I’ve heard it said before and I am sure that you have too. Something to the effect of: “I don’t need the church to be a Christian. I can just as much worship God on my own each Sunday in the woods or watching a TV preacher. The church is not necessary.” Now it is absolutely true that no one is saved by either attending the church’s worship services or by joining a church. (The church as we know is not a building or a service but a people; the redeemed people of God.) Our salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone with nothing that we do at all contributing to it. As you have heard me quote before, “The only thing that we can contribute to our salvation is the sin which makes it necessary.” However, that does not mean that the church is irrelevant to the Christian or not needed for his or her faithful walk with the Lord and spiritual growth. In fact, just a cursory look at how the New Testament speaks of the very nature of the church and the Christian’s relationship with it makes this clear.
The Church is Christ’s Body for Whom He Died. If you look at all of the descriptions of the Church given to us in Scripture, you can’t help but notice just how closely connected Christ is to His Church. It is portrayed to be a flock of sheep with Jesus as the Shepherd (John 10:7-16; Hebrews 13:20), a building of bricks with Jesus being the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-21), a body composed of different members with Jesus serving as the Head (1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 5:23), a bride with Jesus as her groom (Ephesians 5:22-33; Revelation 19:6-8), and a family with God as Father and Jesus as the elder brother (Mark 3:31-35, and take note throughout the New Testament of all the many times that believers are referred to as being “brothers and sisters”). All of this indicates that Jesus and the Church are a package deal. You really can’t have one without the other. To claim to have Jesus but want nothing to do with His Church would be to attempt to actually sever His head from His body. It would be like telling someone that you loved and cared for them but want nothing to do with their family. I would be greatly offended if someone wanted to spend time with me but continued to snub my wife. Yet, that is exactly what is done with those who seek to want to be with Jesus but not the rest of His flock. Keep in mind as well that when He confronted Saul/Paul on the road to Damascus that He identified with the Church that the terrorist at the time was persecuting. It was not “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting My Church?” but “why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). In whatever way we treat the Church, Jesus sees us as treating Him the same way!
Believers Belong to the Church. Paul states that believers have been all baptized into one body. The image here being that of having been immersed into the Church. God never saves any believer without the intention of them being a part of the church. There is no indication given that He has any desire for anyone being what could be called a “lone ranger Christian.” In being saved, one has been placed into Christ’s church. Hence why we understand water baptism to serve as the front door of church membership. It is displaying the reality that is now true of the believer. In becoming united to Christ, the believer has also become united to Christ’s family. Should not the Christian want to demonstrate this new reality by officially joining a local fellowship and living out their faith among its members?
Each Believer Has Been Given Gifts to Serve in the Church. Scripture is clear that each believer has a gift or gifts from the Holy Spirit to use in service to others within the Church. Paul literally devotes an entire chapter to this (1 Corinthians 12)! And we are told that these gifts are for the common good of the body (v.7). For a believer not to be an active part of the Church would be to neglect using the gift or gifts that God has given them. God has given each of us a place in the body and something to do within it. What a privilege that is! Why would we not want to utilize what He has given us for the good of others within the church and the glory of His name?
Believers Need the Encouragement of the Church. The temptation to become lax in our Sunday morning attendance evidently is not a new thing as the author of Hebrews addressed it concerning the believers that he wrote to in Hebrews 10:24-25. And you’ll notice that in that passage that he contrasts the failure to meet together with the need for encouraging each other. We live in dark days of a weary world. Life is not easy. We face challenges and discouragements to our faith at every turn. We need the encouragement of each other to keep looking to Jesus. An encouragement that we both have and can give in the body of Christ.
The Christian Life Can Only Be Lived Out in the Context of the Church. Finally, consider the fact that there are 52 one-another commands in Scripture relating to things that we are to do to and for other believers, love being one of the primary ones. These cannot be practiced sitting at home each Sunday morning or unless you have taken the time to get to know a distinct group of people through living in community with them. And since the Christian with the new nature that the Holy Spirit has given him desires to be obedient to Christ, ignoring these commands cannot be an option for him or her.
Hopefully, you can see why I say that the church cannot be optional for a Christian. But even more so, I hope that it is apparent to you just how much YOU need the church and the church needs you. Don’t neglect being a more active part of Christ’s body at a Bible-believing and gospel preaching local congregation near you. Jesus expects such and died for such.
Love in Christ,