A peculiar phenomenon has occurred in the last few decades: Christians have started excommunicating the church.
Throughout history Christians have stressed the importance of the local church. Church membership and participation in that church were actions that typically characterized a Christian.
But in recent times a large number of people who profess to be Christians have renounced the need for membership in one particular church. Some—more extreme, yet nevertheless related—go so far as to say that they do not need to go to church at all.
This revolution has even introduced new vocabulary into the church’s regular diction. For instance, someone may be “Church shopping,” or be known as a “Church hopper.” My personal favorite is the oxymoronic phrase “Church at home.”
The wide use of these phrases reveals that this is not simply the misguided actions of an extreme minority. This depreciation of church membership and outright dismissal of Sunday worship is one indication of how postmodern culture has deeply infiltrated American Christianity.
Throughout history joining a local church meant that one was publicly renouncing unbelief and openly identifying himself with Christ.
As well, Christians have traditionally believed that a local church is the crib of God’s benevolent nurture. For instance, the 5th century churchman, Cyprian, summed up the importance of the local church when he said “If you are to have God as your Father, you must have the church as your mother.”
The renowned 4th century theologian, Augustine, stated the case even more directly when he said, “Outside the church, there is no salvation.” Augustine was not affirming that every church member was real and true believer—he knew there could be hypocrites and false professions. His point was that anyone who was a true Christian would most certainly seek out a place of worship, fellowship, and instruction.
In contrast to this, many Christians today see membership and faithful church attendance as frivolous ecclesiastical technicalities. Some may even go so far as to consider them hindrances to one’s personal faith development.
But how could such a radical revolution come about? How is it that this high view of church membership could slouch in just a matter of a few decades? Again, it is because Christianity is submerged the tide of postmodernism.
The most defining characteristic of our culture is that everything is relative. And this relativism has produced a culture that is naturally skeptical of all institutions and establishments.
It goes like this: Relativism says that the only one who has the right to call the shots is me. So the postmodernist opines, “I have the right to believe and do whatever I want. No one can be my authority.”
When this mentality is applied to Christianity, the foundation for the local church crumbles. The conclusion is “Why go to church (or commit to this one church) if church leaders, church history, and the Bible have no authority over my life?”
To be sure, the church is not innocent when it comes to this mass exodus. The rise of liberalism, the proliferation of scandal among church leaders, and the incessant bickering among Christians is enough to turn away the most dedicated of pew sitters.
Yet one must kept in mind that a church-less Christianity is a tremendous hindrance to Christianity. This is because God uses individual churches to accomplish his mission in the world. Supporting missions and assisting the needy require organization and a pool of resources, each of which is found in the local church.
The main question to ask though is whether or not a church-less Christianity is truly Christianity at all. For, if one does not associate with Christ’s people, submit to Christ’s leaders, and participate in Christ’s worship; can he really be called a Christian?
John Wesley once said, “There is nothing more unchristian than a solitary Christian.” But, considering all factors, I must ask, “Is he really a Christian at all?”
the end, Christ’s own example stands as the authoritative rule. When he walked the earth it was his custom to go into the synagogue on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16). Even despite the hatred and opposition of its religious leaders, Christ would not renounce the local church of his time.
Kindled Fire is dedicated
to the preaching and teaching ministry of
Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.