I’m really enjoying Carl Trueman’s book Luther on the Christian Life. I can’t help but be refreshed by Luther’s emphasis on the importance of the preached word of God. This is a healthy response to those who would rather sit at home (or gather in a coffee shop) and pray and read their Bible. “No need for church” is the banner over the living room sofa. Trueman says,
“In Luther’s time, most people were illiterate and thus the corporate reading and preaching of the Word were the only ways in which the Word could come to them. Yet there is more to it than the question of literacy: the external Word—the Word mediated to me via another from outside and thus not immediately filtered through my own sinful mind—confronts me in a way that my own Bible reading can never do. The external Word preached is thus, for Luther, one of the major means of personal transformation.” (p. 90)
He continues, “[T]here is a prioritizing of public worship over private devotions. The latter are an important option but Luther sees that when it is the time of public worship, the troubled or lethargic soul would be better served in the context of the gathering of the saints. . . I can sit in my room and read my Psalter, which is fine; or I can go to hear the Word sung and proclaimed to me by others, which has a confrontational, external aspect to it over which I have no control and toward which I cannot be neutral but must respond either in unbelief or in faith.” (p. 120)
This emphasis on the church would even be manifested in Luther’s counsel to his parishioners. “One could imagine a person seeking Luther’s advice for, say, struggles with assurance. Luther’s first question of him would almost certainly be, Are you going to church to hear the Word and receive the sacraments? If the answer came back in the negative, it is safe to assume that Luther would send the person to attend church for a few weeks before he would consider giving him individual counsel. If the person had excluded himself from the objective means of grace, not only would spiritual problems be expected, but also Luther could really offer nothing else to help him.” (pp. 120-21)
Too many in church today are too quick to give up on church. They are swift to highlight the problems and throw their arms up in despair over hypocrisy, legalism, shallow preaching, and a host of other issues. But God has not given up on the church. It is important to realize that it is in the midst of the sin-infested church that God continues to raise up people who burn with passion for God and his people. The answer for many is to give up and meet in a coffee shop. Give it enough time and the coffee shop group will exhibit signs of hypocrisy, legalism, and shallow discussions of the Word. We need the church with all her faults and problems because she is the bride of Christ. When the faults of the church manifest themselves focus on patience and know that God is not done working with and through his church. What about meeting in the coffee shop? No need to stop that but don’t make it a substitute for church. Perhaps some time could be spent praying for the good of the church rather than criticizing and berating her.