After citing and explaining dozens of Scripture passages that talk favorably about the church, Brakel spoke a warning against those who call themselves Christians but “reject the church, church order, the divine commission of ministers, the ministry of the Word, the sacraments, and the keys of the kingdom. They thus make themselves guilty of the abominable sin of despising the congregation of God… (1 Cor. 11:22 do you despise the church of God? NIV).”
“I can be a Christian without setting foot in a church.” In some ways, this might be true. For example, some groups of Christians gather to worship in a building that is not a church building (e.g. in a school gym, a person’s home, or another place). However, for the most part, the saying is very unbiblical and out of step with Jesus’ thoughts, words, and actions. After all, he loves the church, died for her, protects her, nourishes her, and will bring her to the glories of heaven.
With this in mind, the Dutch Reformed pastor Wilhelmus a Brakel (d. 1711) wrote that “a Christian must have great love and esteem for the church.” After citing and explaining dozens of Scripture passages that talk favorably about the church, Brakel spoke a warning against those who call themselves Christians but “reject the church, church order, the divine commission of ministers, the ministry of the Word, the sacraments, and the keys of the kingdom. They thus make themselves guilty of the abominable sin of despising the congregation of God… (1 Cor. 11:22 do you despise the church of God? NIV).” Later he wrote,
“He who despises the church of God despises God himself and the riches of his goodness, and will not escape the judgment of God. …He who has no love for the church has no love for God. He who is engaged in battling the church is battling God and will endure his judgment. Take heed therefore that your salvation be dear to you and you stay away from these sort of people, let you be a partaker in battling the church of God.”
These people who despise the church might speak well and display a great “spirituality,” but,
“Do not permit yourself to be ensnared by these fair speeches, nor be tempted to the commission of the dreadful sin of leaving the church and engaging in battle against her. ‘He that gathers not with Me scatters abroad’ (Matt. 12:30).”
Someone might think this is a harsh way to speak, but the historical context of Brakel’s day should be considered. He was responding to pietists, Quakers and other such groups back then who spoke against the gathered, organized church. They were turning inward and saying that outward things like preaching, sacraments, ministry, elders, etc. were not needed and even bad.
Another more important thing to consider is the teaching of Scripture. A child of God is obligated to love the family of God (1 John 5:2). Jesus gave his followers a commandment that they love one another – love which will show others they are his disciples (John 13:34-35). This love should to be like Jesus’ love for his people (John 15:12). Christ has freed his people to love and serve each other; we should comfort one another, live in peace with one another, and be unified (Gal. 5:13, 2 Cor. 13:11). Christians are to help one another, bear one another’s burdens, and gather regularly to worship, break bread, pray, fellowship, and hear apostolic teaching (Titus 3:14, Gal. 6:2, Acts 2:42ff). If a person truly loves Jesus and wants to honor him, he’ll seek to do these things the Lord calls him to do. A true Christian says, “I love Jesus and his church. Even though she is not perfect, I’m happy to be part of Christ’s church – those who with me serve a perfect Savior.”
The above quotes are found in volume 2 of Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service, pp 648-652.
Rev. Shane Lems is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and services as pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Hammond, Wis. This article appeared on his blog and is used with permission.