I came across this article by Phyllis Tickle that explains, better and more succinctly than most things I've read, what it means to be part of the emerging church movement, particularly as it relates to how we view authority and ecclesiology. It's excellent. And it got me thinking (as I tend to do) about my upbringing, and how I've grown as a Christian both because of, and in strong reaction to, the faith I was raised in.
When I was young, growing up in (a conservative, evangelical, Southern Baptist) church I never really could explain why the church existed. Oh, if you were a Christian, you went to church. It says so in the Bible. And you do what the Bible says. So you go to church. 3 times a week, unless there was a revival. Or VBS. Then you were there every day.
Anyway, one time a friend said to me (giving his reason for not going to church as much as I thought he should, I suppose) that you could be a perfectly good Christian without going to church. You could read the Bible on your own, and pray on your own, and not have sex and that kind of thing. And I rebutted with the verse from Hebrews about not forsaking gathering together. You came to church because it's in the rules. You came to church because you were being obedient.
Now, obedience is better than nothing. We shouldn't forsake gathering together. And I'm glad it's laid down as a pretty firm command, because sometimes you need those. But I really, utterly, completely missed the point. I accepted as valid my friend's assertion that you didn't need to go to church. Because I took it as assumed that my salvation was as an individual only. Jesus died for me on the cross, I independently accepted his offer of salvation, and now it was my job to read the Bible and pray (in my own personal quiet time), not sin (thought of in terms of personal morality), and wait around to die so I could go to heaven. Oh, and evangelize others so they could also have their personal relationship with Jesus.
Now here's the deal: I strongly believe all these things still. I should pray to God on my own, read the Bible on my own, and introduce others to Jesus. But the context for these activities shouldn't be "just me and God". It's me as part of God's church, which I desperately need, and which desperately needs me, if it's going to be what God has called it to be. This isn't to say we're like cogs in a machine, interchangeable and of little worth. It's more like being (hey, what do you know?) parts of a body.
Of course, the only reason I know that bit about the parts of the body is because of the church I was raised in. So I don't intend to knock it too hard. They practiced the truth about community, even if they didn't teach it (or to be more fair, even if I never learned it there). And the truth is that we learn our faith communally. We are communal creatures--it's how God made us. We are not simply individuals. We are part of a family.