CH__CH; What is missing? UR!I saw this humorous quote on a church sign several years ago, and it has always stuck with me. The church is not complete without "U"! Likewise, a Christian's life can never be complete apart from a healthy, Bible believing, Spirit filled church. It goes hand in hand.
The most frequently asked question among Christians is undoubtedly "How can I know God's will for my life"? This is certainly good and noble. However, in order to learn the "specific" aspects of God's will, we must first be faithful in the "general" aspects, i.e. the things that God has already revealed in His word are His will for all Christians. This would include things such as Bible study, prayer, giving, witnessing, and yes, church. If God cannot trust us in these foundational things, He can't trust us to take us further into His plans for our lives.
Past negative experiences with church often cause people to view the church as a whole in a negative light. This is both tragic and unnecessary. A good church can be one of the greatest joys of your life. It is also absolutely essential to being a faithful and productive Christian.
Can you be a Christian without going to church? A key question here is, why would a truly Born Again person not want to be part of the church that his Lord died for? 1 John 3:14 says that one of the signs of a true believer is love for his Christian brothers. We naturally want to be around those we love. In contrast, one sign of a backslider is withdrawing from Christian fellowship (1 John 2:19). As Augustine once said "He cannot have God for his Father who does not have the church for his mother."
Do you ever watch nature documentaries on TV? When a lion stalks a heard of gazelles, did you ever notice the one he goes after? The one who strays from the herd. There is a covering of protection in Mount Zion (Isaiah 4:4-6), which is a type of the New Testament Church (Hebrews 12:22-24). Lets look at some foundational principals:
The Greek word for church is "ekklesia" meaning "called out ones". That is a very special thing, to be one whom God has called out of the world, to be part of His Family! "Ekklesia" also means "assembly" or "congregation". This is how God has organized His family in the earth, through local congregations which are to be earthly representations of His Heavenly Kingdom.
Jesus Himself was the one who ordained and commissioned the church (Matthew 16:18). One of the Biblical names for the church is the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27). This is such a beautiful analogy. Ephesians 4:16 describes the Body as being joined together, with each member supplied. Consequentially, if you are not joined to His Body, you will not be supplied. You will be like a severed limb, or a coal that is removed from a fire, and quickly burns out. In every occasion that the New Testament records a person giving his heart to Jesus, the person's being added to the church immediately follows. A Christian who is not part of a local church is a totally foreign concept to Scripture. In fact, most of the New Testament Epistles were originally written to local congregations.
A key element in the life of the church is the concept of communion. The word "communion" is a compound word meaning "common union". God wants His people to live in this common union, both with Him, and with one another (Romans 12:4,5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 4:25). That is an awesome thing, and it can never fully happen without being part of the church. It is through the church that Christians learn the concepts of community, accountability, and family. The children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years because they had not learned these vital principals.
Being a body, the church is an organized, structured unit. and we must understand exactly what Biblically constitutes a church. Some ask "Isn't watching Christian TV, or fellowshipping with Christian friends the same as going to church"? No, it isn't. These things can be good and helpful in their place, but they should never be looked at as a substitute for the church. A number of characteristics are required before an institution can be properly called a church. These include organized, regularly scheduled meetings (Acts 14:27; 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:33; 14:26; 16:1-2), membership records (Acts 1:15; 2:41, 47; Revelation 3:4) Pastors and church leaders who oversee the congregation (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 4:11-12; 1 Peter 5:2-3), Preaching, teaching, and exhortation (1 Corinthians 9:16; 1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 4:2), observances of the New Testament ordinances, water baptism (Acts 2:38, 41), and the Lord's supper (Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26), accountability for sin (Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 5; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15; 1 Timothy 5:20; Titus 1:13) and so on. You can learn more on this by studying the Book of Acts, as well as Paul's Epistles.
Biblical church membership is much more than simply putting your name on a roll and warming a pew on Sunday morning. It is a solemn covenant which involves faithful commitment in attendance (Hebrews 10:25), in tithing and giving, (Malachi. 3:8-10; 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2; 2 Corinthians 8, 9; Hebrews 7:8), serving in helps ministry (1 Corinthians. 12:4-27; Ephesians 4:7, 11-12; 1 Peter. 4:10-11) , and cooperation with the church's leadership (1 Corinthians 11:1-2; 16:15-16; Phillipians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; Hebrews 13:7, 17).
Is the church perfect? No, because it is made up of imperfect people-like us. That is one of the reasons we need the church. Like iron sharpens iron, God's people are to help "sharpen" each other (Proverbs 27:17). The church is something to be embraced and cherished. You need the church, and the church needs you. Jesus died for His church (Acts 20:28), He is returning for His church (Ephesians 5:27), and it is His church that will rule and reign with Him (Revelation 22:1-5). Friends, if Jesus places this kind of emphasis on His body, the church, how can we even think about giving it less than our wholehearted commitment?
Of course, going to church in itself cannot save anyone. Going to a garage doesn't make you a car, going to McDonald's doesn't make you a hamburger, and going to church doesn't make you a Christian. That can only come through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If you have not invited Him into your life yet, why not do it today?
© 2001 JHB For some practical guidelines on finding a good church, see our previous article Scorecard For a Healthy Church".
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