Those who have been following us since our beginning over a year ago probably understand where I (and in general the rest of the Rogues) stand on the institutionalized church. We’ve been pretty critical of it, though with conviction that I believe is evident. And what we have found as we explore and share our ideas and visions through the blogging process is that there are many across the western world that share the same criticisms and convictions. The problems we see are not localized to our experiences, but are an epidemic across the western church.
Without digging deeper into our blog, it would be easy at a glance to assume that we desire to completely disband church as we know it. To get rid of the buildings and the infrastructure and all that goes with it. This is simply not true. While we desire to point out the flaws and turn the tide of the epidemic, we want to enact a radical change in the way we understand worship. We want to stop the epidemic by healing the sick, not quarantining them till death. We want to see the system healed, not killed.
We focus a lot on the individualism of a Christian. We believe that each Believer should practice worship within and by themselves. We should each be researching and reading and studying our faith and communing with God on a one on one basis. Think about how we studied in high school and college, we often secluded ourselves with our books and notes and poured over them. And I believe most of us found that method to be the most productive, regardless of what kind of learner you were. Seclusion and focus helped. Applying this to our growth and understanding in our faith usually yields the same results.
But, there are two problems with relying on solitary study and prayer as our sole means of worship and growth.
The first is that a new Christian does not yet have the foundations of the faith to stem their own study from. Given a Bible and a quiet room they will gladly read but will have no one to answer the questions that stem from that reading. Regardless of your view on the Bible, I think we can all agree that at times it can be a very confusing read.
Not only is there no one to answer their questions, but there is no one to help guide them in finding what questions are important to ask. They will take everything they read at face value, which is beneficial but also superficial. That is not to say that God will not reveal truths and allow understanding, but it will be more difficult for one without those foundations. Our faith needs to be shared and cultivated. Think of the parable of the farmer spreading seeds. When the seeds aren’t in a nourishing environment, their growth is either hindered or a total failure. So when a new Christian has no nourishment (a basis of the faith, a resource for understanding, an example to follow) their understanding and growth will be slowed or fizzle out completely.
The second is that we are reminded throughout scripture that our faith is not a solitary thing, but something to be shared as an outward aspect of our lives. Hebrews 10:24-25 reminds us that we should not stop meeting together with the purpose of worship and study in the faith.
A group offers a couple of things that solitude does not. The first is accountability within each other. Living in our world and practicing our faith is not something that is easy to do. We often find ourselves being faced with temptation that seems irresistible. We each have weaknesses because we are human. In a group, we can identify our weaknesses and each other’s. It offers an opportunity to build each other up, to share advice and experience.
In solitude it often feels like we alone deal with the temptation, that we are unique in our weakness. In a group we quickly realize that is not the case. When a fellowship keeps its focus on Christ, it becomes less of a group and more of a family. As Christ accepts all of us in spite of our humanity and sin, we strive to be like him in accepting those around us. We find that we can share our thought, ideas, and even weakness and failings without judgement.
As a family, we can both give and receive strength, encouragement, and accountability. 1st Thessalonians 5:11 reminds us that we should be encouraging each other. Encouragement and accountability are rarely things we can rely upon from ourselves. And when a group maintains its focus on reflecting Christ to one another and outward, the feeling of acceptance and family and encouragement is thick and palpable.
Matthew 18:20 even further reminds us that when we are gathered together in His name, Christ is with us. We are sharing our faith with one another as he shared his teachings with his disciples. Think about his ministry: even in the smallest setting he had 12 who he especially shared his time and knowledge with. And in turn we are supposed to share our faith. It is supposed to flow from us like a fountain that cannot be closed.
True faith has an outward manifestation in how we live, and how we love those around us. Faith cannot be solitary and still be what Christ intended. Salt spreads its flavor to all it comes in contact with and changes it. Light will spread as far as it is allowed based on its strength and boundaries, and both reveals and heats what it contacts. If there’s nothing for salt to enhance the flavor of or cure, its useless within itself. If light is covered and is not allowed to reveal its surroundings or have anything to heat, it is useless as well.
So if we keep our faith and our understanding and the Christ that resides in us to ourselves, we are useless to the Kingdom.
We believe that the church needs to be healed, not destroyed. The church should be seen as a gathering of like-minded, like-purposed people. And that mind and purpose should be to spread love and understanding that was given to us by Christ. It should be not only about making our lives more abundant, but about sharing that abundant life with those surrounding us.
We should be spending time in solitary study and prayer and worship, because sometimes that is where we gain a deeper understanding and “hear” God more clearly because we have removed all distraction. But if we rely upon that alone and forsake the fellowship of our brothers and sisters we all become stagnant, useless, and lonely in ourselves. We’re missing out on the family God has provided for us.