Do we need churches?

This week I had a great conversation with a good friend of mine from Seminary. He lives in an urban area in the South and has been committed to following Jesus for some time now. He, like many of us, has had both ups and downs with the local church. Although we agree on many things…today we agreed to disagree on a very fundamental Christian concept…the church.

Basically, I said we needed them and he thought that we didn’t. His argument was pretty compelling. He cited all of the problems churches have contributed to in local communities. He commented on how a huge branch of “Christianity and her churches” has been essentially hijacked for over ten years by the political system…what we have come to know as the “religious right”.  He cited the abuse and misuse of resources. He mentioned how churches often ask and consume without ever contributing to the very communities they claim to love. I wish I could say that I had pithy responses or defenses for many of his accusations, however many of them are true.

So, this leads me to the question I’d like to pose to you today, “Do we need churches?”.  I would say emphatically yes. Men like my friend highlight truths that might hurt to hear, but need to be heard. I support my answer with the very words of Jesus. Jesus himself placed a great value on the church, on her responsibility to be a world changing entity bringing peace and love to all who come in contact with her. In essence, the church is to be the physical embodiment of the ways and teaching of Jesus. Of this I am confident, if the church is to be the physical representation of Jesus, then we need churches…because everyone could benefit from living a life like Jesus did.

So the answer (at least in my opinion) is not to jettison the church, rather to call those who belong to her back to a proper representation of the person of Jesus. My hope is that in five years my conversation with an old friend will have changed, however that is largely dependent on what you and I do with his concerns.

So what do you think…Do we need churches?


~ by Anthony Orzo on July 30, 2009.

19 Responses to “Do we need churches?”

  1. Pardon the obvious, but Christ started the church, so to say we do not need them is to say he was wrong. Obviously, the problem is not whether or not we should have churches, but what kind of churches.
    People tend to gather into groups. Neighborhoods, clubs, schools, work, family, hippies, bikers, rednecks, skinheads, punks–all are groups. Christ formed his church intentionally. I think he knew something about people–he invented us, remember? He knew we would need healthy groups in which to relate and function. Perhaps your friend has seen something labeled church that was not church at all. If I see no need for government, it is probably because I have seen a lot of bad government, not because government is unnecessary.
    I am open to correction, but the key to healthy church seems to be summed up in Christ’s new command (John 13:34-35) to love each other as he loved us. If we have churches based on love, where love is the paramount value, and the primary thing against which we measure all other things, programs, and status granting, you friend will likely love the church and participate.
    So, amigos, what do you we lower the swords? Less bashing the ones doing it wrong, and more doing it right. I am not responsible for the angry preacher up the street. I am responsible for my attitude and the flock I lead. Less griping, more love!

    • Hey Jack. Thanks for the comment. I have to agree with you…there does seem to be a rising tide of “bashing attitudes” and at times a real lack of love in what we say and do. I think we should be a people who are honest enough to identify problems, but also recognize that complaining never solved anything. Christian communties and leaders should be committed to solutions. And the solution is as you said, churches defined by the love and ways of Jesus.

  2. Hey Ant–

    Have just been listening to a two-day radio debate between James White and Harold Camping (the guy who is urging his followers to flee the churches, as the HS is no longer active there and await his second coming in May of 2011). White has already written a book on the subject, _Dangerous Airwaves_. He has provided what is, to my mind, rock-solid biblical exegesis of the relevant passages demonstrating that the Church simply _is_ God’s vehicle for the edification of God’s people, the salt in the world’s various wounds, and the restorative agent of the individual’s soul. Christ has promised us that he will never abandon his Church, his Bride. It strikes me as both completely “normal” and completely sad that, in our day, we find some folks advocating a policy of church abandonment. It’s certainly not a biblical position. I would challenge you to challenge your friend to demonstrate his position with scripture. He/she will not be able to do so, of course.

    You’re on the right track, my friend. He/she must have a very short-sighted view in mind: as if the last ten years of EV Christianity in America actually tells us anything definitive about whether or not God desires us to congregate with other believers in local congregations for our mutual edification.

    I would ask your friend if his position is a specifically Western one. I would ask this person if persecuted members of God’s church in China, or Indonesia, or North Korea, or Pakistan should just give it all up. But, then, those local churches have no ‘resources’ to abuse, they have no means, generally, with which to give back to their communities–they pay with love to their jailers, rather than with cash and/or community programs–they cause no trouble to their local communities, other than as they cause trouble for all (their families, their reputations, their job prospects, their own lives), with much fear and trembling, secondary to the sacrosanct task of witnessing to God, in the flesh, of the importance of Christ’s Church on earth.

    I’d like to hear a conversation between your friend and a persecuted Christian. Your friend advocating an abandonment of the American EV Church culture and the persecuted Christian in Indonesia who is convinced that the Book of Revelation is actually happening Right Now to Him. And your friend might ask, if this person is so inclined, “Why on earth do you think you need the Church?”

    I would assume that the two would have radically divergent answers to that question. And your friend is going to be wrong.


    • Thanks Kelly. I have not heard of Harold Camping, but will be sure to listen to him. I had no idea there was a larger movement that was encouraging the abandonment of the church. However, I am not surprised by to many things these days.

    • I’m Jon. Anthony’s friend who has a few issues with American Christianity. I responded to your post with a comment to Anthony’s original. Peace.

  3. I agree with Chris, the western church has taken for granted and often abused the church… that should be costing us something! We have such a small view of what Christ meant the church to be and I am not sure if we really can grasp it until we are willing to get dirty and live a messy Christ Followers life.
    Patt Luce

  4. The mainstream churches and the church-as-Christ-meant-it-to-be are two different things/ The church could be attractive to all if it really was a place full of God’s love and grace, and a place of true worship.

    However, you could be attending a great church and not even know it. IMHO I think CCC is a good example of this…. for those that immerse themselves in it community and worship, they truly do experience the love of Christ though His people and HIs presence in worship and the teaching. But there are those that emotionally stand on the sideline who don’t experience that, and would totally not see how God is working through this particular community.

    I think this duality was true in Christ’s day, too. Tons of people we in the presence of the Son of God and didn’t buy into it at all, and remained resistant to His teaching to make “the Way” a means of loving one another. Some just didn’t engage.

    So sometimes our assessment of our own church can reveal something about ourselves.

  5. I assume you are talking about “church” being an institution rather than a group of people, right?

    • Yes. Although I prefer to not use the word “institutional”. It tends to be interpreted so many ways that it is hard to have a reasonable conversation about it. For this post, we specifically mean a group of believers gathering themselves in an organized fashion. (Ie, meetng consistently in a local context).

      Hope that Helps.

  6. Let me share a little story that doesn’t include the words “pithy” and “exegesis.” While pregnant with my second child, my husband and I had been in a church search. We had seemingly decided on a particular one and attended roughly, 1-2 times per month, while still looking. This church was without a “head pastor” at the time, but the people were warm and the doctrine sound. To our detriment, we had kept our distance in getting to know people, and stood on the out-skirts. But at the birth of our daughter we were swept away by those we had set ourselves apart from. 4 times per week for almost 2 months, strangers flooded our home with food and prayerful support. The Body of Christ, caring for and ministering to strangers (in an organized fashion no less).
    So, what does this say about this “group of people who gather weekly in an organized fashion?” Needless to say, we are members of this congregation.
    Remember we are depraved, fallen, human! Not all who gather have the “churches” well-being as a priority. Hopefully these aren’t our leaders (sometimes they are). Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!

  7. Anthony, Thanks for the generosity you conveyed in your initial post. As for the rest of the comments, most were very respectful. The one person I take major issue with is “Chris Salmon”.

    Chris, I think you should learn a few things about being respectful to people you disagree with. If you communicate things in a particular way, all anyone will hear is a clanging cymbal.

    A few thoughts…
    1. Your mention of a group that is “abandoning” the church based on a prediction of the second coming of Jesus in response to mine and anthony’s conversation strikes me as riduculous and lacking generosity. Do you actually think that what Anthony and I were discussing has anything to do with that kind of a situation? If you don’t think that our situations are the same or even similar, then say that for the sake of clarity. My hope is that you did not mean the comparison and were just a bit sloppy in communicating your ideas.

    2. You challenged anthony to challenge me “to demonstrate his position with scripture.” I am proposing that the vast majority of local churched in America are useless as agents of God’s restorative healing. The burden of proof is not on me to prove anything biblically. The burden of proof is on you to make the church what Jesus told you to. Did Jesus come down on people who were disenfranchised with the corrupt religious establishment of his day? No, but he did rail against that establishment himself. Maybe you should act like your Lord, rail against corrupt religious establishments and stop telling people like me to prove it biblically. The bible is not the problem. The church in American is. I can’t reconcile the Bible with what you and your friends have let the church-at-large become. How about instead of arguing with me, you change churches so that I can begin to reconcile scripture with reality. In the meantime, maybe you should save your rhetoric for the church instead of me…

    3. You mention followers of Jesus in the third world. I have a feeling that if the followers of Christ that you speak of who are bleeding for the way of Jesus were faced with the expression of “church” that I have issues with, they would probably throw up all over themselves. If more American churches would actually follow Jesus in the way that these other people do, we might not be having this conversation. They are doing what the American church is not. And your response to my frustration is to essentially imply that I’m a spoiled American. I can just feel the love and respect that you have for me as a fellow human being. You need to step back and notice that the spoiled American church is the reason that we are having this conversation. Not me. I think a conversation between myself and a thirdworld follower of Jesus might surprise you. We might find more to agree about than you and I. So once again, follow the example of Jesus by calling out the religious corruption in the American church instead of telling me I’m spoiled and instead of challenging me to prove it using the Bible.

    I want you to know that I don’t “feel the love” from your comments. In truth, I find your general tone and way of responding to be deeply offensive. It is part of the reason that I feel the way I do. You need to understand that I’m not the problem with American churches. I have removed myself from them. So don’t treat me like I’m the problem. Don’t challenge me to prove it biblically…challenge them.

    I would end by challenging you to re-read what you initially wrote. Do you think that it communicates love? I don’t think so, but I could be wrong. You had to assume that a friend of Anthony’s knew about his blog and might read the post. In the future, I think you should consider how the things that you “blog” will be read. So far as I know, there is no christian password requirement for Ant’s blog. Maybe you should think about the fact that this is a forum that is open to the whole globe.

    To Sum up…Chris, I don’t think that your post has convinced me to go find an existing church to be a part of this Sunday. In fact, it probably pushed me a little further in the other direction. I don’t have any harsh feelings toward you and I hope that you will give me a good reason to join you one day. I consider you a friend even though we disagree.
    Peace to You.

    PS…Since this is Anthony’s blog, I would be interested to know if he thinks that it is fair, wise, loving, respectful or appropriate (1) to compare me to the “abandonement” group (2) to tell me to “prove it biblically” or (3) to tell me that I’m a “spoiled” American. I just hope that my old buddy Antwon will keep it real…Take us into the “NO SPIN ZONE” my friend!

    PPS…I just wanted to clear the air with this post. I don’t intend to respond to further posts unless I see it as completely necessary. I don’t have time to blog half the day away and it seems to me that “institutional” christians in American have even more work to do during the day than I do.

  8. Anthony this has been fun to read and sparked alot of mixed feelings.

  9. I agree with Saul, this really arouses quite a bit of emotion. It has caused me to do some thinking about this and a little homework also. As a 48 yr old guy with less than 2 yrs of salvation under my belt I spent my fair share of time looking down my nose at the church for many of the same reasons already mentioned. I was blessed though and touched by the Holy Spirit and was saved. I consider myself VERY fortunate to have been placed in a biblical church with loving members. As I fail every day in my quest to do what I know I should, it is very reassuring to know that I am still saved and have the love and support of my brothers and sisters in Christ. This is something I hope I never have to be without. What I really find comforting is the concept of intercession. Instead of being criticized or judged by my brothers or sisters I feel I have their prayers with me instead. Maybe this is what we should be doing for the American church in general instead of damning it. We could definitely use more churches like Christ Community Church and it is exciting to see Anthony’s enthusiasm for his calling to plant a new church with CCC’s help. Maybe we should remember;”There but for the grace of God go I”.

    • Chuck, Thanks for your transparency. Its always encouraging to hear of people who have been touched by authentic Christian community.

  10. Whatever the health of the church in America is, I can definitively say that God used the church to lead me to Himself. That says something positive about the church and our need for it.

    • Thanks Omar. I agree that changed lives are some of the greatest evidences for why we need churches. Many people, including myself, have experienced incredible things through authentic Christian faith communties.

  11. I can concur with Omar and Chuck. Sometimes when I think about the church critically I’m reminded of what Andrew said about Jesus, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” But doesn’t God through the gospel work in surprising ways and through unlikely and imperfect instruments. In the Bible itself Jesus work with and through the twelve in spite of their many flaws. Later in Acts and the epistles right up through the letters to the churches in Revelation, we see God working with and through imperfect churches, calling them to repentance and renewal. In “Life Together” Bonhoffer writes about how sometimes the most idealistic among us can be so disillusioned by the failures they see in Christian Community that we allow the ideal to become the enemy of the real and we become accusers of the Brethren, and blind to much real good which should be nurtured and even celebrated. I know that has happened to me at time. I’m not aiming that at any of the critics of the church but just sort of thinking out loud as I reflect on the question.

    For me the answer is “yes” we need the church because I do not believe we can follow Christ without doing so in community, nor do I think that I can create a community that serve his purposes that is not the church. He did not leave me another option. In addition he left us instructions that our community is to be marked by the preaching of the gospel, the shared celebration of the sacraments, Biblical church leadership and discipline, love for one-another and missional involvement in the world in community. That is the church or requires the church even if I call it something else. Even if I start over by myself, as soon as I go forward and lead someone to Christ and Baptize them etc…. I’m moving toward some expression of church and if I walk in obedience I will soon find myself with sacraments, and preaching in some form, and with people who manifest many weakness, as do I. Again, just thinking as I write, I don’t see how to follow Christ in all that Scripture teaches without ending up committed to his bride and body.

    I probably should say I’m not talking in all of this about whatever cultural expression of the church we may envision, all of which have elements that are not part of the essence of the body of Christ. I’m not talking about buildings, bronze offering plates or printed bulletins etc…. but the thing underneath all of that, the thing Jesus is building and will continue to build until he finishes perfecting her through the washing of water with the word (Mark 16 & Eph. 5).

  12. Chuck, you are the man!

  13. Look at God’s sovereignty. From what has been revealed to us, there He is in the good and the bad. If we as believers agree by faith that He is in control, we will look at the bad and say Blessed is His name, for He will turn it to good. And we will look at the good and say Blessed is His name, for He is the giver and keeper of all things.

    He gives us both and we give Him thanks.

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