Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Importance of Church

In Jeffrey Meyers' book The Lord’s Service: The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship, Meyers goes through all the important features of the church service, illuminating their meaning from the scriptures and the reformed tradition.

One of the areas where the book has helped me is through confirming how important what goes on during Sunday morning really is. Many Christians don’t realise why going to church should be central, while I have some Christian friends who don’t even bother belonging to a church (I was in that bondage myself for many years).

It puts things into perspective to realise that Christians in China are willing to risk their lives each week to attend church, whereas many people in the West will skip church simply because they want to lie in on Sunday morning.

Sometimes the no-church mentality can be the result of selfishness. Proverbs 18:1 says, “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire…” I don’t think the isolation Proverbs is talking about is purely quantitative. Sometimes whole groups can meet together on the basis of an isolationist mentality (see my post on home church HERE).

In chapter 15 of The Lord’s Service, Meyers dismantles the popular evangelical notion that a personal relationship with Jesus can be severed from His Body, the Church, and from the ministry and sacraments of the Church. He shows how the legacy of Gnosticism manifests itself in the unbiblical notion that the Spirit must operate immediately upon the soul of a man without external means or instruments.

The reformed tradition does acknowledge that the Lord is free to work outside His constituted means in extraordinary cases. Remember what the Westminster Confession says: outside the visible church “there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” We don’t want to limit God, but at the same time we want to do justice to the ordinary means that Scripture reveals.

God has ordained where we are to find Him: we find Him at church. When Christ was on earth, if you wanted to find Jesus, He had a visible body you could seek out. Many Christians think that now that Christ has ascended, if you want to find Him, you have to hunt for something invisible inside yourself. But that is not true. Scripture tells us that there is still a visible body of Christ on the earth, namely the church (1 Cor. 12:12-14, 27).

This understanding displaces the unbiblical emphasis that having a personal relationship with Jesus has come to play in evangelical piety. Of course, if we use the phrase ‘a personal relationship with Jesus’ as a shorthand way to refer to regeneration, then no Christian would dispute the need for such a state of affairs to exist. But if we mean - and this is what many evangelicals mean by the phrase - something subjective that happens inside our heart, then I think we need to get our priorities straight.

This is not to say that feelings are unimportant to the Lord. The work of redemption should progressively transform every part of our being like yeast working through dough, bringing our spirit, mind, bodies and, yes, our emotions, into conformity with Christ. But it’s important to identify what kind of emotions we are talking about. If a person can listen to someone blaspheme the name of Christ and not feel revulsion, then there are probably some areas of sanctification that still needs to occur in the area of feelings. If a person can separate himself from Christ’s visible body and not feel a lack, then there are probably some areas of sanctification that still needs to occur in the area of feelings. But although feelings are important to the Lord, they are not the barometer of spiritual health, and to treat them as such is to make of them an idol.

It is because of this understand that Jeff Meyers’ book is so valuable. In emphasising the importance of liturgical worship in the New Covenant community, the locus of spirituality is taken away from the subjective and onto the objective, away from me and onto Christ.

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