Christian risk is often right, as when mission work is carried out in a dangerous place. But the lone ranger Christian risks the wrong things for the wrong reasons. Here are ten reasons lone ranger Christianity is too risky to be right. These warnings also double as reasons for every Christian to join a gospel-preaching local church.
1. Lone rangers risk alienating Jesus.
The church is Jesus’ body (Acts 9:4; Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 4:16). Jesus doesn’t identify that closely with any other institution or group, or any part of the created order. So to say you love Jesus while showing indifference toward the local church actually offends Jesus. Don’t send Him mixed signals—He hates that (Revelation 3:16). Every local church is imperfect, and we all have our battle-scars. But you simply can’t say you love Jesus while you act embarrassed to be seen with Him in public as He embodies Himself in a yet-to-be-glorified church. Whichever Jesus told you that was okay, it was a different one than the Jesus we meet in the Bible (2 Corinthians 11:3-4).
2. Lone rangers risk losing their own souls.
The Bible describes Christians as sheep (Psalm 95:7; John 10:1-18). Sheep are prey, because, frankly, they’re not the sharpest tools in the shed. Jesus has blessed the church with under-shepherds—elders of local churches (Acts 20:28-32; Ephesians 4:11-12; 1 Peter 5:1-4)—to protect the sheep from wolves, and to protect the sheep from their own foolish curiosities and bad appetites that would lure them to wander off cliffs. Independence is no virtue in sheep, and overconfidence is no virtue in Christians. The Bible also describes Christians as members of Christ’s body. Your arm will rot if it remains detached from your shoulder. Similarly, your spirit will wither if it’s not connected to a visible body of Christ in a local church.
3. Lone rangers hazard their own health.
Without sound preaching applied in the context of a local church, lone rangers remain malnourished. They often choose to eat only what tastes good to them. Without the influence and example of being personally discipled by more mature Christians in the same congregation, the lone ranger remains under-resourced. Without the benefit of serving others in a local church, the lone ranger gets flabby. He’s prone to mistake the soul’s anorexia for spiritual fitness, yet presumes others should imitate his diet and exercise.
4. Lone rangers eviscerate their own accountability.
The local church, with its members, officers, and discipline, gives meaning and authority to Christian accountability. To take the authority out of accountability is to make accountability meaningless. Then again, that’s often what the lone ranger Christian is after—an appearance of accountability, without the authority to actually hold him accountable.
5. Lone rangers weaken their own assurance.
Membership in a local church is a congregation’s affirmation that that member is, from all appearances, a genuine Christian. That affirmation is a significant source of assurance. It tells us we’re not crazy for thinking that God has saved us from the power and penalty of our sins. It’s been said that a local church is an assurance-of-salvation cooperative. We cast in our lot with others and ask them to point out evidences of God’s grace and to keep us from falling away. It’s actually commanded of us in Hebrews 3:12:
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. but exhort one another every day, as long as it is called today, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
6. Lone rangers jeopardize their own perseverance.
This point follows directly from the previous point and the previous passage. “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:14). And how do we hold our confidence firm to the end? By taking care for each other so that there is no evil, unbelieving heart among us. And how do we do that? We keep on attending church, making our membership there meaningful by knowing and being known, encouraging and being encouraged (Hebrews 10:23-25).
7. Lone rangers lead others away from the safety of the flock.
Lone ranger Christians set a bad example for others. Their behavior leads others to wrongly believe that the Christian life can safely be lived in isolation from other Christians. Nothing could be further from the truth.
8. Lone rangers endanger the vitality of local churches.
Maybe that’s an over-statement, but if everyone followed the lone ranger’s example, then local churches would not exist. The church is the only organization instituted by Jesus for preaching the gospel and making disciples (Mattew 16:18; 28:18-20). In the imagery of the Old Testament military census, we should be counted in so that we can be counted on (Numbers 1:1-3).
9. Lone Rangers jeopardize their own maturity.
Forbearance, patience, self-control, self-denial, humble service, bearing others’ weaknesses and sorrows, rejoicing with those who rejoice, gently restoring those who have fallen—this all happens in committed relationships, not haphazard encounters (Galatians 5:22-6:5; Ephesians 4:11-16).
10. Lone rangers distort their own witness.
Some lone rangers like to think of themselves as if they were John the Baptist re-incarnated—a voice crying in the wilderness. They don’t realize, though, that joining their evangelistic witness with a local church will not only amplify their testimony but enhance their own voice with the polyphonic harmony that rises only from within the diverse unity of a local church. God designed the Christian life to be lived as a symphony, not a solo. Our parts always sound best when sung with the rest of the choir.
Lone ranger Christianity is so dangerous because it often leads to an entirely different kind of customized, personalized, and ultimately self-idolizing religion. Make no mistake—it’s the lone ranger who is most likely to become the lone wolf (Acts 20:29-30; 2 Peter 2:1-3; 1 John 2:18-19; 3 John 9-11).
Paul Alexander is as the Pastor of Grace Covenant Church of Fox Valley in St. Charles, Illinois.