Recently we had some Christian friends from Asia over. As we discussed the church in their land, one of them used an analogy I had not heard before. She said a lot of Christians in her country were "like cats."
Not understanding what she meant, I asked her to explain. She described these people as those who go to church here and there, have no loyalty to a single congregation, and show no respect for authority and structure. Thus, like cats they walk about independently, having little regard for the church of Christ.
We laughed at the analogy. It reminded my wife and me of one of our favorite commercials featuring cowboys on the range herding cats. The rugged men juxtaposed with the idea of driving cats across the range highlights in a silly way their nature.
Yet as I have thought more about it, "Cat Christians" are not limited to our friend's country and are a serious problem in the church. We have plenty of them in our nation as well. People show little loyalty to congregations. They bite and claw at one another, then run away without settling conflicts. So many come to church wanting it to serve their needs rather than seeking to serve others. Indeed, in this age of megachurches offering various programs to attract people, this behavior is even encouraged by some. Certain church growth experts have suggested that Christians should engage in a pick and choose approach, attending services and ministries in several different congregations to meet their individual needs.
However, that is not the instruction the Word of God would give us. One of the strongest analogies of the church in the New Testament is that of it being the body of Christ, who is its head. As such, we are to see ourselves as members of that body who are connected and belong to one another (Eph. 4:14-16; I Cor. 12:14-27). Indeed, one facet of baptism is signifying that we belong to the church, expressed by membership in a local congregation (Acts 2:41; I Cor. 12:12-13). Perhaps it is overplaying the analogy, but the aversion to water common in cats is similar to those churches who refuse to require membership and the professing Christians who are content to have it that way.
One of the strongest warnings of the New Testament is against professing believers who will not submit to the authority of God's Word as it is expressed in faithful churches. The book of Jude uses metaphors of selfish wandering to describe these people: "They feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever" (Jude 12-13).
Now the dog-lovers out there might want to point out enthusiastically that "Dog Christians" might be a better alternative. After all, dogs tend to want to please their masters, show a great deal of loyalty, and generally love to be part of a pack. Though we may grant those illustrations, we may want to avoid too strong an identification. For God's Word uses dogs to describe those who do not appreciate holiness (Matt. 7:6), who return to their evil (II Pet. 2:22), who promote anti-gospel teachings (Phil. 3:2), and who are just all-around unclean unbelievers (Rev. 22:15).
So let's not fight about basic truths like cats and dogs. Rather, trust Christ as your Savior and Lord. Seal this profession with the waters of baptism. Live out your Christian discipleship by belonging to a Bible-loving, Bible-following local church. Find opportunities to serve and do so wholeheartedly and repeatedly. Stick with your brothers and sisters through thick and thin. If you do, you will be agreeing with our sister that we should not be like cats who want to be the master rather than have one, and in so doing "deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ" (Jude 4).