Every so often there is a dust-up over why younger people, specifically Millennials, are (or maybe are not) leaving the church. (You can read all about the latest one here, here, and here). It’s not my intent to interact with those articles, but they got me thinking of the reasons I love the church and would never leave. So, over the next few weeks I’ll be explaining that in a series “Why I Love the Church.”
But, before I get going, let me define what I mean here by “church.” By “church” I do not mean the universal church, the cosmic body of Christ made up of all believers from all time. As a Christian there is no leaving that, and there is no way in except by faith in Jesus through the gospel. I instead have in mind the local church: a group of believers in Jesus who meet regularly for worship, prayer, Bible teaching, and the receiving of the ordinances of baptism and communion. So, keep in mind this series of posts is about why I love the local church, and why I would never stop being a part of local assembly of followers of Jesus.
First Peter 5:8-9 says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” In the past I read these verses and thought, “That’s nice, somewhere in the world someone else knows what this temptation I am going through feels like.” I knew I was supposed to be encouraged by that, I knew it was supposed to help me in my walk with Christ, I even intellectually acknowledged the truth of the verse. But, the problem was none of that ever provided any power for every day living. The reason was that while I believed the verse, I was not living it.
Then, a few years ago, I realized how to put this verse into action, not just accepting its truth, but allowing that truth to transform my life. The answer is simple: if there are indeed others going through what I am experiencing, then the way for that to benefit me is to become a part of that “brotherhood,” as Peter says. How do we do that? Through the local church. It is in a local body of believers that we are connected to others who are experiencing “the same kind of sufferings.” It is in community with other believers that transformation happens.
Being committed to a local body of believers brings about what I like to call “the stabilizing power of normalcy.” This is how 1 Peter 5:9 came alive to me. In the church we see firsthand that we aren’t actually the only one going through our particular trials. This allows us to be encouraged by others and encourage them. In the church we find those who have gone through our same struggles and by God’s grace overcome. These dear saints can testify to having tasted and seen the Lord’s goodness and call us to press on.
Along with this, when we realize others have been where we are, or are there now with us, our problems don’t seem as insurmountable. The dizziness slows and the fog lifts; by God’s grace we gain perspective. Then 1 Peter 5:9 becomes effective, because the “brotherhood” is no longer “out there,” but surrounding us, loving us, speaking into our lives. And this gives us strength to press on, to fight the good fight, to continue trusting Christ, to keep relying on the Spirit’s strength. This leads neatly into the next reason I love the church: we don’t have to bear our burdens alone. But more on that next time.