Recently I've read in several different places online impassioned and compelling diatribes against "institutional churches". Some have gone so far as to claim that they can obey the Scriptural admonition not to forsake the assembling of believers by inviting a Christian friend or two over for dinner or by meeting a Christian buddy down at the local Starbucks. In fact, this has been presented by some to be more in keeping with Scripture --- a more godly approach than that practiced by those of us who are still hanging out on Sunday mornings at some institutional church.
I fully concur that the American church, in general, has a lot of problems. But I think there are far more problems with the idea of "having church my way". While it would be tempting --- and fun --- for me to think that I can redefine church as hanging out at my favorite local coffee shop with friends, or that church is whenever I invite a family over to dinner, the truth of the matter is that I don't get to decide what church is or isn't. God has already decided that, and He has let me know that I am not in charge of His Church. I can neither define it nor make the rules.
Yes, we as Believers and Christ-followers are the Church. It isn't a building. It isn't some sort of club. It is the Body of Christ. But if we truly believe that, then we need to function with Christ, as He would have us function. I don't get to decide, willy-nilly, who is in my local expression of the Body. I am not in charge of creating my own little local expression, doing away with elders, abandoning all the Scriptures that speak of the church, and replacing God's will with my own.
It is tempting to go the easy route and claim that I am my own elder, so that I can run the "church that meets in my home" or the "church that meets whenever and wherever I am in the mood to have a Christian conversation". But that is not what God meant when He inspired Paul to write to and about the church.
I believe that Christ instituted the church. To try to abandon all sense of organization and real ministry in favor of just hanging out with friends is not what Christ intended for His Body.
For those who want to call it "church" whenever they engage in conversation with a fellow Christian and perhaps mention a Bible verse in passing, I would encourage them to re-read 1 Corinthians as a start. Does your "church" function as God has outlined in His Word?
Am I a great fan of the modern church in America? Hardly. Am I a great fan of "institutional churches"? Hardly. I too am very tempted to toss in the towel, never set foot in a church again, and assuage my conscience by claiming my youngest son's recent birthday party was good enough obedience to Hebrews 10:25.
But when I realize that the real problem I have with the Church is that I don't love its Head enough...when I realize that my dissatisfaction with most churches is that they don't bow to my preferences...when I try to let go of my selfishness, arrogance, pride, and self-will...then I am suddenly humbled and willing to admit that a flawed person such as me has no business thinking that the institutional church is not good enough for me.