Every believer should be a faithful and active member of a local church.
Over the past two articles, I have tried to support this truth. I have attempted to establish it with two initial points: (1) every believer should be part of a local body of believers, and (2) becoming a formal, recognized member of a local body is a pattern of faith rooted in the New Testament and is not a human convention.
I have no idea if my presentation has been convincing or not (although I would enjoy hearing from you). Still, over decades of serving His churches, and talking with church leaders, and reading theologians, and enjoying fellowship with believers from other churches, I have become more thoroughly convinced that the local church is at the center of God’s plans and purposes for His people and for the world. To quote others who have expressed this truth:
The church is God’s plan A, and there is no plan B.
To be clear, this statement does not deny or begrudge that parachurch ministries are offering much valuable service for the Kingdom. Yet, those ministries with the most significant impact and the most enduring influence cooperate with local churches.
In the lives of His people, the healthiest disciples are those abiding with other believers in the context of a local church because, in the local church, we encounter all kinds of people (or we should) and not just those who share our preferences and opinions. Jesus challenges us in Matthew 5:
“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (vv.46-47)
Allow me to apply this to our lives in the church (together with other commands). Scripture teaches we will never become like Him by demanding our way, enjoying our preferences, and surrounding ourselves with people who look like us and think like us and have the same preferences as us.
The local church should be a kind of “gospel laboratory.” How do we live out the gospel in a community – a community filled with people of various ages, life stages, preferences, personalities, backgrounds, and ethnicities?
Can we love like Jesus loved, humbling ourselves and serving others? Can we forgive like Jesus forgave when people hurt us and neglect us? Can we defer to the preferences of others, and invest in the faith of others, and sacrifice for the benefit and blessing of others? If we cannot, we are not Christlike. We are not acting Christian.
Every comfort we demand, every right we assert, every grudge we nurse, every blessing we withhold, these become limits to our personal spiritual growth and barriers to fellowship with Christ Himself. When we shun the church (who is Christ’s bride), we limit how much we can know Him.
Yes, the church is imperfect, and people can be difficult. That is only because people are imperfect and difficult… because you and I are imperfect and difficult.
Growing in Christlikeness – growing in faith and in holiness – demands we do what Christ did. He emptied Himself and took on the form of a servant. He was humble, gracious, forgiving, and selfless. He did not assert His privilege but stepped out of Heaven, stepped down from glory, and put on flesh so that He could show us the Father. He lowered Himself even to the point of death.
So, Christian (and I say this to myself first), why do we demand so much from His bride when Christ’s example demonstrates how much we should give?