One of the leading evangelical and ecumenical theologians of our time is Thomas C. Oden. Tom turned 80 last fall and continues to write magnificent works that serve the wider catholic community. He has provided the church with a fresh treasure of magnificent written work that will survive him by decades. You can sample something of Tom's story, a story of of how he turned away from theological liberalism in particular, in an online article that is well worth reading.
I have had the privilege of knowing Tom for the past ten years-plus, though we are not extremely close as friends. We have served together in one specific ministry context which allowed us to talk and share several times in private. I count Tom among my Top Ten modern Christian thinkers and writers. In an aticle in Christianity Today, published in 2011, Tom wrote:
Christ promised the early church the Spirit, who came on the first Pentecost and continues to dwell in the lives of the faithful. He promised that the Spirit would abide with this community, guide it, lead it to all truth, and help it recollect the words of the Lord. This is just what has been happening for the 20 centuries since the ascension. We’re moving in the wrong direction when we say individualistically, “I’ve got my Bible; I don’t need anything except these words.” Protestants now need to recover a sense of the active work of the Spirit in history and through living communities. Our modern individualism too easily tempts us to take our Bible and abstract ourselves from the wider believing community. We end up with a Bible and a radio, but no church.
I have been reading a lot of Facebook posts recently. I am increasingly sensing that there is real value in using the social media to build ongoing conversations that can become healthy relationships. It is also a way to build up existing relationships through further social contact. Either way the social media cannot replace the biblical emphasis on real human relationships that must be found in community with real people. These relationships can not simply be virtual conversations. Oden explains why this is so in the quotation above.
I believe the majority of evangelical Christians that I've met over my long lifetime have a Bible and a radio/tape/CD/conference experience (fill in the blank), but NO church. Yes, some still go to a church but increasingly I hear of friends who are abandoning real church for all kinds of fads that suggest they believe we can be healthy disciples without the physical/spiritual reality of meeting with real embodied people where we pray with them, sing with them, weep with them, laugh with them and receive the body and blood of Christ with them.
A few days ago I took communion around the front of my church at the Table. The people were positioned in such a way that I was literally touching the shoulders of the persons on my right and left as I took the sacrament. I was reminded by this simple embodied experience that Communion is a spiritual high point precisely because it is taken in the flesh with others standing/kneeling beside me. Anything less is not full-orbed Christian practice. Think about the physical aspect of this deeply spiritual experience and remember that if all you have is a Bible and ______ then you do not have a church.