Is the Church Necessary?
What is the Church?
The first point we should address is what the Church is. At the outset, we have to say the Church is two things. First, it is the visible institution established by Christ whereby His Gospel would be safeguarded and taught to the faithful, under the guidance of those with authority to do so (Acts 20:28). And second, the Church is also a metaphysical reality. That is, it transcends nationality, language, ethnicity and all other temporal considerations, as it is the spiritual Body of Christ.
Let’s address each of these two points. The Church is a visible institution. I know this is not a popular thing to say for many Protestants & Evangelicals, but whether we like it or not Jesus Christ established a visible organization with leadership and structure. That leadership first started with the Apostles, who in turn laid hands-on others to assist them in their ministry by leading local congregations. These local leaders are priest, deacons, and bishops. The first point then is that our Christian journey is to be guided by active participation in this visible institution, which should act in concert with the Holy Spirit to teach you the principles of the faith from a position of divinely instituted authority (Hebrews 13:17; Ephesians 2:20-22).
The Church is also a spiritual reality. Every Christian is a part of this spiritual Body of Christ in as much as they are faithful to the gospel and contribute to the health and life of this spiritual Body of Christ. Since this body is spiritual, it transcends ethnicity, nationality, and denominational divisions (Romans 12:5). This transcendental nature of the Body of Christ in no way negates or makes obsolete the visible institution, since we are only a member of this spiritual body to the extent that we are in submission to & participating in the visible body — the Church as a visible institution. If we reject the visible Church, we reject the leadership of that Church, and ultimately, we reject Christ, who founded that Church (Matthew 16:18; Colossians 1:18). Mind you, I am not saying that some congregation somewhere cannot be in error, and you can never leave it. We are not discussing Apostasy. What we are discussing is the need for connection to both the visible and spiritual Body to grow in faith and be used by God in any ministry capacity. Neither of these definitions lends itself to a stay-at-home, do-it-yourself faith. The historic faith simply doesn't work that way. There are specific and important things that fellowship with other believers in worship and study of the Word, as well as the relationships built on that shared faith, alone can bring. For example, learning how to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ as it encounters other people, with their unique personalities, gifts, and yes, even flaws are something you are not going to learn sitting at home on your couch watching a televised service or internet service. It is only learned through direct, face-to-face relationships (Hebrews 10: 24-25).
The early Church Fathers were very clear on the importance of the Church to our spiritual lives.
“He, therefore, who does not assemble with the church, has even by this displayed his pride, and he has condemned himself” (Ignatius).
“The world is driven ad tempest tossed by sins. Therefore, God has given to it assemblies-we mean holy churches-in which survive the doctrines of the truth” (Theophilus)
“The church preaches the truth everywhere, and she is the seven branched candlestick that bears the light of Christ… So, we should flee to the church, and be brought up in her bosom, and be nourished with the Lord’s scriptures. For the church has been planted as a garden in this world” (Irenaeus).
Notice that you find no hint of going it alone in any of the quotes from Scripture or the early Church Fathers. There are no Lone Rangers, no Rambos, no “I don’t need the Church. I can do it myself.” The full witness of our faith is that the Church is indispensable to the Christian life.
Not too long ago, I knew a young man (we’ll call him Sam), who was very involved in his Church. Sam was a committed Christian, and his life was an example of his firm commitment. One Sunday, the pastor delivered a sermon in which he said something that Sam disagreed with. Sam let his disagreement be known and the pastor addressed it calmly and patiently with sound biblical reasoning, but Sam just would not be moved. The pastor ended the conversation by telling Sam it was okay to disagree and asked him to please pray that either Sam or he would understand the issue more clearly. Still, Sam would not be moved. This minor point of contention was not on some principle of the gospel that was essential to salvation or orthodoxy, and so shouldn't have been such a big problem for Sam, but he allowed it to be. His discontent grew and grew until he finally started voicing the opinion that he did not need the Church to serve God or be a good Christian; that he could do so from the privacy of his own home, and that is exactly what he did. Other members of the Church who knew Sam outside the Church proper did their best to encourage Sam to come back, but he insisted he didn't need to do so, that he was just as saved as anyone who attends Church services. Gradually they noticed Sam’s lifestyle had started to change, and it wasn't good. He started hanging out with a group of his peers who partied a lot. We're not talking about cake and tea with lawn games here, we're talking about drinking, smoking marijuana, and having sexual relations outside of the covenant of marriage. Some of his new friends were well known to the police, both for numerous drug-and-theft-related arrests as well as prostitution. Sam’s behavior was reflecting theirs more and more. When his Christian friends tried to talk to him about it, he still insisted that he could be a better Christian than they were, even without the Church. Sam had made his decision. He was going to live a worldly lifestyle and still claim to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. He had allowed a simple disagreement to take root in his heart, and he had rejected the fellowship of other believers. In the end, Sam passed away from an overdose.
Any notion of serving God without serving His Church, those people who comprise the visible and spiritual Body of Christ is quite simply false teaching, a lie straight from the Adversary, which must be resisted and denounced whenever it is encountered (Ephesians 4:12). You have a wonderful opportunity to grow, develop long lasting friendships, and to learn more about Christ within the visible Church than you do as a "home aloner". Don't rob yourself of the blessings that await you.
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