A Biblical View of the Church
It is not uncommon today to hear someone say, "I am fed up with organized religion. I want nothing to do with a church." Yet they will go on to say, "I believe in God just not the church." Some then offer a number of reasons as to why they want nothing to do with a church. A man said to me, "I don't want to be involved with people, when I do go to church on special occasions I like to sit in the back and then slip out without having to interact with anyone." Someone else says, "I don't like to be told what to do or what to believe, I want to be my own person." Or another says, "I just don't see the Church is important, I can serve God on my own."
People say, 'I believe in God. I believe the Bible is a good book. And then I believe whatever I want."
According to a book by George Barna entitled Futurecast, America is filled with people who are do-it-yourselfers when it comes to religion--either making up God as they go along or dropping traditional beliefs and practices, like going to church. Barna told USA Today "People say, 'I believe in God. I believe the Bible is a good book. And then I believe whatever I want.'"
Obviously some fail to have any interest in church because of an independent spirit which makes them unwilling to be submissive to the teaching of scripture. On the other hand there many who fail to understand the importance of the church because they do not understand the teaching of scripture. Since Jesus builds the church (Matthew 16:10), Jesus died for the church (Acts 20:28), Jesus loves the church (Ephesians 5:25), and Jesus is the head of the church (Colossians 1:18); we ought to have great interest in the church.
To view the church correctly we must notice how it is defined in the scriptures. We see that there is a church which includes all of God's elect. When Paul said to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:28) "feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood," we know that Jesus purchased more than a local congregation. Those who were the overseers of that local church were responsible to feed it, but Jesus purchased all who had been given him by his Father.
Then we read of the church of the firstborn. "To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven and to God the Judge of all, and to the sprits of just men made perfect." (Hebrews 12:23). There is then a church made up of all who are redeemed and born of the Spirit. That church will ultimately be assembled in heaven and not one of its chosen members will be lost.
And then throughout the New Testament there is reference to local churches. For example Paul writes, "Unto the church of God which is a Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints..." We read of the churches of Galatia, the Thessalonian church and the seven churches of Asia. A church is a baptized body of believers with an identifiable membership. I have heard it argued that since there is no evidence the early church kept a "Church Roll" that we don't need one today. But the fact is that whether they kept the roll written down in a book or not they could identify those who were actual members of a local church.
In Matthew 18 Jesus gives instruction on how to deal with disciplinary problems and says that if a person should refuse to hear the church they should be treated as a publican. In other words they should be put out of the church. Such action could only be taken by a local church in which there is some method by which members are identified.
Another example is given as Paul writes regarding disciplinary action by the church at Corinth. He says, "For what have I to do to judge them also that are without: do not ye judge them that are within? but them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person." (I Corinthians 5:12-13). A clear distinction is made between those who are within and those who are without. If there is no way to determine who is within then how can there be a contrast made to those without.
So the man under considerion had not repented of his sin at this point and Paul says he must be set outside the church. This authority which Christ gave to his churches, to discipline their members, is one of the things objected to by those who claim church membership is unnecessary. For a church to function properly it must recognize that it is subject in all things to the head of church, Jesus Christ. and then it must be recognized that each member as a part of that body is accountable to the church both for their belief and conduct.
While church discipline may seem harsh it is designed for the good of the one disciplined and for the purity of the church. To labor with an erring member and then to exclude them if there is no repentance is for their benefit. The Lord says if the church will deal with those within He will deal with those without. The hope and prayer is that the excluded one will repent and return.
The New Testament knows nothing of free-lance Christians who opt out of church membership.
Churches are not made-made institutions. The whole concept is designed by God for the benefit and edification of his people, for the circulation of his gospel and for the glory of his name. The New Testament knows nothing of free-lance Christians who opt out of church membership. Each member needs the instruction they receive from the pastor/teacher (Ephesians 4:11-12) and it is expected that each member contributes to the strength of the body by his faithful attendance and by utilizing his spiritual gifts (Ephesians 4:16).
To ignore the instruction so clearly given in the New Testament about how a church is to function and the importance of each member filling his place in it is not a mark of superior spirituality but of selfishness and pride. We are not only admonished to meet with others but to consider them and encourage them. "And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the matter of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more as ye see the day approaching." (Hebrews 10:24-25).
In His book Reverberation, Jonathan Leeman writers, "Yet these individuals don't come together just because they are commanded. They come because they are citizens of the one whom they have confessed as Lord; and part of the citizenship means gathering with other citizens to hear about the country they've not yet seen. They come because they are adopted sons and daughters, and children love to join the family at the dinner table for a meal of the Word. They come because they are sheep, and sheep belong in a herd that follows the Shepherd toward green pastures. They come because they are members of a body, and every part of the body needs every other part."
What a blessing to be a member of a Bible believing, Christ honoring Church where love abounds and fellowship is enjoyed. A sound Church is not only orthodox in its doctrine but zealous in its labor to minister the spiritual needs of those within the body and looking for opportunities to be a witness to those without as the gospel is actively circulated.