For many Christians church is very important. It is a place to go where you can enter into corporate worship with others, listen to sermons and have a sense of community with fellow believers.
Perhaps some of us have said this at one point or another, certainly most of us have heard one utter this phrase before: I don't need church, my church is outside in nature.
I can certainly relate to that sentiment. I find great peace and moments of reflection when I am in the midst of the natural world. God's glory permeates and resounds through all of creation and it is very easy to feel close to God, enter into prayer and open up to His presense when I am settled atop my favorite rocky perch nestled lazily at the crook of the river's bend.
But to say that one doesn't need a church and that one can find true spiritual fulfillment in nature alone, is that biblical? Or even possible? It might be possible at first glance. It makes us feel good, it certainly elicits pleasurable feelings of peace and a connectedness with our Creator. And those moments of solitude are necessary and precious, don't get me wrong, I certainly value them! These are my own thoughts here...but the way I think of all of this is that God doesn't dwell in us so that we might dwell in Him alone. God is love and love should be shared!
When we read the gospel and witness the wonders and miracles of Jesus we see that he had his moments of solitude but was oftentimes in the thick of the crowds. He had disciples he shared his teachings and time with and he ministered to people. When we feast upon the spiritual manna which is God's Word, our hearts begin to cultivate that same Christ-like desire...to reach out to the poor, to the suffering, to break bread with our brothers and sisters.
The more I pray and reflect on things the more I start to see the church far exceeding the walls of any one building. The church is the body of Christ and whose members are those who have chosen to follow and love Christ, acknowledging his divine nature and his sacrifice. There is only one church!
Scripture describes it this way:
1 Corinthians 12:12-14
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[a] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
Is it possible to be part of the body of Christ and work in harmony among its members without being part of a church? One can find a connection and fellowship with other christians serving out in local missions without being involved in a church. In this age of technology it is so easy to upload a sermon and receive spirit-filled teachings. Wherever two or more are gathered there is fellowship, so it's quite easy to worship corporately with others without worshipping in a church.
Given all that, is church still necesssary?
I'm starting to come to the conclusion that the one thread that really holds the necessity of having a local church is the sense of community it provides. With any interest there is a group to support and cultivate knowledge and growth in that interest. There are bowling leagues for bowling enthusiasts, scrapbooking clubs, etc. Name your interest and there's most likely a group of like-minded individuals that have formed a group centered around that theme!
What does church mean to me?
To answer my own question...certainly a church is not necessary for one's salvation but I do think in terms of growth and finding opportunities to be part of the body of Christ, it can make all of the difference! Church, to me, means community. In my opinion from what I've read of scripture it should be a place that supports, encourages and instructs those believers within its local community to live out their lives in a spirit-filled manner to live like Jesus! And then take that love and compassion that is cultivated in the local garden of believers and sow those seeds among others in the local community and across the globe! Thus yielding a beautiful harvest reflecting the glory of God and helping to manifest His kingdom here on earth!
So...what does church mean to you? What keeps you going...or what has stopped you from going?