A few years ago, I spoke at a Christian youth retreat. They asked me to preach on John 15, the passage where Jesus teaches about the vine and the branches. Jesus’ primary call to His disciples in that passage is that they “abide in me.” Jesus begins to explain what this means in verse 7 when He says, “If you abide in me and my words abide in you . . .” Then in verse 10 He makes it plain, “If you obey my commands, you will abide in my love.” We spent the weekend talking about the importance of giving our best to obeying God’s Word—the Bible.
At the end of the retreat, we had a question-and-answer session. A young man asked me a great question: “Can you be a Christian and not go to church? I don’t like going to church.” A group of students around this young man seemed to share his sentiments. I began my answer this way: “I appreciate your honesty, and I can understand your feeling disconnected in your church. I don’t want to be offensive, but I do want to answer your question in a straight-forward way. If a person claims to be a follower of Jesus, and is not faithfully involved in the local church, then he or she is a disobedient Christian. I can’t comment on anyone’s salvation, but in Hebrews 10:25, God says we should ‘not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.’”
The young man responded, “I get that, but we don’t like our church. Here’s what we want to do. We’re going to meet at our friend’s house every Friday night, sing some songs, pray, and talk about Jesus. Our youth pastor told us that church was all about encouraging each other spiritually, so that’s what we want to do. What do you think about that?”
I replied, “Wow! I love what you’re talking about. You’re committing to meet every Friday night with your friends to focus on spiritual growth together? That’s terrific and I admire that. I do have a couple questions for you. First, will there be preaching of the Bible when you meet?”
“Will you have baptisms?”
“Will you have communion?”
“Will you have multiple, biblically-qualified elders there?”
“Again, I don’t have anything negative to say about your meeting every week like you described. It sounds wonderful. But . . . it’s not a church. Church is not man’s idea. We didn’t think it up. Church is God’s idea. He’s the one who instituted it, and He is the one who gave us, in the Scriptures, the specific patterns and practices He wants for it.”
“Well, Pastor Rob, where does it say in the Bible that you have to have elders?”
At this point, I confess . . . I got lucky. I likely wouldn’t have known the answer to that question off the top of my head. But God knew that this question would come my way this weekend, and so a few days earlier I “just happened” to be reading in the book of Titus. So I replied, “In Titus 1:5, Paul instructs the church that the first thing they were to do is appoint elders in every town.”
At that moment, the young man responded with a question I’ll never forget. He said, “How about another one?” In other words, do you have another Bible passage that supports what you’re saying? My heart fell inside of me, and I quietly said, “I didn’t know I needed more than one.”
This was a retreat with students who professed faith in Christ. I realized in that moment this young man and I were not having a disagreement about the nature of church—but rather a disagreement about the nature of the Bible. This young man, like many of his Christian peers, did not view the Bible as a sufficient guide for every matter of faith and life—in this case, the particular nature and function of the church.
He’d asked me a question. I answered his question with a plain Scripture. To my dismay, it wasn’t enough to change his mind, nor the minds of many around him. The Bible alone was not enough for him in regards to how the local church should function.
This is one of the great crises facing the church today. We have a generation of young people who, while they may have been taught the doctrine of inerrancy, and would say they believe “the Bible is true,” have never been taught the doctrine of sufficiency. It is one of the key reasons why we are losing the majority of our children to the world.
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