This is the 2nd part of a blog post inspired by the book The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living As If He Doesn’t Exist by Craig Groeschel, founder and senior pastor of Life Church. In Groeschel’s book, he lists twelve points that he identifies as a Christian Atheist, or someone who believes in God but lives as if he doesn’t exist. The final point being When You Believe in God But Not His Church. I hear this a lot, but the importance of the church warrants this to be its own post.

Interestingly, the Wikipedia page on Christian Atheism agrees, as it lists separation from the church as a common belief of Christian Atheism.

People like to say that church isn’t for them. However, the early church father Ignatius, who was a disciple of the apostle John and was martyred in 107, wrote that those who separated themselves from the church were like wolves in sheep’s clothing. (You can read about that here.)

Groeschel lists several reasons why people will say that church isn’t for them, including they don’t want to go, they can’t stand churches talking about money, they feel that church is irrelevant to their everyday lives, and they feel guiltier than they did before they went. Finally, he lists a last group that he calls “superspiritual”, people who know “just what church should be like. But their ideals are so high that no church can possibly meet their standards.” (pg 219).

Part of the solution is that we don’t go to church, but rather that we should be the church (italics emphasis in original, bold is mine):

We go to  church. The problem with thinking “we go to church” is that it gives us a consumer mindset: I’m looking for a church that meets my needs. I need a good church that will help me. The church is actually God’s chosen vehicle to meet – through other human beings – people’s true needs (including our own).

An expert in Hebrew law once asked Jesus, “What’s the most important commandment?”

Jesus said essentially, “First, love God. Second, love other people as much as you love yourself. If you can do just these two things, that will fulfill every other law” (see Matt. 22:36-40). Church allows you to do both; it’s where we can give ourselves to God by giving ourselves to others. Pastor and author Erwin McManus once said, “The church does not exist for us. We are the church, and we exist for the world.”

Christian Atheists believe in God but not in his church because they think they don’t need it. I once saw a church sign that read, “COME TO CHRCH! WHAT’S MISSING? U?”

Have you ever considered, What if church really does need you?
Pg 219-220

Paul describes the church as being made up of different parts and organs in 1 Cor 12:12-27 and how each part serves a different function in Roms 12:4-8. If a part of the body doesn’t function as it should, then the whole body suffers. It’s the same way in church. If we’re not functioning in church as we should be, then something God wants done is ignored.

The “family of believers” is our family, the church. And the church needs me, where I feel like I need it or not.
pg 221

The church should be like family.

The hope of the world is the local church. This is a quote that Groeschel gives from his mentor and friend. (It’s also something my own pastor says.)

Since Jesus lives in believers, we represent him to the world. We in the church are his hands and feet. We’re God’s plan to spread his good news – news of love, grave, forgiveness, and changed lives – to the entire world…

If you went to church and didn’t like it – whether because you felt hurt, disillusioned, or disappointed – then be the change you want to see. Even though the church is far from perfect (mine sure is), think how much better if could be if you would give your life to it. God is not calling us to go to church; he is calling us to be his church, the hope of the world.
pg 221

Church gives us a place to belong:

Though independence is a goal for many, God never intended for his believers to be independent. He wants us dependent on one another and on him. The apostle Paul writes, “So in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Rom. !2:5). As believers in Christ, we are incomplete without the rest of his body – the church. And the church is incomplete without us. We need others, and others need us.

All of us are looking for a place to belong. We belong to book clubs, gyms, sororities, gangs, choirs, moms’ groups, and sports teams. But when a believer joins other Christians to do life together and to serve one another with no strings attached, their shared relationships are much deeper and more meaningful…

Belonging to a local church also provides accountability, where wiser and more mature Christians can regularly counsel us, mentor us, comfort us, and help us heal. We can confess to God for forgiveness (see 1 John 4:9), but that’s only half of the equation. We also need to confess to other Christians to help us ultimately overcome our sinful habits. James 5:16 says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.

When we hit spiritual bumps with others, instead of walking away and leaving the church, we can stay and work through our problems, which can help us grow spiritually as we learn to forgive…

According to Hebrews 10:24, we’re responsible both to hold each other accountable and to encourage one another: “Spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Verse 25 tells us how: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” Do you know someone who’s “out of the habit” of meeting together? Are you? Verse 25 even tells us why it’s important: “Encourage one another.” We’re not supposed to do life alone.
Pg 223-225

This belonging also has other benefits as well: resources. This is something that my wife and I recognized the other day walking through a home and garden show. Through our family of believers in our local church, we almost have no need for a home and garden show, for almost everything available at the show is available through one person or another that we are in covenant with through our local church.

Finally, church gives us a place to believe:

In addition to belonging, church also gives us a place to grow spiritually. Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes through hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Our faith grows as we hear God’s Word taught and proclaimed. Living out what we’ve heard solidifies it for us. James 1:22 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”…

Our Father uses his church to minister to us, to draw us closer to him, and to equip us – these spiritual benefits aren’t just for us…He calls us to change lives in our own communities and around the world.
pg 225-227

My pastor is fond of Psalm 92:13: Those who are planted in the house of the Lord will flourish in the courts of our God. When you are planted, your roots go deep. Much in the same way that you are with your family, your bond is strong.

Sometimes we try to find substitutions for church. While there are great resources out there, they’re really is not a substitute for a local church. You can read more in 10 Things That Ain’t Church.