Absolutely Categorically Impossible

I sometimes hear people say “you can be a Christian and not go to church…” its not a new concept, but I am increasingly finding it frustrating to hear.

I would want to say ‘of course, you don’t have to attend Sunday worship events as we have always done’, but as I read the scriptures I would say it is impossible to be a Christian outside of community. The whole ‘one another’ passages become absurd! The nature of God as trinity and we ‘being one as he is one’ loses all meaning.

Now – sure there are exceptions to every rule (where a person is isolated by distance etc) but I would argue that you haven’t really ‘got’ the whole discipleship thing if you choose to not engage with other followers, if you simply see it as a ‘me and God’ deal.

In this more fluid time in church history where there is opportunity to re-imagine and express faith differently this has increasingly become a non-negotiable for me. I really don’t care how you express that community, but I do care that you do it. I say this because occasionally I come across people who don’t regard community highly and who ‘float’ with no group of people they are deeply engaged with.

As I have gone along I have been working on a personal definition / understanding of church and currently this is it: “a covenant community of people who help each other follow Jesus and continue his mission in the world.”

I added ‘covenant’ (yes – I know its a churchy word – but its also a very good word!) because I don’t think it’s sufficient to catch up with people here and there and regard that as church. I fear for the discipleship of those who ‘float’, who never get known by others enough to be loved and challenged, confronted and corrected, or to be able to give those things to another. It seems quite selfish to me…

I am happy for you to push back on that if you wish

16 thoughts on “Absolutely Categorically Impossible

  1. I am a regulary reader, but first time commenter. I agree that Christ intends for his followers to live in community with other believers. I think that those who claim to leave “the church” are actually leaving organizations and structures that call themselves “church”. Sometimes these organizations and structure bear little resemblance to the church that we see in Scripture. However, of those who “leave the church”, I have noticed a marked increase in desire to live among other followers of Christ. Thus, they have left what is called “the church” to find the true church.

    I understand your desire to add “covenant” to your definition of the church. My concern is that these “covenants” can often be used to excluded brothers and sisters in Christ. I think that all believers are covenanted to one another, because all are in a covenant relationship with God which includes provisions for how to live among and interact with other followers of Christ.


  2. Great post Hamo…..

    I hear Grendals comments…but being part of Christ’s body is ‘bearing with one another’. We cant do that if we choose to not be accountable to each other at the first sign of conflict.

    I believe God teaches us patience and humility when He makes us be in community with each other, because we all have our issues, which grate against others.

    I wonder if people who say they are Christians but reject the church…understand what being a Christian is….it means being part of the body of Christ…..

  3. Hi guys.

    language is a loaded gun, but it’s all we’ve got i guess.

    Mark… I’ve rejected the church that i was a part of, and yet call myself a Christian… but what do i mean when I say “rejected” and “church”???

    rejected = turned my back and walked away; no longer participate as a member; cancelled my membership; disagree with some fundamental foundational pillars in the leadership praxis mindset; do not fellowship there.

    church = one particular, local expression of the “new community”, Christ implemented.

    this does not extend to my rejection of the new community as a whole Body of believers, of which I am a actively participating “member”.

    Hamo… I think if the people you are journeying with accept the decision of implementing a “covenant” of commitment to any particular group then, so be it.

    However, I’m not sure that it is anything more than a particular choice of preference that some people feel a need implement, in an effort to establish a tangible line of “membership” and “non-membership”. This doesn’t mean it is good or bad, but rather it is contextually appropriate for different expressions of communities, and not for others.

    My personal preference at the moment is – we each participate in the new covenant community you have alluded to in your post – how this is expressed, whether locally or globally, virtually or physically, regularly or intermitently, all adds to the multiple facets that make up the whole Body.

  4. O/up good. I think if you are in direct ‘conflict’ (for want of a more appropriate word) then either resolve it, but if you cant…moving on may be the best solution.

    What do you mean by ‘new community’? Does this mean you have moved on to relationships of ‘fellowship’ and accountability with a different group of Christians? If so…great.

    What I want to say is that there is no such thing as ‘lone rangers’ in the church….otherwise they are not part of the church.

  5. Biblical Christianity is Christianity expressed in community. We are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ – try doing that by yourself. I would also argue that the local community needs to be hooked into the wider Christian community – but that doesn’t mean denominationally or institutionally – just that relationships be wider than my little group. Otherwise you’ve either got a clique or a cult!

    All that said, I think it’s fairly evident in Scripture that there were some institution like elements in the first churches – leadership and the like. Not saying it looks like much of what’s around today, but some element of structure and covenant as Hamo stated.

  6. Pingback: To go or not to go… to church

  7. It’s interesting to me that you said “sure there are exceptions to every rule (where a person is isolated by distance etc)” … do you think that the distance is necessarily a physical one? I’m just thinking about the place I am currently living – near a seminary in the buckle of the American bible belt – and wondering if distance is more than just our relative physical loaction to one another. Could the distance also be emotional, mental, psychological? Do we cease to be a part of the church if we feel alienated from those around us that profess to be part of the church? I’m not saying I do (fortunately there are some good people here who invest in us and we in them), but it’s a question we should ask nonetheless. What do you think?

  8. Its interesting that the word ‘covenant’ has been the source of the questioning.

    When I say covenant community what I am meaning is some group of people with whom I have committed to share my life with and who I regard as my local brothers and sisters.

    I agree that we are all part of the church universal, but I also believe that this has localised expressions where we are in discipleship relationships.

    Its certainly not a controlling mechanism – nor a contractual type of thing – but more a way of saying, ‘community beyond convenience’.

    My concern with very loose expressions of church is that our own selfishness rises to the fore very quickly and it can be easy to avoid conflict / growth opportunities because we can simply stop being around the people we find difficult.

    I am quite fluid with my definition of covenant community, but quite solid in my belief that it needs to exist.

    Perhaps a core test (if one were required) would be the ability to name the people we would consider as our ‘covenant community’ and to be able to show how we connect?

    I would probably go even harder after the idea of a covenant community in an individualistic world as I believe it is very much a counter-cultural concept.

    Appreciate the reflections back! Please keep discussing as it is helping me think it thru and while I obviously have strong views here, I am not at all beyond shifting if I can see that I am wrong.

  9. “My concern with very loose expressions of church is that our own selfishness rises to the fore very quickly and it can be easy to avoid conflict / growth opportunities because we can simply stop being around the people we find difficult.”

    Yes, truly and amen

  10. having said that…I know of a situation in a 100 plus size church where two members who had been attending sat on opposite sides of the church for over 30 years, and avoided each other, because of a percieved slight which took place in a members meeting (30 years ago)

  11. Wow! What a loaded question, and some fantastic comments that I wish we cold discuss in person, as it would be easier to clarify. I agree whole-heartedly with you, Hamo. I like your definition of covenant, too. Of course, no matter how much people try, there will be those whose selfishness rises up and tries to control others in the name of covenant, or some other “Biblical” reason, but that doesn’t change the fact that we need to be engaged in a covenant community. It just underscores the fact that we also need to be constantly on our knees before Jesus, asking Him to keep us from becoming that person.

  12. Now, I’ll throw out another question to piggy-back that one. Based on some of the comments, there’s the thought that our churches need to look like the New Testament church. I’m all for that, and continue to pray that our church will move that direction. Yet, in the context of that, I would ask, how much of the N.T. church was cultural, and how much of ours needs to be culturally relevant vs. modeling exactly what the N.T. church did. For instance, Hamo, you brought up some great questions regarding communion in your post a few days ago. How much of that is cultural, and how much is Biblical. I don’t have any easy answers (especially in a comment spot), but I thought I’d throw it out.

  13. Mate

    I loved this post and the comments that followed it were a reflection of the quality of the post. My brain’s still addled after driving home from France – so I have no pity remarks to add!

  14. Pingback: In response to a command to attend church…

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