Jesus Yes. Church No.
Jesus Yes. Church No. By Pastor Brian Stanley, Regular Contributor
If you have been a pastor long enough, you'll have seen your share of folks that walk away from the church - both the big 'C' and the little 'c'. Tragically, there is a number of those who have altogether rejected the church for one of many possible reasons. Some leave their faith entirely, but then there are many who essentially say, I like Jesus, but I don't like his Church. They might even become the sort of people who have little kind to say of the Church, it's members and their shortcomings. Jesus Yes. Church No.
Consider this illustration: Can one have an authentic relationship with me (Brian) and yet despise and reject my wife? Can we be friends if you call my wife names and criticize her incessantly? I would suggest no. I am more inclined to bop you on the nose than fellowship with you or permit a pretentious relationship to exist between us. Why? Because my bride and I are inseparable. You take issue with her and you are taking issue with me - whether you intended to or not. You reject her, you also are rejecting me; rejecting all that I love and have given my life for.
Sure, you can run around declaring your fidelity to me all you want as my friend. You can quote my words of wisdom, even invite others to come and meet and get to know me. Thanks for the introduction. Yet, your attitude towards and lack of relationship with my bride betrays that confession of fidelity and friendship.
Now consider this: The Church is the Bride of Christ. Whereas, you can survive this life just fine without a relationship with me or my bride, the fact is you can't survive eternity without a relationship with Christ AND His Bride. In fact, you are either part of His Bride or something altogether different; and Jesus has no mistresses. One cannot be their own 'church' apart from the only 'Church'.
So, as you minister to friends who declare they are a Christian but that they have no need for the Church, minister to them with an understanding that the enemy has sold them a lie. He has worked diligently to scatter them from the one and only Flock. Disconnected them from the Body as gorishly as severing one's hand from it's arm. He has torn them from their place in the one and only Bride. There is no relationship with Christ without fellowship with His Church, for His Church is where he places those whom have embraced Him.
To be in Christ at all, plants one firmly in His Bride. Whereby one must grow and learn to function as part of One Body. It's a struggle at times doing that alongside so many imperfect people; working to finding one's special role in it all while remaining diligent in love for all members. But to quit, to give in, to reject this part is to reject the whole. As believers, we are either a part of the Bride or apart from the bride; but there remains only one Bride. Perhaps it's just that somewhere along the way they have missed a vital, vital teaching concerning the Body and Bride of Christ.
For this and so many other reasons, I passionately urge everyone who declares Jesus as Lord to find themselves in lifelong committed fellowship with the Church. Logically and logistically, this is your local church - wherever that is. When you find it, commit to it. You ride the rough waves. You make peace where peace is needed. You confront sin and offense where it is needed. You fight to the death for unity; unity between yourself and the church, yourself and others, and others and the church - Big 'C' or little 'c'.
If you have pulled away, I make a personal plea to you: please come home. Renew your commitments. Renew your vows. Connect once again and do not allow anything to separate you. Take part once again in the life, service, and mission of bringing joy to the bridegroom.
Of course, in this time of COVID, we accept that temporarily, some participation with the church may need to be remote. That's ok. It's not ideal and it should not be lasting. This is is different than leaving one's church or at least it shouldn't effectively look the same. After all, one can be remote and yet very well connected to and engaged as the Bride - even if somewhat limited. But that's an exception COVID has brought to the scene.
Be careful to not allow hurts, offenses, grievances, frustrations, short-comings, differences, or whatever else causes you to feel justified in your breaking away from the church to endure. Confess your disappointments, seek reconciliation, be restored. Don't allow yourself to become spiritually cold or lukewarm towards your being engaged in the Body of Christ. It is the The Spirit and the bride who say, “Come.”