Does everyone need the church? Is it a sin to "be a lone ranger," as is popularly asserted? Will you automatically fall into sin and be discouraged and ultimately fall away from the Lord if you forsake assembling yourself with other believers?
Of course not.
Christians have served the Lord alone for generations and generations, whether by choice or by force. Some are uniquely suited for going it alone as believers, and others find refreshment and survive in spite of their weaknesses. In fact, I can point you to dozens of believers who are making it on their own right now. You know them yourself. The next time you sit down in your church to hear your pastor preach, take a look around. Many, maybe most of the people on whom your eyes fall are going it alone as believers.
So very many of the people who attend our churches are doing just that, attending churches. Their lives are as heavy as yours. They come to church every Sunday faithfully praising God and receiving the teaching of the Word and the elements of worship. They ask after everyone and hear everyone at church is doing fine, and they tell everyone they're doing fine, too. They could hardly be more alone.
Maybe you could hardly be more alone?
The international science community has finally figured out what Solomon told us years ago. The primary indicator of happiness is relationships. The more high-quality relationships we have, the happier we are. It could hardly be simpler. Wealth, comfort, knowledge, recreation, luxury? They all take a back seat to relationships. If we love some people deeply, and know we are loved in return, the rest settles out happily for us.
Ecc 4:9 - 12
Two [are] better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him [that is] alone when he falleth; for [he hath] not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm [alone]? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
God made us this way. It's a matter of depending on one another. We feel valued when we know someone cares for us, and we feel valuable when we know someone is depending on us.
Let's look at two people, Joe, who attends church and Jane, who is a real part of that same church.
Joe attends every week, sings from the heart, worships with passion, and receives the sermon with great hope and attention. He always greets some brothers and sisters, and knows a number of the members by name. If he missed church even one week, he would miss out on one of the anchor points of his life, and he would feel ill equipped to face some of the things that are weighing down on him right now. Joe attends every week to have an affirming experience with God, and without that blessing he begins to feel distant from Christ.
Jane also attends every week. She visits two older ladies every week, and brings them tea and cookies. While she's there, she tells them about her children and the problems she's having with her husband. They don't always have answers, or even ideas, but every Sunday they ask how the family is doing. She also checks in every Sunday on a couple of the teens that she used to babysit when they were just kids. Once last year, when one of them got dumped by her guy, Jane got to take her out for an ice cream. She keeps checking, but everything's pretty much OK these days. She trades babysitting for date nights with a couple of the other young marrieds in the church, and does her turn in the nursery every couple months.
Some day, life will crush both of these people. Life does that. It never goes like the commercials say it will. When that day comes, both these people will run to the Lord. Both will know that only He loves them and cares for their every need. But Jane will be able to rest in the prayers of her brothers and sisters. She will be comforted by the love of God through the church. Joe may or may not "break down" and decide to tell his problem to someone, but if he does, it will be hard. It will be like telling his problems to a stranger. It's always like that the first time, but if he makes it through, having a real brother will be a source of strength for him for the rest of his life.
There's a more important way to look at Joe and Jane, though. Whenever life crushes any of Jane's brothers and sisters, she'll know about it and she'll be able to help. Because she is close with a half-dozen people, she'll hear about it when anyone in the church is having a hard time. She'll be able to add her support to the church's love. Sometimes she'll be able to help directly, and sometimes she'll be able to pray. She'll always be able to avoid laying a burden on the burdened. She'll know with whom to rejoice and with whom to weep, and she'll join the whole church in praying the Lord will break through and rescue one of His own. Joe will never hear anything but that everyone is fine, and he'll be the poorer for it.
So test yourself in this way. If, so far as you know, most people in the church are doing fine, you are just attending. If no one in the church knows the thing that is eating at your heart, you are just attending. If no one in the church looks forward to receiving some gift of your time and love, you are just attending.
We don't all need the same kind of help, but we all need each other. We're all so very, very different, but in this we are alike. We need one another, and every one of us for a different reason. There is no sin in being the "lone ranger" Christian, but there is loss. The body loses because it lacks your gifts, and you lose because you lack anyone to receive them.
Paul tells us that we are like a body, each of us with different gifts. The foot rejoices in having 200 pounds come crushing down on it over and over all day long, while the eye can hardly bear a mote of dust. The hand might relish holding a thrashing fish, but the ear is soothed by a song. Some of us are strong while others are sensitive. Some are gregarious and others are thoughtful.
The body has a real need for every member's strengths.
If you're a nose, you need to be doing what noses do best - you need to be in the wind sniffing for rain, and savoring the aroma of good spiritual food, and rejecting the stench of meat (and advice) gone bad. You need to be inhaling the pleasant incense of the Son of God, and sharing with others in the body how good He is.
The foot with nothing to support is pointless. The hand with no mouth to feed, the eye with no heart to thrill at the sunset, the ear with no body to lead in a dance; these are all Christians with no brothers and sisters. We have strengths, and we need to pour them out on the Lord's children.
If you would please the Lord, and be happy yourself, join a good church now - maybe even the one you attend!
PS: I've been working on this post for 2 weeks. I could not find the feel, the place to put my lever, the picture that made it all come together for me. Well, I finally found it. Phew. Then I read a post somewhere out there that put some stuff into words for me. I sat down and had to finish it, even though I felt bad. I posted it without linking back to the post that really is represented here.
The blessing post was one that emphasized that people can sit in pews and be pursuing a very personal journey, rather than a corporate one. I thought it was Beyond Words, but it might have been Eclexia. They had some good conversation (along with several others) going in this post right here.
I'm sure I'll find it tomorrow at a glance, but today has not been one of those days. Today I spent 4 hours troubleshooting a problem because I transposed a 2 and a 3. I was working away on server #237, wondering why nothing was quite right. I was supposed to be working on #327. I'm blaming it on the 95* anti-fever I was running. (It seems to be letting go. Phew. I'm looking forward to getting my brain back.)
Anyway, somehow I've read the appropriate posts and cannot find the thing the stirred me, and I have to get to bed. Rather than do nothing, I'll just link them both and hope they don't mind my bouncing off their great discussion and seeming to take credit for their thoughts. It was not intentional.