I just read a rather stunning admission from Donald Miller. In a short blog post, he says that his learning style is not conducive for learning in traditional worship services. He doesn’t “connect” with God in singing praises or in listening to the preached word. On the contrary, he feels most connected to God when he is working to “build his company.” As a result of all this, he makes this confession:
So, do I attend church? Not often, to be honest. Like I said, it’s not how I learn. But I also believe the church is all around us, not to be confined by a specific tribe. I’m fine with where I’ve landed and finally experiencing some forward momentum in my faith. I worship God every day through my work. It’s a blast.
I don’t know what else to say except that this is profoundly disappointing. Not only that, it’s also dangerous. It’s a recipe for spiritual suicide. I am not denying that people have different learning styles. I am denying that different learning styles in any way trump what God has said to us about His church. The scripture is very clear that the local church is the matrix for Christian discipleship. In short, you cannot be a follower of Jesus and be indifferent about the church.
It is very clear that Miller’s view of the church differs markedly from what we find in scripture. For him, the church is not defined by the preaching of the word and the right administration of the ordinances (e.g., Acts 2:42). Instead, the church is amorphous, “all around us, not to be confined by a specific tribe.” How different this is from the way that the Bible speaks of the church as local bodies of believers “who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:2). God is omnipresent, but the church is not. If you are not with a gathered community, you are not at church—despite Miller’s claim that the church is “all around us.”
But more than that, Miller’s aversion to gathering with God’s people goes directly against explicit commands and exemplars in scripture:
“And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” –Hebrews 10:25
“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” –Ephesians 5:19-20
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” –Colossians 3:16
The New Testament pattern for gathered worship seems to involve a meeting on the first day of the week—Sunday (e.g., Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10). It involves the people of God coming together to enjoy the apostle’s teaching, fellowship, prayer, and the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42). Gathering with God’s people like this isn’t an optional add-on to following Christ. It is part and parcel of being a disciple. To neglect this is to deny the faith altogether. In fact, John describes apostates as those who stop gathering with God’s people:
“They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us.” –1 John 2:19
In other words, faithfulness to Christ is not defined by personal piety alone. It is defined in part by persevering in and among God’s people in the church. To walk away from the church is to walk away from Christ.
So yes, I find this statement by Donald Miller to be quite stunning. God has given us everything we need for life and godliness, and a big part of that provision is the fellowship of the church (2 Pet. 1:3). No individual is the pillar and foundation of the truth. Only the church carries that distinction (1 Tim. 3:15). Miller would have you think that neglecting the church is but one of many ways to follow Christ, depending on your learning style. Nothing could be further from the truth, and nothing could be more dangerous to your soul.
[Photo Credit: Jerod Harper]