In this discussion, Don is objecting to my position on church. I believe that it is unnecessary, as I make clear in like Seeking the Kingdom of God Instead of Church as well as in the title of the blog A Nonchurchgoer’s Guide to Jesus and His Kingdom. Don’s position is the traditional evangelical Christian view that involvement in church is necessary to pleasing Jesus.
Don and I went to high school together a little over forty years ago. We’ve interacted only sporadically since then. This dialogue originally took place as a comment exchange a couple of months ago. If you want see it in its original context, see The Church Adds Its Ideas to God’s Ideas. I’ve done only minor editing here, and that for the sake of readability.
Mike: Jesus calls us to come to Him. The church adds that this means we should come to church (even though Jesus never said this).
Jesus says that we should be generous. The church adds that this means we should give money to the church (even though Jesus never said this).
Jesus says that we should honor Him. The church adds that this means we should honor the church as we would honor Him (even though Jesus never said this).
Jesus says that we should acknowledge Him as Lord of our lives. The church adds that we cannot do this without being an active part of a church (even though Jesus never said this).
The church preaches the truth but adds to it ideas of their own that are not truth. You must be able to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Jesus is the wheat. Everything else is chaff.
Don: What do you mean by “the church?”
Mike: The organizations that call themselves churches today. I used a singular term to describe them as a group but there are, of course, tens of thousands of Christian denominations and countless non-denominational churches. Regardless of their number, the characterizations I gave generally apply to them all, but especially to the more biblically-oriented ones.
By the way, I applaud any church when it preaches Jesus – not because it is a church, but because it is preaching Jesus.
Don: There are some very complicated statements that you made and to respond to them would be more lengthy than what you said. However, let me give you some basic responses. No, Jesus during his earthly ministry did not recommend the organizational structure of the local church, however it was illustrated in things that he did. He discipled people in ministry, illustrated baptism and the Lord’s supper. He did advocate and also lead what could be described as congregational meetings and outreach services. People that were discipled by Him did outline the basic structure in the local church elsewhere in the New Testament. He advocated helping the poor, widows, sick, prisoners, orphaned, etc. How are you going to do this without money. He did say, “Give and it will be given unto you.” Paul in the epistles particularly when writing to the Church at Corinth mentioned the taking of offerings to supply the needs of the Christians in Jerusalem who had suffered a great deal. Paul also talked about those who preach receiving funds for their ministry. Christians meeting together eventually build buildings for their activities. The people that attend give money to pay for those buildings. The funds are also used for mission activities and preaching the gospel, feeding the needy and so many other things. Are we perfect in our fellowships and gathering places, no, but most are trying to do well in honoring Christ. Also, when speaking of the church you need to consider that The Church is referred to as the bride of Christ.
Mike: You paint a vivid picture of how churches today have departed from Jesus’ commands and from the practices of the New Testament church. Instead of giving to “the poor, widows, sick, prisoners, orphaned, etc.” today’s churches collect for their buildings – just as you say. Sure, some of that money goes to the poor, but only a fraction. As you also rightly say, the New Testament church collected in one city to send to its poor in another city. Churches today do not do that; they collect for themselves (and maybe give a fraction elsewhere). Are most people in today’s churches trying to do right in the sight of God? Yes, but so are many people who don’t attend church.
As for “the church” being the bride of Christ, that was spoken of the New Testament church which was one undivided body. The apostles rebuked even the beginnings of division (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). Yet today’s churches exist in tens of thousands of different denominations, and even more nondenominational churches, thoroughly demonstrating that it is not the kingdom of God because of its divided state (Matthew 12:25).
The Kingdom of God is in our midst. It is available to everyone, whether they go to church or not. Those who trust and obey Jesus are seeking it. This trusting and seeking means keeping His commandments. Your acknowledgement that Jesus did not command church attendance should make you think. If going to church was essential to our pleasing Him, why would He not command it? And if we say that it is essential when He didn’t, are we not adding to the word of God our own man-made commandments?