In describing why Christians need other Christians, Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him . . . The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.”¹ His quote reveals a vital truth—Christianity was never meant to be a solo venture. Sometimes my faith is weak and I need another believer to speak into me the truths that I am doubting. Sometimes I can’t see how God is working in my life or in the world and I need to lean on another person.
The author of Hebrews encourages believers to not give up on meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). Apparently, this was the custom or manner of some people, as it can be today. Why some were forsaking the church is not clear, although it seems likely that persecution could have something to do with it. Or, as happens today, some might have avoided the church because it was just too hard.
Churches can be difficult places sometimes. Many people have had bad experiences in church. Backbiting, power plays, politics, snubbing, and divisions within a church can leave us wounded and afraid. We can’t minimize the hurts that people have experienced in church and we shouldn’t try to. Tragically, real injustice often happens in churches, and these wounds can take a long time to heal. We all need people to walk with us through these hurts, but sometimes even finding someone who is willing to walk alongside you can be difficult.
However, the answer is not to abandon church as a whole. We are all, as it turns out, part of the larger problem. We all need to become more like Jesus. We are all in need of sanctification. Part of loving our brothers and sisters in Christ means that we recognize that they are on the road to sanctification, just as we are—none of us have arrived. It is all too easy to slip into criticizing other Christians because they don’t measure up; but do we measure up? Hear again the wisdom of Bonhoeffer: “By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are . . . if when we judged others, our real motive was to destroy evil, we should look for evil where it is certain to be found, and that is in our own hearts.”²
Another reason people don’t like the idea of church is that churches can be a little bit strange, especially if you think of church primarily as social time. The church doesn’t allow you to choose your friends. The doors are open to anyone who believes. Because of this, there are people in the church that you would never choose to associate with otherwise. That means things are going to get a little bit messy sometimes, but that is exactly what we should expect when people of all ages, from all walks of life, and of all convictions are gathered together in one place. If church is primarily a social time, there are a lot of easier ways to go about socializing. But the church is not primarily about social time. It is a family brought together by the God who saved us all.
This is the messy-but-beautiful nature of the church. It is not a place for people who have got it all together, but a place for sinners who have been redeemed and now find their identity no longer in their shortcomings, but in being God’s children. This truth reminds us that those in the church who are on the road to sanctification are learning how to love. Again, they haven’t made it all the way there yet and neither have we; we are on the journey together. This is precisely why we need each other.
In a world inundated by secularism, where God is pushed to the margins of our minds, where we are daily confronted with trials and temptations, each and every one of us needs brothers and sisters in Christ who can help us to remember who God is and who we are. We need constant reminders of the Gospel, that though we constantly fall short, we are unconditionally loved by God. The church community should be characterized by love for one another (John 13:35)—meeting the needs of those who are hurting and broken inside, and reaching outside to those who do not yet know the joy of a relationship with Jesus.
The church is where we come together to declare that Jesus is King, to serve one another, to remind each other of the faithfulness of God, and to be encouraged by one another so that we can be sent back out to bless the world. It is also the place where we can grieve with one another, confess sin, and explore our doubts and questions. Particularly in our individualistic Western culture, we need to be reminded of how much we need each other.
In fact, every other article in this series (with the exception of the essay on silence and solitude) is something that can and should be practiced communally, as well as individually. We should meet together to pray, to read and study Scripture, to confess sin, and to share what we are learning with one another. Even when you spend time in silence and solitude, the point is not to retreat into an interior world of spirituality and stay there. Times of solitude and silence should refresh us and then lead us back out into the world to bless others.
Of course, finding a church is not necessarily an easy process. In the future we’ll be discussing some ideas for how to look for a church. For now, it is enough to simply note that humans are dependent creatures made for relationships. Christianity is not just you and Jesus. You need other believers.