You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
“Look, I have my faith. I pray. I read my Bible. But I’m not a fan of organized religion. You don’t need to belong to a church to be a Christian.” Maybe you’ve heard that. A bad experience with ‘organized religion’ sometimes brings people around to this point of view. Other times it’s a desire for independence, a wish to stand on one’s own two feet theologically.
In either case, a good answer is: “That’s very true. You don’t need to belong to a church to be a Christian – in the same way that you don’t need to be on a team to be a baseball player.” After all, it does happen. At any given moment, a player may find himself with no team to play for, for all kinds of reasons. In the same way, all kinds of things sometimes keep Christians from finding their way into a church, or staying there.
Hopefully, our ‘forced’ COVID-19 absence from corporate worship these past weeks has led us all to a renewed appreciation for gathering together for Word and Sacrament. But, in general, if and when Christians begin to see no reason at all for worship and fellowship at church, they’re forgetting a few things:
- Christianity, like baseball, is a team sport. Christianity is all about the good news that Christ’s forgiveness has healed our broken relationship with God. That healing also has profound, life-altering implications for our relationships with each other. That’s the reason Christians naturally seek fellowship and community with other Christians. They always have. Churches – communities of Christians – are where the great ‘one another’s’ of the Bible happen: “Love one another,” “Serve one another,” “Build one another up,” Carry one another’s burdens,” and so on. Of course, no Christian – and no church – has all the “one another’s” down perfectly. That’s why there’s a “forgive one another,” too.
- If you’re a Christian, you need your teammates. What would you say to a ballplayer who thought he was quick and talented enough to win a game single-handed, by playing all positions at once? He’d be showing tremendous ignorance about how the game is actually played, or a serious ego problem, or both. Just like players on a team, we Christians need each other. Sometimes we need encouragement. Sometimes we need instructing. Sometimes we need consoling. Occasionally – all of us – need a kick in the pants (lovingly administered!). But no solitary Christian can see this game through to the end, without help from anyone. Our game is way too demanding and too important for us to even try.
- If you’re a Christian, your teammates need you. There aren’t many ballplayers so versatile they can handle any position on the field. But in Christianity, everybody can play at least one. Everybody has some kind of contribution to make; most Christians can make several. It’s important to see churches as more than spiritual gas stations or grocery stores – places we go to get something we need. Churches are full of people who need something we have to offer. They are places where we can give something, too.
Can you be a Christian without a church? Can you be a player without a team? In theory, yes. The real question is: Why would you want to?
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