Let me state the obvious. Trinity Reformed Fellowship is one of many Christian student organizations on the campus of Indiana University. Each organization differs in size and focus. Some are larger, with many students and lots of cool events. Others, like ourselves, are smaller and less flashy. Some have “good looking” students and some have “not so good looking” ones. Some are “cooler” and some are not. No matter what organization you might find yourself in, though, they all have something in common. No student organization is the Church.
Over the past few weeks our student group has been at various events to kickoff the school year. We attend these events to reach out to students with the good news of Jesus. I’ll be honest, though. Such events often make me uncomfortable.
Don’t get me wrong, talking to students about Jesus isn’t the issue. Rather, what I find unsettling is the fact that so many of our organizations function, even if it isn’t our intention, as a replacement for the local church. We rarely see that this is happening. You walk up to the “religious” section at these events. You go from booth to booth, listening as each group gives their pitch. Depending on how much patience you have, this happens over and over again with dozens of groups.
“On Friday nights we…”
“There’s a dinner tomorrow…”
“We have worship night…”
Any student who has looked for a faith group knows what I’m talking about. Which group will I best fit into? Which one has something to offer me? What do I gain from this group over the others? Which one is the most convenient for me?
What is so often lost in the midst of these questions is the fact that none of these groups are the Church. Yes, they have fellowship. Yes, they usually study the Bible. Yes, they normally encourage you to go to church or are maybe even connected to a local church. These are good things. But they cannot replace the local gathering of the Church and life in it. Being a member of a student group isn’t the same thing as being a member of a local church.
The Church has the preached Word. The Church has the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. The Church has saints from all walks of life, not just other college students. The Church has members that you are commanded to love. The Church has authority, pastors and elders. The Church, and all its members, have accountability over your soul. The Church is the body of Christ. These are not things that can be replicated in a college ministry organization.
Don’t misunderstand me. It’s good to be in a Christian student organization. If it wasn’t, then we wouldn’t exist and we wouldn’t be writing these posts and having Bible studies and doing recreational activities on a weekly basis. But no organization, not even Trinity Reformed Fellowship, can function to replace your obligation to live under a local church while you are at IU. You are commanded by God to regularly live in the midst of other Christians.
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
Church is not optional. It is not something that you can just fit into your schedule. It is the central institution that God has placed in your life to grow you in holiness, love, and the knowledge of God. The idea that hanging out with other college students once a week can substitute for the local church is absurd. If you are a Christian you were saved to live and grow into holiness within the household of God.
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
You can’t be in and out.
Since every Christian student organization gives you a pitch, here is mine: find a local church in Bloomington and commit to it while you are a student at IU.
Our organization is a ministry of Trinity Reformed Church. We’d love to see you on Sunday. But if you aren’t at our church, join another. You must be discipled. You must have authorities over you who love you and want to help you turn from your sins and follow Jesus. You need fathers and mothers around you who can teach you wisdom. You have gifts to exercise toward other Christians. You were made to live in fellowship with God’s people. You can’t obey this command in your dorm alone, or even with a few students on campus.
Your four years in college will go by quickly. Your time in a Christian student organization will do the same. But your membership, participation, and growth in the Church is lifelong. This is not something that you can opt in or out of. Be in the Church. Live in the Church. Love the Church.