By Gary Vaterlaus
Every believer should be connected and involved with a local congregation. The Christian life was meant to be lived within the context of the family of God and not in isolation. Hebrews 10 clearly tells us to “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25). It is simply a matter of obedience to the Lord’s command that we meet together with other believers.
It is difficult to be the kind of Christian that God desires you to be apart from involvement in a local church. The church must be assembled in order to carry out many of its functions. These include:
Exercise of Spiritual Gifts – The Holy Spirit has bestowed upon each believer one or more spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:4-7, 11). The purpose for these gifts is not personal edification, but the edification of the body (1 Cor. 4:12, 26). Only within the fellowship of believers can a Christian’s gift be properly exercised and accomplish the purpose for which it was given.
Mutual Ministry – God uses the picture of a body to describe the function of the local church. In 1 Corinthians 12:18-21 Paul teaches, “But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.'” Each part of the body of Christ exists to meet the needs of the other parts of the body. A Christian cannot function alone. The Bible commands us to comfort one another, build up one another, confess our sins to one another, pray for one another, love one another, accept one another, admonish one another, serve one another, forgive one another. Vital fellowship in a local assembly is essential if we are to obey these commands and minister within the body of Christ.
Accountability – The New Testament repeatedly emphasizes the importance of being in a local congregation and under the spiritual authority of church leadership (Heb. 13:17). God has placed leaders in the church to shepherd believers and look out for their welfare (1 Thess. 5:12-13; 1 Pet. 5:1-5). The apostles often warned that false teachers would come and try to lead believers astray. Being connected to a solid church that is committed to sound doctrine will help protect us from false teaching and the schemes of the devil (2 Tim. 4:1-4; 2 Pet. 2:1; 1 John 4:1).
We must realize, however, that there is no perfect church. Any local church is composed of believers in various stages of spiritual growth, leaders with diverse abilities, as well as unbelievers who attend out of a feeling of tradition or obligation. When choosing a church, we must look for a church that is committed to the essential doctrines of the faith while showing charity in nonessentials. Good biblical teaching and outreach to the community and the world are also important elements to a strong church body.
It is doubtful that a Christian can be under the proper care and authority of a television preacher or by “hopping” to a different church each week. Accountability to our spiritual leaders requires that we know them and they know us. Again, this can only be accomplished by active involvement in a local assembly of believers. It may even be difficult to find proper care and accountability in one of today’s “mega-churches.” Large churches must make small groups an important part of their ministry to give people a chance to exercise their gifts and be involved in intimate fellowship.
Congregational worship is not a suggestion, or a matter of personal preference. It is a command of Scripture and vital for the life of the church and for the life of each individual believer.
The local church is for the glory of God. On earth each congregation is to function as a body that evidences the power and indwelling of the life of God. Each one is to be seen as a manifestation of Christ in its locality, living the truth as well as preaching it. The bulk of instruction and exhortations in Acts and the Epistles has to do with holiness and honorable interpersonal relationships in the local church (1 Cor. 11:27). Each congregation is to see itself as a “body,” an organism, and not merely as an organization… Unless this is understood and made paramount in the thinking of leaders and members, the local church will fail as a witness. But when this truth is embraced by faith unto edification, the community round about will see a witness. The unsaved who attend its services will come under the conviction of sin (1 Cor. 14:25), and the members will be fed, empowered, and equipped to properly represent Jesus Christ in their daily pursuits (2 Cor. 3:3; Phil. 2:15)… The redeemed—together as the Lord’s assembly—constitute an organism to be treasured. Each believer should be helped to see what the local assembly means to Christ and should become most appreciative of the precious privilege of being part of the local testimony. (see Note)
It is a great honor for the Christian to stand in God’s presence with fellow believers, to render to Him the praise and adoration that are due His name. It is both our duty and our privilege.
NOTE: From an article entitled “The Local Church,” Rev. Carlton Helgerson – Former Pastor of The Church of the Open Bible in Burlington, MA at http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/lochurch/lochurch.htm.