Why Church? by Rich Huston

Why Church?
by Rich Huston

rich hustonRich Huston is a 1977 graduate of Rhema Bible Training Center and is the senior pastor of Agape Life Church in Arvada, Colorado. Married 35 years to his wonderful wife Jan (who is also a 1977 graduate of Rhema) they pioneered Agape Life Church 29 years ago. Rich served 10 years as director for the Rocky Mountain Region of RMAI (Rhema Ministerial Association International) and enjoys encouraging others in ministry positions. Rich and Jan have two lovely married daughters that serve in ministry with them, and have been blessed with two precious grandchildren.

rich huston“Why church?” It seems to me that I have been hearing this question quite a bit lately. It is being suggested that people can love Jesus, without loving the church; the idea of a “church-less Christianity.” Some Christian authors seem eager to encourage believers to find hip, trendy alternatives to the “institutional church.” One well known and often quoted Christian pollster, after years of writing books to encourage church development seems in recent years to have reversed course. He would have people believe the day of the church as we know it is nearly over, and what is left is insignificant and irrelevant. In contrast, I like what John Stott once said; “I trust that none of my readers is that grotesque anomaly, an unchurched Christian. The New Testament knows nothing of such a person. For the church lies at the very centre of the eternal purpose of God.”

I suppose it is easier to think that you can really love Jesus and yet want nothing to do with His bride. The apostle Paul said in Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”. Albert Mohler said; “An attitude of indifference to the church has become tragically common within American Christianity. As a result, many people fail to make a solid commitment to congregational life and responsibility. The New Testament is clear – to love Christ is to love the church.”

It goes without saying that there is much that needs improvement in churches. Those of us who lead certainly need to be receptive to those needed changes. However, we live in a time when people are often looking for what they want, rather than what God has given. Chuck Colson said; “We live in a therapeutic age where everything is measured by how much I get out of it. The church ought to be measured by what we put into it for God and others. We live in an era of rampant individualism. So in a very individualist culture, the whole idea of being a part of a community is countercultural.

Why do some think that the only or best alternative is attending no church at all? Do the perceived abuses and failures of the “institutional” church justify disobedience to the biblical mandate concerning body life?

C.S. Lewis coined the phrase ‘chronological snobbery.’ The phrase refers to the all-too-common tendency among Christians to quickly discount what is old and automatically embrace what is new. We tend to think our problems are original to us and our solutions are one of a kind. We are faddish trend-watchers- ignorant of our own history, obnoxiously dismissive of the practices of our spiritual fathers and mothers, and easily duped.”
– Kevin DeYoung

There is nothing new about this, people have attempted to redefine and rebrand Jesus to fit any idea that is convenient for their imagination. Today, some want to make Him to be so nice they can’t imagine Him offending anyone. The truth is that Jesus was confrontational at times and many took offense to Him. So, in turn, they want to do the same thing to the church, making it convenient and what they want it to be.

The fact is, no one but Jesus has the right to define or attempt to redefine what the church is; it is His church. Many feel the church today ought to be liked by everyone and be non-confrontational. If we are following the Head of the church, everyone will not like everything about us. Everyone likes to be liked, but perhaps the church has become too eager to be liked.

I hope to visit you soon, but just in case I’m delayed, I’m writing this letter so you’ll know how things ought to go in God’s household, this Godalive church, bastion of truth.” 
1 Timothy 3:14-15 (The Message)

The church is God’s bastion of truth! Sometimes the truth hurts, especially when we expect the truth to be something that doesn’t require much sacrifice and self-denial. Encouraging believers to take up their cross and live a crucified life is not church abuse. Perhaps when some Christians are unceasingly asking of the church, “what can I get out of it?”, aren’t they asking the wrong question? Isn’t Christianity and church life more than personal gratification? We need more than ever the environment of discipleship! This is exactly what God gave us the church for, the leadership He placed in the church is for the perfecting of the saints (See Ephesians 4:11-16).

A high proportion of people who ‘go to church’ have forgotten what it is all for. Week by week they attend services in a special building and go through their particular, time-honored routine, but give little thought to the purpose of what they are doing. The Bible talks about the ‘the bride of Christ’ but the church today seems like a ragged Cinderella. It needs to reaffirm the nonnegotiable, essential elements that God designed for it to be committed to.”
– Michael C. Griffiths – God’s forgetful Pilgrims

God’s church is His family.

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.”
Ephesians 3:14

Family is God’s idea! There is nothing more wonderful, but also as potentially difficult, as family. In making the church God also made a family. We can no more be a Christian and have nothing to do with the church than we can be a person and not be in a family.

Scripture knows nothing of the solitary Christian. People of faith are always a member of a community.”
– Eugene Peterson

So the question is not if you like the church or don’t like the church. It is how am I going to live within this community called the church. As we gather together as a community of believers, people are unavoidably present!

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.”
Philippians 2:12

Choosing to live in community, the fellowship of the body of Christ.

What we have seen and ourselves heard we are also telling you, so that you too may realize and enjoy fellowship as partners and partakers with us. And this fellowship that we have (which is a distinguishing mark of Christians) is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ, the messiah. And we are now writing these things to you so that our joy [in seeing you included] may be full  and your joy complete.” 
1 John 1:34 (Amplified)

The truth of our fellowship (koinonia) is that God’s family has some responsibility with one another. We need the ministry of our brother and sister in Christ. Social media is great, but it can’t replace why we gather together. Something tangible happens when we experience the presence of God as we come to worship Him and come to the Lord’s Table.

The Power of Our Connection with One Another

“That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking from the cup. For if you eat the bread or drink the cup unworthily, not honoring the body of Christ, you are eating and drinking God’s judgment upon yourself. That is why many of you are weak and sick and some have even died. But if we examine ourselves, we will not be examined by God and judged in this way.”
– 1 Corinthians 11:2831 (NLT)

“Now all of you together are Christ’s body and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it.” 
1 Corinthians 12:27 (NLT)

Understanding the covenant aspect to our fellowship together is why we must give honor and respect to one another as members of the Body of Christ. As we come to declare our love for God, we must face fellow imperfect people whom God loves and commands us to love. This is what distinguishes us as Christians.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
– John 13:34-35

The church is not some incidental part of God’s plan; it is the core of what He has in mind for us to experience His life and His love, together.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
1 Corinthians 13:7-8

The author of Hebrews had something like this in mind when he wrote, “And let us consider how we may spur one another one toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together are some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another”
Hebrews 10:24-25

The church is the body of Christ, the tangible representation of Jesus on the earth. So in a real way, if we miss connecting to the body of Christ, we miss Christ.

Just as we love the Lord we must also love the church, and to love the church means we have the privilege of becoming Christ-like, and learn to love imperfect people. If we truly love the church we will bear with her in all her struggles, believe her to be the beloved bride of Christ, and know one day she will be perfect when reunited with her glorious King.

I’m coming up on 30 years of pastoring a church my wife and I pioneered, here in Colorado. We’ve stayed put in this community long-term, committed to Christ and committed to them. In our community of believers we’ve experienced victories that have been exhilarating, disappointments that have been heartbreaking and a whole lot of in between stuff that serves God’s purpose. I love the church! That love includes accepting her imperfections. Any pastor knows the mess that comes with working with people. If I love the Lord and also love His church, I have to love the mess, too! It has made me a better person. I continue to discover the beauty of the bride of Christ in ways I couldn’t have, unless I had stayed engaged in helping care for the bride. I believe the best days of the church are upon us and I’m eager to do my part in presenting a glorious church to a soon returning King!