Imagine that you work for Relevant Magazine or Christianity Today and your boss tells you go and poll Christians with a question then write a report about the statistics. Here's the question:
What is the most important part in your relationship with God, your personal devotion or attending church?
If you were to come up to me two years ago I would have had no problem with the phrasing of the question and I would have emphatically stated that my personal devotion was more important and asked if they can count my answer twice! Oh how the times have change...I'm sure that many of you who are reading this are quite appalled by my open slander of your "Jesus Time". If that is the case I can already deem this post a glowing success and warn you that I'm only going to drag your individualist spiritualism deeper into the mud from here on out.
Yes, two years ago yours truly would have been able to ramble off some fine sounding rhetoric about how Sunday morning worship is a time when each individual Christian brings their own candle of faith and when we all get together we make a bright light. Clearly here the emphasis lies upon a collection of individuals rather than a body of people. In other words, my thoughts were that Sunday morning worship was more of an opportunity for personal devotion to take public form amongst other personal devotions. In this economy the heart of the Christian walk is each individuals "walk with God" and Sunday mornings are secondary.
I'm here to tell you that the opposite is true.
What happens on Sunday morning is a true reflection of ultimate reality and what takes place in your "Jesus Time" should be a reflection of that, rather than the other way around. Here's what I mean. The the people of God gather to worship on Sunday morning they are declaring the death & resurrection of the Lord Jesus until he comes again. What takes place on Sunday mornings is a declaration of the resurrection of Jesus that cannot be done by yourself. The psalmist says that God is enthroned upon the praises of His people (Psalm 22:3).
When the church of God gathers together on the Lord's day it is an act of high defiance against a world that does not recognize the rule of Christ. The world would have no problems with Christianity if the heart of the Christian faith was "your personal relationship with Jesus". If Christianity, at its core, where about your personal relationship with Jesus then it would not cause near as much trouble as it does. The reality is that Christianity, at its heart, is a historical religion that declares a certain reality to be true: namely the resurrection of Jesus and his consequent rule over everything.
Without the historical foundation and declaration there is no Christianity! In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul goes on a long argument about the centrality of resurrection. He claims that if the resurrection is not true then our faith is in vain. There is not point to anything if there is no resurrection we might as well eat and drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. But considering the reality of the resurrection makes the gathering of the church a declarative statement of battle against anything and everything that would raise itself up against the rule of Christ.
The gathering of the church is what lays a foundation for any of our personal relationships with Jesus. It is the hearing of God's word in the church that should be the impetus for our seeking out God's word privately and with out families. It is corporate confession in church that should teach us how to deal with our sins throughout the week and especially how to find restitution in our horizontal relationships. It is the receiving of bread and wine from the Lord's table on Sunday morning that should teach us how to commune with God on Monday through Saturday and how to commune with each other away from the Lord's table.
God instituted the church to represent the realities of Christ. Therefore, having been so graciously given this institution we should not ignore its importance by trusting in ourselves and our own understanding (Proverbs 3: 5-8) but instead let us look to devote ourselves to the rule of Christ's church where there is true fellowship, where the teaching of the apostles is given, and where prayer is offered to God from his collective people (Acts 2:42).
Our personal communion with God is very important. But it is also one of the devil's most active places to sow his seeds of destruction. In our culture of individualism, and the church's embrace of it, it is hard to see how a commitment to your personal devotion could ever be a bad thing. But the Bible paints a picture in which one's personal relationship with God grows out of the Church's relationship with God. This serves as protection for both the individual and the church. If the church is simply an amalgamation of many individuals then she is vulnerable to some sort of democratic (or demagogic) religion. Likewise if a persons' relationship with God is based solely on their own connection with God, outside of their relationship with the church and the body, then they are doomed to either a false understanding of Christianity or apostasy (1 Cor. 12 & 1 John 1).
I fear that this commitment and connection to the local expression of God's church where the word and sacrament are rightly administered are becoming increasingly lost to those of my generation. We have grown up on a youth group style religion where decadence has held sway over faithfulness and autonomy has replaced community. I pray that the Lord would be pleased to reveal the importance of His body to my generation otherwise I fear we will find ourselves completely disconnected from the faith in 10 years.
Food for thought.