In our modern American vernacular the term “church” often refers to a building where people meet on Sunday mornings for worship. However, the biblical definition of church is really those called out of the world to follow Christ Jesus.
So my headline for this post is a reference to those who follow Jesus without being in regular involvement with an institutional church where people gather on Sunday morning for worship.
I meet these people everyday at the hospital. They have a personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ but they are not involved with any local congregation. The reasons people give for not being in regular attendance at a local church vary from logistical excuses like their working schedule or from spiritual excuses like contradictions of personal beliefs.
What interests me is when these people can articulate their personal faith clearly and convincingly. They seem to me to be the church without a church and in this post I want to share some thoughts that I have about this seemingly growing movement.
First, I can completely understand how a Christian can avoid involvement in an institutional brick and mortar church. The modern American church format is a product of our culture and not a verse or passage from the Bible. All church gatherings across the nations are ultimately a product of their own society and culture.
The model of doing church as depicted in the Bible is very primitive and simple. We see it in Acts 2:42 which says “they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Acts paints a picture of a church that meets in homes and public places for the simple elements of Bible teaching, fellowship, eating, and praying.
As I understand it, it really wasn’t until after the conversion of Constantine, the Roman Emperor, in 330 AD that the church shifted from a primitive movement to a structured organization with buildings and laity distinction.
I do not think the product that we have today as church is wrong, but I do think that it doesn’t reach all people. The variations of today’s modern church format reach various people but a simple primitive format as found in the New Testament is still important and needed today.
Second, I try to encourage the church without a church to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). I can understand why the institutional church repels some people but we all can follow the Lord through the simple means of Bible study, prayer, and fellowship as referred to in Acts 2:42.
To those who are following the Lord without a local congregational church, I would remind you of Romans 12:2 and the transformation of our minds by encouraging us to make prayer a continuous practice and to be in the Word of God daily . There is great value in even meditating on a single Bible verse, one each new day, so the mind can be transformed after the Lord.
It’s probably a good time to talk about “fellowship” in the life of the church. It is possible to have fellowship in small groups of simpler church gatherings. It is also necessary for Christians to have fellowship with other Christians, so if one is avoiding a local congregation, they ought to have a friend or friends in Christ that they can engage with, even if it’s just a regular meeting over coffee.
Church congregations today seem to have adopted worship as their main weekly objective at the expense of offering fellowship opportunities. There are churches that have working models that provide both a strong worship opportunity and great fellowship opportunities through small groups and social interactions.
I personally favor fellowship over worship experience because Scripture speaks to worship as being a personal devotion, not a corporate activity. There are two passages often pointed out for why we should faithfully attend a local church and they are Exodus 20:8-11 and Hebrews 10:24-25. Neither the Sabbath commandment or the Hebrews warning mention worship, “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
The challenge as I see it is for those who are being the church without a local church, is finding fellowship with like-minded Christians. I realize that many have a friend or two that provides that fellowship, but I also understand that a lot of others don’t have that.
It’s easy to find local congregations to visit and see if they can fit the need you may have for fellowship, but I am still trying to figure out what can be done to help reach others seeking fellowship outside the local congregation.
If you just can’t connect with a local congregation, please find a way to have fellowship with other believers.