I am an unreconstructed ecclesiophile. I love (phileo) the church (ecclesia). I love the idea of the church because of the wisdom and power of God that it displays. I love the practical expression of the church in local churches. I love one local church in particular and regularly reflect on the kindness of God in allowing me to serve and be served by that body for over 19 years.
I say that I am “unreconstructed” because in modern evangelicalism the church has become little more than an add-on, an afterthought or at best of secondary or tertiary importance. The pressure to view the Christian life from this perspective is great. “Jesus and me” fits much better with our rugged individualism than does “members one of another” (Romans 12:5; Ephesians 4:25) under the headship of Christ (Ephesians 5:23).
I suspect that it is the reduction of biblical Christianity to subjective experience that lies behind much of the spiritual malaise that marks American Christianity (which tends to be more American than Christian). Yet, biblical Christianity is inherently communal or congregational. Yes, one must personally and individually repent and trust Christ as Lord, but God intends such repenters and believers to live together in a church. It takes a church to raise a Christian.
Any attempt to follow Christ outside a sincere, covenanted devotion to other believers in a church will inevitably result in something considerably less than a healthy Christian. At best it gives rise to spiritual eccentricity. At worst…well, I fear it often results in missing Jesus Christ altogether. God has so designed the Christian life that we need our brothers and sisters in the Lord. We need to be disciplined by living in a covenanted relationship with them. We need the encouragement that comes from fellowship and the correction that comes from conflict.
I have often listened to brothers and sisters cite conflict or tension with fellow members as a reason for leaving a church. But that is never a legitimate reason for breaking fellowship and disturbing the unity of a church. If you are unwilling to live close enough to others so that they can offend you how will you ever learn to forgive one another, even as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32)? If you remain so isolated from other believers that you are unable or unwilling share the sorrows of your heart with them, how will you ever experience the grace that ministers through fellow believers (2 Corinthians 7:6)?
God has ordained that local churches serve as outposts of heaven on earth. Where else can we find people of such varied backgrounds and dissimilar natural tastes not merely coexisting but sharing life together? Who can do that but God? All those natural walls that separate us from our fellow human beings are destroyed by the cross work of Jesus Christ, and He is building from all peoples (Jews and Gentiles) “one new man” (Ephesians 2:14-15). This is why Paul says that the “manifold wisdom of God” is displayed “by the church” to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:10).
How can those who love Christ not love what He loves? And if we love the church, should we not long to see local congregations flourishing in biblical vitality? Shouldn’t we grieve when we see churches floundering and even denying the clear commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ (church discipline)? Should we not commit ourselves to pray and labor for the biblical re-formation of local churches across our land and other lands?
This is the great need of the hour and, consequently, the unavoidable call to Christians everywhere.