. Jesus lived and died to create it, and he actively sustains it. He is fully committed to it – and you should be too.
And not just in the sense of the invisible worldwide communion of all who follow Christ – but the local church in particular. It’s easy to say, “Oh, of course I love “the church” in the sense of all the followers of Jesus out there – you know, as long as I don’t have to actually see them or interact with them or have any responsibility towards them…”
The idea that Christianity is a purely private, personal matter and that the church is optional and unnecessary – or even as the leader of a parachurch organization put it to me once: a “necessary evil” – is the product of our individualistic culture rather than the heart of God.
It has been said that the church is like a work of art, a masterpiece which mediocre and even bad artists have been painting over for centuries.
This happens sometimes: a great artist created a masterpiece, but over the years other artists – mediocre or even bad artists – tried to touch it up, and they painted over the top of it, and the challenge is to get underneath, back to the original masterpiece. That requires slow, hard work of scraping away and removing layers.
There is much about the church which turns people off, but there is no way you can say, like 80% of Americans that you can be a good Christian and write off the church and have no commitment to it.
The answer is not to write it off or dismiss it, but to return to the original masterpiece.
If Jesus loves the church, if Jesus is committed to it and lives for it and gave his life for it – then to love Jesus and follow Jesus means to love his church and be committed to it as well.