Episode 52: What is Church for?
We’ve invited Becky Lewis back for this discussion. In past centuries, going to church was a deeply embedded part of how western society worked. But today, with so much emphasis on personal faith and opportunity to do community activities outside church, is there any point in being part of a religious group and meeting with people? Becky talks about three key reasons: Support, Diversity and Magnifying. Listen in to see what she means by each of those!
Becky and Dan talk about why they decided to have a conversation about church. Discussing their own family and church experience and the recent impact of the pandemic, they quickly acknowledge that so many in Western society are now fully “unchurched”. Despite the history of of the Western world, whereby so much of day-to-day life was governed by the Christian church, things are very different today.
Charity work, community life and social activities all happen detached from the church, where historically they would have been driven by church congregations. So the question remains, what is church for? Is there a reason to go to church and is it relevant in today’s modern life?
The individual church
Furthermore, they note how easy it is to consume church activities online, listen to Bible study podcasts, watch services on demand and so on, all of which makes it possible to live out a Christian life without ever joining a group of people in a physical place regularly meeting together. Church can become an individual thing that is personal and private, rather than the collective community it started as.
What is church for?
Becky and Dan continue to discuss how and why being part of a church community and getting involved is important, healthy and extremely beneficial. They talk about the early church activities in Acts 2:41 and notice that church was very quickly about all these day-to-day life activities being carried out by a group of different people – male and female, Jew and Greek, slaves and masters – all involved together. Passages such as Romans 12:4-10 emphasise the close relationship the members of the church were to have with each other despite their differences. This was radical in the culture of the day and it transformed the lives of these early Christians. It would have been so noticeable and obvious to everyone else.
Benefits of church
Becky and Dan close the podcast by considering the benefits of being involved in a church. It can be a place of support, as well as a place where support can be given to those who need it. Without being a member of a church, regularly meeting with others, you could end up being unaware of how and when others need supporting. Churches ought to be uniquely diverse. It is so easy to congregate with people who are like us, talk the same, look the same and who think the same way. Instead, the Christian model of community is that all different people are to be included within the church, because all can be saved by Jesus. Finally, they discuss how church can help us to follow Jesus by magnifying everything about discipleship. Surrounded by others who are doing the same, who have made the same life commitment, this can truly magnify your own life journey, making it a richer experience.
Having considered all these things, they close with an acknowledgement that churches aren’t always the supportive places they should be, and suggest a few things that might help people struggling to find a church.
Dan: Welcome to the Bible feed podcast and to a new episode. And it’s really great to welcome back Becky Lewis. So welcome Becky. We’re going to be asking, what is the point of church? Aren’t we, what is church for?
So that’s the thing that we’re going to tackle. And hopefully to sort of try and answer or give a response to that question. So why did you want to talk about this?
Becky: Okay. So this idea came from one of my children earlier on this year. My eldest, 10 at the time, said she didn’t really understand why you went to church or what the point of it was, it just seemed a bit like going to school, although more fun than school, she says, which I was glad she said that.
She had to hang around at the end while I had a cup of tea and then we went home. She was just questioning, you know, our reasoning for, going at all and so I thought it might be a good [00:01:00] idea to explore this question with her. And we did so, with her in Sunday school class, we spent a session on it and I hope that session began to give her some answers.
Dan: Mm. That’s really interesting. It’s come from that sort of childlike curiosity, just to question, why are we actually doing this? And sometimes it’s as we’ve grown up as adults, just to go along and doing things for the sake of it almost, you know and then it takes a child sometimes to turn around and say, well, why is it that we do this?
It’s not just your daughter though, that has thought that. There is this trend towards people being unchurched or spiritual, but not religious. That kind of thing, where people are maybe drifting away from church structures, but maintaining some level of spirituality or wanting to in their lives.
So, maybe they’ve answered that question, What’s the point of church, what is church for and decided it wasn’t really worth anything?
Becky: Yeah. Especially people who attended church before the pandemic. And they maybe [00:02:00] struggle to get themselves back through the doors, to face to face church. Again, I think what we’ll see, as we go through that historically, it was easier to see the point of church than maybe it is today. But I hope we’ll find some reasons for why it’s beneficial and important as a disciple of Jesus to part of a Christian community.
Dan: Okay. You mentioned historically because earlier on this year, we talked about church history and about how this is going way back to the early times after Jesus and the disciples and the apostles, how the church gradually became this more sort of structured and institutional thing.
And it became even part of the political state. In fact, Christianity ended up persecuting people that didn’t believe with them. So, you know, role reversal completed from the persecuted to the persecuting, so yeah, we thought all about that church history and that context and thought, you know, the institutional church turned into something that it really never was intended to be.
We are maybe jumping a [00:03:00] a few hundred years, but thinking along those sorts of lines let’s pick up the pieces.
Becky: Yeah. And I guess for those of us in the UK, we may have looked at this at school in history lessons, but perhaps for listeners outside the UK, you might not have studied European Christian history over the last 2000 years. So I’m focusing on because this was the centre of Christianity for centuries.
As a citizen of a European country, in order to be seen as an upright citizen, you attended church. If you didn’t attend, you could be charged a fine, have your property confiscated be imprisoned or even you risked being put to death, if your beliefs didn’t line up with those of the church.
So that just seems like quite a strong motivation for attending church, doesn’t it? In order to stay alive through those times with no access to education, it would just make sense to keep attending and accept what you were told to believe.
Dan: Yeah, I suppose you didn’t have much choice, you had to go to church. Church was basically [00:04:00] the controlling force, the political force in your life, I suppose, forcing it on everyone, even though that’s nothing to do with the teaching of Jesus. As I think we saw in earlier episodes and, you know, reading through the Gospels, I think it shows that it has often been like that. Hasn’t it?
Becky: Yeah up to just a few hundred it was such a default normal thing to go to church. It was just taken for granted that you go every Sunday. When most people lived in the countryside, they’ve got no easy access to a library, so church was a place you went to learn about God, about Christianity. And it was also the centre of the local community. It’s where people got married, where there were buried, where anything important was announced, all the major life events, they all centred around the church. Although, even into the 19th century, education was expanding and people were moving to cities and attending public lectures on all sorts of topic, there is still enormous social pressure to attend church at this point.
Dan: Okay. so we’ve gone past the time where it’s compulsory but there’s still [00:05:00] an expectation that people would go to church and the large majority would have, is that right?
Becky: Yeah, but then you see at start of the 20th century, with the growth of education and the spread of modernism, and then we come into post-modernism, society becomes more individualistic. One consequence of that is that religion and faith become more personal and more specific, more tailored to the individual.
And I suppose we could say this begins widespread dividing of mainstream state church into smaller pockets of different Christian denominations, and then right through to now in the 21st century, I think most people see faith much more as a personal individual thing rather than a community thing.
It’s a lot more about what you think and feel in your own heart and mind rather than what group you belong to.
Dan: Yeah, we’re talking UK, Western Europe, you know, probably North America as well. That’s where it’s headed, hasn’t it. And we’ve ended up with this kind of [00:06:00] religion is a personal thing. It’s no longer a community thing.
Becky: yeah, although obviously through all of those different changes we’ve seen church go through, I’m sure our listeners can think of lots of advantages and disadvantages of all of those. Whether it’s better to be a Christian because of fear or ignorance or because of social pressure or, or because you’ve chosen to be et cetera.
And we are talking in general here. There’s lots of nuance we’ve left out, just done a quick flyover, really, but I just wanted to set the scene that where church used to be an assumed norm and you were weird if you didn’t go along, now it’s the other way around so that even people who would label themselves as Christian, they may not physically go to church, whether that’s a traditional type of church or a house church or something in between. It’s just not the norm anymore.
Dan: That’s really interesting. Even Christians, even people identifying as Christians might not actually go to, a building or not necessarily a building, but go to a group, a community. [00:07:00] They might not attend and worship collectively. It’s fascinating. I think the main thing you’re saying is that Western society, as it’s become more individualistic and focused on, me, my own person, rather than your wider family, community, nation, that kind of thing. The benefits of community aren’t as apparent to people, perhaps not just automatically accepted as the once were.
Becky: Yes, the benefits of being part of a religious group, I think, are not so automatically accepted. But I do think as a society, I think we’re moving a bit away from that individualistic point of view compared to say 20 years ago. It’s going to be different in different places, but I’ve definitely witnessed during my lifetime a significant shift back towards community again.
But I would say it’s largely happening outside of church. So people have realized what they’re missing and now they’re having to reconstruct these connections elsewhere. They’re [00:08:00] establishing, they’re actively trying to establish supportive communities and network in their own local neighbourhoods.
And they’re replacing a lot of the charitable and social tasks that used to be carried out by church, things like food banks and help for the homeless or providing company for those living alone. So for example, just in my neighbourhood, I could think of this. There’s a choir, there’s a community garden group, there’s regular litter picks. There’s a social club and playing fields run by the community. And just recently a social coffee afternoon has started once a fortnight where people meet up for free coffee and cake and a chat. And none of those as far as I’m aware, have any direct connection to the local church.
Although I suppose you could say, I think it’s reasonable to argue that a lot of their values of helping others and having a community, I think they’ve got their roots in Christian heritage, but you could go along to any of those sort of activities and you wouldn’t have a connection to your local church.
Dan: [00:09:00] So, part of what came with church, this sense of belonging sense of being a community has vanished because people no longer go to church. And then people have discovered and realized that that sense of belonging, that sense of community is really valuable, is really important to them.
So those things are being forged anyway, but outside of church, that’s what we’re saying. But yeah, it is important to notice. I mean, the very culture that we’ve got in Western society is a Christian based or Christian rooted culture, isn’t it? Like you say, so the yearning for that community is pretty much come out of the Christian heritage, which even though it’s no longer at church or in church or a part of church. It’s still part of that, like you say.
Okay. So, that’s a quick whizz over history, really quickly. Thinking back to your daughter. We probably haven’t really explained it. What’s the point of going to church? Or, what is church for? Well, the answer looks [00:10:00] like so far, well, there is no need for it, because you can go along to all these other different places and get, some nice community spirit. That’s not really explained it so far. So you know, is there a point to church?
Becky: You’re right. So within the last 20 or 30 years, the need for all of these things from the church has dropped away. So church is no longer the centre of everyday life. And gradually one by one various needs to meet have just dropped away. So now we have free access to way more information than we can ever possibly digest on the internet. We no longer need church to educate us about faith. We can listen to podcasts given by eminent Bible scholars or even ordinary people!
Dan: Yes. Yep. Of course.
Becky: Yeah. If we wanted to have some faith discussions or, or listen in onto the faith discussions, we’ve got that. We no longer need church for our major life events. Because things like funerals and marriage services can take place elsewhere. Even local information and announcements, they move to newspapers and magazines and then to social media. And finally, as we were just saying, churches are no longer the centre of our [00:11:00] local communities and nor do they always even take the legal charitable work, although they’re often involved in charitable work.
And this was before the pandemic hit. So things were already fragmented and loose and then COVID hit. During the pandemic, we had even greater possibilities for just picking and choosing whatever services and podcasts we wanted to listen to from all around the world. We could zoom into any church we fancied at any time of day, seven days a week.
So I think that’s left a lot of people, not just my daughter asking why? What’s the point of being a regular active member of the church or religious community? Is it still at all relevant?
Dan: Yeah, that’s really honed down the question, hasn’t it. So yeah, we can still be Christian. We can still be spiritual. We can have our private faith, but there is just, it seems, no purpose to being part of a church of a community. So, I mean, how do we start with this? What is the point of it? And what’s the benefit of [00:12:00] it, and what’s the absolute value of it?
Becky: I wanted to start by thinking about, what church looked like. So I know previous podcasts you’ve covered what the New Testament church looked like. So, for example, how people went through adult baptism to become members, how the groups met in houses, for a regular bread and wine remembrance meal. That was a central activity for them. So I’m not going to dwell on that too much as it’s already been covered, but I’d want to start by looking at it briefly. So let’s think about the sort of activities that happen at church. So Dan, when you go to church, what takes place there?
Dan: okay. Lots of noise, lots of children running around. but, then when we finally sit down, there’s hymns, songs Bible readings, prayers, there’s some kind you know, talk, some kind of exhortation, whatever you want to call it, some kind of talk based on the Bible. If it is the Sunday morning service, then there’s the sharing of the bread and the cup, the bread and the wine, the eucharist, or communion.
Becky: [00:13:00] yeah, and I think that’s fairly similar in most churches. Both nowadays and back when church began in the time of the new Testament. The format’s probably different. I imagine it was quite sort of less formal than most churches have been since then. But if we have a look, there’s a list in Acts 2. It’s just after the disciples of Jesus have received the gift of being able to speak in other languages and they’ve been using this gift to preach to the visitors in Jerusalem and they’re urging them to accept Jesus as their Messiah. Can you read from first 41 to the end? We’re using the Common English Bible.
Dan: Yep. Okay. So Acts chapter 2 and reading from verse 41: “those who accepted Peter’s message were baptized. God brought about 3000 people into the community. On that day, the believers devoted themselves to the apostles teaching to the community, to their shared meals and to their prayers. A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the [00:14:00] apostles. All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Everyday they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community. Those who were being saved.”
Okay. So that does sound like church, doesn’t it? It covers lots of things. It covers baptism, teaching, so that’s the sort of thing that happens today. Learning from the Bible, it’s very similar. Yeah. Giving of proceeds and helping out other people, praising God. That’s I guess that’s singing hymns and worship.
Becky: So that’s encouraging. we haven’t gone too far away from how it all started but let’s think about some key observations I’ve noticed from this list. I’m sure there more, but, here’s a couple of things that I noticed when I was thinking about this topic in [00:15:00] particular. Firstly following baptism, it was a significant life transformation for these new converts.
It wasn’t just a service you attended on a Sunday, but these activities formed an integral part of their daily lives. Belief in Jesus transforms their everyday experience and what their priorities were. And their sense of material ownership changed. They shared everything. We see this in more detail elsewhere in the New Testament where there’s this sense of responsibility for each other, of making sure everyone’s okay and cared for and not overburdened in the same way that you would care for your close family.
And a lot of this was really radical for its day. You got Jews and non-Jews sharing meals together and slaves and masters sitting at the same table and washing each other’s feet and both men and women learning from each other and treating each other with respect and caring for them like family members, these sorts of behaviors were countercultural at the time.
And they would’ve sent out a radical [00:16:00] message of acceptance, inclusion and love. So it’s no wonder their actions brought so many more people to the community because there was an obvious transformation in these converts that touched all parts of their lives.
And the other observation I would make is that these activities are inherently group activities and embodied, shared experiences. So, if we think about the activities listed, it is possible to do some of them on their own. But the emphasis here is that they are sharing these experiences with other people in their faith community. And in fact, with everyone they came into contact with.
Dan: So the key point there is church wasn’t just, you go to church and then you just carry on. This really changed how they lived. This was a whole transformation. And, it would’ve been so noticeable in the time in the Roman empire with class structures, hierarchies, and, you know, different races not mixing and all sorts of things.
It would’ve been [00:17:00] suddenly so noticeable that these people are acting differently. So, that’s something to think of. Going to church, you know, in inverted commas, is not just going to church for these people. It was a life change.
So, some of those things we could object to and think, well, okay, we don’t need people to tell us the apostles’ teaching anymore. Because we can just pick up the Bible or, or indeed sit and listen to a podcast. So if we just sit and do some personal Bible reading and study and prayer, then we could go and just contribute to some kind of secular charity around where we live, that covers pretty much those activities.
A lot of the message of the new Testament, or being a Christian is about personal salvation, individual salvation. That’s certainly part of it. So why is there a need to carry on doing these things as a group, even though, that’s how they did them back then? Perhaps we can just be an individual private Christian now and not go to church but still, still perform those functions.[00:18:00]
Becky: Hmm. Yeah. So I think you you’re right up to a point, that you could do a lot of these things on your own, and it’s good to do them in your own time. Like Jesus did when he went to be on his own with God. And the new Testament is full of passages about our salvation being through personal faith and trust in God. Too many to list here, but one of the messages of the book of Romans for example, is that you’re not safe by being in a particular chosen group of people, but by your attitude of faith, and Steven in Acts 7, he argues that we don’t need to be in a special place to worship God, because God is everywhere. And the book of Hebrews shows us we don’t need human priests or special rituals to become close to God, because that connection is being achieved forevermore, by the work of Jesus.
So in that sense, yeah, we don’t need a lot of the things associated with formal religion. There is a lot more freedom in terms of how we connect with God than I think we sometimes realize as Christians. But there are also many verses about how important it is to be part of a faith community rather than a lone disciple.
So if we take examples of both Romans and Hebrews,[00:19:00] the writer, or writers, depending on who you think wrote Hebrews, after they’ve established that salvation is a personal thing, that you’re not saved by being in the right community or by doing the right rituals, but that we each have a direct connection to God, to Jesus. After establishing all of that, they conclude by showing us how important it is to be part of a faith community.
So upon finding faith in God, your natural response, shouldn’t be to just live as a hermit somewhere so you can avoid sinning and keep yourself separate from the world. But the natural response should be that of sharing the love of God with others. And accepting their help and support and becoming more like Jesus.
And I think an important part of this process is having the humility to accept that you do need others to help you. You can’t do this on your own and nor does God expect you to. So let’s have a look at some of those Bible passages. So we are looking at the end of Hebrews and the end of Romans. So let’s start with Hebrews, Hebrews 10 verses 24 to [00:20:00] 25.
Dan: Yeah. I’ll read that. “And let us…” We’re starting halfway through a sentence, but that’s something in Hebrews, as in a lot of the new Testament, we have to do that a lot! Okay. “And let us consider each other carefully for the purpose of sparking love and good deeds. Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.” Yeah, that’s pretty clear, isn’t it, very direct command or guidance to stay with others to make sure you meet with others.
Becky: And the other one is Romans 12 verses 4 to 10. This is referring to, Paul’s referring to the church as the body of Christ here. So that’s what that means.
Dan: Yeah. Okay. When you first brought up Romans, I did think the last few chapters of Romans, they really are all about making sure the Jews and the Gentiles are together in church, you know? So,[00:21:00] Romans 12 – parts in one body.
“But the parts don’t all have the same function in the same way. Although there are many of us, we are one body in Christ and individually, we belong to each other. We have different gifts that are consistent with God’s grace that has been given to us. If your gift is prophecy, you should prophesy proportion to your faith. If your gift is service, devote yourself to serving. If your gift is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. If your gift is encouragement, devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. The leader should lead with passion. The one showing mercy should be cheerful. Love should be shown without pretending hate evil and hold on to what is good. Love each other. Like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other.”
Becky: That’s a great passage, isn’t it. He’s really, all of those things are just, I’d say both of these passages emphasize the importance of believers [00:22:00] being together. But even more than that, especially with the Romans one, that God has put believers in places where they can contribute their particular gifts for the benefit of others.
And I think an overarching message about church in the New Testament is that God is glorified in a group of people. So, when the Bible talks about believers, reflecting the image of God, it is one body, one image that’s being talked about rather than lots of individual images. As a whole, we are more than the sum of our parts.
So by being more connected with each other, we gain greater connection with God. I don’t want to talk about this more here though, because for anyone who wants to hear more about it, I’ve already talked about in my last Bible Feed podcast, the one called join the dots, Connecting with God. So if you want to think more on that theme, it’s all there for you already.
Dan: So scroll down your feed in your podcast player and find that one or, indeed just go on the website and search for it. Great. So that kind of [00:23:00] shows why it’s important to God, I suppose, actually and why it’s valuable for us to connect to God as part of this, so the Bible is encouraging us.
If I can talk sort of broadly like that, the Bible, the New Testament, the writers of Romans and Hebrews and all throughout the new Testament, they’re encouraging Christians to be together in a faith community. It looks like God knows that it’d be good for our spiritual health to do that. So what do you think are the practical benefits gained? You know, what does it actually look like? Being part of a big community.
Becky: Okay, if I had to choose one big overall benefit, I’d say it’s connection as I just described but I think there are three main aspects to that connection. I expect there’s others too, but I’ll focus on these three main ones I’ve thought of. What I can’t do, I don’t think, is claim that you can only find these benefits at church and nowhere else in life because you, you do find them elsewhere.
But I think it’s rare to find all of these benefits in one place [00:24:00] put together as they often are in church. I think they produce something quite unique and quite special in church. And so in an effort to make this memorable I’ve come up with three words for these three aspects of connection and they are support, diversity and magnifying.
Becky: Starting with support then, obviously we know that being a Christian in any time in history is a challenge. Even when the culture you’re living is nominally Christian in flavour, it’s still difficult to follow Jesus, there’s always some kind of sacrifice and commitment involved.
So it helps to be around other people who have the same priorities as you. Who can help you when you’re struggling and who you can support. So this mutual support, it can be physical in terms of being an extra pair of hands or a meal shared, or it can be emotional, spiritual, a shoulder to cry on, or an encouraging thought and so on. And it’s not only the tough times, it’s good to share. We also get the benefits of having others to share our joyful moments with [00:25:00] moments of celebration. They’re always richer aren’t they, when they’re shared with other people. So you get both problems and happy times shared, and life is richer for that, I think. Of course, as a music teacher, I know that sharing praise with others is also valuable. So I could, if I wanted to, I could watch a video, a great Christian singer on YouTube who gets all the notes, bang on pitch with all the right emotions and an amazing backing orchestra.
But I know I would feel closer to God if I actually sing in the same room with a group of people who I know well, who I know are in this with me and share the same hope that I do. It is a different thing. Isn’t it?
Dan: Yeah, that might even be the case, even if the group around you aren’t actually as musical, or it’s not the most perfect performance!
Becky: And as a Romans quote said that Church should be like being part of a family, there should be that feeling of unconditional love that you get from family. So even if you make mistakes or there’s differences of [00:26:00] opinion, or even clashes of personality, you hopefully should still feel confident these people will help you when you need it.
And we in turn should feel a sense of responsibility towards the other members, and that builds their own characters too. So 1 Corinthians 12, it says that God has put the body or the church together so that “there won’t be division in the body. And so the parts might have mutual concern for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it. If one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it, you are the body of Christ and parts of each other.”
Dan: So yeah, support is such , a big thing that should be part of church. So yeah, you can be Christian, sitting at home, listen to the best service, listen to the best songs, but you’re not being supported. You’ve not got the support, but I suppose equally flipping it on, on its head. you’re not there to support anyone that needs it as well, [00:27:00] if you’ve not gone, if you’re not with people and starting to learn about their lives and their needs. And that really seemed a big thing that came through that acts 2 reference, didn’t it?
And well, in fact, and Romans 12 and all through. You being there can be a support to others as well as receiving support. That’s great, and 1 Corinthians 12 really, really helps, that passage really helps to sum it up.
So diversity is the next thing you raised, the next word. What are you thinking about here?
Becky: Yeah, it’s a bit of a modern buzz word, isn’t it? But I do think it’s the case, in church you usually have a more diverse mix of people, or you’ve got more chance of having a more diverse mix of people than you might find in a particular workplace or a social situation. Because church members will often come from quite varied backgrounds and, and there’ll be a mix of different ages and I think this can provide us with a rich combination of perspectives and we need to respect those perspectives and learn from them. I mean, just imagine [00:28:00] the conversations and debates that would just happen in New Testament churches, between all those different groups of people from all walks of life, learning from each other so much.
Dan: Yeah. We’ve already commented on that actually. Haven’t we that, there’d have been Jews and Gentiles and slaves and masters and male and female with very different levels of education at that time, all suddenly bundled together. And Paul is telling them all to meet together and learn together and, and help each other.
And that was the radical thing, wasn’t it? It was a pioneer of diversity, the church in the first century. Like you say, it really can be because anyone of a faith can come from any different background. So a church can be a diverse place.
It may be that many churches aren’t diverse, they’ve fallen into, to not being that. That’s probably a reflection of reality that we need to make. It’s an absolute, perfect situation imagined by the New Testament, the church is a place of very different people coming together around one central person, Jesus.
That’s great. What about some other benefits of it then, [00:29:00] of diversity?
Becky: Yeah, well if you just think about Bible learning, for example. You’ve tried to study a particular character from the Bible or a particular passage from the Bible and you’re just studying it on your own at home, Compare that with the richness of discussing it with a diverse group of people.
So I reckon if we had a discussion about the books of Ruth or Esther, for example, we would have access to both male and female perspectives. We might come out with a lot more ideas than just one of us studying it on our own. We’d get a much richer understanding of living as strangers as in a strange land, if we discuss this topic with refugees, for example. So having a diverse group of people discussing spiritual ideas is always going to add a depth of richness to our understanding and hopefully as well, prevents us from creating echo chambers where we only hear our own thoughts said back to us.
We should expect to be challenged and have our ideas questioned. So we don’t end up with a strange kind of lopsided faith. So if I decided, for example, if I decided not to return to church in [00:30:00] person after the pandemic, then, if I wanted to learn something more about the Bible, I would’ve listened to a podcast about a topic I was interested in, given by someone I know I like listening to who probably has a similar perspective and I would’ve done that week in week out and soon, without realizing it, I’ve been ignoring areas of Bible and I’d have been ignoring topics that don’t affect me. I don’t think this is what I think we need as the believers. To help us counter the blinking of our views. The Bible is not really intended just to be read on your own, it’s designed to be read aloud, to be discussed and pondered over.
Dan: Mm. So the diversity in church, is something that should enrich our study of the Bible and, and learning of it, but actually as well, like you say, is this guardrail to stop us becoming this lone wolf crazy, end times speculation, hobby, horse topics.
And it’s so easy to do that, isn’t it. If you’re on your own, you don’t realize [00:31:00] it, but actually you’ve got on to maybe one wild conspiracy theory and if you just attended church and talked to people with different skill sets and different education backgrounds and different approaches to the scriptures they’d guard against that very odd theory that you’ve got. Yeah. that’s, I think that is a really important reason actually to what is church for and why should we go there.
Well, actually, it can really help us to become well rounded in our understanding as part of a diverse group of people, and to not make us change the image of Jesus that we’ve got into something that’s fringe or unsupported or whatever. So I think that’s really important.
What was the third benefit? You said there were three things and it would be easy to remember, but go ahead and remind me what the third one was!
Becky: So, so far we’ve had support, we’ve had diversity and the third one is magnifying.
Yeah, there are two aspects to this. Individuals who are modeling Jesus to others, and in the church as a whole [00:32:00] modeling Jesus to its surrounding community. So what I mean by that is when we attend church, we are hopefully inspired and motivated to become more like Jesus.
When we see fellow church members reflecting an aspect of Jesus, so maybe that’s in the humble way they serve or the gentle way they lead or in the patient way they endure trials. All of those things can kind of encourage us to be more like Jesus ourselves, and to learn from their example. And then on a larger scale, a church which is going about its normal everyday activities is shining a light to those around, so that many will be attracted to it, and be curious about it and want to learn more.
If a church is churching right, it doesn’t really need to do special preaching efforts in order to grow. It just needs to keep doing its everyday wonderful activities and people will be attracted to it. So Paul in 1st of Corinthians 11. He says, “every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you broadcast the death of the Lord until he comes.”
And Jesus said, “let your light shine before [00:33:00] others, that then they see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven.” And this was really evident in the Acts 2 quote wasn’t it that we looked at earlier, which said they demonstrated God’s goodness. It was just so obvious and apparent that something different was happening and exciting with this group of people.
Dan: Mm. That’s really important, it’s something I think about a lot, actually. What’s the whole purpose of the existence of the church that I go to when it is to be this, this light to the world. That’s Matthew 5 which you alluded to there, I think the words of Jesus, and the other metaphor there is that he wants his disciples, his believers to be a city set on a hill that can’t be hid, you know, so it’s just absolutely obvious to people around them.
You can, as an individual have some light that you shine, but together as a community, serving each other and living with the principles of Jesus guiding every person of that community, it should be absolutely [00:34:00] perfect sight to behold that everyone should be in awe of shouldn’t it?
I think, that’s so yeah, magnifying, to be together with people. that believe this and live it. That’s really helpful, but that does build maybe a bit of a rose tinted view of church. I’m going to hazard a guess that not every church does church right? There’s going to be lots of churches, lots of communities of, of believers that don’t have something like that don’t have a wonderful church.
And I’m sure it’s the case probably in every single church, every single church community, that there are things that go wrong and things that don’t always work. And people listening to this talk about this now, they might not have a church near to them. What do they do?
Becky: It is really important you’ve mentioned this, because we, we are talking about ideals here. We’re talking about how churches should be, but because churches are made up of human beings it’s not always going to work out quite as we hope.
And they’re not even sometimes safe [00:35:00] places to be, you get toxic churches, where abuse is tolerated or where you’re not encouraged to question or challenge what’s being taught. And there’s also whole countries where it’s extremely difficult and even dangerous to attend church of any kind. And so there’s going to be people who feel really isolated and resources like this podcast are important for helping people feel connected to other believers. And it is possible, I know from personal experience that even if you are not physically connected to a church, it still does really help to have virtual connections. just like the apostles did with their letter writing so long ago.
Dan: Yeah. So you might not at all times through your life, be able to physically be with a group of people. We’ve all just lived through a pandemic haven’t we? So we’ve all had periods where we’ve not actually been physically together, but there’s been still opportunities of connecting. So you don’t have to just watch a YouTube service and in a sort of transactional way where you just turn up and it just gets fed to you, you know, you can still interact, you can still [00:36:00] interact virtually through emails, through whatever.
So, yeah, any kind of contact is really important, worth the effort. And those letters that the apostles wrote, it’s so great that we’ve got them, isn’t it? They really shine a light, or opened a window on the activities of the church that we can see through.
So we’re so grateful that they wrote and maintained contact with, with people, they’re a good example.
Becky: Yeah. Those letters show how God has apparent wisdom to bring good things out of challenging situations. So, if any of us are struggling to feel connected to a faith community, do please hang on in there, keep praying and keep looking out for ways to connect. So I think you can meet a lot of these needs to a certain extent outside of what we might think of as formal traditional church.
But I do think if you want the best support possible as a follower of Jesus, you need to be connected somehow to some other people who are also trying to follow Jesus. People are going to spur you on who will help you keep your eyes on [00:37:00] Jesus and who will support you and in turn be supported by you as well.
Dan: Mm. That’s right, everything we do here, we try and encourage people to find others that are searching and studying and, and reading the Bible so that they can do it together. And for all the reasons that you’ve brought up and shown.
And hopefully, you know, if you’re listening and you want to try and find people near you, then feel free to reach out to us and ask the question and we might be able to help and find some churches of the Christian community that we are part of, or even similar church communities that maybe in a different geographical region to us we might be able to do that as well.
So please do reach out if you want to. Thank you very much. It’s been really good.
Becky: thank you for having me.
Dan: Yep. Thank you all for listening in and yeah, definitely get in touch even if you’re not looking for communities, do get in touch, let us know what you think. [00:38:00] Any questions or anything else that you can think of that you want to get in touch about. Go to biblefeed.org, or find us on Facebook or, or Instagram or Twitter, and hope to see you next time.