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Your Christian Friends Are Not A Church

I didn’t always feel this way. I remember as a new Christian talking to my Young Life leader, who held the view that he didn’t need to go to Church on Sunday because he lived with 5 guys who were also believers, and after all, what was a church other than 2 or more gathered in his name?

In fact, there is a lot more to a Church than this, but as an impressionable 16 year old, I was taken by the excitement and, dare I say, how “organic” and “real” it seemed. The Church was being battered in the early 2000’s, and if you remember, it was not just the Catholic Church. There were sex scandals, and money laundering, big name mega-church pastors who were making a higher salaries than brain surgeons, and good old Joel Osteen was teaching people how to “increase” God’s favor in their life, like a slot-machine in the sky.

This “organic” mindset stuck with me in college. As someone who had felt disillusioned by the local Methodist church I had halfheartedly attended throughout high school, the notion that just spending time with my friends who were also involved in a college parachurch ministry could replace the church was a very romantic idea. We didn’t need an archaic institution- we had each other for accountability. We broke bread together, lived together, and were zealous for our faith together. As something I had never really been attached to growing up, and what with encountering Jesus for the first time outside of the Church, in my mind the church, and the very idea of church, became the embodiment of all that was wrong with Christianity.

“Why were there so many denominations?” We would scoff. Church is supposed to be about unity—we are united in a way that Churches just don’t understand. And there isn’t any life in Churches now; they are filled with nominal Christians simply checking a box on Sundays. And what was it about Sundays anyway- we could worship any day of the week we wanted. We didn’t need to align ourselves with an outdated denomination. After all, who knew more about what “church” was supposed to be than a few 20 year olds who could barely had the discipline to make it to class on time.

It’s been a few years, and I’d like to believe that I’ve learned a few things, and looking back now at my views of the church the one word that would describe them would probably be hubris.

First, if you believe that you and your friends are in community, and thus don’t need to belong to a local church because you already have made the church when you hang out to eat dinner, you’re wrong. And I say that in the most loving and non-cynical way possible. And it’s not wrong that you are hanging out; it’s wrong because of a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Church is.

I think that a lot of time people view the Church as a manmade human institution, and don’t regard it as an institution formed and blessed by God.  If you’re about to go into tl;dr mode, then do it here, and make that the one point you get from this. The Church is not under human rule, nor was it created by humans. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul says,  For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”

The Church was formed and is maintained by the Holy Spirit. Although leadership of the Church was given to the disciples, and through them the Church continues, that does not make it a human institution. Even with all the mistakes, all the challenges, and frankly all the failures we see at the human level of church leadership, that does not undermine the fact that the Church is not just another organization.

Along with discounting that the Church was instituted by God, I also rejected the long traditions of the Church. I forsook what things I believed that I had been taught because of Church fathers (i.e. the trinity), and instead thought that my friends and I would be led completely by the Holy Spirit and the word of God. Yes, sola scriptura is a concept, and yes I have seen it tattooed on more than one hipster. But using sola scriptura (which means the sole reliance on scripture) does not that you have the authority to reject the hundreds of years of Church tradition. In fact, this rejection of Church tradition is in blatant opposition to the description of the Church in scripture: So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

I would continue on, but honestly these articles are supposed to be about half of what I’ve already written… The point is, that when we retract ourselves into bubbles of people who believe the same things as us, are the same age as us, and are in the same stage of life as us, we neglect the beauty of the Church. And when we start to believe that Church is just something we make up, and not the beloved bride of Christ, we set ourselves on a slippery slope. Maybe your spiritual life is thriving inside your group of friends. Maybe right now it is healthy, and rich and rewarding not being apart of a larger Church body. But the reason the Church is still around, is because it is not temporary, and not based on feelings or emotions of the group members. If you have a falling out with one of your friends in your house, maybe your faith or their faith falls apart completely.  The reason the Church is blessed by God, because it is the primary means of relating grace to the individuals within it. Small groups of friends are great, and there can definitely be growth there—but we should never be so proud to think that we know better than 2,000 plus years of Church growth and history, which have led us to where we are today.

James Harris

James is probably the 3rd or 4th funniest guy you know. Funny enough to invite to a party; not witty enough to talk about later. Co-Founder and Content Editor of Everyday Exiles, Director of College Ministry at Reynolda Church, EPC, and husband to Meredith. He has a dog named Calvin, a cat named Opie, and a robot vacuum named Alfred.

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