Psalm 133 opens by saying, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” Yes, how good it is when people gather together. This is one of my favorite aspects of the church in that we can all come from wherever we are (physically and spiritually) and worship God in fellowship with one another. Every Sunday, people from different neighborhoods, different backgrounds, and different circumstances gather in one building because of Christ.
When Jesus is speaking of the Kingdom of God in Luke 13 and Matthew 8, he says that people will come from east and west, north and south to sit at the table of the feast (some liturgies include this in their words of institution for communion), and I’ve always liked this aspect of the church.
We are invited by Christ to be in common fellowship with one another.
Earlier this week in one of my classes, we discussed the nature of the church: what it does, why it’s there, and mainly the problems with it. It’s low-hanging fruit, really, to diss the church. We’re just throwing stones at a glass building. It’s easy to hate on the church. The church is irrelevant. The church is hypocritical. The church is institutionalized. The church hurts more than it helps.
This conversation brought up a lot of feelings, obviously, because the church isn’t a perfect entity. It’s full of broken people. It’s bound to be messy. And I don’t really want to talk about the bad aspects of being in a church…I’ll let other writers do that.
I do, however, want to talk about the positive aspects of the church: the entity that Christ said that not even the gates of Hell will overtake it. The church exists to provide a place for people to gather, be built up, and then be sent. It’s a place for spiritual friendship.
As a pastor’s kid, there weren’t many church services that I missed growing up (mainly because I and my other siblings had to help with some of the setting up and tearing down). When I got to college, my church attendance slipped a little at first. Being at a Christian college that required chapel attendance, I at first went from church to church trying to find one that was like the one that I grew up in. I went to a baptist church. I went to a multicultural church. I went to a Pentecostal church. I went to a hipster church. I went to an Episcopalian church.
And this was all in my first year.
After a bit, I just stopped church shopping. I actually stopped going to church altogether. I didn’t stop going to chapel at school, and I also didn’t stop being a Christian. I just stopped going.
It was around this time that I was becoming a little more rambunctious.
Augustine writes in his Confessions about him stealing pears in Book II. He says, “I had no motive for my wickedness except for wickedness itself. It was foul, and I loved it. I loved the self-destruction, I loved the fall, not the object for which I had fallen but my fall itself…I was seeking not to gain anything by shameful means, but shame for its own sake.”
I found this to be my experience as well. I started doing things simply because I could (a la Romans 7:14-20), and it wasn’t as if I was seeking to become a bad person. I was in the presence of people, and we liked doing “fun” things.
But this became tiresome to me. The “fun” wore off, and I missed deeper friendship. (Just so you don’t think I’m a wet blanket, I still like doing “fun” things, but I never do them as a means of escape or rebellion.)
I made the choice around my junior year to get back into going to church on Sunday mornings. I and a few of my friends carpooled to a local church. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a place where I could build relationships with people. It helped me develop deeper relationships with people because we were honest about our spiritual needs.
There’s something that happens in the midst of spiritual friendships (maybe the Holy Spirit!?) that makes these relationships much deeper. And I tried really hard to write this without saying that I go to church to make friends, but it’s true. The church is one of the best places to find community.
The church is a place for spiritual companioning. It is where we can mutually pour into one another only through the power of the Holy Spirit. We gather every Sunday to talk about our lives, our hurts, and our joys. We minister to one another as vessels of God. This is what separates us from the YMCA or any other social club.
We come together on Sundays because Christ invites us into fellowship. I love the prologue to 1st John where the writer says, “We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our[ joy may be complete.” We come to church to be in fellowship with one another and to be in fellowship with the Triune God.
God wired us with this desire for fellowship. We were created to desire deeper relationships. And if a church is not a space that allows for Christian friendship and community, then it is missing a huge aspect of why the church exists.
Because as Michael W. Smith once sang, “Friends are friends forever if the Lord’s the Lord of them.”