I read a very interesting paragraph in a blog by Lisa Miller, former religion editor of Newsweek.
“When Bible study can be done on Facebook as easily as in the church basement, and a favorite preacher can teach lessons via podcast, the necessity of physically gathering each week in the same place with the same people turns remote.” (http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/05/15/my-take-how-technology-could-bring-down-the-church/)
Only someone with a very modern view of the church could make such a statement. Not that the stament is inaccurate! If the church is what is commonly portrayed, at least in North America, then Ms. Miller’s assessment is spot on. If church is nothing more than a meeting you attend on Sundays–and perhaps on Wednesdays as well–then why bother? Ms. Miller specifically mentioned Rob Bell as one of those “favorite preachers.” Rob’s preaching is much more interesting and inspiring than the sermons in 99% of the churches out there. And if you sing at home, you can play whatever songs are your favorites, sung by professionals, on whatever sound system you have and at whatever volume you prefer.
But put that in context of the early churches:
Acts 2:42: And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayers … and all the believers were together and had all things in common … and continuing daily in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, they took their meals together with gladness and unity of heart.
You can’t replace that with an internet sermon!
Or how about this one from a century later:
We who once valued above all else the acquisition of wealth and possessions now bring what we have into a common stock and share with everyone in need. We who hated and destroyed one another and, on account of of different customs, would not share the same fire with men of a different tribe now, since the coming of Christ, live familiarly with them. (Justin Martyr, First Apology 14)
You can replace a weekly meeting with an exciting, excellent teaching by podcast. You can even, in a sense, replace corporate worship by watching it on a TV or computer screen.
But the church is not a weekly meeting!
The Scriptures call the church the household of God (1 Tim. 3:15). We say the same thing today, calling the church the family of God and referring to each other as brothers and sisters, but it must have some invisible, spiritual, or symbolic meaning for us because the majority of us can replace church with something we watch on a screen and listen to with headphones!
Obviously, the apostolic churches took the Holy Spirit’s words differently than we take them. They actually “lived familiarly” with one another and brought their extra money together to take care of “everyone” in need. They broke bread from house to house and ate their meals together with gladness.
That’s the sort of thing a family would do.
Wouldn’t you love to be in a family whose every member devoted their lives to kindness and love and in which every person was empowered by the Holy Spirit to achieve some measure of success living in love and service to others? Wouldn’t you love to be in a family that shared their lives and took care of each other with “singleness of heart,” so that you could count on changing the world together because you were devoted to ministry together?
That is what is supposed to be offered in every church.
It may seem hopeless to see that happen, but the first step is simple.
You have to give up your devotion to an organization that offers meetings because the church isn’t an organization anyway. (Remember? We’ve all heard that said, right?) Then you have to change your devotion to people.
And not to any people! One of the problems in churches today is that no distinction is made between those who are sold out to the will of Jesus Christ and those who are not. The sons of God cannot and should not be unequally yoked with the sons of Belial. The context of that verse is not marriage, though that’s the only context in which modern believers ever mention “unequally yoked.”
You need to devote yourself to others who love God like you do. No, not to others who have the same doctrine on the hundreds of non-essentials we normally divide over. It’s unity of Spirit that comes first, and the **result** of that unity of Spirit will be unity of faith (Eph. 4:3,13).
It doesn’t matter where they go on Sunday morning. Chances are that you can’t see them Monday or Tuesday morning, either, because they have a job that is different than yours. I know from experience that it’s not that hard to find time outside of church and work to fellowship with those who work somewhere else than you do.
There’s a lot of advice I’m tempted to give here, but it’s a temptation. We have to get a vision for what the church should be, know that it’s God’s vision as well, then trust God and make real efforts–efforts we can feel good about before God–to see the will of God happen.
At that point, it’s God who’s got to help you go forward. If the Lord’s not building the house or watching the city, then you’re laboring in vain. It’s Jesus we’re following, and it’s his Spirit that has the power to make the will of God happen.