I am not an authority on the church by any stretch. We all have our preferences, and hence, we have our blind sports. I believe I have blind spots, too, but I think I have a bit of a unique perspective because I have been part of and now serving at the same church ever since I was a freshman in college – 1992.
What’s I’d like to do is to put aside our personal preferences and draw some principles about church by reading through some verses in the Bible.
Misconception #1: Christian life is about me.
Reason #1: Christian life is not about me. You (plural) are a people of God.
If Christian life is about single individuals coming to know God and remaining as individuals, then we are all free to follow our preferences. Some people like personal devotion, some people like family worship time, some people like listening to online sermons. Christian life then resembles a sort of spiritual buffet – a collection of books and meetings with various Christian groups and attending seminars where you pick and choose and develop your faith.
We need to recognize our collective blind spots as Christians growing up in an affluent Western society during a Me-centered generation. We are blinded by a culture of options. We are looking for what fits me. We look for perfection, what suits me perfectly. But is any church perfect?
Almost every church described in the Bible has a severe problem. Many of the epistles are about Paul confronting one of his churches about a particular area of theology or Christian practice where they have gone wrong. In Paul’s ministry, only the church at Philippi seems to be free from a major problem or blind spot.
In Revelation 3, out of the 7 churches mentioned, only 2 are not cited as problematic.
If you approach church as what fits me perfectly, then you will be a church hopper for the rest of your life, or at least a big portion of your life. The more you stay at one church, the more you will see that we are all sinners, and therefore, prone to getting this church thing partially wrong.
What is a Biblical attitude that we should have towards church?
1 Peter 2:9
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
The word “you” is not a singular you, but it is a you plural. You all. It doesn’t say you singular are to be an individual Christian. It says you all are a people of God. God is interested in saving individuals. But salvation is salvation into a community. You who were saved from isolation from God have been brought into a community of God’s people.
So one of the first things we realize about Christian life is that life is not about me. God’s plan is to shift our individualistic mentality into a communal mentality of being part of God’s people.
A broad look at the Old and New Testament reveals that God is interested in creating a people as He relates to them in history. Why did God have to do it this way? Because it takes time to build into a people a sense of identity. God cannot just announce one day to a bunch of Israelites that okay, now from this day forth, consider yourself a people of God. Read the Old Testament. It’s a tale of humankind’s incorrigibility. We are sinners and God has to hammer in the point over and over that He is setting them apart from the other nations.
You see the same pattern in the New Testament with Jesus and the disciples. Out of the thousands of people Jesus ministered to, He spent the bulk of his time teaching a rag tag bunch of disciples. And even after 3 years of personal live-in teaching and instruction, at the crucifixion, all the disciples fled because they still didn’t get it.
As sinners, it takes time to make that shift from an it’s-my-life mentality to it’s about God and His people mentality. Building a relationship with God takes time. It doesn’t come naturally.
7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
What is the mystery of the gospel is the church that has been kept hidden throughout the ages. It is the manifold mystery of God as revealed in the establishment of the church. Ever since the Fall of Man, God has been cooking up a plan to redeem creation and humanity. And to think, His chosen vehicle of redemption is the church.
1 Cor 12
12 For as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body—so also is Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 So the body is not one part but many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I’m not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,” in spite of this it still belongs to the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I’m not an eye, I don’t belong to the body,” in spite of this it still belongs to the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But now God has placed each one of the parts in one body just as He wanted. 19 And if they were all the same part, where would the body be? 20 Now there are many parts, yet one body. 21 So the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” Or again, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 But even more, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are necessary. 23 And those parts of the body that we think to be less honorable, we clothe these with greater honor, and our unpresentable parts have a better presentation. 24 But our presentable parts have no need of clothing. Instead, God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the less honorable, 25 so that there would be no division in the body, but that the members would have the same concern for each other. 26 So if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
There is no such thing as a lone ranger Christian. The verses above describe each Christian as part of the body of Christ. A solitary Christian is as inappropriate and grotesque as a dismembered body part.
We are not passive spectators in the church. This is a body. We are all inter-linked. We all serve a function based on our gifts that God has given to us for the sake of building up the church. Leaving a church should feel like surgery, like spraining an ankle and tearing ligaments. The ligaments that bind a body of believers is the web of loving relationships.
You may not be convinced that church is that important so let me give you 2 more perspectives.
Misconception #2: Christian life is a personal matter between me and God.
Reason #2: The church helps to make faith real.
This misconception is a bit trickier because it sounds right. Yes, our faith is personal but there is a limitation in keeping our faith personal only.
The problem with a purely personal faith is the fact that we are prone to spiritual blindness. When I am playing the guitar and singing praise songs with a starbucks coffee on the park bench beside me and I have a view of the ocean, I feel like I am a male Mother Teresa.
But as soon as I drive home and the dishes are piled up and my kids are fighting, all that spirituality goes out the window.
That is why we need a church where we rub lives and who we truly are comes out. If you just attend church on Sundays and you maintain distance in your relationships, then it is possible to think you are still super spiritual. If you treat everyone at your church as a lady and a gentleman and you are always proper and you only show your good side, then you may maintain the illusion that your personal devotion to God is an accurate depiction of who you are in reality.
How do you get an accurate picture of yourself? We need the church to make our abstract, personal faith real as we live out our faith in community.
In community, we learn what it means to love one another and to carry each other’s burdens. We know how difficult it is to actually forgive a brother who has wronged us.
14 Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. 15 But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ. 16 From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.
This passage is not taking about personal moral sins, but relational sins. Sin is often times relational. Many times, if you live in a close community and you are rubbing lives, conflicts arise because of our rough edges. What do you do if someone is blind to their rough edges? I meet people like this all the time who are grown up physically and are adults but are emotionally immature and rude and fail to see how they negatively impact everyone around them.
Jesus is described as one full of grace and truth. This passage talks about the Christian responsibility to speak the truth in love. It is not all love/grace, saying I see all your flaws and I accept you as you are and you don’t have to struggle with yourself. And it not all truth because the full truth about our sins would crush us. It is truth combined with love. Speaking the truth in love.
Jesus said some truthful but offensive things to people all the time. Jesus called the Pharisees, white-washed tombs. When Peter reacted against Jesus saying he would have to die, Jesus called him Satan.
God looked at the Church of Laodicea who were suffering from lukewarmness and said I want to spit thee out of my mouth.
Being able to speak the truth in a loving way without offending another requires trust. And building trust takes time. The truth is offensive, but so often, we hear it and it stays in our heads and we fail to see the ways that God wants to deal with our concrete lives. That’s when it is a such a blessing if there is someone in your life who can say, you know, what you did yesterday was inappropriate. And there can be truth spoken in love. This is one way that God helps to smooth our rough edges and prune our lives so that we can grow faster.
1 Cor 10:23-24
23 “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. 24 Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.
We are linked, meaning we have to consider how our behavior will affect our brother or sister. If you just see people on Sunday, then of course, how we live makes little difference to the body. This assumes proximity. Are there people in your life who are so close to you that they would be encouraged or stumbled by your behavior?
42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. 43 Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles. 44 Now all the believers were together and held all things in common. 45 They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need.[p] 46 Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them[q] those who were being saved.
Do you think it is possible to live this way today? Open home. Meeting every day. Sharing everything. Why not?
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith[d] save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself.
Spiritual life is not something we practice alone in our hearts. Often, spiritual life comes down to obedience. The Great Commission instructs us to go and make disciples of all nations teaching them to OBEY. Why do we find it hard to obey God? Because spiritual life or a a life of obedience is not something you can merely teach. Gospel is not taught, it is caught. We learn as we live out our faith together in community. With godly examples, we learn what it means to sacrifice, what it means to be humble (hopefully), what it means to be available for others.
Misconception #3: The highest joy and duty of a Christian is to toward one’s nuclear family.
Reason #3: The joy of having loving relationships within the family and a wider family of God.
Many people think that our highest duty as a Christian is to our nuclear family. There seems to be a problem with this logic. Many parents are extremely loving and sacrificial when it comes to their kids, but that’s where the love and sacrifice ends. Would we call such parents loving in an overall sense? It’s hard to tell.
I think the Bible is clear that our command is to love God and to love our neighbor. This means to love whoever is in front of you. In practical terms, since we are around our physical family the most, we ought to love them the best we can. But that does not mean we can ignore others that God has placed into our lives. One who love their kids or spouse at home and is equally loving toward his coworkers or people at church has integrity. There is a character of love that makes them consistently loving in all circumstances.
Here are a 3 passages below regarding our attitude toward our physical family.
1 Cor 7:32-35
32 I want you to be without concerns. An unmarried man is concerned about the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the things of the world—how he may please his wife— 34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is concerned about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the things of the world—how she may please her husband. 35 Now I am saying this for your own benefit, not to put a restraint on you, but because of what is proper and so that you may be devoted to the Lord without distraction.
37 The person who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; the person who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.
46 He was still speaking to the crowds when suddenly His mother and brothers were standing outside wanting to speak to Him. 47 Someone told Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to You.” 48 But He replied to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” 49 And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, that person is My brother and sister and mother.”
Paul believed that if possible, we should all be single so that we can be single-minded for the Lord. Jesus also indicates indirectly that Christians should not put an inordinate amount of attention on family, but rather to love brothers and sisters in the Lord like we would our own family.
1 Thess 2:17-20
17 But as for us, brothers, after we were forced to leave you for a short time (in person, not in heart), we greatly desired and made every effort to return and see you face to face. 18 So we wanted to come to you—even I, Paul, time and again—but Satan hindered us. 19 For who is our hope or joy or crown of boasting in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? Is it not you? 20 For you are our glory and joy!
How is Paul able to endure such suffering? Christ’s love for him. But also his love for his brethren. And their love and prayers for him. They are his glory and joy – do you have anyone like this in your life because of Christ?
2 Cor 11:16-29
16 I repeat: No one should consider me a fool. But if you do, at least accept me as a fool, so I too may boast a little. 17 What I say in this matter[f] of boasting, I don’t speak as the Lord would, but foolishly. 18 Since many boast in an unspiritual way,[g] I will also boast. 19 For you, being so wise, gladly put up with fools! 20 In fact, you put up with it if someone enslaves you, if someone devours you, if someone captures you, if someone dominates you, or if someone hits you in the face. 21 I say this to our shame: We have been weak.
But in whatever anyone dares to boast—I am talking foolishly—I also dare:
22 Are they Hebrews? So am I.
Are they Israelites? So am I.
Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I.
23 Are they servants of Christ?
I’m talking like a madman—I’m a better one:
with far more labors,
many more imprisonments,
far worse beatings, near death[h] many times.
24 Five times I received 39 lashes from Jews.
25 Three times I was beaten with rods by the Romans.
Once I was stoned by my enemies.[i]
Three times I was shipwrecked.
I have spent a night and a day
in the open sea.
26 On frequent journeys, I faced
dangers from rivers,
dangers from robbers,
dangers from my own people,
dangers from the Gentiles,
dangers in the city,
dangers in the open country,
dangers on the sea,
and dangers among false brothers;
27 labor and hardship,
many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst,
often without food, cold, and lacking clothing.
28 Not to mention[j] other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my care for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?
Paul suffered incredibly for the gospel. But it is quite a statement that he says that what hurts him most is hearing about a brother or sister in the church who is led into sin. Paul, the super apostle, who could endure all kinds of harsh sufferings is made vulnerable by the sin of one of his loved ones in his church.
1 Tim 1:1-2
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope: 2 To Timothy, my true son in the faith. Grace, mercy, and peace from God the[a] Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
1 Tim 5:23
23 Don’t continue drinking only water, but use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.
I am amazed at how Paul out of the many churches he planted and the hundreds of people he ministered to, he has a special heart toward Timothy, whom he refers to as his spiritual son. Paul even knows about Timothy’s digestive problems. This kind of intimate knowledge takes commitment over a long period of time.