This week’s edition of Newsweekmagazine has caused quite a stir in some circles. On the cover is a photo of a contemporary-looking “Jesus” standing on a city street, with the headline: “Forget the Church. Follow Jesus.” Inside, the feature story is entitled: “Christianity in Crisis: Why we should ignore politics, priests and get-rich evangelists and just follow Him.”
On the front end, I am sympathetic to their point; I’m not a big fan of politics or priests either, and I sure don’t care much for get-rich evangelists. And I definitely think we are called to “follow Him.” But the ideas of following Jesus and forgetting the church are mutually exclusive. Jesus loved the church so much that He died for her, and called each of us to be an active part of His body. It was He who said, “I will build Mychurch, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” It is at the very least contradictory to suggest that we can be a Christ-follower and neglect Hischurch.
More than anything, I believe Newsweek’sassertion represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be a part of the community of faith. It’s a common theme in today’s society, where people seek to have their own personal spirituality, while rejecting “organized religion” or the institutional church. Now I will admit that on some things we would probably agree. If the “church” we are to forget is a politicized organization, or a hierarchical structure, or empty ritual, or even a building, then we might all do well to “forget the church.” That was essentially what Jesus Himself taught when He confronted first-century Pharisees caught up in their formal going-through-the-motions religion. “Come to Me,” He said, “…and I will give you rest for your souls.”
But if we think we can come to Jesus and avoid living in His family, we are cutting off our spiritual noses to spite our faces. We are isolating ourselves from His life-giving body, pulling our coal from the embers of a burning fire. We are only hurting ourselves, as we eliminate our own opportunities to be cared for, loved on, ministered to, served, encouraged, discipled, challenged, and on and on. And, for that matter, we also lose the opportunity of God using us as we serve others in the same way, in the “one another” ministry of building up His body.
Sadly, I have met so many people over the years who have had bad experiences and thus have similar views of “church” so that they too are ready to forget the churchforever. I’ve talked to two such people in the past week alone. I can only wish that each of them, with their wounds and hurts, and their preconceived notions and presuppositions about what church is, could experience the love and joy and support of genuine Biblical community. They would never want to “forget the church” again.
I’m so thankful to be a part of The Church at Shelby Crossings, where I can live out my faith in the context and environment of grace and truth, and love and freedom. Truly it was for such a new community that Jesus died, and rose again.
I look forward to celebrating with you the death and resurrection of the Jesus that we follow this weekend at Shelby Crossings. I’m praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I can’t wait to see you on Friday night, and Sunday morning!