According to national polls, about 77% of Americans identify themselves as Christians, yet only about 40% say they attend church services at least once a week. Is this a problem? Do Christians need to be involved with and committed to a local church? If the Christian life was intended to be lived in isolation, why did Christ establish the church (Mt 16:18) and give His life for it? (Acts 20:28, Eph 5:23 ).
If I'm not meeting with a local church (assembly), how can the members of that church fulfill their responsibility to equip me to do God's work? (Eph 4:11-12).
As members of Christ's body, the church, we are to love one another (Jn 13:34, Jn 15:12, 17 ); live in harmony with one another (Ro 12:16); welcome one another (Ro 15:7); greet one another (Ro 15:16); comfort one another (1Th 4:18); agree with one another (2Cor 13:11); serve one another (Gal 5:13, 1Pe 4:10 ); be kind to one another (Eph 4:32); forgive one another (Eph 4:32); submit to one another (Eph 5:21); teach and admonish one another (Col 3:16); encourage one another (1Th 5:11, Heb 3:13 ); stir up one another (Heb 10:24); exhort one another (Heb 10:25); and speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19).
How do we do all of these things if we are not actively participating in and committed to a local church? How do you love one another with brotherly affection if you don't associate with one another? How do you demonstrate living in harmony with one another if you rarely see one another? How do you welcome or greet people you never see? How do you comfort a brother or sister in Christ--how do you even know the person needs comfort--if you are not in regular contact with the person?
The Christian life is not meant to be lived in isolation. Rather, it is to be lived in community, in fellowship with one another. In 1 Jn 1:7 , we read "if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another." In Acts 2 , we read that the new believers "continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and prayer. All who believed were together. . . Day by day, continuing steadfastly with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread at home, they took their food with gladness and singleness of heart." These people truly fellowshipped with one another. If you are daily study the apostles' teachings, talking with one another, sharing the Lord's Supper together, praying together, worshipping together, and even eating common meals together, wouldn't you be likely to know who's hurting or who has some other need? Wouldn't you be able to encourage or exhort those you are with, or teach and admonish them, or show your love for them? Yes, of course.
Times have changed, but our need for the community Christ offers us in His church has not. We need the other members of the body, just as they need us. The Holy Spirit gave each of us certain spiritual gifts for the purpose of serving the church, to build it up. We must be good stewards of those gifts and use them as God intends for them to be usedin His church, loving, serving, and building up one another. This we cannot do in isolation. We must be active, participating members of a local church.
If you think I'm on a soap box, perhaps so. But, a voice of experience is coming from that soap box. I was, for several years, one of those Christians who did not regularly attend church services. I now deeply regret that failure on my part. What were the consequences? Not having anyone to hold me accountable, I rarely read the Bible, never went to a Bible class, and only occasionally attended services at one of several churches I visited. As a visitor, I was not committed to the body. I did not need to do anything. I could come and go as I pleased. Not as God pleased, but as I pleased. My spiritual growth slowed to a point where it was barely noticeable.
I didn't plan for this to happen, but I failed to understand the significance of the local church. I didn't realize how much I needed my brothers and sisters in Christ to hold me accountable; to encourage, teach, and admonish me; and to stir me up to do those good works for which I was created (Eph 2:10). I wasted several good years of my spiritual life on this earth. I don't want anyone else to do the same.
Copyright 2004, Star Ferdinand.
Star Ferdinand is the author of The Prayerful Bible Study Series of study guides, numerous devotionals, and other Christian writings. You can read more of her writings at starferdinand.wordpress.com.
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