It is wonderful that you are considering joining a church. It is our hope that through this study and the ones that follow, you will develop a Biblical understanding of what being a church member is all about.
What is a Church?
Sometimes you hear people make statements like “I believe in God, but I reject organized religion”, or “I’m a Christian but I worship God in my own way at home”. What these people have really done is attempt to separate Christ from his church. Their profession of a belief in God may soothe their conscience but it certainly does not impress God (James 2:19-20). God’s plan for his children is that each and every one of them join a local church.
It would be helpful at this point to define just what a church is. A simple definition of “a church” could be a local gathering of baptized believers joined together to carry out Christ’s will on earth.
Notice that, according to this definition, nothing is said of a building. It is unfortunate that we have come to refer to the building in which believers meet as “the church”. In reality, it is the believers themselves which make up the church (see Matt 18:17, Acts 14:27, 15:3, 5:11; Rom 16:5).
A church is both a visible and local gathering of believers. The very first believers met in the Temple (Acts 2:46). They then began to meet in homes (Phm 1:2; Col 4:15; 1 Cor 16:19; Rom 16:5). It is not hard to imagine that after these churches outgrew the homes that they then sought out larger buildings to meet in.
When it comes to defining a church, buildings are inconsequential. It is the assembly of believers within the buildings who actually make up “the church”.
The First Church
In Acts 2 we find Peter’s great evangelistic sermon which he delivered on the Day of Pentecost. He was filled with the Spirit of God (Acts 2:4) and preached the gospel to thousands of Jews.
Acts 2:41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.
Acts 2:42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Immediately after these people received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour and were baptized, they joined themselves to other believers and faithfully continued in learning, in fellowship, and in prayer. These were not isolated believers who sought to “worship God in their own way”, nor were they people who used a rejection of “organized religion” as an excuse to not join with other believers. Their affection for Christ immediately translated into a love for Christ’s church (fellow believers). This has been the pattern of true Christianity ever since. A love for Jesus Christ always results in a love for Christ’s church 1 John 3:14.
Initially there was only one gathering of believers in Jerusalem. But, on the Day of Pentecost thousands of foreign Jews travelled to Jerusalem for the festival (Acts 2). There they heard the Apostle Peter preach that Christ was the resurrected Messiah. Thousands of Jews became disciples that day and would eventually return to their hometowns where they would gather together with fellow believers – thus establishing local assemblies. No matter where these believers met, they brought the church with them, because they were the church.
Churches began to pop up in numerous cities. This was not due to doctrinal or denominational differences but simply due to geography. Wherever there were a gathering of believers who were not near an established church, a church could be formed (see Acts 13:1, 14:23, 15:41, 16:4-5, 18:22, 20:17; Rom 16:1; 1 Cor 7:17). These believers would ordain elders (Titus 1:5; Acts 14:23) and would then seek to carry out Christ’s commands in their community and among their own gathering (Matt 18:18-20; John 15:12; 13:35).
Loving the Church
It is not possible to love Jesus Christ and not love the church. In fact, if you find yourself feeling this way it is an indication that either you are not truly a Christian or that you have deep spiritual issues that need to be confessed to God (if you are a new Christian it may just be a matter of learning!).
A life committed to Jesus Christ will also be a life devoted to a local gathering of fellow believers. God has designed it this way. He, by his Holy Spirit, develops a spiritual unity and love among believers in Jesus Christ. This love is a sure sign that we are truly his disciples.
John 13:35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The Holy Spirit works in every believer to produce a supernatural affection for the church. He does this through the word of God. In His word, He has laid out some clear reasons why we should love the church. As we mature as Christians these will each become more and more meaningful to us. Consider the following reasons why a love for Christ should naturally lead us to love the church.
The Church is Loved by Christ
Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
Ephesians 5:28-30 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body.
The Church is valuable and precious. Not because we as individuals are inherently valuable but because Christ has purchased us with his precious blood upon the cross. Before He saved us, we were sinful, unworthy sinners who were fit for Hell and unable to save ourselves, yet the shedding of his precious blood has now rendered us incredibly valuable. According to our passage above, Jesus Christ continues to show his love for the church by nourishing and cherishing it.
Every sinner, saved by the gracious offering of God’s perfect Son, should recognize the tremendous price that has been paid for his salvation. A price paid, not for his own soul only, but also for the souls of every other believer. This should cause us to see others in the church as incredibly valuable to Christ and consequently, precious to us. Just like Christ, we should cherish all believers and love the church.
The Body and Bride of Christ
The Lord illustrates the depth of his love for the church by referring to it as both his body (Col 1:18; 1 Cor 12:27; Eph 4:12) and his bride (Eph 5:24-27; 2 Cor 11:2; Rev 19:7-9). As his body, the church is inseparable from Christ. He loves and cares for it just as one would love and care for his own body. As his bride, the church is the object of his undivided affection. He nourishes and cherishes the church while working to purify her in preparation of the wedding day (Eph 5:27).
These analogies for the church make it abundantly clear that Jesus Christ loves the church and that we should love it too.
The Church is Being Built by Christ
We should also love the church because Jesus Christ is building the church.
Matthew 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Contrary to the expectations of many Jews during Jesus’ day, Christ did not come to bring about social change, or political revolution. He came to accomplish one thing – the building of his church on earth. He began this work by calling sinners to repent and follow him. He died for their sins on the cross and then sent his Holy Spirit to dwell inside of them. The Spirit now works to make believers more and more like Christ. This is how He is building his church.
If we love Christ, we will not only love what Christ loves but we will love what Christ does. The church is the centre and circumference of Christ’s entire work on earth. It is through the church that he reaches the lost world by the preaching of the gospel. It is within the church that he continues his work of making saved men and women more and more like himself.
A lack of love for the church will undoubtedly show itself in a lack of attendance and participation in the church. When we fail to contribute to the church in these ways we undermine the very work that Christ seeks to do on earth. How can we confess a love for Christ, yet sabotage the very work that he gave his life to accomplish? We can’t. A genuine love for Christ should always carry over to a love for what he is doing on earth through the church.