This post was originally published on August 11, 2014. It was revised and republished on April 27, 2020.
“I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:
He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.”
—1 Timothy 3:14–16
The church needs to behave herself; this is why Paul wrote to 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 [when this post originally appeared] 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? Hakuna Matata, baseball leagues are certain to crop up everywhere, all playing the game according to their own desires.
Consider the case of Stott v. Miller and ask yourself which holds up in God’s court. The defendant, Donald Miller, questions himself, “So, do I attend church?” 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.” Before moving on to the prosecution let me interject that one thing that church can teach Miller, and every other soul, is to get over ourselves. The late John Stott then addresses the audience (there is no jury, only the Judge), “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 as many have the disease but 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.
*John Stott, The Living Church (InterVarsity, 2007), p. 19
Meridian Church · 1 Timothy 3:14–16 || The Church and the Mystery || Josh King