Who doesn’t like getting together with friends and sharing about life? What’s not to love about having deep conversations about spiritual truths with those close to you? Those things are great, and we should do more of them, but they are not the church. People seem to be increasingly thinking that their spiritual hangouts with friends a congregation. They are exploring the question: What is the church? Great question.
It seems like some of those who are asking this question are not driven by a desire to be a part of a biblical church of any model. They just want an excuse to claim their discussions over dinner as church. There are several ways these gatherings of friends fail short of what it means to be the church.
First, they raise questions of self-centeredness. When someone desires to break away from being an active part of a local church and instead wants to substitute a gathering of friends in its place, the question to consider is not “Can we?” but rather “Why would we?” It’s a matter of motivation.
Second, they prevent us from growing as we should. You and I need other people to be the church. We need other people who aren’t like us to be the church. We need other people who are not like us to help us become more like Christ. Other people who are in different life stages than us, have different personalities than us, come from different backgrounds than us, not only protect us from heresy, they help chip away and sand off our self-centered traits. When we just gather with friends and those like us, we remove much of the way God uses others in the body to refine us. The desire to be only with those like yourself assumes that only they can teach you and help you grow. It dismisses the contributions others can (and would) make in your sanctification.
Third, they rob us of places of service. There are so many avenues for growth and service that can never be yours if you exchange being a part of a church with hanging out with friends. The church comes together to serve one another using the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit has given us and goes out to help others using the equipping of the saints the church provides for us.
Will you be hurt within the church? Absolutely, but who is to say Christ will not use that to conform you to His image? Jesus has promised to be in the midst of even two or three gathered in His name, but He has not called that the church. If you are gathering with a group of friends to talk about life and the Scriptures, don’t stop. But don’t confuse it with church either. Seek to build up the bride of Christ, not try to replace her.
Edited by Mark Johnson