In case you think all of my email is filled with great questions and wonderful affirmations, it isn’t so. Take this one I got last week:
Are you surprised he signed his letter as ‘Senior Pastor’ so-an-so? I’m not even sure what article he is referring to, since he didn’t say. I’d assume he means Why I Don’t Go to Church Anymore. But my heart goes out to people like him. I used to be one of them only considered those who were involved in a recognized local assembly to be committed Christians.
Now I know better. Institutional commitment alone is meaningless. Jesus never told his disciples to organize such things, nor people to attend them. The writers of the New Testament talked of the church locally as believers in a given region. They met in homes, related to each other with joy and service, and for over 300 years never began the kind of institutions and traditions that have come to mark Christianity for the last 18 centuries. They loved each other, were devoted to each other even beyond their faults and weaknesses, and shared his life together by the strength of their relationships throughout the week.
I honestly think those who see their church involvement as a congregational meeting have more to explain about New Testament precedents than those who live in the reality of open and honest relationships with lots of other Christians in their area—and not just those who attend one institution. Over the last five years Sara and I have built relationships with a variety of people in this area. Some of them attend a Sunday morning gathering; many of them do not. But what they do have in common is a passionate desire to live deeply with Jesus and to walk alongside other believers in meaningful relationships. What more could we ever want from the church?
I do agree that those who claim the name of Christ are part of the local body of believers. I guess I just mean that differently than my pastor friend does. Some us just grew tired of all the institutional baggage that seemed to hinder rather than help those relationships. We’re not attacking others who see it differently by calling their beliefs foolish or accusing them of great harm. I don’t see the need for them to do so with us.