We live in a day and age where anyone can access good Bible teaching from anywhere and at any time. Our favorite Bible teachers are only a mouse click or finger swipe away. We can access decades worth of expository sermons, seminary courses and Bible lessons and carry them with us wherever we go. We now have access to more teaching than we can ever hope to listen to in a lifetime. So, who needs the local church? Why not simply queue up your favorite teacher and listen at your own pace, on your own timetable, to sermons of your own choosing, in the comfort of your own home?
Why not? Because God has not designed the Christian life to be lived out in isolation, but in community. The church is not simply a place for individuals to download information. It is a corporate fellowship of believers who covenant with one another to live out the Christian life together. This is the amazing thing about the gospel – through it, God is calling out diverse individuals to be joined together as one spiritual community. Further, he has designed this community to display a supernatural love for, and unity with one another. This covenant community is to be so different from anything else that this world knows, that it should bar any conclusion other than the fact that it has been formed and maintained by Christ himself (John 13:35).
The Bible knows nothing of an isolated believer who worships God “in his own way” and on his own terms, because the Christian life is a community life. For this reason, all those new believers in the early chapters of Acts were “added to the church” and when they were dispersed due to persecution they sought out fellow believers and established new fellowships. Leaders were ordained in those fellowships and church life was lived out together.
This spiritual unity is what Jesus Christ petitioned the Father for, and eventually gave his life to achieve. Far be it from anyone who names the name of Christ to belittle or devalue the importance of corporate church life – because He died to establish it and forever works to maintain it.
So, we believe that the corporate gathering of believers into local churches is God’s plan for his people. He has made the local church an indispensable part of every Christian’s life by ensuring that individuals cannot be all that he as designed them to be without the community of believers. For this reason, the obedient Christian life must be lived out in union with other believers in the church.
Consider the following ways in which God has made the church an indispensable part of the Christian life thus making it essential that every believer join a church.
The church is a place of accountability. All believers are to submit to one another. That is, to join a church is to willingly and joyfully enter into a relationship of accountability with every other believer in the congregation. For the believer who desires to live a life to the glory of God, this culture of accountability is incredibly valuable. He knows that his fellow believers love him and care for his spiritual condition. He knows that they will encourage him when he’s struggling, support him when he’s suffering, and even rebuke him when he’s straying. In turn, he provides this every same accountability to others in the body.
In addition to the mutual accountability which exists among church members, God has given elders to the church who are to oversee the congregation. Their oversight includes, among other things, teaching, leading, protecting and even admonishment. These men are gifted by God to operate as a spiritual authority and accountability over the church.
At times, the congregation along with the elders is called upon to exercise church discipline. Church discipline, as taught by Jesus Christ Himself, is a crucial component of any healthy church. Not only this, but it is exclusive to the church. It is only within the context of the local church that Christ’s commands in Matthew 18 can be carried out. And so, God instructs all believers to join a church for the purpose of accountability – both to fellow believers and to the spiritual leadership that he has ordained in the church.
In addition to accountability, the church is a place of protection. The church is often compared to a flock of sheep. Apart from the flock, an isolated sheep is weak and vulnerable. The same is true for believers. When we are weak and tempted, the example and encouragement of others often serves as a protection against sin.
Furthermore, as the church teaches and defends Biblical doctrine, we are protected against the ever-present danger of false teachers. Also, the counsel of others and the leadership of our elders protects us from veering away from the apostle’s doctrine and into our own novel interpretations of scripture. This is a serious danger for those who attempt to live their Christian lives apart from the church, picking and choosing their Bible teachers online, cobbling together their own peculiar theology with no accountability or protection.
Not only is the church a place of accountability and protection, but it is also the context in which we exercise the one anothers of scripture. The Bible is replete with instruction regarding how we are to relate to one another in the church. These are what we call the “one anothers of scripture”. Consider for example: we are told to love, serve, forgive, comfort, edify, admonish, and prefer one another. We are also told to be kind, tender-hearted, compassionate, and hospitable toward one another. We are instructed to bear each other’s burdens, provoke one another to love and good works, confess our faults to one another and to pray for one another.
All of the above attitudes are to be lived out in the church. The very fact that so much of the New Testament is given to instruct us in how to live with one another is clear evidence that God’s design for believers is not isolation, but unity within the family of the church.
Closely connected to the previous point, God has made the church an indispensable part of the believer’s life by making it the chief arena in which we exercise our spiritual gifts. The Bible teaches that all spiritual gifts are given for the building up of the church at large. That is, no spiritual gift is given by God to be exercised privately.
We are all stewards of God’s grace through the spiritual gifts that he has given us and the only way to be a faithful steward of those gifts is to exercise them by serving one another in the church. Anything short of this is disobedience and unfaithfulness.
Lastly, the church is the only place where the ordinances can be properly administered. The Lord has left us with two ordinances – baptism and the Lord’s Table. Baptism is to be a public display of one’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord’s Table is, in part, a display of the unity that exists among all who have a part in the Lord’s death, burial and resurrection. The purpose and image of both of these ordinances is destroyed if not administered within the context of the community of the church.
Mutual accountability, spiritual protection, the one anothers of scripture, the exercise of spiritual gifts and the ordinances – these are essential to the Christian life and are designed by God to be found exclusively in the church. In other words, an obedient Christian life cannot be lived by one who refuses to join together with a local church body.