Do Christians Have to Go to Church to be the Church?
- Kathy Howard Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2017 7 Aug
We are “between churches” right now. After my husband’s recent retirement, we moved to a new city to be close to family. The boxes are unpacked and pictures hung, but I still feel unsettled, disconnected. I miss our church and the sense of belonging and purpose it provided.
So, our search for a new church is in full swing. We are actively and prayerfully looking for the local body of believers where God wants us to connect and serve. I can’t imagine trying to live a life of faith any other way. Yet, many who profess Christ as Savior try.
According to the Barna Group’s study, “The State of the Church 2016,” 73 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians. Yet, only 55 percent of Americans attend church. That means roughly 58 million “Christians” in the United States do not regularly attend a local church.
What is “Church?”
The Greek word translated as “church” in the New Testament refers to the assembly of God’s people, the community of believers. “Church” can refer to both the invisible, universal church – all believers throughout history – and to the visible gatherings of Christians today, the local church.
Every true believer is a member of the universal church. When God saves an individual, he or she is saved into the church (Acts 2:47). We are fellow citizens with all God’s people (Ephesians 2:19-20). We are saved into God’s household, His family (Romans 8:15-17). God is our Father, Jesus our brother, and every believer our brother or sister. But is that enough? Do Christians need to be actively involved in a physical, local church?
5 Reasons We Need the Local Church
1. We need the local church for spiritual growth.
Just as every newborn baby and growing child needs their physical family for protection and provision, so every new and growing believer needs his or her spiritual family (1 Corinthians 3:2). Individual believers need the church for equipping, edification, and teaching. We need the support, resources, and accountability of the church to grow in spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:11-13). We cannot grow to maturity apart from an ongoing connection to a local body of believers. At best, our spiritual growth will be stunted.
2. We need the local church for protection from false teaching.
God gifts specific believers to teach, lead, pastor, and equip the community of faith. An “independent” Christian is vulnerable (Ephesians 4:11-12), susceptible to the influence of the surrounding culture. According to a recent survey by the Barna Group, unchurched Christians are much more likely to agree that all world religions basically teach the same thing. This belief directly opposes the biblical truth that Jesus is the only way of salvation (Acts 4:12, John 14:6). We need the consistent influence of the church and her teaching to remain grounded on the foundation of God’s truth (Ephesians 4:14).
3. We need the local church for deep, loving relationships with other believers.
God designed the church to be a unique fellowship. Koinōnia, the Greek word the Bible uses to describe the spiritual relationship between believers (Acts 2:42), means “having in common, sharing, partnership, fellowship.” Individual believers both receive what they need and give what others need within the context of the local church. God chooses to love, encourage, comfort, and support us through the fellowship of His people. Other Christians are His tools, His means of providing for us.
The spiritual relationship possible between fellow believers is vastly different than anything we can find in the world. The church multiplies our joy and divides our grief (1 Corinthians 12:26). When we remove ourselves from the God-designed community of faith, we rob ourselves of much of what God longs to give us (1 John 3:16-18, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, 1 Thessalonians 5:11). For more benefits of koinōnia see “14 One Anothers for the Church Today.”
4. We need the local church to experience the full blessing of our God-given calling.
The Holy Spirit reveals His presence in a unique way in the life of every believer. He may manifest Himself in one person through the gift of teaching, another through the gift of mercy, and still another through the gift of administration. My gifts are not for me and your gifts are not for you (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). They are for the “common good,” to build up the community of faith (Ephesians 4:12). God gifts individual believers in specific ways for a specific place of service to benefit other believers (1 Corinthians 12:18). Failure to exercise our gifts for the good of the body of believers handicaps the church (1 Corinthians 12:20-25), but when we use our gifts to serve the church we find blessing and fulfillment.
5. We need the local church to be on-mission with Christ.
God works through the visible, local church to carry the Gospel to the world. He equips, prepares, and arranges each church as He sees fit for His specific purposes (Ephesians 4:12, 1 Corinthians 12:18). The church body needs each individual member and each individual believer needs the church to fulfill its God-assigned task. While God can and does use individual Christians for His purposes, His primary strategy of reaching the nations for Christ is through the body of Christ expressing itself through the local church.
The Danger of Being a “Lone Ranger” Christian
Those who neglect the corporate dimension of faith miss the communal heart of God’s great salvation. Our salvation is a very personal experience, but God does not mean for it to be independent or private.
In their book “Experiencing God Together,” Henry and Melvin Blackaby emphasize the communal aspect of our salvation. “There is a corporate dimension to the nature of God’s great salvation that is at the heart of God’s purpose for each individual Christian. Without a thorough understanding of our place in the family of God, we will experience a dysfunctional Christian life.”
Church attendance does not save. Only God can do that. But a vital connection to a local church strongly indicates the believer’s level of commitment to God, God’s purposes in the world, and the believer’s understanding of the Kingdom of God.
God does not intend for us to live out our faith on our own. We cannot be everything God desires for us, we cannot fulfill all God’s purposes for us, and we cannot receive everything God has for us, apart from a local church.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Kathy Howard is the author of 7 books including the new Bible study, “Lavish Grace: Poured Out, Poured Through, and Overflowing.” This unique 9-week study of Paul’s experiences with and teachings about grace, will help you recognize, rest in, and share the glorious grace of God. Find out more about Kathy and get free resources at www.KathyHoward.org.
Photo credit: ©Thinkstock