Christianity 201

September 19, 2013

Bible Study Shouldn’t (and Can’t) Replace Church

Sometimes a comment left here leads me to yet another source of material. Although today’s item doesn’t begin with a key text — there are several for you to look up toward the end of the article — it is important to have this here because it would be tragic to think that there are people reading this as a substitute for being part of a local Christian assembly.  It appeared on the blog A Parched Soul, under the title Your Bible Study is Not the Church (click through to read at source) and the author is Grayson Pope.


If you were to survey the landscape of Christian blogs and culture today, you might come away with two notions concerning the church:

  1. It is broken
  2. It is redefinable

The first of these is reasonable. Many churches seem very broken. Sex scandals, misuse of tithes, and condemnation are all too familiar tales these days, unfortunately.

worshiping togetherThere are always areas in which the church can be improved. This will be true as long as sinners are in charge of running them.

The second point, that the church is redefinable, is where we have gone seriously astray. A common headline or title of a post on a popular Christian site might well read like one of the following:

  • “Why I Left the Church”
  • “How I found God Outside the Church”
  • “Why I’m a Christian but I Don’t go to Church”

(Let me be very clear before moving on: I believe the church is in need of repair. I believe there are very real problems with her, or more appropriately, how we have chosen to engage her. But I also believe she is the hope of this world, indeed the only one it has.)

These pseudo-titles above give us insight into the heart of what Christians think about the church at this point in history. In short, they find it open to interpretation, as if it is Play-Doh which can be kneaded, molded, or reshaped in the hands of a man.

Some believe worship with the family in the living room replaces corporate worship with a congregation. Others believe social ministry or their Bible study group in a coffee shop is their church.

It is tempting, to be sure. The social ministry field is seen as alive and vibrant, compared to the stale pews and stiff suits so many think of when church comes to mind. Huddling around a Starbucks table seems culturally rebellious and gives a sense of thrill.

Those things are not bad, but they are not the church. They may be called church by those involved, but they undermine thousands of years of ecclesiology, whether they do so knowingly or not.

They are mistaken. And it is hurting their faith.

James Emery White, who has spent much of his life studying the church and leading one, says for many this,

…has led to a trivialization of the church; for a growing minority it has led to a hunger for a deeper sense of church…

This gives rise to,

…those who intimate that the idea of the church in the New Testament is either embryonic or ethereal that we have the freedom to define the church as we wish. This is simply not the case.

If then, the church is not open to interpretation as we thought, what is it that marks it? Again, we turn to the work of White on the subject. He details what he calls the “5 C’s” in his book, Christ Among the Dragons, that give clarity to the biblical and historical view of the church.

To be the church, the following must be present:

  1. Community: “To be a church, we must be a community of faith. This community should not be segmented in any way, whether by race, ethnicity, gender or age…(see Gal 3:28; 1 Tim 4:12)
  2. Confession: “If a Christian church is anything, it is foundationally confessional, for the earliest mark of the Christian movement was the clear confession that Jesus is the Christ (Mark 8:29) and the Lord (Romans 10:9).”
  3. Corporate: “The Bible speaks of defined organizational roles such as pastors/elders/bishops/deacons, as well as corporate roles related to spiritual gifts such as teachers, administers and leaders (Romans 12; 1 Cor 12; Eph 4; 1 Pet 4).”
  4. Celebration: “The church is to gather for public worship as a unified community of faith, which includes the stewarding of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, for these were not in the public domain.”
  5. Cause: “…this involves active evangelism with subsequent discipleship, coupled with strategic service to the needy. We are to be the body of Christ to the world, and the twin dynamics of evangelism and social concern reflect Christ’s ongoing mission.”

These 5 C’s are what mark the church and what make it the church. They cannot be achieved to the same level as Jesus would have them outside of the local church.

Do you think you church is open to interpretation? Have you seen someone try to replace their church experience with another of some kind?