Can a Christian be Spiritual without the Church?

I knew a young man who was around 17-years-old. He was asked by a group of churchgoers about his church involvement. He responded, “I believe more in a personal relationship with Christ than a church relationship with him.” It was a spiritual way of saying, “I don’t go to church.” It was also honest. The young believed that he could relate to God apart from the church.

That was about 31 years ago. I now believe that the young man who said those words was incredibly foolish. You may think that sounds harsh but there is one thing very important to understand. The 17-year-old in that conversation was I.

I now have a very different perspective, but I fear that the one that I had back then is gaining prevalence among professing Christians. Some researchers claim that the number of unaffiliated religiously is growing in the United States. They are not becoming agnostics or atheists either. Rather, they are creating a personal spirituality. At least some of these unaffiliated are former churchgoers who for their own reasons have chosen to blaze their own spiritual trail apart from any church.

Many express objections to organized religion as if organization is opposed to a personal relationship with God. Conveniently, to some of those who make this statement, churches can be classed as organized religion. There are several reasons this excuse fails as a reason for a believer and follower of Jesus not to be in church.

One is logical. When people come together for a task, they naturally organize themselves. If a group of people believe it to be their mission to tell others the gospel of Jesus both near and far, make people into committed followers of Jesus alleviate human suffering, stand against injustice, and any number of other things we associate with what a church does, some level of organization is necessary. Those who have the gifts and abilities to lead such endeavors will rise up and lead. Plans will be made. Goals will be set. Results will be measured to decide if the group is doing the right thing.

A church is by nature an organized entity. The Bible presents it as such and speaks of a church having leaders and different people in the church having different responsibilities. Look at the passages about elders and deacons in the Pastoral Epistles. Read how the church developed and organized in Acts. Also read Ephesians 4:11-16. Each passage reveals some level of organization.

Another reason is biblical imagery for believers. A common doctrine used to argue for an individualistic Christianity is the priesthood of the believer. The idea is that we need no mediator between Jesus and us. To that extent alone, I would agree. However, it is not a call for for not being a part of the church. In 1 Peter 2:9, individualism is not emphasized. Community is. The individual priests are part of “…a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation…”

Verses 1-8 describe believers individually as living stones, but they are stones that come together to form one building of which Jesus is the cornerstone. In 1 Corinthians 12-14, individual believers are like parts of the body, but they must come together as one body with Christ as the head. Individually, believers are siblings, brothers and sisters, but still one family. A believer outside of community has severally limited his or her possibilities of becoming all that God desires.

The Bible clearly teaches that Christians need community, and in the New Testament that community is the church. A Christian cannot live out a biblically spiritual life apart from the church.


Appreciating God’s Image-Bearers: A favorite composer and why that is shocking

My favorite American composer is Aaron Copeland. To understand why some may be shocked, you need to know some things about me and some things about Aaron Copeland.

I am a Southerner by birth (or by the grace of God as some would say), a Southern Baptist, a committed evangelical, and a registered Republican voter.  I believe that government regulation of the economy should be minimal. I am for a small national government, and I believe most political and social issues are best decided locally. I love the Appalachian Mountains.

Aaron Copeland was born in Brooklyn. He was Jewish. He was also Socialist in his politics and apparently a practicing homosexual who despite the era in which he lived did not seem to worry about hiding that fact. His great work (and my favorite), Appalachian Spring, is not about the Appalachian Mountains.

And he is my favorite American composer. How can that be? His music, to be overly cliché, is awesome. It moves me as no other work by an American composer has.

There are two types of people who would find it shocking that someone like me would love Aaron Copeland’s music so much. On the right, there are conservatives who demand ideological purity, and where there is not purity, they withhold approval. They have to disapprove of every aspect of another person so long as any aspect of who they are does not line up with their views.

On the left, there are those who sneer at someone like me and say, “Obviously you don’t really believe what you say you believe. If you did, you would not like Aaron Copeland.” Their statement reveals more about how they view those who disagree with them than it does about me. They, like their conservative counterparts, demand absolute purity that oddly enough may manifest itself in a COEXIST bumper sticker.

I can picture a socialist Aaron Copeland agreeing with the character in Fiddler on the Roof (the only musical I can stomach by the way) who said that everything is political. To me everything is theological.  I can appreciate Aaron Copeland’s music because of the image of God.

God created Adam in His image. Though marred by sin, that image is still present in every human being. I believe that is why, as image-bearers every human being is capable of having a sense of what is moral, a sense of what is glorious, a sense of what is honorable, and a sense of what is beautiful. As an image-bearer Aaron Copeland could write beautiful music.  As and image-bearer I can appreciate his music.

I am not suggesting that the image of God within each person warrants a belief in universalism or inclusivism in regards to salvation. Nor am I suggesting that Aaron Copeland was not a sinner in need of salvation through Jesus Christ. Nor am I condoning his sins.

What I am saying is that I can appreciate his music because despite whatever else his life may have been, his music reflected the beauty and majesty of God’s glory. The only reason that any us, follower of Jesus or not, can create that which is beautiful is that we are God’s image-bearers.

This belief in the image of God has two implications for followers of Jesus Christ. One is that we should learn to recognize that others are image-bearers though that image is marred within them. We should appreciate and celebrate the creation of beauty that reflects God’s glory wherever we find it. Second, Christians should live as those whom are having the image of God restored within them.  In our work, creativity, and life, we should live to reflect God’s glory. We should strive for excellence in all we do for the sake of God’s glory, because more than others, we should be aware of God’s image within us.

Introducing myself

Hello. I hope that you will regularly stop by, and I hope that I regularly have something to write that is worth your time reading. I do some writing here and there. Most of what I have written so far is web content with no by-line.  Here I will write my occasionally profound thought and probably many thoughts that are far less than profound. Hopefully, what I write will show a heart filled with desire to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.