“Today there rages an ongoing debate among Bible-believing Christians about the nature and necessity of the local church…One side has a tendency to emphasize the spiritual or universal church to the minimizing of the local church. The local church is something people can be committed to if they like, but they need not be. When those who hold this view commit to a local church, they often choose a church composed of people with like experiences and interests, affinity clusters based on common culture, age, and so on. Membership is already settled because every Christians is a member of the body of Christ. There are few if any further formal requirements, which are often seen as holdovers from a bygone era or borrowed from civic and social groups like Rotary and country clubs. Local church membership might even be viewed as divisive, contrary to a needed and good catholicity…On the other side are Christians who emphasize the visible, local nature of the church while minimizing the universal or spiritual church. Membership in the universal church is assumed, but must be demonstrated in the local church. Some add that New Testament Christianity makes little sense apart from an active practice of local church membership.” – Don’t Call It A Comeback, 201-202
How do we define church?
Some people think the church means building with a steeple, denomination with a super-structure, or gather of people who sing to God, give their money, and listen to a message from the Bible. Although these might be common definitions for church, this is not how the Bible describes the term church. The Bible says the church [Gk. ekklesia] means “gathering”. It is a gather of followers of Christ universally (Eph.1:22-33) and locally (Gal.1:2). The universal and local church are not incompatible enemies, but a glorious visions of Christ’s glory.
Do I really need to be a member of a local church?
The Bible clearly commands every believer to be intimately involved in the lives of other believers. Heb. 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” God says that we are not to neglect to “meet together,” but He means far more than simply attending church services regularly. The meaning of Heb. 10:24-25 is much fuller than that, as the other commands in the passage indicate. If a believer is not carefully considering how he might stimulate others to love and good works, and encouraging others more and more all the time, then he or she is disobeying the Lord. The church is intended to glorify Christ and to help believers be what God wants them to be. Christians are meant to live in community [1 Cor. 12; Rom. 12], not Lone Ranger individuality.
The local church is not one of many options for the Christian. “The church is the primary instrument through which God accomplishes His plan in the world. The church is God’s only ordained instrument for calling the lost to Himself and the means by which He sanctifies those who are born into His family (1 Pt.2:9-10). Therefore, God expects (and even demands) commitment to a local church from every believer who claims to know Him.” (Wayne Mack and Dave Swavely, Life In the Father’s House, 6)
What’s in it for me?
In short, the church is not about me, it is all about Christ and the community, however the church bring nutrients to all its connected members. First, God designed the church to care for one other (1 Cor. 12:24-27). He uses local churches to look after His flock. Second, God designed the church to encourage maturity in one another (Eph. 4:11-16). Without the church followers of Christ would remain in spiritual infancy because they would have not structure for personal growth in Christ. As John Stott said, an “unchurched Christians” is a “grotesque anomaly.” The Bible describes a church as a Body with Christ as it’s head. A head without a body is a corpse. Dead and decaying. A church needs a head and a body to be a church. A Christian not connected to the body is not growing or gaining lasting nourishment. What’s in the church for me? Life and growth in Christ together with others committed to Him too.
By whose authority does the church have authority?
That which is given to it by Jesus Christ. He leads the church with humility and grace, but also in power and authority. Maybe you have seen the church abuse it’s authority. Maybe you’ve experienced neglect from church-goers. Maybe you’ve a pastor has not shepherded you with the attitude of Christ. Maybe you have lost respect for the church because of a bad experience? As messy as the church may be, it is still the beautiful bride of Jesus Christ. The church is not always amazing, but it is loved by Jesus. So much so that He died for it.
The Bible reveals the centrality of the church in the life of a believer. Jesus Christ proclaimed that He Himself would build His church (Matt. 16:18) and that not even the gates of death would prevail against it. He invested it with the authority of His Father (Matt. 18:17-20). He revealed that in His plan the world would be filled with churches (Matt. 28:18-20). Furthermore, Jesus Christ died for the church (Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:25) and lives for the church. He walks amid the churches (Rev. 1:13) and promises to keep the church from the future wrath of God (Rev. 3:10). No other institution on earth can claim any of those things about itself. Christ is the authority of the church. Christ is the Creator (Ephesians 2:15), Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20, 21), Bridegroom (Ephesians 5:23-32), Head (Colossians 1:18a), Owner (Titus 2:14), High Priest (1 Peter 2:9), and the Shepherd (1 Peter 5:2-4) of the church.