So many people in today’s culture don’t see the purpose of being a part of a local church. They think that as long as they are part of the “Universal” church, then there is no need to be a part of a local body. The rise of individualism in today’s society has led to this trend. This is a particularly popular thought among college students who grow increasingly apathetic toward church involvement as they begin to get involved in other things. These ideas are completely antithetical to the theological understanding of church. In Ephesians chapter 2, Paul makes it very clear that Christ’s power in reconciliation has afforded all people the privilege of becoming citizens of God’s kingdom, members of his household, and a stone in his temple (see Eph. 2:11-22). In essence, to say you don’t want to be a part of a local church body is to say you don’t want to be a citizen of God’s kingdom. That you don’t want to be a member of his household. That you don’t want to be a stone in his temple. All throughout the New Testament, especially in the book of Acts and the rest of the epistles, the concept of the local church is given much emphasis and it is assumed that to be Christian is to be a part of a local church. God intends for us to live out our faith and to love one another within the community of a local church. So that begs the question, are you a part of the life and body of a local church? Are you actively seeking ways to serve and love a local church as a member of its body? If not, you may need to reconsider what it means to be a fellow citizen of the kingdom of God, a member of the household of God, and a stone in the temple of God’s dwelling.
My goal in this exhortation is to challenge your (primarily college students’) view of the purpose and role of the local church and by implication, the believer’s purpose and role within the body of a local church. This is an incredibly important topic of discussion, and I truly believe with all my heart that God calls us to be a part of the life and body of a local church if Christ is in us. The first chapter of Ephesians contains many plural pronouns that signify the purpose and role of the community of believers, or better stated, the church. For instance, “in love he predestined us” (Eph. 1:5), “In him we have redemption through his blood” (Eph. 1:7), “according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us” (Eph. 1:8), “In him we have obtained an inheritance” (Eph. 1:11), “so that we who were the first hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:12); the list goes on and on and on, but the truth remains the same––believers are referred to in the plural tense, not the singular tense. To think that Christians should pursue Christ outside the bounds of community is to ignore much of Scripture. (By saying these things, I do not by any means intend to minimize the singular aspect and responsibility of the Christian’s life. We indeed must be committed to spending time in the Word, praying often, pursuing relationships with non-believers, etc. but we cannot ignore the fact that the local church is, in a sense, the starting point for our spiritual walks. We encourage, challenge, admonish, and hold accountable other believers so that they can pursue Christ more fully when they walk out of the doors of the physical church building.)
The Bible often refers to the church as the body of Christ which plays on the metaphor of a physical body. Just as a physical body only functions properly if all of its pieces are working together, so the local church only functions properly if each of its members are devoted to the growth of their community and to God’s kingdom (see Rom. 12:4-5; 1 Cor. 10:17; 1 Cor. 12:12; Eph. 4:12; Eph 5:23; Eph. 5:30; Col. 1:24). Take for example the Trinity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All coequal and uncreated, yet distinct parts that function together as one. If God himself has existed eternally within the community of these three different parts, then we too were created with a unique wiring for community. To paraphrase Michael Reeves, author of Delighting in the Trinity, God created man because it was an overflow of his character. Because God has existed eternally in a communal state of three persons, it was simply an overflow of this nature that God created man because he loved us and desired for us to enjoy community with him and with others. If we are to emulate our creator, what better place to start then to emulate the ways God lives within the community of the Trinity. Take for instance another example—Christ. When Jesus came to Earth, he encountered thousands upon thousands of people, but he focused his ministry on twelve men. He sought out ways to disciple them, encourage them, and build them up. He did these things with a purpose. He discipled these men because he knew they would be the ones to build the church (see Matt. 16:18). To carry his gospel message to the ends of the earth so that local churches could be established as a means through which Christ’s message grows and goes.
In the words of Dr. Russell Moore, “a local church—with all its ridiculous flaws—is an unveiling of the mystery of the universe… It is a colony of the coming global reign of Christ, a preview of what his kingdom will look like in the end.” Dr. Moore is emphasizing the truth that the local church is a precursor––a model if you will––to the kingdom Christ will establish at the end of time with his coming. To say that we do not need the local church or that our faith can be better lived outside the confines of a local body is in essence to say that God’s kingdom is one that is centered upon our own comforts and our own preferences rather than the model God has established. To say you don’t want to be a part of a local church body is in essence to say that you don’t want to believe that the local church is something that God established and desires for us. That you don’t want to acknowledge the fact that the Greek word for church––ekklesia––is used 114 times in the New Testament. To say you don’t want to be a part of a local church body is essentially to spit in the face of God and his word that speaks very clearly and frequently to the need for the community of believers.
Scripture is chalk full of references to the people of God (see Exod. 6:6-7; 19:5; Lev. 26:9-14; Jer. 7:23; 30:22; 32:37-40; Ezek. 11:19-20; 36:22-28; Acts 15:14; 2 Cor. 6:16; Heb. 8:10-12; Rev. 21:3) to name a few. We are foolish as Christians to ignore the prevalence of the emphasis on God’s intention for Christians to live within community—e.g. the local church. Furthermore, we are blind to the truth if we ignore the reality that God’s glory resounds all the more when we commune together as believers worshipping his holy name. Ephesians 3:8-10 states: “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” Friends, we must be a people, a body of believers, that desires to be a part of the local church so that we can grow in our faith and lead others to the “manifold wisdom of God” which enlightens us and brings us from death to life. Perhaps we need to reconsider the Bible’s emphasis on “we” rather than “I” and seek ways to best serve, love, and be a part of a local body of believers. After all, God created us for that community.