Christian Living the Church

A.S.K – Church, Salvation and Hypocrisy

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BIBLE READING: Acts 2:42-47

TEXT: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer (Acts 2:42).

There is a growing trend in some parts of the Western Church to argue for churchless Christianity. St Augustine would have struggled with this novel idea: ‘He who does not have the Church for his mother, cannot have God for his Father’ (Augustine). It’s partly based on a truth. We are not saved because we go to church, just as we are not saved by good works. But if we are saved we will do good works and if we are saved we are part of the Church.

Part of the problem here is again with definition. Have you noticed how in this book we have continually needed to define what we mean? This is because clear answers need clear questions. Your question speaks about going to church. What does that mean? To many it means the building – they are wrong. The view of church as building has no justification in the terms of the New Testament. The term church is from the Greek ecclesia which means ‘the assembly’. The church is first of all something that we are, not something that we go to.

The church is the whole body of Christ throughout the whole world, throughout all ages. That is what we call the universal church. We are baptised into that Church. We are part of it when we become believers. In that sense, you cannot be a Christian without being part of the Church, without being part of the body of Christ.

But the Bible also speaks of local churches (Galatians 1:1-2 or the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3) – that is the local gathering of believers and their families. There is little evidence for the use of the term ‘church’ to describe a denomination – although many Christians would see that New Testament churches were not isolated and did act together as one body.

There is, however, a sense in which church is something that we both belong to and go to – when we gather together with the local congregation. Do you need to do that? Do you need to belong to a local church in order to be a Christian? This is a bit like baptism – you don’t need to be baptised to be a Christian, but a Christian (a follower of Christ) will be baptised because they are following him. A very few people, like the thief on the cross, don’t have the opportunity to be baptised, but these are exceptions. And exceptions make  bad rules. The bottom line is that we are commanded to meet together and not to be isolated Christians, or just to gather with people we like.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching (Hebrews 10:24-25). ‘For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them’ (Matthew 18:20). ‘Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts’ (Colossians 3:16).

Why would you as a Christian, not want to meet with other Christians? Why would you not want to obey Christ? Why would you not want to be taught God’s Word? Sing his praise? Join together in prayer? Evangelise with his people? Have fellowship with your brothers and sisters who you are going to spend all eternity with?

Because the church is full of hypocrites and is not perfect? Sometimes I am told, ‘I can’t go to church because it’s full of hypocrites’, to which the most obvious response is ‘you should come, you would be very much at home!’ The Bible tells us that every church is filled with sinners, including the pastors, elders and deacons. It will not be perfect. As C.H. Spurgeon said to a woman who was leaving his church because it was not perfect; ‘Madam, when you find the perfect church, don’t join it. You will only spoil it!’

Christians (including you and I) say one thing and do another because we are sinful. That is not to excuse our sin – nor to say that there are not fake Christians and false teachers within the Church. Sadly this has been the way since the New Testament. But God is working out his purposes through his church and there is a great deal of reality, truth and beauty within it. For you to stay away from it is to harm both yourself and the church.

CONSIDER: Why would a Christian not want to go to a church? What should we look for in a church? How do we deal with hypocrisy within the church and ourselves?

RECOMMENDED FURTHER READING: Why Bother with Church? – Sam Allberry

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, I thank you for your church – glorious as she is throughout the ages and even more glorious in heaven. I thank you for the hundreds of thousands of local churches throughout the world today and that you are continuing to build and increase your church through them. Lord, protect your church and lead me to serve in one that is faithful to you and your Word. Amen.

A.S.K 49 – The Role of the Law

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7 comments

  1. Hello David,
    Hmmmm …..All true this article .I say this because I am not attending ‘ Church ‘ at the moment and this was before ,Covid 19.
    I am guilty .This is my own assessment of not attending ‘ Church ‘.
    On a Sunday morning I tune into a service, Online , again something I was doing before ,Covid 19.
    I read my Bible ,listen to Christian tv ,radio and computer ! Sing along with Praise worshippers and Pray for a Church to attend .
    Now,the question is why is it so difficult to attend ‘ Church ‘ ?
    Thank goodness ‘GOD ‘ knows my footsteps and my attempts ….
    I will explain my chapters of rejection ( future book )if God allows and why beauty which you have mentioned is not always found in ‘ Church ‘note I say ‘ Church ‘ not a Church .
    My Dear Christians friends ( Praise God) have suggested if you look a certain way ,you won’t be accepted …..
    Beauty comes from within when Christ shines through you but what if you are a Marlyn Monroe or a Jane Russel and have both ?Beauty within because Of Jesus and external physical beauty ! What then ?
    Jesus is the most important ,Yet ! a physical stunning beautiful woman is shunned ? by the congregation .How sad! Indeed !
    So shallow or not this is my story of why I don’t attend ‘ Church ‘
    However I sing : This is my story ,this is my song …Praising my Jesus all the day long …..He is worthy to be Praised….Gillian❤️

  2. David,

    I really like the way you put this by way of church being the body of Christ and not the building. something that I have been saying for some time with meaning of the word in context – so wherever two or three are gathered in Christ’s name.

    Your argument about the church not being perfect is not an uncommon one. As is Spurgeon’s metaphor about taking a single piece of coal away from a fire and it not glowing as brightly. I can understand if your experience of church has for the most part been of more good than harm that this might be and approach you would take.

    So then I come to “why would you… not want to meet with other Christians?” And “for you to stay away from it is to harm both yourself and the church.” Well, maybe. But then this of course comes with the assumption that someone who stays away from church is “backsliding” or at least inclining that way and it’s easier to make that claim about the individual than to address issues in the church that may come up – i.e. to use someone as a scapegoat than to look to issues in the church, including abuse that can happen in ministry. Yes the church is not without sin, but would you advise and abused spouse to stay living with their marriage partner to continue to be abused? Or would you rather suggest they get to a place of safety where they can heal form abuse. Or what about what Jesus said to Peter “feed my sheep”? What if you were to turn up to someone’s home for a meal and what they do is sit you down with a menu and expect you to feed yourself and you leave more hungry that you were when you came? What if someone’s experience of church is hearing the word and the word is absent of THE word i.e. Christ?

    Again, I shared recently of a time where a pastor claimed “we have not got enough resources to deal with your issues” and of another occasion where a pastor claims I was “guilty of the good old fashioned sin of pride”. So, to what extent was it my issues / sin that came into play here and to what extent issues in the church? To what extend was I a troublemaker and to what extent a “prophet without honour among his own people”? And these two occasions have not been the only times where I have left a church, spending at least some period of time not attending church.

    Was that period spent doing harm to myself and to the church? I don’t think so. So while I can see where you are coming from and I might even agree with you in principle I have to say, the periods I have been away from church have, on reflection benefited both me and the church. Not unlike perhaps a period of separation in a marriage could work where spouses work on their individual issues before re-uniting rather than tearing each other apart.

    Also what about the church, you know listening, actually listening? A good book for this is “The Invisible Church – Learning from the Experiences of Church-less Christians” by Steve Aisthorpe. In it he claims, “The Church’s current trajectory is sometimes depicted as a nose- dive but the reader is encouraged to move beyond simplistic assumptions based on the statistics of where people spend Sunday morning and to recognise that a growing body of evidence paints a picture which is less about decline and more about transition. The Church is changing and the future is hope-filled” pg x

    Kind Regards,

    Adam

      1. It resonates with the reality of my experience David. With respect just as your comment is in dissonance with my experience as shared.

        A former Bible College Principle Richard Tiplady of the International Christian College here in Glasgow has written in Rose Dowsett’s book “Global Mission – Reflections and Case Studies in Contextualisation for the Whole Church” “existing forms of Christian worship and community do not attract outsiders (and may even repel them). There should be no offence except the cross of Christ.” pg145

        Again it is easier to make claims about the individual than to address issues in the church that may come up – i.e. to use someone as a scapegoat.

        If the testimony I give is one of a backslider then of course what you say is true. But I am not convinced of this or at least not that this is the whole story. Aisthhorpe’s book gave me hope in a time when I was hopeless, wondering , lost. He speaks from a position of authority, having researched “churchless Christians” as part of his doctoral study and his ideas are worth engaging with.

  3. “The church is the whole body of Christ throughout the whole world, throughout all ages. That is what we call the universal church. We are baptised into that Church.”
    So far so good.
    “But the Bible also speaks of local churches (Galatians 1:1-2 or the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3) – that is the local gathering of believers and their families. There is little evidence for the use of the term ‘church’ to describe a denomination….”
    Better still. My only quibble is the use of the phrase ‘little evidence’. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever. Far from there being no evidence in the Bible for the permitted existence of different denominations, St Paul is adamantly clear that splits are abominable. When he wrote his letters he never wrote any to a particular denomination. He never wrote a letter to the Presbyterians in Corinth or the Methodists in Ephesus or the Baptists in Thessaloniki or even the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Colossae. He wrote his letters to “the Church”. And by that he didn’t mean, “When you Baptists have read my letter please pass it on to the Methodists.” Different denominations are unscriptural. A Bible-believing Christian would reject the idea of different denominations.
    As for St Augustine, he wrote “[According to] Apostolic Tradition . . . the Churches of Christ hold inherently that without baptism and participation at the table of the Lord it is impossible for any man to attain either to the kingdom of God or to salvation and life eternal. This is the witness of Scripture too” (Forgiveness and the Just Deserts of Sin, and the Baptism of Infants 1:24:34 [A.D. 412]).

  4. I have stopped going to church in Edinburgh after 15 years. Over these years I moved locations and went to Charismatic, Baptist, Episcopalian, Evangelical church. I was involved in a number of ministries and served wholeheartedly. I learnt that churches here are run by the middle class and are for the middle class. I’m not judging anyone, just stating the facts. Middle class people know everything better and look down at everyone who is not from their class. Cliques in the churches are a norm. If you have money you are someone and they welcome you with open arms especially if you tithe but if you don’t have money you are a nobody no matter what you do. If you are a foreigner and working class, there is no place for you in church. People simply ignore you and not invite to their own middle class meetings no matter what you do and how hard you try to become a part of their community. I now spend time daily with my family reading the Bible through the year in the mornings and evenings and my faith grows stronger than in any of the church before. I’m not planning to go back to church in Scotland to look at all of that again. This was all very distressing to me over the years. I pray that God would judge this hypocrisy because I cannot call it otherwise. We all know this is all true but keep on denying and pretending that everything is all right. Everything Jesus said about the church in the last days before His coming is true. Come Lord Jesus.

  5. It’s looking like these are the end times now, and that Jesus will return sometime this century. But what if I’m wrong and we have another 2,000 years before that happens? Do you think Christians will still meet as we do in most places now; in a building, listening to one man (usually) give a sermon for 20 minutes or so, and the worship band plays four or five songs (many of which imitate teenage girls boy band taste in music)? I’d ask you whether instead of churchless Christianity do you think we need to do church differently?

    The way I see it is the internet has made it possible to learn the bible in depth on your own, as with apologetics. I can also find the original greek word used in scripture in an instant – and the exegesis of a text – have access to detailed summery’s of particular contexts speakers in the bible spoke in, and the idioms they were using at the time so easily, without ever having to leave my flat. I can also organise a brilliant playlist at home of my own choice and worship God by myself. I can share the gospel to non-Christians without the oversight of my “church” and I can have fellowship with Christians outside of the church building.

    I’m playing devils advocate here. But my point is that Christians should be careful not to blame the customer rather than the product, when looking at disappointing sales. Excuse the horrible marketing language but maybe it’s a very good thing church attendances are plummeting. Jesus said ‘we’d do greater things than these’ but where’s the evidence? Maybe the institution of church and religion needs to end, and the comfort of regular easy Sunday morning meetings with it, to be an effective and positive influence in society once more. Because quite clearly, what we do no longer works.

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