Coop's Column - Jesus Yes-Church Yes!
In the Western hemisphere, especially in Europe and considerable sections of North America, vigorous contempt toward and sleepy disregard of the Christian church are widespread and increasing at an ever-accelerating rate.
“Jesus Yes—Church No!” That placard, held high by a lone student at a demonstration some years ago, expresses the thoughts and feelings of multitudes today about organized (Christian) religion. For them it’s “Spiritual Yes—Religion No.” And, “Yes to Jesus, but No—an emphatic No!—to everything connected with Church” (doctrine, ecclesiastical machinery, hierarchy, organization, etc).
In the Western hemisphere, especially in Europe and considerable sections of North America, vigorous contempt toward and sleepy disregard of the Christian church are widespread and increasing at an ever-accelerating rate. So widespread and rapid is the decline of organized Christianity in the West that the July-August, 2010, issue of The Atlantic magazine cites “The Demise of the Roman Catholic Church” as one of the fifteen leading trends in contemporary society.
For the last 2,000+ years of Christian history—ever since Jesus was born, crucified, and resurrected—his followers, in a kind of regular systolic-diastolic rhythm of the heart, have faithfully been gathering together on Sunday (to worship God and fellowship with one another), and then dispersing (to live and work in the world). Why this regular practice, by now centuries old? And why keep doing it today? In other words, why “Jesus Yes—Church Yes!”?
Well, because it’s a fact, declared in Scripture and verified in centuries of human experience, that no follower of Jesus ever grows optimally alone or in isolation from a society of fellow followers. We need to come together—to congregate, if you will. At history’s beginning God declared: “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). Thus God intended humans to come together, to be in community with one another.
Thus, though the Christian faith is a personal religion, it is certainly not an individual religion. Yes, the Lord calls his children, one by one, to follow him; and they, in turn, respond one by one, to his call amid the specific, unique, and fine-print details of their lives. But never ought they then to remain as isolated individuals, separated from others who have heard and responded to God’s call. Rather, God intends followers of Jesus, his called-out people, the Church, to live out all of his “one another” commands—all 32 of them: “Pray for, encourage, speak truth to, love, be kind to, forgive, [and so on] one another.” All 32 imply the formation and existence of a community.
What a challenge this invitation presents to live counter-culturally! For our age is shot through with individualism, by what sociologist Robert Putnam calls a “Bowling Alone” mentality and practice.
The rhythm of coming together/dispersing/coming together/dispersing is the pattern God set for followers of his Son, Jesus Christ. Which is why
- Scripture commands: “Do not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another” (Heb. 10:25).
- Cyprian, a third-century Christian leader, declared: “Extra ecclesiam nulla salus” (“Outside the Church No Salvation”).
- John Calvin called the church the very “society of Christ” into whose fellowship God has deposited the rich treasure of the gospel.
- Christians, both worldwide and throughout history, gather to confess, “I believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints”—and then to sing, “I Love Your Church, O Lord.”
Lone-Rangerism is “out” when it comes to living as Christ intends. Faithful Christians raise the banner: “Jesus Yes—Church Yes!”
Jesus, with your church abide; be our Savior, Lord, and Guide, while on earth our faith is tried: Lord, our Savior, hear us. (Thomas Benson Pollock, 1871)