If you want to see the earlier of this conversation, click on Challenge from a Churchgoer and/or Challenge from a Churchgoer – Part 2.
Churchgoer: I am not exalting the organized institution of “church.” I am confident of those people who attend that in some way they are there because they are seeking God and His Kingdom. Scripture says not to forsake the fellowship of the saints (other believers and not the Catholic view of Saints). It does not say you must be sitting on the pew at 11 a.m. on Sunday morning. I go because I enjoy seeing the people there and seeing what I can learn from the sermon. Very often I am teaching SS or speaking at a church somewhere. I see a church building as a meeting place for God’s people and I appreciate all the church buildings and people that attend and built them as a witness of a kingdom phrase repeated in the NT, “The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed…..that fills the whole earth.” You know the statement. Each year 44,000 new churches open their doors for the first time. Everyday 166,000 people hear the Gospel for the first time. There are 27,000,000 new Christian every year. The Bible has been translated into 4661 languages. 74% of the world’s population has heard the gospel at least once. Whenever I go to speak at a church I always look for the cornerstone and when the building went up. I spoke at a church just over a week ago where the cornerstone said 1930. I expressed appreciation for the vision of those people during the depression that built that building as a witness and meeting place for God’s people. Eighty years it has been open and used for services. Isn’t that a great testimony?
My response: The defense of church that you are here offering is quite similar to the one offered to Jesus of the temple in Jerusalem just before He was crucified in its shadow (“Teacher, behold, what wonderful stones and buildings!”). Moreover, it is a defense that could be offered – with numbers that vary, of course – by any member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Roman Catholic Church, mainline liberal denominations, or any other kind of religious body that has buildings and is growing. Even Jewish synagogues could make this argument – not to mention Islam and other religions. There are even some social and civic organizations that could make this argument! Your threefold argument is essentially the same one any of them could make: 1) We enjoy getting together, 2) We promote God and His ideas, 3) Our numbers are growing. Just as you believe in your organizations, others believe in theirs.
The most remarkable aspect of your defense, however, is that you offer no Scriptural foundation for it (other than a fleeting reference to the kingdom of God growing, which, again, could be applied to any organization that grows). I say “remarkable” because you started this discussion with an appeal to Scripture and its authority in such matters. Oh, yes, you did allude to Hebrews 10:25 but that verse says to “not forsake the assembling of yourselves together.” Today’s Christians do not assemble together – they assemble separately. Even in small cities, there are multiple churches – often across the street from each other. How is that following Scripture? If Jesus wanted us to lay many church cornerstones there would be instructions in the New Testament to that end. Instead, we find reference to but one cornerstone – Jesus Christ Himself.
We do not need to build churches in order to translate the Bible and spread the gospel. In fact, church building just distracts from those more worthy purposes.
You say that you’re not exalting the “organized institution of church.” Yet almost every church today (at least in this country) has legal by-laws, corporate status, and a tax-exempt status – even the small ones. Where is it then that institutionalism is being avoided?
At one point you say or imply that there are well-intentioned people seeking God, going to church for that purpose. With this, I agree with you. But this is all the more reason we should warn and spare such people from the institutionalism that permeates churches of today. If we are to keep these well-intentioned people from being disillusioned, let us tell them of Jesus and spare them of church and the distractions it brings.
I return to that which you appealed in the beginning: Scripture. It says to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” You and I have no disagreement at all about the authority of Scripture. Our disagreement is about what Scripture authorizes. It’s pretty clear that it has not authorized the divided churches we see today. What it has authorized is the kingdom of God, which is invisible to the human eye but to which we all owe allegiance.
The purpose of this blog is to praise Jesus Christ in terms familiar to those who read the Bible, and to help others become more familiar with the Bible. For those unfamiliar with the Bible, see the blog A Nonchurchgoer’s Guide to Jesus and His Kingdom.