I believe strongly that church attendance is an important and necessary part of being a Christian. Without the accountability and family relationships that come with your church family, you are alone and can easily fall into sin. Furthermore, you will never develop and mature as a Christian without the support and encouragement of your fellow church members. That isn’t to say that I think missing church occasionally is a sin. Rather that being a member of a church family and getting involved with that church family is extremely important to your growth as a Christian.
So anyway, I was having a discussion with someone the other day who was displeased with the church he was in. He made the point that, in his church, the legalism and obsession with outward appearances meant that no one in the church really knew each other or even liked each other. Everyone constantly wore a mask to keep from being judged. Any slips or cracks in that mask simply exposed that church member to the disdain and criticism of those around him. Which in effect mean that most of the members of the church never did anything together outside of church that wasn’t directly church related.
Now, I’m familiar with the church he was referring to and could definitely sympathize. The church he attends is exactly that way. Which is one (aside from it being in a different city) of the reasons I would never attend there.
So I told him I thought he should try another church rather than keep staying at a church that doesn’t like him and that he doesn’t like either. His answer was that there were no other good churches in the area. My response to that was to point to some that I had visited in the past. He said none of those churches were acceptable and listed each the of minor belief or tradition differences that were his reason why they weren’t acceptable.
At this point, not wanting to offend him I left the subject alone. Clearly the minor doctrinal points and traditions were more important in his eyes than having a real church family. But it got me thinking.
What weight should we assign the church family aspect when we are evaluating a church? The New Testament is full of references to the importance of fellowship and communion with believers, and yet I think most of us don’t even consider that when we are trying to choose a church. When did what hymns the church sings and what fellow church members wear become the main criteria when evaluating a church?
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t look for churches that believe what we believe. Or that finding one that worships in the manner we are most comfortable in isn’t important. It absolutely is! But we need to realize that having a church family is at least as important as finding a church who’s traditions we feel comfortable with. Because without placing an importance on the church family, we are likely to get stuck attending places like my friend’s church.
My friend’s church may believe all the right things, but it provides him no true accountability and no real fellowship. There is no family to support him in his personal growth or to help him through his struggles. Because for him to admit to having those struggles exposes him to being judged and ostracized. For him, church becomes just a place he attends every Sunday to hear preaching. And that isn’t a real church.