“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
“You should engage with the church more,” is about the least unexpected thing that could come from the mouth…or the fingers…of a pastor. And yet here I am saying it. Okay, well, that’s not totally true. The writer of Hebrews is saying it. I’m just repeating what he said. Does that make it any better sounding? Perhaps not, but let’s talk for a minute about why it matters.
First things first: The church is the hope of the world. Do you believe that? You should. The church is the institution created by God to be the primary advancer of His kingdom into His world. He’s perfectly capable of doing that work Himself, but His preference has always been to do it through people. The church is the people through whom He does it most. And, because the world’s hope is found in the advancement of His kingdom into this world, the church which bears that kingdom is the hope of the world.
Second, if you love Jesus, you’ve got to love the church. Guys like Paul used a couple of different images when talking about the church. One is that the church is the body of Christ. We are the physical hands and feet of Jesus, moving and acting to do His will in the world around us. He is not physically present Himself since He ascended to the Father’s side, but in another sense He is physically present through us. If you love Jesus, then you need to love His body, right? It wouldn’t make any sense (and would be deeply untrue!) for me to say that I love my wife but not her body. Well, in the same way, you can’t love Jesus and not His body. If you love Jesus, you’ve got to love the church.
Paul also referred to the church as the bride of Christ. Similarly, you can’t love me and not also love my wife. We are a packaged deal. One comes with the other. Or, if you try to love me and don’t treat my bride well, you and I aren’t going to be able to have a relationship. If you love Jesus, you’ve got to love the church.
Now, those two facts alone should make it clear why it is an absolute necessity for followers of Jesus to engage with the church every chance they get, but there’s even more than that. (Notice that I didn’t say, “Go to church.” The church is not primarily a place we go, it is a people with whom we engage. Thinking of the church as primarily a place rather than a people has been a fundamental flaw in Christian thinking about the church for a very long time, and has led to many unhelpful and even unhealthy ideas about it.)
The more is this: We live in a culture that is changing. It is less and less friendly to the Christian faith all the time. Being a follower of Jesus is a less and less socially acceptable thing to be in a growing number of circles. As this trend continues and intensifies, engaging regularly with a group of believers who are committed to advancing the cause of Christ into the community around them will continue becoming ever more important.
In other words, we don’t go to church because it’s the right thing to do as a follower of Jesus (although that’s true), we engage regularly with our community of faith because we need the encouragement, the instruction, and the accountability to keep faithfully following our Lord and Savior in a cultural context that makes such an intention more and more difficult all the time. To put that even more simply: We can’t do the Christian life as well without regular engagement with the community of faith as we can with it. We can’t grow healthily in our relationship with Jesus without being regularly engaged with the church. We can’t become more fully who God designed and called us to be without the church. In short: We need the church.
We need to be engaging deeply on a regular basis with a community of believers who are committed to the cause of Christ. We need to be in worship with them, yes, but we also need to be in smaller group fellowship of some kind. That’s where the real growth happens. We need to be serving alongside them in the community. We need to be holding each other accountable to share our faith in the community. We need the church. Make sure you get to one this week.