“We live at a time when there is a lot of this anti-institutionalism in the air. “I love Jesus but I hate the church” is a theme that keeps reappearing with variations in many settings. So it is interesting to note that Jesus, who in abridged form is quite popular with the non-church crowd, was not anti-institutional. Jesus said “Follow me”: and then regularly led his followers into the two primary religious institutional structures of his day: the synagogue and the temple.”
People, both inside and outside the church, often make comments against the church and in so doing suggest that their faith is somehow higher than Jesus himself who never stopped going to these corporate places of worship. This is not to say that Jesus message was simply a defense of organizational Christianity, because that would be ignorant to his many critiques of the Jewish church practices, but it is to say that following Jesus was not some private affair that is accomplished in the comforts of your bedroom.
It could be argued (and I might even argue it myself) that true worship can only be done with others. Gathering together with others on a Sunday forces us to recognize that our identity as image bearers of God is only complete if we are connecting to other parts of the body (to use the apostle Paul’s language in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12.) We know, and history has shown this time and time again, that we are all inclined to walk in our own direction and find ourselves wandering in our own individual and selfish directions. Our worship time is a communal approach to hold each other accountable to our vows to follow Jesus – not ourselves.
In Joshua 24, when Joshua calls the people together to renew their communal covenant vows (which is really what our communal worship is or should be) he emphasizes the communal nature of the vows. He says “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:22) The fact that they said these things together was a reminder that the only way a relationship with God works, is if we work at it together. And working together is one of the key components of the image of God. God as he works -as Father, Son and Holy Spirit – as a combination of Lord, Saviour and Friend – is in and of himself a relationship. The fact that all the parts of who God is must work together for the order of the world is a reminder that we must be committed in relationship to one another in order for the world to work as it should. If we do not remain committed to one another than the image of who God is, is somehow fractured, for God himself is a relationship. A person may have a wonderful relationship with God, but if that person does not remain committed to seeing his brother or sister have a good relationship with God, then the covenant with God and humanity is strained. It’s not good enough for me to say, “I’m doing fine even if you are not.” because it somehow does not have a heart for what the relationship should be. If you are good with God but your brother or sister is not, then you should feel incomplete. Gathering together in church (or synagogue or temple) is not just a choice, it’s Christian.
I’ll close with another of my favourite Peterson quotes:
“What other church is there besides institutional? There’s nobody who doesn’t have problems with the church, because there’s sin in the church. But there’s no other place to be a Christian except the church. There’s sin in the local bank. There’s sin in the grocery stores. I really don’t understand this naïve criticism of the institution. I really don’t get it. Frederick von Hugel said the institution of the church is like the bark on the tree. There’s no life in the bark. It’s dead wood. But it protects the life of the tree within. And the tree grows and grows. If you take the bark off, it’s prone to disease, dehydration, death. So, yes, the church is dead but it protects something alive. And when you try to have a church without bark, it doesn’t last long. It disappears, gets sick, and it’s prone to all kinds of disease, heresy, and narcissism.” -Eugene Peterson
In short…go to church this Sunday.