Aren't you glad to be a church member? Well, maybe you're not one. Maybe you're still "shopping" (please don't use that term when you visit a church - you'll thank yourself later that you don't look at church like you look at groceries) around and have been since you moved to where you currently reside.
Church membership is Biblical and commanded. We are commanded to join a local body of believers (Heb 10:25), because it is the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12) and God equips us to serve others in love. The Church is Christ's Bride (Eph 5:25-29; Rev. 19:7) and the Apple of God's Eye (Zech 2:8). The Church is very, very important to God. He purchased it with the blood of His Dear Son (Acts 20:28).
George Barna's recent book questions the validity of the local church. Is it a breakthrough book that will change the way we "do" church? Only if you don't like to read your Bible and look at church attendance as something that keeps your wife happy or your children nice and sweet. No, Barna is simply parrotting the spirit of the age...
Ours is one that cries loudly and often about "community." We hear terms like "authentic community" or "organic community." We have books that tell us we need smaller; no, bigger; no, smaller groups. Why not just give up and do your own thing? That's why Barna's book is out. Is church really necessary? Not if you are still holding onto much of this world and not allowing God to transform your mind (cf. Rom 12:2).
Who's to blame? Not that we can place it any one person/idea/group's feet. But those of us who do belong to local churches surely can shoulder some, if not much, of this blame. Our concern more with the programs, building plans and sports teams - the "ecclesiastical machinery", as Al Martin calls it - has turned off those who want truth and yet don't want to be told the truth. Sinners, as you and I know from very definite experience, are obstinate.
Where do they go? To churches that are entertainment-driven, with low views on sin and the latest "get rich quick" or "10 steps to a better you" mentalities that pass for modern "preaching." But people there seem real, connected, on-board and fired up. Like the sports club logo I recently saw, "It feels so good to belong!"
But that is not the New Testament picture. I am sure many a lonely, coddled po-mo (you've found me out!) longs for dusty house churches on the Aegian sea with simple liturgies and lots of community gatherings. But that is not what the Lord has called us to today.
We who belong to churches must put aside the false face of commercial respectability, be vulnerable and do something radically different from po-mo'ism: SERVE one another. As I heard Pastor Mike Campbell say at Twin Lakes this year: "Your Savior washed feet!" Service to one another in love - sounds pretty John 15-ish to me.
That's authentic community. That's what this world needs, but not what it wants. What most people want is more activities, more programs, more buildings, less preaching, less Scripture, more superficial "service opportunities" - in short, anything to drown out the incessant din of the naggings of unsatisfied conscience. It's always easier to sign up for one more thing than have your lost neighbor over for lunch. It's always easier to give that check (and we need more, don't get me wrong!) for foreign missions than to talk to that co-worker about Christ. The Gospel answers all of these needs, and more. Jesus tells us how to be authentic: worship Him only and serve one another in love.
We live in times that are calling out for something real. We've got it. It's called Christianity by the Book, lived out with passion and self-sacrifice. Heed the call to die to self that you might gain real life. Far from being the most service-oriented, community-desiring generation, we live in the most materialistic, selfish, lemming-like age of insipid nonsense - both in the Church and out - so that the only thing that is truly counter-cultural anymore (even punk is now acceptable as a style of jeans!) is TRUE, Biblical Christianity lived out selflessly. And that only happens when blood-washed, Spirit-empowered, self-denying, Christ-exalting redeemed sinners get together and WORSHIP.
And that's why I love the Church. It's the only refuge where I am forced to start looking outside my simple, cluttered, selfish little universe and see hurt, pain, love, chaos, discipline, pettiness, character, courage, inspiration and community. It's the only place where I can be told the truth and find folk who are willing to put up with me as we live it out together.
Go join that church you've been visiting. Stop looking for community on messageboards and at Barnes & Noble (much as I love both). Soli Deo Gloria!