What is a church? Is the local church even necessary anymore? With access to numerous teachings, events, resources, and other tools, hasn’t the idea of church membership, church discipline, and other church-isms gone the way of the organ, potlucks and business meetings?
In my previous two blogs on the subject of the local church, I have aimed not simply to supply an apologetic for the local church, but to give a personal account for why I have stayed with the local church while many seem to walk away. Those articles are available here (Older Believers) and here (The Church Prioritized).
While the merits of older believers and prioritizing the church are relatively agreeable, and even transferable to a variety of contexts, my third and final (blog-wise) reason for staying with the church may be a bit more controversial.
I have stayed with the local church because of Church Authority.
Now I know, when we hear the word “authority,” we immediately bristle – particularly in regard to the church. In a world where the title of “most quoted Bible verse” has gone from John 3:16 to Matthew 7:1 (“Judge not, lest you be judged”), it is difficult to gain a hearing on not only the merits of church authority, but also its humble beauty.
So why would a loving God, whom I am in personal relationship with, subject me to such a cold organized structure and bureaucracy? Doesn’t that sound more worldly than godly?
Yes and no.
Certainly the idea of church authority has been abused to the furthest extent of human depravity and has given a black eye not only to the bride of Christ, but to the idea of the church itself.
But we must ask: is God mainly a God of individuality and personal relationship or does he lead through organization and structure? Would He do this to His people – the church?
Consider this: right out of the gate in Genesis, we are introduced to our Creator God. And what is the first thing we see this amazing Creator God doing? Setting boundaries (sky from water, water from land), separating (day from night, plants and trees according to their kind), defining and structuring (land animals, flying animals, human beings). And as he creates mankind in His image, he establishes something: structure, roles and authority.
When God calls out a people as His own and leads them as a chosen nation, He first establishes structure, roles, and authority.
From the family structure to the Hebraic law, God shows the need for accountable authority. Jesus affirmed these structures and authority. He then established, created and died for the church. The Spirit-inspired Scriptures tell of God’s leadership in creating pastors, elders, deacons and other structured responsibilities not to rule the church, but to lead the church as under-shepherds of the true Shepherd.
The Word is clear that the Christian faith does not end at walking an aisle, praying a prayer or raising a hand. It does not end at an inspiring message or amazing worship music. There is much more to the reality of following Christ.
In passages like 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, God gives the highly accountable role of overseer (pastor/elder) not simply to run a well-oiled service, but to pastor a people. There is a front door of believer’s baptism to the identified church where one is known and knows others. The ordinance of Communion is a continual identification with the body of Christ and time of relational examination. The church is also called to examine professing believers and ensure they are truly brothers and sisters in Christ lest wolves enter the fold.
In essence, pastors are to humbly lead a people while submitting to the authority and Word of God. They are to feed them with true doctrine and beauty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They are to protect them from false doctrine.
This accountability doesn’t end with pastors, however. The body of the church is to care for spiritual widows, orphans and others. We are to hold together like a body – not just busy with programming – but united in the upward call of building each other up to the form and image of Christ in the world by the power of the Spirit.
So lets talk nuts and bolts – what does this mean for you and me?
The final and main reason I have stayed with the local church is I don’t trust myself, and I need help. God has given this help ultimately in the Spirit, but has given me over to oversight in the context of a local church. I am identifiable, committed and accountable.
I need to know that if I am tempted by sin and begin to wander from the path of righteousness, a brother in Christ will confront me. I need to know that if I cling harder to this sin and deny that brother, that he and another will come again to hold me accountable to the Gospel and my professed Lordship of Christ.
If I ignore even the Gospel, the authority of God’s Word and the Lordship of Christ, I need a church body to pray for me, confront me with the Gospel, and if necessary, even tell me the hard truths of the faith that if no fruit is coming from my life, my profession of faith may be nothing more than a lie.
Our great God has structured and ordered the church to work in this way because we live in a fallen world with temptations and snares at every step. Jesus is clear that there are many who will taste of the things of Christianity and the church, yet ultimately walk away from Jesus while still calling him “Lord” (Matt. 7:13-23, Luke 8:4-8).
I firmly believe in the power and seal of the Holy Spirit. I believe once we are in Christ, we can never be snatched from His hand. But I also believe the Bible when it says to test myself and be tested. I believe it when it says there are prowling lions, disguised wolves, and supposed angels of light seeking to distract and dissuade me at every turn. I believe it when it says I need pastors to preach the Word continually to me. I believe I need the Gospel and other believers in community every day.
I believe the Bible when it says we should not cease meeting together. I believe it when it says I need to hear believers sing the truths of the faith, and I need to sing it to others. I believe the church is not just about me, but about the unity of the Spirit displayed through believers.
I believe the call of Paul to walk in a manner worthy of the calling of Christ in Ephesians 4 not just individually, but in a committed manner,
“with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us.
‘There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope at your calling – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all…and (Jesus) personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.
“Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head – Christ. From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.”
I believe the church is not about me, it is about we. We belong to Christ and to each other. May God be glorified in the body of His church together.