Community is Not Optional
Recently, Alan Hirsch shared the startling reality that when asked, most people will say they have a positive view of God, Jesus and spirituality, but a negative view of the Church. Most striking perhaps is that this doesn't change from believer to unbeliever. Now, we could point fingers all day as to who or what is to blame for this, but that wouldn't change the reality. People don't have a positive view of what we currently refer to as "the Church."
And yet in Hebrews, the Bible commands us to not forsake assembling together with other believers. Scripture tells us to bear with one another, forgive each other and to put up with all the other things that drive us crazy when we are together. Apparently God thinks this community thing is pretty important. We can't be devoted to the Head (that's Christ) and yet cut ourselves off from the body (that's the church). We can't say we love the Groom (that's Christ) and yet hate the bride (that's the church). That would be akin to a young man saying to his date "I really like your face, but your body is gross."
Certainly the body of Christ is not nearly as lovely as Christ Himself, and yet Christ commands us directly to not forsake the church. Why? I think this question is best answered by looking at trees.
Apparently when the roots of trees touch, there is a fungus produced that reduces competition between them. This unknown fungus actually likes the roots of different trees- even if they are not the same species. When you see a forest, it is likely the entire forest is linked together at the root level. If one tree has access to water, another to nutrients and a third to sunlight, they can actually share with one another.
Now, certainly the analogy is clear. Though God's Holy Spirit in no way compares to a tree fungus, it does link us together. Paul writes about this in Ephesians, urging us to be unified:
Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. 2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all. (Ephesians 4:1-6 NLT)
Please hear me. I'm not arguing that if you don't attend a local church every Sunday, you're going to wither. Far from it. A lot of times this doesn't happen on Sunday morning- there's too many of us and we're all facing the wrong direction! In fact, odds are the greatest forms of Biblical community you will ever find won't happen in a church building. They will happen around your table at your house with your neighbors. At least that's the track record Jesus models for us. But that doesn't excuse you from coming to church on Sunday.
Like it or not, we need each other. We need to be rooted in relationships, mutual encouragement, teaching, serving together. Yes, the church is fully of messy and imperfect people- including you. But any way you look at it, a forest is stronger than a lone tree.
And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. 7 Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6-7 NLT)