NOTE: This is an OLD post from 2007, and I no longer agree with everything I have written about church below. To learn my more recent views, read some of my newer posts on the church, or my books on church. Better yet, sign up to take my free online course on the church.
I like fast food, but not always from the same place. I like the hamburgers from Wendy’s, the french fries from Burger King, and a soda from the convenience store ($0.59 for 32 oz!). Occasionally, when I have the time, I will actually eat my lunch this way, driving around to each location to get what I want.
It gets even worse when I’m with my wife and daughters. Wendy won’t eat fast food at all, unless it’s a Deli fresh sandwich and Jamocha shake from Arby’s. Taylor will only eat cheeseburgers from McDonalds. Selah won’t eat fast food at all, and so we have to bring apples and a PBJ for her. We can’t figure out what Kahlea eats.
Needless to say, with such a mix-and-match menu, we don’t do fast food very often.
But this is how many people “attend church.” They go to one church for the awesome music and great children’s program. But the pastor’s preaching there is usually too shallow, so they get their sermons online from John MacArthur, Mark Driscoll, or Rob Bell. The church they attend has small groups, but most are too far away, so they get fellowship on Friday night by going out to dinner with a few friends, most of whom go to different churches. Some of these friends don’t go to church at all, in which case, it’s not “fellowship” but “relationship evangelism.”
Though many churches today try to provide “one stop shopping” most Christians engage Christianity with a “mix and match” mentality.
I have been guilty of this myself quite frequently the past few years, but recently, I have begun to question the legitimacy of it. I have justified such church venue as trying to get the “best of everything” from wherever I can find it. “Besides,” I tell myself, “I’m part of the universal church, and it doesn’t matter where I get the things I need to be healthy, as long as I get them from somewhere.”
But is this true?
In a previous post, I proposed a definition for what the church is and does. After reflection, I think this definition needs some refinement.
Not only must Christians exalt God through a life of worship, edify one another through the use of spiritual gifts, and evangelize the world, I now also believe that all of these things must be done together with the same group of believers.
Body of Christ
I get this from Paul’s frequent usage of “body” imagery when talking about the church (cf. Eph 4:11-16; 1 Cor 12). The emphasis in these passages is not only that the various parts have various functions, but that each part must perform it’s particular function with and for the other parts that it receives benefits from.
The body of Christ is a symbiotic relationship. If you have the gift of helps, the person(s) you get your primary Bible teaching from should also be the person(s) you are trying to help (in big churches, you may not actually be helping the teaching pastor, but you can help him indirectly through doing things in the church and for the people of the church). The group you meet with for encouragement and prayer should be the group that goes out with you to develop relationships for evangelism and discipleship. Only in this way can they encourage and pray for you more effectively.
Following the imagery of the body, the people whose spiritual gifts you are spiritually benefiting from, should be the same people who benefit from your spiritual gifts. Otherwise, we’ve got a foot taking nourishment from a mouth and cleaning from a hand, but not helping either one walk where they need to go. It’s a selfish and disjointed way to function.
Does this mean you can’t get good Bible teaching from Alistair Begg or Matt Chandler unless you go their church? Of course not. Just don’t consider that your church teaching. Does this mean you can’t reach out to the community with people from other congregations? I hope you do partner in this way with other churches! But don’t consider this your evangelism unless you are also joining with people from your own body of believers.
I am not trying to be legalistic about all this. I just want you and your church body to be healthy. Besides, you’ll find this approach much more enjoyable and natural than driving all over to get a full meal.