What is the Point of Church?

Put more simply: the church is an army for good and a community for growth.

This is a burning question for many today, especially Millennials. They find Christians a group of people they don’t want to associate with. They are turned off by pervasive hypocrisy and legalism among modern American Christians—at least in the conservative circles in which this friend and I have moved. They especially don’t like the overt politicization of many evangelical churches by the Religious Right movement. And they don’t see why going to a building with a bunch of people once a week has any effect on what they believe.

 

During a chat at a restaurant last month a dear friend, who hasn’t attended church regularly for years, claimed that church is unnecessary for true Christian faith.

In other words, Who even needs the church? What’s the point?

This is a burning question for many today, especially Millennials. They find Christians a group of people they don’t want to associate with. They are turned off by pervasive hypocrisy and legalism among modern American Christians—at least in the conservative circles in which this friend and I have moved. They especially don’t like the overt politicization of many evangelical churches by the Religious Right movement. And they don’t see why going to a building with a bunch of people once a week has any effect on what they believe.

I didn’t have a great answer for my friend’s question that night. But here is what I should have said:

You can’t be anything individually without having a relationship with others.”

You can’t be a writer without readers. You can’t be a chef without diners. You can’t be a manager without workers. You can’t be an engineer without users. In the same way, you can’t be a Christian without Christ and other Christians.

That’s the answer, essentially, that Abraham Kuyper gave in his key theological writings on the church. Recently translated into English, these writings were published in November under the title On the Church by the Acton Institute and Lexham Press.

This book shows us the roots of Kuyper’s famous distinction between the church as institution and the church as spiritual organism. Kuyper grew from a young man who saw little need for the institutional church to a mature man who viewed it as indispensable. Yet the older Kuyper always emphasized that the institution of the church is necessary only to help the spiritual organism of Christians carry out the mission of Christ on earth.

“Two elements always lie at the root of our ability to believe: first, the discovery and acknowledgment that there is a body of the Lord, and second, the awareness of assurance of our personal belonging to that body,” Kuyper wrote.[1]

Belief in a Relationship

Kuyper understood that Christian faith is not merely belief in a set of concepts, but belief in a relationship: that Christ has joined us to Him and to other believers in such a close bond that we are now part of one, living organism.

“A believer may feel disconnected from an organized church for various reasons,” Kuyper added. “But it immediately, automatically, and without hesitation directs itself to the invisible church. Faith in Christ that at the same time is not faith toward his body is unthinkable and does not exist.”[2]

Jesus Himself summarized the entire Bible in these two statements: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31)

You cannot love God if you never talk with Him and spend time with Him. And where is God found? At church, where God’s Word—that is, Jesus—is made understandable by the pastor and made tangible by the rituals of communion and baptism.

You cannot love your neighbor unless you are receiving love from Jesus to give to your neighbor. Do many non-Christians act lovingly toward their neighbors? Absolutely. But their kindness and service also come from Christ, as part of the common grace with which He rules and blesses the whole world.

If you want to see more love in the world, then the only sensible thing to do is to keep going back to the source of that love. That source is the church, where Christ week after week makes Himself available to strengthen His followers.

Selfishness vs. Selflessness

Without Christ giving out His love in the world, all of human society would be marked by utter selfishness. In short, there would be no relationships at all among humans. According to Kuyper, all people would seek their own benefit at the expense of those around them.

Do you suppose that if God did not restrain our sinful heart, did not cast a ray of light into our darkness, and did not come to our aid with restraining compassion, there would be any fidelity and integrity, any virtue and dedication, any art or learning, or any human organization or sense of justice on earth?” Kuyper wrote. “No, I tell you, if the Lord Almighty had left us to our own devices, all virtue would have turned into brutishness, all order into chaos, and all humanity would have descended in the dense smoke of hell.”[3]

This all-encompassing selfishness is the kingdom of Satan. Beating back this kingdom is the reason Christ established and still works through the church as an institution.

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