Playing Christianity without the Church (1 Timothy 3:14–16)

The church needs to behave herself; this is why Paul is writing Timothy. Sadly, many professing Christians aren’t even in a church in which to misbehave. They are intentionally churchless. Occupying the number nine spot in Amazon’s “ecclesiology” category is Kelly Bean’s How to be a Christian without Going to Church. That’s as comprehensible as a baseball coach offering a clinic, “How to Hit a Home Run without Using a Bat.” Don’t want to use a ball either? Don’t worry, baseball leagues will crop up everywhere, all doing the game according to their own desires.

“So, do I attend church?” asks Donald Miller, he answers, “Not often, to be honest. Like I said, it’s not how I learn. But I also believe the church is all around us, not to be confined by a specific tribe.” One thing that church can teach Miller, and everyone of us, is to get over ourselves. Not that long ago John Stott opened a chapter of a book concerning the church by saying, “I trust that none of my readers is that grotesque anomaly, an un-churched Christian. The New Testament knows nothing of such a person. For the church lies at the very center of the eternal purpose of God.” Unfortunately, the “un-churched Christian” isn’t so much of an anomaly now, and it certainly isn’t thought to be the grotesque thing that it is.

Paul has written “these things” so that the Ephesians Christians will know how to behave themselves in church. “These things” include praying together (2:1–8), which assumes gathering as the church. These things include elders (3:1–7), which necessitates teaching. These things include discipline (1:20), which means membership is necessary. If there is an out, there must be an in. Being part of a local church is necessary and normal—apostolically so.

We live in an age when it is popular, for “Christians”(!), to belittle or disassociate from the church. Admittedly, there is much to criticize, but tone is crucial. Any criticism we have for the church should sound like a loving and godly father imploring a wayward daughter. We would do well not to speak lightly of that which Jesus has purchased with His blood. Yet, many who are speaking so negatively about “the church,” aren’t speaking about the church at all, and they need to realize it. You can sharply, and righteously expose a church that is posing, precisely because you love the church. Biting wit and satire can say, “I know the church, and that ain’t her.”

Many churches and church substitutes aren’t churches, or at the least, they’re not behaving like one. They’ve lost their dignity. They behave like a silly tween girl at a faddish boy band concert instead of a queen, ready to feast at the banquet hall of the King. The deep joys of reverence for the great I AM have been exchanged for the shallow pleasures of dancing before Baal, and, like Manasseh, they do it in “the house of the Lord.” For instance, recently I saw a video of a local church where, on the stage, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker had a lightsaber duel. Then, out of nowhere, Princess Leia jumped in and they danced to Michael Jackson’s thriller, inappropriate gestures and all.

Much of our problem—and let us not for a minute think we are immune, many have the disease, they only mask the symptoms better—much of our problem is that we have forgotten who the church is. The church is the church of the living God, she is the household of God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. We don’t behave because we don’t believe. Theological erosion leads to moral corrosion.

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