Why Join a Local Church?

by Tim Isbell

1. If we love Christ, we will love what he loves: the church.

Occasionally I find someone who says they love Christ but don’t love his church, so they reject becoming a member and sometimes even reject attending a local church. This misses the fact that it is impossible to love Christ without loving what he loves. Ephesians 5.25-27 describes the depth of Christ’s love for the church: husbands must love their wives with the same love Christ showed the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by baptism and God's word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish - holy and without fault. The writer is not saying that Christ loves the church because it is perfect. It says he loves her, even in her imperfection, enough to give his life to make her perfect. He expects his apprentices to give of themselves to help Christ complete his church.

2. Every apprentice to Jesus Christ has the assignment to build his church.

The New Testament describes the church as the “bride of Christ” and the “body of Christ.” Then scripture explains that when we become Christians that God gives each of us some gifts. We are to combine our gifts with the gifts of others in building up local churches. One passage that captures this concept is in 1 Corinthians 12.4-7, 27: Now there are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but it is the same Holy Spirit who is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service in the church, but it is the same Lord we are serving. There are different ways God works in our lives, but it is the same God who does the work through all of us. A spiritual gift is given to each of us as a means of helping the entire church… Now all of you together are Christ's body, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it. The only way to take the New Testament seriously is to share the good news that Jesus died to offer salvation and new life and that he lives again to be our Lord. Wherever this message goes, the result is a community of apprentices to Christ. God’s Holy Spirit inhabits the life of such people, giving them a variety of spiritual gifts and abilities. These Christians, now equipped with gifts, naturally gather as a local body of Christ. This is a church. The call to the Christian is not to contemplation, but to using our gifts to build up the church.

3. Churches need a membership process to validate their authenticity.

When people come to church they, want to know that the leaders’ and teachers’ beliefs and interpretations are authentically Christian and validated by some process. Parents want to know that their children will be taught authentic Christian faith. The congregation wants strategic decisions, such as replacing or hiring staff and spending money on ministry or capital projects to be made by duly chosen representatives in harmony with that local church. Church membership provides the process to validate beliefs, biblical interpretations, and the character of its members from which leadership emerges.

4. We need the church to help us follow through on our good intentions.

Couples who marry have more satisfying and lasting relationships than those who just live together. When we commit ourselves to marriage before the church and the state, we take it more seriously and make it a core value in our life. We have entered a relationship of loving accountability. A similar thing happens with church membership. Though it is not as binding as marriage, God expects us to make our church life a core value. The loving accountability of the church is necessary to living a full Christian life.

5. The church needs us as full participants.

The church needs people who are committed to the ministry of that local body of Christ. Scripture tells us that each local church has sufficient Christians in it with all the spiritual gifts needed for a complete body of Christ. The only way a church can be whole and healthy is when its members put their gifts into action to build the church up.

Several years ago I realized that committing to life as an apprentice to Jesus meant to live my life within a local body of Christ. I realized that I would never find a church that is a perfect fit for what I already believed. In my case, however, I choose the Church of the Nazarene. Sure, I could receive some of the benefits just by regular attendance. But that’s not a long-term practice for a New Testament Christian. Jesus makes a real and costly commitment to his church. I am convinced that after some courtship, God expects every Christian to join a local church body. This is what authentic Christians do.

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