Love Your Local Institutional Church
Originally published October 29, 2014
One of the advantages of having Calvinist friends on my Facebook friend list is that little gems like this one appear in my news feed from time to time. The article is entitled “Do You Love the Church Like Jesus Does?”* It was written by a young man named Mark Perry, former Associate Pastor of Westerville Bible Church in Westerville, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, and now a missionary candidate to Chile. Mr. Perry could be considered to be of the “young, restless, and reformed” variety.
The opening caption of the article asks the question, is it possible to love Jesus and not love His church? Obviously, a question such as this establishes the premise that such a thing is not possible. We are to assume that these two things are not compatible. If you don’t love the church then you must not love Jesus. The purpose of the article seeks to first define the “church” and then make the argument of why and how we are to love it. I have reproduced the body of the article in this post so that I can offer a review of Mr. Perry’s arguments (in italics) and insert my comments to relevant sections that I want to point out to you.
Do You Love the Church Like Jesus Does?
What is the church?
We use the word “church” in many different ways. How can we pinpoint what that means? In Ephesians we are told that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). We can identify the church by asking for which “church” Jesus died.
The church is not the building in which believers assemble. We often use the word church to refer to the building: “What a lovely church!” or “The church could use a new coat of paint.” But surely this is not the church for which Jesus died. In fact, New Testament congregations met in members’ homes (e.g., Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15; Philemon 1:2). In many parts of the world today, our brothers and sisters in Christ meet in homes, parks, or public locations. It is not necessary to own property or have a physical building dedicated to the regular assembling of Jesus’ body.
So far so good. All very well stated. These are all things that Paul and I have both stated on regular occasions. I would agree with Mr. Perry on this point. Notice how he establishes that the church is not a building. In fact, he goes to some length to establish what the church is not, thereby framing his argument to follow. Reading on:
The church is not the meetings or ministry programming. Another way we use the word church is to refer to a worship service or ministry program: “Church was great this morning; I really enjoyed the sermon.” “My church has so many ministry opportunities available.” Many people see the church as the sum of services or ministries offered: children’s ministries, fellowship opportunities, teaching and preaching, or other benefits offered to members or adherents. But did Jesus die to secure singles’ ministries, Vacation Bible School, and youth groups? Did Jesus love a certain style of music or preaching so much that he left heaven to give his life? Every generation of believers since the book of Acts has had to work out how to obey Jesus’ command to make disciples in their culture.
Ok, here he starts to drift a little. First of all, we don’t have to “work out” how to obey Jesus’ commands. His commands are clear. We either do them or we don’t. The way we make disciples or “learners” is by teaching them exactly what Jesus said to do. The message of the Gospel of the Kingdom is not culture-specific. It is the same for all men everywhere. We don’t have to “figure it out.”
The other thing I notice in this statement is the implication that evangelism takes place within the confines of the institutional gathering or its ministries. This is patently false. Evangelism is an individual mandate. We don’t bring the unsaved to the church through the means of some “program” or “ministry” in order to get them saved. We as individuals go out to them and preach the gospel to them. When they hear and believe and become saved, we then invite them to fellowship with the assembly for the purpose of edification.
The church is the regular assembly of believers in Jesus. We often say, “The church is the people”
This is correct. Yay! The reason we often say it is because it’s true.
and we are right—almost.
Wait…Huh? What do you mean “almost?”
On one hand, the universal church includes all believers in Jesus from the Day of Pentecost until the Rapture. At the moment of Jesus’ return in the air, the universal church will be assembled for the first time: “those who have fallen asleep” and “we who are alive, who are left” (1 Thess 4:14, 17). But until that time, the church exists on earth in localized assemblies of believers who meet regularly for prayer, Scripture reading, teaching of apostolic doctrine, and fellowship (Acts 2:42). The Greek word translated “church” (ἐκκλησία) means assembly or gathering and sometimes in the New Testament it even refers to groups of unbelievers (e.g., Acts 19:32, 39, 41).
Ok, while I don’t see the NT making any distinction between “universal church” and “local church”, nevertheless his other points here are spot on. And he would have been better served stopping right there, but he didn’t. Read on…
The church is the church when it is assembled.
WHAT? Read that again. He said, “The church is the church when it is assembled”? The logical inverse of that statement would necessarily follow that the church is not the church when it is not assembled. But he just said the word “church” is the word “ekklesia” which means “assembly.” The reality of his statement indicates that the church does not exist when it is not assembled. That would mean the church only has relevance when it is assembled.
At the beginning this author made points about what a church is not. It is not a building, it is not a program. But please notice his emphasis is still on some group entity over the individual. In Reformed and Protestant orthodoxy, there is no relevance or meaning or existence outside of the group! To them, our relevance as believers only matters within the church. So, when we are not assembled, we don’t matter.
It is those believers who regularly gather in Jesus’ name. Therefore, the church that Jesus loves and for whom he died is the gathering of believers. These local assemblies or gatherings of believers are the only church we can know this side of heaven.
I would dare to ask Mr. Perry that if the church is the Body, and we are individual members of that Body, each with our own function, then do we cease to be a part of that Body when we are not assembled? Are we only part of the Body when we meet on Sundays (or Wednesday, or Saturday, or any other required meeting time/place)? I contend that our relevance as believers extends far beyond that which we do when we gather for fellowship. And our not being assembled together in fellowship at any given time does not preclude our identity as a member of the Body of Christ. He continues:
What does it mean to love the church?
We are commanded to “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph 5:2). In other words, we are to love the church just as Jesus does. The command to love Jesus’ church is the same as the oft-repeated New Testament command to “love one another” (e.g., Rom 12:10; 13:8; 1 Thess 3:12; 4:9; 2 Thess 1:3; 1 Pet 1:22; 4:8; 1 John 3:11; 4:7, 11, 12; 2 John 1:5). So we love Jesus’ church when we love the brothers and sisters in our local assembly.
What about other brothers and sisters in other assemblies around the world who are not part of our cult group assembly, who don’t necessarily share all the same beliefs in matters of practice? Are they not a part of the body because they don’t assemble with us? Is our church somehow better/superior to their church because we don’t “worship” the same way they do, because we “do church” the “right way”? Are they any less part of the body of Christ? Are they part of the assembly because they are born-again believers in Christ or instead because they regularly assemble at our “church”?
And this is where it gets difficult. We may love our church’s beautiful building, we may be enraptured by our favorite preacher’s sermon series, or we may appreciate the array of ministries and opportunities our church offers, but loving these difficult, obnoxious, unkind, and sinful people is a different matter entirely! Jesus’ love for us is our example to love his church. What about the sinful people in my church? Jesus loved me while I was a sinner (Rom 5:6–8). What about the cantankerous or antagonistic people in my church? Jesus loved me while I was his enemy (Rom 5:10). What about the people who have weak consciences or unreasonable standards in my church? Jesus served others, not himself (Rom 15:3; Mark 10:45).
Mr. Perry must not think very much of the members in his church. Look at what he calls them: “difficult, obnoxious, unkind, and sinful people… cantankerous or antagonistic… people who have weak consciences or unreasonable standards”. Wow, I sure want to be a part of that church now that I know what the pastoral staff thinks of me! The view of the continued total depravity of the saints is clearly evident in this paragraph. The Bible does not call believers “sinners”. That is what we were in the past. Let us not forget the rest of 1 Corinthians 6:11, “…but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God…” Believers are righteous, Mr. Perry, because we have the righteousness of God the Father. We have His seed in us that cannot sin! (1 John 3:9)
As I continue to read these last points, the emphasis of the church as an institution (…our church’s beautiful building…preacher’s sermon series…array of ministries and opportunities…) vs. a body of individuals is apparent. The “church” is referred to in terms that place the emphasis on this “entity” that is something other than the body of Christ. It is very subtle, but the implications are there.
How can we love the church?
How then can we “walk in love” and serve one another through love (Gal 5:13)? Here are four practical ways.
Meet regularly with Jesus’ church. Don’t turn your back on Jesus’ church because you don’t like the facilities or prefer a different ministry emphasis. Don’t abandon Jesus’ church for something that is not the church. Jesus has promised his presence with his church until the end of the age (Matt 28:20). Jesus meets with his church—do you?
There is a veiled threat in this point regarding abandoning the church. What happens to the one who abandons the church? What is the “something that is not the church”? Do you not see the equivocation here that if you are not part of the church then you are not a part of the Body, ergo, you are not saved? Whether or not it is stated plainly, reformed orthodoxy functions under the belief that salvation is found within the institution.
Pray for Jesus’ church. If you see problems [sic] When you see problems in your church, pray for your church.
Yes, by all means, we ought to pray for each others’ needs as we fellowship together. We ought to pray that our fellowship time is efficacious. We ought to pray that we would be on our guard for wolves who would do violence to the flock, and that we would be discerning regarding false teaching. But that is not what this author has in mind. His concern here is with the actual institution itself. Consider report after report of spiritual abuse and scandals that have rocked the religious word in the last few years. But yet it is these same institutions that must be preserved for the “cause of Christ”, regardless of the problems that exist. Look at this next paragraph:
Are you concerned about your church? Remember Jesus loves his church—he died for her—and he cares for your church more than you ever could (Rev 1:12, 20). We pray with confidence when we pray according to God’s will (1 John 5:14), and we know what God’s will is for the church—that she becomes like Jesus! This is what God is at work doing (Phil 1:6; 2:13). Pray the God-breathed prayers of the New Testament for your church (e.g., Eph 3:14–21; Phil 1:9–11; Rom 15:5–6; 1 Thess 5:23–24). Jesus prayed for his church (John 17:20–26) —do you?
Notice the collectivist emphasis in terms. The individuals are expendable. The “church” must become like Jesus, not individuals. We must pray for God’s will for the “church”, not the individuals. Jesus died for the “church”, not the individuals. Jesus prayed for the “church”, not the individuals. But consider that last reference in John 17 carefully. When Jesus prayed that night in the garden, he wasn’t praying for a church, he was praying for you and me! He was praying for the PEOPLE, the individuals that comprised His Body.
Follow the spiritual leaders Jesus has placed over his church. If you don’t like or don’t “click with” your church leadership, you might be tempted to turn your back on Jesus’ church. In fact, disagreement with the teaching or ministry direction of our leaders is a very spiritual-sounding reason for abandoning the group of brothers and sisters to whom we have committed ourselves
It’s more than just “spiritual-sounding”, it is commanded by Scripture! Come out from among them and be ye separate. Earnestly contend for the faith. Mark and avoid those who cause divisions because of contrary doctrine. But somehow this is abandonment?
But if Jesus was going to show us something new from his Word or to correct a misunderstanding we had about the Bible, how would he do that? Wouldn’t he use the leaders and teachers he has given to his church for that very purpose (Eph 4:11–14)? It seems the Chief Shepherd would use the shepherds he has set up over his church (1 Pet 5:4–5) to “keep watch over your soul” (Heb 13:17). Jesus, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, entrusted the church for which he died to your elders (Heb 13:20–21; Acts 20:28)—do you follow them?
First of all, there is nothing “new” in the Bible. We’ve had it for 2000 years or more. Are leaders and teachers giving us new revelation? Do they have some special dispensation or gifting that enables them to speak for God? Has God divinely appointed them (predetermination) to be in a place of authority, and so we must obey them? No because pastors and teachers are gifts given for the purpose of equipping and edifying the assembly, not for the purpose of authority or speaking for God. There is no mediator between God and man other than Jesus. We don’t need men to interpret God’s word for us. Shepherds guard and protect, they don’t rule. They see to the needs of the flock so that each believer can be effective in his own ministry. They don’t dictate to the flock how to think and act.
Put the spiritual needs of Jesus’ church above your own preferences. Often our opinions about how the building should be decorated or the way in which the meetings or programs should be set up are more important to us than the spiritual needs of our brothers and sisters.
Mr. Perry keeps bringing up these references to the building and ministries after he made it a point early on to emphasize that the church is not either of these. Why do these thoughts constantly permeate our thinking? Because it’s been ingrained into our mindset. This beast has created all of its own problems. Matters of preference or décor or carpet color or music choice or programs or how much to tithe all become moot when we simply get back to a Biblical model of fellowship.
If anyone could have lobbied for his own interests instead of giving himself for his church, it was Jesus (Phil 2:3–8). Jesus gave up his rights and reputation for his church—do you?
This is obviously a reference to Philippians 2:7, “But made himself of no reputation…”, but this same passage also states that Jesus gave up nothing, but instead constantly affirmed His equality with the Father.
Next Lord’s Day, as you gather in Jesus’ name with that group of believers you call your brothers and sisters in Christ, look around and ask yourself this question: “Do I love this church like Jesus does?”
Thankfully, that is the end of the article, because there is much more I could add, but I’d be writing forever. The bottom line here is that consistently the emphasis in the NT regarding the church is the assembly, or the individual members of the Body. We are to love the people, not this thing they call the “church”. Reformed and Protestant orthodoxy equivocate whenever it speaks of “church”, and that is by design. Their double-speak confuses and obfuscates the real matter- their belief of salvation being tied to the institution, and not the finished work of Christ. When you love the people you are loving the church because we are all members of it every moment, not just when we gather for fellowship. We are individual members of a Body, and no man ever hated his own body. We have got to be clear what we are talking about when we use the words we use!
* The link to the cited article is no longer available