10th July 2011

Why Church?

“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
John 17:3 (NIV UK) 

I was sitting in an airport lounge. To pass the time, I was reading a book by theologian Robert Capon, called The Parables of Judgment. 

The couple seated next to me interrupted to ask if it was a good book. I told them I thought it an excellent book. They confided that they believed in Jesus, but that they just did not want to be part of organised religion. 

I couldn’t resist asking if they preferred to be part of disorganised religion. We laughed, but their interest was piqued, and one of them asked me: “Why should I be part of a church?” 

I told them that being in relationship with God includes being in relationship with other Christians. I shared our church motto with them—“Living and Sharing the Gospel”. And then explained that our motto doesn’t mean we knock on people’s doors or interrupt them on the street to force our views on them. Rather, it reminds us that Jesus lives in us and that our lives are to be a reflection to others of God’s love. 

They told me they no longer attended a church because of the legalism imposed on them. I had to admit that discipleship often degenerates into legalism. But real Christian discipleship is not about a list of behaviours. Real discipleship is about undeserving people receiving and sharing God’s love. 

Some people seem to be what I call “grace-challenged.” By that I mean that while some people are grateful for God’s grace, they behave as though his grace is not enough, insufficient, to reconcile people to him. They feel compelled to emphasise obedience and law keeping over grace, which leads people into the frustration, anxiety and despair of guilt, instead of into the joy of the love of God. 

Sin certainly needs to be addressed—I don’t quarrel with that—but authentic Christianity is not merely some sin management programme. In fact, the best sin management programme is to stop worrying about sin, and instead to rest in God’s love and let him share his love with others through you. The central purpose of our lives is to know and love God and thereby experience the fullness of eternal life. 

Knowing God cannot be reduced to a mechanical checklist of dos and don’ts. Knowing God means living in his presence all the time with the secure knowledge that he loves you and accepts you for the sake of Jesus. It is not a life of keeping score, but a life of loving and being loved. Ephesians 5:1-2 says: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” 

The couple seemed genuinely interested and, as my flight was called, I concluded by telling them that being in relationship with God also means being in relationship with others. And a primary way that happens is in the setting of a local church, the kind of church where there is a real sense of living and sharing the gospel. I don’t know what their immediate decision might have been, but I expect that in time they will find a good church and join in meaningful fellowship with fellow believers. 

Holy Father, you knew that we would need help and so, in addition to the help from the Holy Spirit, you provide the church, a local congregation. At church we should feel “at home”, and it’s where we can confidently live the life you call us to. We seek your help, Father, to live to the full your life of love, in the church and outside of it. In Jesus’ name we pray.

Study by Joseph Tkach

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