Thursday, January 8, 2015



There has been an exodus from the church in our day. Many have left "organized religion" and gone to "have their own private relationship with God." The problem with this line of thinking is that it reveals the fact that the one leaving the church doesn't know or understand God at all. They don't know who he is. He is not a God of the independents, but he is God of the dependents. He is not coming for his multiple brides, but his one bride, the church. God doesn't have anything to do with those who are not part of his church. He doesn't hear prayers of those who are not part of the church, and he doesn't receive worship of those who are not part of the church.

Apart from the church, God won't hear your prayers

Many think that they can pray on their own apart from the fellowship of the church, but prayers offered to God outside of the fellowship of his church are prayers that God ignores. In Psalm 66:18, the Holy Spirit leads the psalmist to write, "if I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened to the voice of my prayer."  Clearly, God does not listen to those who harbor iniquity in their heart. Of course one may object, saying, "just because I leave church doesn't mean that I have iniquity in my heart."  But this objection reveals a great misunderstanding of Jesus and his commandments. First, Jesus commands that we are to love one another, adding, "by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." When one separates himself from the church, he automatically is unable to obey this commandment. It is impossible to love someone and refuse to be around them at the same time. Imagine a husband who says he loves his wife, but refuses to come home to be with her. That would not be love, in fact, it would reveal a great lack of love.

In addition to refusing to obey Christ's command to love, the one who leaves the church also refuses to obey many other of Christ's commandments; such as, serve one another, honor one another above yourself , carry one another's burdens, speak to one another in hymns, songs, and spiritual songs , admonish one another , encourage one another , live in harmony with one another, use your gift to serve those in the church, show hospitality to one another, and many many more. In fact, if we understand Scripture rightly, it is impossible to keep any of God's commandments while living apart from the church. In fact, God even commands believers to submit themselves to a pastor. In Hebrews 13:17, the Holy Spirit leads the author to write a commandment to God's people instructing them to "submit to your pastors and obey them, for they are keeping watch over your soul." How can anyone obey this command of God's if they are not in a church submitting themselves to the loving care of a pastor? In all these things, the one who leaves the church lives in disobedience to the commandments of God. The simple reality is that you cannot be a follower of Jesus without actually following him. Refusing to obey these commands of Christ is to cherish iniquity in the heart, and the cherishing of iniquity in the heart leads to God turning a deaf ear to the prayers that are offered to Him. You simply cannot have your own personal relationship with God on your own.

 (John 13:12-17) (Romans 12:10)  (Gal. 6:2) (Ephesians 5:19) (Col. 3:16) (1 Thessalonians 4:18)  (1 Peter 3:8)  (1 Peter 4:9) (1 Peter 4:10)

But I can worship God apart from the church!
The one who leaves the church will often argue that they can worship God on their own and that they don't need the church to worship. This too shows a lack of understanding of both God and his word. Many years ago, God sent the prophet Isaiah to the people of Israel and told him to deliver the message of God's hatred for their worship. God goes so far as to call their worship an abomination (Is. 1:13).  The reason? God hated their worship because they offered perfectly good worship while at the same time living in sin. Because of their refusal to obey his commandments in their daily lives, God disdains the worship that they offer him. As we have seen, it is impossible to obey the commandments of God apart from the church, and thus apart from the church and a desire to obey God's commandments, God will not receive worship.

As you do unto the Church, you do unto Christ
Jesus said, "as you do unto my brothers (Christians) you do unto me" and thus Jesus credits people with feeding Him, because they fed a hungry Christian. Jesus credits people for clothing Him because they gave clothes to a suffering Christian, and Jesus credits people for visiting him in prison because they visited Christians. Conversely, Jesus says, that those who didn't visit Christians, did not visit him. "Then I will say to those on my left, 'depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' They they will answer, 'when did we see you  hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not minister to you? Then I will answer them saying, ' as you did not do it to one of these my brothers, you did not do it to me." What you do to the church you do to Jesus. If you feed the church, you feed Jesus. If you love the church, you love Jesus. If you leave the church, you leave Jesus.

This concept can be seen clearly when Saul is persecuting the church and on his way to Damascus to arrest and kill more of the members of the church, Jesus appears to him on the road and says, "Why do you persecute me?"  Jesus didn't say, "Why are you persecuting my church?" He said, "why are you persecuting ME?" In Jesus' eyes, whatever you do to the church, you do to him. There is absolutely no difference between a man and his bride whom he loves. If you slap my wife, you slap me. If you offend my wife, you offend me. If you turn your back on my wife, you turn your back on me. Don't expect to turn your back on my wife and for me to continue to be your friend. This is how Jesus views his bride. If you leave her, you leave him.

If you don't want to go to church, you don't want to go to heaven

One of the works of God at the point of salvation is to instill a love for his church in the hearts of those that are saved. This love translates into a desire to fulfill the "one another" commands listed above. This is not to say that anyone keeps these commands perfectly, but there is at the very least a strong desire to keep them. After all, this is the mark of being a disciple "your love for one another." But sometimes those who have strayed from church still expect entrance into heaven, because they have their own "personal relationship" with God. But think about it. What will you find in heaven? You will find all of the people of God dwelling together with one another and with God, engaged in worship of God.  But why would those who don't want to be around the people of God, want to go to heaven where all of the people of God are? Why would those who don't like the corporate worship of God want to go to a place where the corporate worship of God is the primary activity?  Why would one who doesn't want to engage in the "one another" commands of Scripture want to go to a place where everyone will be practicing all these commands in perfection? Why would someone who prefers to stay away from the people of God want to spend all eternity forced to be with them, 24/7, for all eternity?

As we have seen, it is impossible for anyone to keep the commands of God outside of the context of belonging to a church.  Since those outside of the church cannot keep God's commands, God does not hear their prayers, nor receive their worship. In addition to this, Jesus says that as you do unto the church you do unto him, so those who turn on the people of God, turn on Jesus himself. Thus, it is impossible, in the highest sense of the word, to have your own personal relationship with God. Lastly, we see that this is a matter of the heart. When God saves an individual he causes that individual to love him, and to love the church. Scripture makes it plain that in order to love God one must love the church, for if you do not love those you can see, then you cannot love him who you cannot see. (1 Jn. 4:20) This is why there is no salvation outside of the church.

Therefore, if you are in the position of not wanting to attend church and you don't like to be around the followers of Jesus, then ask Jesus to change your heart so that you would love him, and love his people and don't stop asking him to do so until he does it. He is in the business of changing hearts. Let him change yours.