The other day at a graveside committal service, an elderly woman confessed that she still had not found a church where she felt comfortable becoming a member. She has lived in the area now for over five years, yet remains as so many are out there - disconnected people who avoid church but claim to be committed Christians. This is not the first time I have talked with people who are quick to claim their status as believers while holding to their right to be private worshipers.
Yet this begs a significant question in this culture of cafeteria-style faith shopping. Can one truly claim to be a Christian while still actively avoiding the fellowship of other believers? C.F.W. Walther, first president of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, commented that “it is certain that he who first neglects divine services and gatherings of the congregation has therefore already separated himself from the church.” Harsh words? Perhaps. But what is a person saying when they willingly avoid belonging to a congregation?
There are undoubtedly as many 'excuses' as there are people on this issue. For some it is probably a desire to have faith on their own terms. They don't want to be told what to believe or how to behave. In short, they do not want to be held accountable. Is this biblical? Hardly. Even a cursory reading of Paul will put this to rest. Or Hebrews (10:25; 13:17.) Yet by avoiding formal membership with a church people are able to avoid the discomfort of confrontation over sin and the responsibility one has to the fellowship to encourage and discipline the erring (Matt. 18.)
The infection of our permissive and pluralistic culture has deeply invaded the church, and this attitude unfortunately exists even among those who retain formal ties to active congregations. Many hold on to their membership, regularly avoid worship, and wait for the day things change to suit their own desires and tastes. Or when the pastor leaves, which is often the issue for those who drop out of active involvement. Church on my terms. That's the current creed. But is it Christian?