I've spent the bulk of this series ripping into the Western Church. I think I've given voice to many of the complaints of people who are dissatisfied or even outright angry with organized Christianity. I did this for a reason. For the most part, these people are right. The church really is all these things. Some steal God's glory. A chunk of them have serious doctrinal issues. Some have a club mentality. There are those which are too businesslike in their operations. Too many have conformed to the world. There is every reason in the world to not want to set foot in a sanctuary or associate with any church people again this side of eternity. But that's not the way it is supposed to be.
Oh sure, I've heard people claim that there is no biblical warrant for local churches but their arguments have been quite weak. While Christianity is the result of individual faith, it is also expressed corporately. And I think it is expressed at its finest in a corporate setting. You see, even with all the things the church does wrong, there are plenty of things the church does right.
Like it or not, some ministries require many people and much money -- more than one person or even one small group is going to be able to handle. Besides the self-serving things we like to point out, churches are also putting missionaries on the field, supporting inner-city outreaches, and setting up new programs which feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the strangers, and visit the sick and imprisoned. Could these things happen with individuals working together? Yes, it's possible but highly unlikely. It's only natural for a smaller group to have a smaller dream. The big dreams are usually envisioned and brought to fruition by the Holy Spirit working through a larger group of people.
Churches can make a difference in a community through their actions. Christianity needs a public face with which local people can identify. Seekers want someplace they can turn to in their search. Communities need visible groups of people to provide a moral presence. We all want to see Jesus represented in the public marketplace. That some churches fail in their mission does not negate the need or the usefulness of the local church in the slightest.
One of the things churches do best is to provide a loving support system for its members. I have personally lived through tragedy without a church family and fully realize that something God designed for our comfort was missing in the process. Our meeting together provides for our encouragement, our support, our repentance, and our sympathy. As brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, we are designed to act not as long lost relatives but as God's children. A family.
Then there is the obvious answer for what churches do right. We worship together. I have some very touching times of worship in my private moments. God clearly communicates with me often while I am locked away in my prayer closet or with one or two other people. But there is absolutely nothing like worship in a corporate setting. Being blessed by the talents of others as they lead me in praising Him and applying Scripture to my life. There is the indescribable experience of coming to the Lord's Table with a group of believers. God uses these corporate worship times for our benefit. We bring Him our praise and we are blessed as well.
I remember the first time I attended a Promise Keepers event in Indianapolis. I couldn't tell you much about the speakers or what they said. But I remember lifting my voice along with 60,000 of my spiritual brothers inside a domed stadium. The tears flowed. There is something about knowing you're not alone. Like Isaiah after the slaughter at Mt. Carmel when he thought he was the last person alive who hadn't betrayed God, then being told that there is another large group of people who share your faith. It is not only reaffirming, but it is refreshing in a way that can hardly be put into words. The local church creates the same refreshment and encouragement every week.
I realize that I'm writing in generalities and that there are far too many churches who have no good points whatsoever. Yet as I stated before, the failure of some does not mean that need for the local church isn't valid. It works. Church glorifies God. It strengthens Christians. It reaches where individuals do not. It touches lives. Even with all the problems and headaches, we have no business throwing in the towel on the local church. And as Christians, we are responsible to make the assembly of belivers pleasing to our God and Savior.
Up next: Solutions?