“I don’t need to go to church. I see God in my garden…I can worship God on the golf course…I worship Him in the mountains…” I’m sure you have heard those excuses that people often use for not being part of a local assembly of believers. (Hopefully you haven’t used them!). Now, it is true that we can and should worship God while we work in our garden or play a round of golf or hike in the mountains, but God is not a plant nor is He the beauty of a golf course or the mountains. He is the Creator, but we are to worship Him, and Him alone. We are to appreciate, but not worship, His creation.
We have lots of trees on our property and are constantly picking up branches, especially after a wind storm, or in the spring after the snow has melted (as in right now). If the branches are not too large, I run them through a chipper to make mulch. I don’t try to put the branches back on the trees! or to plant them. Branches are built to be attached and they start dying when they’re not. They’re not going to grow more leaves. Any leaves they have on them are soon going to fall off. As soon as the branch gets separated from the tree, it starts dying.
Jesus said to His disciples: “I am the vine and you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5). Obviously, we have no life apart from Him who is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6). And we can only bear fruit when we “abide” in Him, that is stay in fellowship with Him through His Word and through prayer, and depend upon Him for strength and wisdom and direction. Apart from Him we “can do nothing,” but “through Him” we “can do all things” (Phil. 4:13). We need to “stay plugged in” to the power source if our lives are going to be fruitful spiritually. When we separate ourselves from fellowship with Him, we struggle to find meaning, significance, purpose, and joy, and we are not making a difference for Him.
It is also true that, as branches, we were built to be attached to His Body which He called the Church (Col. 1:18). Just as it is God’s plan for a child to grow up in a home with a mom and dad in order to mature emotionally, mentally and spiritually as well as physically, it is God’s plan for a believer to “grow up” in a family of believers where he or she is loved, nurtured, taught, corrected, encouraged and equipped to serve. The Apostle Paul, in writing to the Ephesian church, said that God “gave some as apostles and some as prophets and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming, but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:11-16).
If you are waiting to find a perfect church before you get involved, you will be waiting all you life. Every local assembly has its strengths and weaknesses. If you should find a perfect one (and you won’t), don’t join it or you’ll ruin it! But, inspite of each assembly’s flaws, find one that teaches the truth, that “holds forth the Word of Life,” that is doctrinally sound, and get involved. You belong there. As branches, we a built to be attached. The author of the Book of Hebrews wrote: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day (of His return) drawing near” (Heb. 10:23-25). We need the protection, the equipping, the encouraging, that a body of believers supplies, and each of us has spiritual gifts to offer to help the body grow as well. And the closer we get to Jesus’ coming back, the more important it is that we stick together. It is going to becoming harder and harder to know and to do the right thing–it’s happening now in our country–and we can help each other with that. Obviously, God intended for following Jesus to be a “team sport,” not a “spectator sport.” Jesus set up His Church as the place where we can worship Him with our spiritual family, where we can serve Him, where we can participate in the spiritual obediences like communion and baptism, where we pray for and support missionaries, where we are equipped to serve, where we can encourage and “stimulate one another to love and good deeds.”
Maybe a storm came along and you ended up disconnected from the life of the church. Maybe you’ve been hurt by fellow believers, disappointed by a pastor, disillusioned, even embittered. But, living a “lone ranger” Christian life is not what God intended, and it will not help you worship, grow and minister. You may look for a different body of believers with which to worship, but not being a part of one is just not an option for a disciple who claims to be following Christ. If your eyes have been on people, on your wounds, or on the things that are wrong with the church, and you have dropped out, well, you are directly disobeying God’s command to “Not forsake the assembling together.” “The Church is not perfect because it’s full of spiritual caterpillars who–just like you and me–are half caterpillar and on their way to becoming butterflies. But the Church is what Jesus has chosen to work through on earth. You can’t remain a disconnected branch, no matter how bad the storm was.” (Ron Hutchcraft in A Word With You,” #4228). The Church of Jesus is your spiritual home on earth. If you’ve been away, it’s time to come home. If you’ve never been attached, you need to be.