I know here someone is going to give the example of Paul in prison. Or John on the Island of Patmos. You don’t really want to go there, do you? You aren’t really presuming or stating that you are on equal footing with Paul the Apostle or John the Beloved, are you? And why were they there, anyway? Oh, right, because they were worshipping God, sharing the gospel, being witnesses out in the world– among a community of other believers.
And you really can’t use them as examples of growing in isolation anyway because look at those four verses that Paul exhorts the Ephesians church with. Well, first of all, he’s writing to a church, which should be our first clue of the Church’s importance. Secondly, look at his language:
“…you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you [all- you is plural here] are FELLOW CITIZENS with the saints and MEMBERS of the HOUSEHOLD of God… in whom the whole structure, being JOINED TOGETHER, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built TOGETHER into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:19, 21-22 “so that through the CHURCH the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 3:10 “to him be glory in the CHURCH and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:21 “from whom the whole BODY, JOINED and held TOGETHER by every JOINT with which it is equipped, when each PART is working properly, makes the BODY grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:16Words like church, body, fellow, joined together, joint, part. Those words imply connection. They imply community. They don’t allow for the idea of isolation.
God makes his wisdom known to the angelic beings by way of the church. The Church is so dysfunctional most of the time, which makes it pretty hard to imagine why God would use us– collective us– as his means. But it is God’s wisdom, not ours. So there is no place for you to put your wisdom above his and say you don’t need the Church. Or for you to just GO to church.
If an early church father thought that we could grow in isolation, that we could be the church without any accountability, without anyone to speak into our lives, without the availability of exhortation and encouragement, then why did he speak about parts of a body and joints connecting things? Why did he say that the body grows and builds itself up? Why didn’t he speak to an individual believer and say, “as you read the word and pray, you are built up in love.” The church is God’s instrument to display his glory. The Church can only be the church if it is functioning properly. The church, when functioning properly, grows and builds itself up. This doesn’t happen alone. This won’t happen to you while you remain isolated. This won’t happen if you remain invulnerable, put walls up and don’t let anyone in. This won’t happen even with you just “attending” a church. Like it’s something to check off a list.
So connect, become part of a church BODY. Be a part that works properly. Contribute to the building up of God’s dwelling place. Get involved. Don’t show up on a Sunday morning late to worship and then leave after you have made small talk with one person you don’t know and chatted with your friends about everything– everything but Jesus. Make connections with other believers. Do life alongside one another. Eat meals, share the gospel, repent, see Jesus.
Don’t just GO to church, BE the church.