A Case For the Local Church: Why Every Believer Should Belong to One
The digital age has come with many benefits. We have numerous online sites where we can download and listen to sermons. Not left behind in the digital trail are churches. Many now livestream their services and thus, expanding their reach.
The digital age has not been without abuse. As we witness online interactions on social media become preeminent over face-to-face interactions, so has physically attending church been replaced with listening to an online sermon here and watching a livestream service there. At this trajectory, we could quickly lose the traditional practice of attending worship services and replace it with watching sermons and songs at the comfort of our houses in our pajamas. It is a lot easier.
But why is physical church important? Why should I go to the extent of attending church while I have many online church options on my table?
The early church
After the ascension of Christ, the disciples received the Holy Spirit, who emboldened them to preach the gospel. Many people came to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Each time people believed, they joined the congregations that were already forming. This is not only the case in the book of Acts but also the epistles. Believers were not freestylers. They belonged to local churches (Acts 2).
Paul, the apostle, addressed local bodies of believers in his letters. He wrote to the Corinthian church, the Roman church, the Philippian church … etc. He also addressed a myriad of issues that portray the churches as organized units that did things in a specific order. For instance, he addressed the qualification of elders (Titus 1:5-9), interactions between multi-generational groups in the church (1 Timothy 5), and orderly worship (1 Corinthians 14: 26-40).
These instructions would not have been possible apart from physical meetups.
Importance of attending and belonging to a local church
1. The preaching of the Word and prayer
The early church devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and prayers (Acts 2:42). The preaching of God’s word is a means of grace ordained by God for the saints’ growth and equipping them in the ministry’s work, i.e., evangelism (Ephesians 4:11-12).
Christians are called to hear the truth of God, both privately and corporately. Privately by cultivating personal devotions and corporately by attending church services, where faithful men preach the word of God publicly. As we listen to the truth of God, we are transformed in the renewal of our mind (Romans 12:2), and we are sanctified and freed from the enslavement of sin (John 8:31-32 & John 17:17).
When we attend church, the word of God is both preached and prayed publicly. We offer our thanksgiving, petitions, and confess our sins. We trust God concerning the needs among us together.
2. Fellowship and accountability
The Christian walk is never to be walked alone. Sheep walk together in herds. The wolf is witty in that when it wants to pounce on a sheep, it first isolates the sheep from the herd. Similarly, lack of fellowship and accountability with other believers makes one prone to the enemy’s devouring tactics.
The writer of Hebrews reminds us to consider how to stir up one another to love and good works and not neglect meeting together, but to encourage one another all the more as we see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:24-25).
The New Testament is full of “one another” verses such as; love one another (John 13:34), forgive and be patient with one another (Colossians 3:13), consider one another better than yourselves (Philippians 2:3), comfort one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18), and confess your sins to one another (James 5:16). It is impossible to practice these verses if we are not physically meeting and have not committed ourselves to each other.
The early church in Acts 2:45-46 devoted themselves to fellowship; they sold their possessions and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need, attended the temple together, and broke bread in their homes.
Accountability may also entail church discipline, as we call one another to repent from Sin and to live up to our confession of faith (Matthew 18:15-20).
3. Exercising our gifts
The Bible gives us a beautiful analogy, likening the church to the body (1 Corinthians 12: 12-31). The body has many members. Each member is essential in the normal working of the body. None of the members can work alone and, therefore, no member should disregard the other.
When we attend church, we contribute to building the body of Christ by serving using our gifts. The other saints who are gifted differently from us also get the opportunity to serve us. This way, there is mutual edification of the body. Therefore, it is sinful of us to expect others to serve us but never going out of our way to serve them or to forfeit service altogether by failing to attend church regularly.
4. Administration of Biblical ordinances
Christ gave the Church the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Our baptism is an outward sign that we have been buried with Christ and raised with Him. It symbolizes our death to sin and being raised to life in Christ. It is a visual sign of our profession of faith. Baptism by immersion is administered to people who have heard the gospel, repented of their sins, and believed in Jesus like in the case of Acts 2:41.
The Lord’s Supper serves as a reminder of Christ’s death. We remember that Christ gave his body, and His blood poured so that He would accomplish salvation for us.
These two are the critical ordinances that we see the apostles emphasize that the church practices. The physical meeting of believers is the context where they are practiced. Hence, attending church regularly provides an opportunity for their practice.
5. Submission to the authority of the elders
The Bible says in Romans 13:1-2, “There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” God has ordained pastors/elders to be the overseers of the church (Titus 1:5).
The elders keep watch over our souls as those who will give an account. We should submit to them that they may watch over our souls with joy and not groaning (Hebrews 13:17). Our favorite pastors whom we love watching are not our elders. They do not have a mandate over our souls. We can only practice this verse within the context of a local church.
The famous “Great Commission” commands the church to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 18:18-20). As I have earlier mentioned, we do not make disciples and leave them like free atoms in the air. We make new disciples and enroll them in churches.
I also mentioned earlier that it is in the church that ministers of the gospel equip us for ministry’s work; to evangelize to the lost (Ephesians 4:11-12). When we make disciples, Christ instructed that we baptize them. We do that in the context of a church. The local church is therefore central in carrying out the great commission.
There are many biblical reasons for belonging to a local body. My intention and prayer in describing the importance of the local church are to urge you to join and commit to one. Once you have joined, serve the saints with your gifts faithfully. In serving saints, you serve the Lord. Also, commit yourself to worship, fellowship, prayer, and evangelism together with the rest of the members. Know them and allow them to know you as well.
The church is irreplaceable in the life of a believer. We cannot, in any way, trade physically belonging to a church with online interactions and attempts at feeding our souls spiritually. John echoes this when he says in 2 John 1:12, “Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.”
My husband says, “The difference between the early Church and us is simply time. We have a complete canon of scriptures to devote ourselves to, the same Christ to commit to, the same Spirit who has saved us, and the same Father to pray to. In gathering together for fellowship every week, breaking bread at the Lord’s table, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to one another, praying for each other, and bearing one another’s burdens, we obey His commands, hence, conform to Christ’s vision of the church. The church is paramount in the life of a believer. I appeal to you to join the saints in being the Church, and your joy will be made complete.”
I know that there are genuine cases where physical church meetings have been difficult, like in the last few months as we battled with COVID. We should, as soon as we can, go back to the gathering of the saints on the Lord’s day.