One of the big reasons we have such difficulty in reaching the lost is the fact that there are so many misunderstandings about what the church is. These misunderstandings have been developed over the centuries, nurtured by Satan to keep people confused and off-track in identifying God’s plan of salvation. Let’s consider a few of the more common misunderstandings, in an effort to shed some much-needed light on the true nature of the Lord’s church.
Some people believe that the church is basically a “social club.” Membership is for those seeking companionship and fellowship by others of like mind. People who view the church this way often do not remain long at any particular congregation. It isn’t long before they become displeased with the other members, their likes and dislikes, their social status, etc. Since the church is merely for social fulfillment, it is not considered strange or improper to change membership locations from time to time. But although the church of Christ has very definite social blessings and characteristics, it is far more than that. The social benefits are a byproduct, not the main reason for membership in the Lord’s church, (Jn. 4:24).
Some believe that the church is like a “fitness club.” You basically select the plan you like, and attend when you can. Fitness clubs have a social aspect to them as well, but their main purpose is to provide physical training and fitness exercise for bodily health. When these goals have been obtained, or can be achieved elsewhere, membership often ends. But the Bible says that “bodily exercise profiteth little,” (1 Tim. 4:8), and the Lord’s church is much more about spiritual health than physical.
Some people view the church merely as a “benevolent organization.” While benevolence is certainly one of the key works of the Lord’s church, this is merely a door, a gateway to a greater mission. If it were only about feeding the hungry and clothing the poor, surely there are any number of benevolent organizations which could accomplish that purpose. Upon further study, we notice that Jesus’ efforts to feed the body were always en route to feeding the soul, (Mt. 10:28).
Some people look at the church as a “cafeteria.” There are many good things offered, and customers can pick and choose which ones they prefer, leaving all the rest. When you hear people saying things like, “I really like the youth programs,” or “I like their position on social justice,” etc., you are probably listening to the “cafeteria” mentality. When we begin to feel like we can pick and choose the teachings we like, the programs which suit us, the features and characteristics that appeal to our tastes, and reject the rest, we had better be careful. The Lord’s church is a package. It is a unified whole, which we accept because it is from God, not because certain parts of it are pleasing to us, (Mt. 7:21).
Some view the church as a “family tradition.” They take great pride in the fact that their grandparents were early members. It makes them feel important that they belong to the church of their ancestors, or important people of the past. But the Bible teaches that each one of us will stand before God and give an account of the things done in the flesh, (2 Cor. 5:10). We will not answer for things our parents or grandparents did, nor will we be saved because of rate choices that any of them made. When it comes to the church, we stand or fall individually before God.
Some view the church as an “optional extra.” They attend on any given Sunday only if they feel like it, if they have nothing pressing to do, or if there is something special going on “at church.” Maybe Christmas or Easter, or some other man-made holiday will warrant “going to church.” But when there is any talk of true commitment, and meaningful change in lifestyle, or seven-days-a-week faith, you can count them out because that is just “too much church” for them. Better not to get too serious about this thing. This attitude makes you wonder how they would explain statements of Jesus like, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.,” (Mt. 16:24).
Let there be no misunderstanding: the church is the blood-bought bride of Christ. Keeping it first and foremost in our lives is absolutely critical to our eternal salvation, (Mt. 6:33).
-Robert C. Veil, Jr.