Though I may be wrong, I think few Christians would deny that the Church is important. However, when you ask some people what they think the Church is, it becomes clear that what they think the Church is, and what God says the Church is, are two different things. Here are a couple of misconceptions:
Some people think that Church is just showing up at a place once a week and watching something take place. They may participate in some of the singing, and they probably will yawn through the short sermon, but for the most part Church has become for many people a spectator sport, especially with the advent of music teams, worship performances, etc. Church for them is an event that one attends, much as one attends a baseball or football game. This is so far removed, of course, from what one sees by reading the New Testament; however, it has become a part of the culture of modern Western-Christianity, and many people who profess to be genuine believers simply take this outlook for granted.
On the other hand, some people think that Church is just getting together with other believers, in any context. This is closer to the truth, but is still far from the Biblical reality. They emphasize fellowship, which is important, but they stop far short of what the Bible describes as Christian fellowship. They balk at the notion of a “service,” and will ascribe such a thing to legalism and formalism. For such people, a Church service is no good; they would rather go to the park and talk theology over hot dogs. Fellowship among Christians is truly in short supply, and ironically our technological society has begun replacing Biblical fellowship with media. So the voice of such people need to be heard – but not without caveat! The New Testament Church is much bigger than talking theology over hot dogs.
What then, is the Church? Let me give a functional definition. When one looks into the New Testament, one sees that the Church is the community of God’s called-out people (ekklesia) who worship together (Eph 5:19,20), pray together (1 Tim. 2), disciple one another (Rom 15:14), submit to spiritual leaders together (Heb 13:7,17), hear and respond together in faith to Spirit-filled preaching (2 Tim 4:1-5), who hold one another accountable (Gal 6:1-5) and who share with each other (1 Tim 6:17). All these things can be illustrated by definite examples in the book of Acts. And this is not a complete list. All the “one-anothers” of the New Testament go here as well. And it becomes immediately clear that limiting the Church to an event, or restricting to theology over hot dogs is far, far from all that God has for us in the Church.
And I must emphasize the importance of the gathering of the people of God here. God does special things when God’s people gather to pray, to sing, and to hear God’s word preached. In the New Testament, we rarely read of great things happening through private prayer – though this is important! – but we read of buildings shaking when God’s people pray together (Acts 4:23-37).
Media now allows us to watch or hear sermons over the internet, and this is a great blessing, and we should use it. But we should never, never let media replace corporate worship. Why? Because God didn’t ordain the internet, he ordained the Church. And so I can expect God to do special things in the Church, especially through the preached word in the gathering of God’s people, that I can’t expect elsewhere – not even John Piper on YouTube. In his biography on Lloyd-Jones, Ian Murray narrates a story about a witch who came to one of Lloyd-Jones’ services (I think at Westminster Chapel). She was actually on her way to take her own life, when she passed the Church building and heard a service in progress. For some reason, she went in – and as she entered, she said that she felt a power, not a dirty power which she knew through witchcraft, but a clean, holy, wonderful power. And it changed her. God was working in the gathering of his people!
Don’t miss the great blessing of the Church. Theology over hot dogs just won’t cut it.