Note: The following fictional open letter is addressed to the growing demographic of self-professing Christians who prefer to worship at home than publicly in a fellowship of other Christian believers at church.
I want to thank you for the kind email that you wrote me recently after we met by God's providence at the Holy Grounds cafe last Thursday. I believe you are right that it was "a divine appointment" that we ran into one another, as it afforded us an opportunity to renew a conversation that we begun months ago.
Although you have chosen to no longer worship with us at First Avenue Reformed Church, I was greatly encouraged to hear that your confidence in the grace of our Lord still remains strong. You described yourself as experiencing a new joy and freedom that you had not known in a long time. For this, I am grateful.
I have to admit that part of me was deeply jealous when you described the relief that you have felt since you walked away from the frictions of the Deacon board! Our work in serving the hurting persons of our congregation is no doubt messy. Sometimes hurting people can be the cruelest of all! Since you left, those tensions have not been fully resolved, and I admit that some of the other men you mentioned are as difficult to get along with as ever. We are such an imperfect lot! In this sense, the church will always be "full of hypocrites" as you alleged.
But are not these very tensions also part of our sanctification? It is true that you were wronged by our brother Carl. I have had to apologize for our many failures as a board and as a church much more often than I would like. It is my experience, however, that those same conflicts are really the necessary and silent hand of our Master Carpenter applying His rasp and sandpaper to our lives in order to refine us.
This prompts me to ask an important question: if you continue to worship alone in your home to avoid these kinds of conflict, would you not also be missing out on the joys of their resolution? In other words, how do you intend to practice forgiveness if you seek to avoid all those whom you may actually have to one day forgive? Is not our own Christian walk made more perfect by those whose walk is not?
Eugene, I too covet those times of personal prayer and devotional worship that you described taking place in the "prayer closet." Jesus commanded as much. You are right to cite Matthew 6:6 in cultivating a "personal relationship" with Jesus. But I don't think we must choose between "personal" and "corporate" as though they were mutually exclusive.
True, those times alone with Christ in the secret place are invaluable. But I have to confess to you that I am doubtful that our Lord meant those should be our only times of worship! Are we not commanded to worship alongside others in Scripture (Hebrews 10:25)? How then shall you fulfill the dozens of "one another" texts in Paul's epistles if not in the context of a local church like those to whom Paul originally wrote? Is not the first word of the Lord's Prayer the plural possessive, "Our"?
You mentioned that the Greek word "church" does not mean a building, nor does worship require any certain number of people in order to be authentic. You even quoted Matthew 18:19 when the Lord exhorted us that "where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them." But come now Eugene, surely you don't think that your reluctance to submit to church membership or the body of elders is justified by this text, do you? In context, my brother, this passage is in regard to church discipline; a "severe grace" of God that I am afraid is quite difficult to impose upon oneself!
While we are speaking of the means of grace, how do you intend to practice the Lord's Supper while alone, if at all? Or baptism? Unless you have jettisoned these practices too as "formal," "religious," and "institutional!" Are these not the very signs and seals of God's grace that Christ has given--even commanded--us to perform in his name? Are they not impossible when alone?
Yes, I am sure that the online sermons of Piper and Driscoll that you have grown so fond of are a means of grace as well, so to speak. You were correct when you said they are a blessing to millions. But that's just the problem right there. No matter how wonderful these gifted men of God are (and we thank God for their ministries) they will never know you, nor can you ever be known to them. As gifted as they are, they won't be able to correct you when you go astray or exercise discipline in your life if your doctrine should go amiss.
Perhaps that's what's so alluring.
Your brother in Christ,
Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. Please consider following me on Twitter @matt_everhard