Straight Talk

All right, brothers and sisters, it’s time for some straight talk.

If you are serious about following Jesus, you will be active in a local church. Otherwise, you are only playing pretend. Period.

The idea that you can follow Jesus without being part of a local fellowship of believers? Forget it. It’s not in the Bible.

I’m not saying you’re not a Christian. I’m not questioning your faith. I am saying you ought to be in a church.

What we self-absorbed, Lone Ranger-type, pick yourself up from the bootstraps, individualistic, consumer-driven Americans often forget is this: Jesus didn’t just die to rescue individuals; he died to create a new community. Whether you like it or nor, when you committed your life to following Jesus, you became part of a family.

Other than that famous thief who died on a cross – and he had a pretty good excuse – there is no hint, not even a whisper, of anyone who followed Jesus without being part of a local gathering of Christ-followers.

“Love one another. Admonish one another. Encourage one another. Bear one another’s burdens. Pray for one another.” These are not suggestions. They are directives, and they can only be fulfilled in the context of Christian community. If nothing else, committing to a local gathering of believers is a matter of obedience, plain and simple.

Yes, the church is flawed. Like every family it has its dysfunction. It is politicized, institutionalized and stultified. We are critical, judgmental and hypocritical. It's not a pretty sight.

Still, the church is the Bride of Christ and, if I were you, I’d be careful what I said about her, no matter how homely she might appear to you. According to the Bible, Jesus “nourishes and cherishes” the church. He loves his Bride, and so should you.

In every American community there are churches of all shapes and sorts. This is not a mistake: it is part of the beauty of God’s design. God paints in a kaleidoscope of colors. Everything he creates is filled with variety and beauty. Even the reclusive Gila monster has a colorful coat!

It stands to reason that the church – Christ’s beloved bride -- would display a magnificent mosaic of contrasts and apparent contradictions. The beauty is not in its sameness, but in its differences. So long as a church affirms the authority of the Scriptures, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the message of grace, let it wear whatever coat it likes.

Find the one that you like best and make it your home. Stop being a prodigal child to your spiritual family. Determine that you will submit to its leadership, forgive it for its failures, and love it through thick and through thin. After all, isn’t that what families do?

If you cannot find a church that meets your standards, choose the one you find least objectionable and inflict yourself on them. Then stay put. You probably deserve each other.

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing…” (Hebrews 10:25).