Is It Necessary To Be a Member of a Local Church? (II)
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 4:39pm
THE ISSUE: Is church necessary? Do we need to be a part of a local congregation in order to live a Christian life and be pleasing to God? In a previous note I answered this question with a firm YES, from the perspective of the Biblical teaching that God’s people are compared to a flock of sheep who especially need shepherds. Here I will continue to show that church membership is not optional but is in fact NECESSARY, by presenting a series of interlocking propositions.
THE ARGUMENT: All of the following propositions are based on specific Biblical teaching. If we want to be truly obedient to God’s Word, then we must be a part of His church.
The first proposition is this: You cannot live as a genuine human being without HONORING GOD. This is part of what it means to be a human being, and not just an animal. Only human beings are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28), and thus have the ABILITY to honor their Creator. True, the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), but not consciously. All created beings are a testimony to the power and majesty of God (Rom. 1:20), but only human beings have a conscious knowledge of God as their Creator and a personal ability to “honor Him as God” and “give thanks” (Rom. 1:21).
This is the main thing that makes us different from animals. I have seen animals in church services. I preached in an outdoor service in the Yucatan Peninsula, where chickens hunted bugs in the aisles and under the benches of the worshipers. Dr. David Grubbs tells of preaching for an outdoor service near a river in Africa, where there were 173 in attendance: 170 people and 3 hippos. I think I can safely say that the chickens and the hippos were not there to worship God! I have also seen animals voraciously enjoy the bountiful food provided by God for their sustenance. Bees and hummingbirds take nectar from flowers, and dogs gobble down pieces of meat or cheese. But only human beings know what James 1:17 means, and only human beings pause to say “Thank you, God,” before eating.
The point is that when we do not honor God, we are putting ourselves on the same level as animals. Thus to truly live as human beings, we MUST honor God. “In all your ways, acknowledge Him” (Prov. 3:6). “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6).
The second proposition is this: You cannot truly honor God without HONORING JESUS CHRIST. Many people give great honor to false gods, which is idolatry. Many people who know a little bit about the Bible and about Christianity give allegiance to some “higher power” or to “the man upstairs,” and think this is all they need. The problem is that the true God, the God of the Bible, is specifically the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot honor the true God without also honoring his Son, Jesus. God has so testified: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; hear Him!” (Matt. 17:5). We can come to God ONLY through Jesus. Jesus says, “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. . . . I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:1, 6). Most significantly, Jesus says, “For not even the Father judges any one, but He has given all judgment to the Son, in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:22-23). See 1 Tim. 2:5.
Saving faith is not just a general faith in a divine being, but is faith in the God of our Lord Jesus Christ. The only God we really know is the God of the Bible, the God who is inseparable from Jesus. If you say you can honor God without honoring Jesus, what “god” is that? Where did you get your information about him? Any such deity is an idol, a human invention, in which there is no salvation.
The third proposition is this: You cannot truly honor Jesus Christ without BELONGING TO HIS CHURCH. Here we get to the heart of the present issue, i.e., the idea that we can honor God, and even honor Jesus Christ, without being a part of “the church.” Many will say, “I can believe in Jesus and be a disciple of Jesus without all that church stuff.” But here again we must ask, what “Jesus” is that? Where did you get your information about him? The only real Jesus is the Jesus of the Bible, and the Jesus of the Bible is inseparable from his CHURCH. The real Jesus has said, “Upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it” (Matt. 16:18). The real Jesus is “the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body” (Eph. 5:23). The church is the object of Christ’s love; he “gave Himself up for her,” i.e., for the church (Eph. 5:25). The church is what “He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). Thus only those who are a part of HIS CHURCH are under Christ’s headship and are saved by his blood.
Note that I have said here that we cannot truly honor Jesus without belonging to HIS church. Some “churches” use that word as a deliberate parody of the church of the Bible. I saw an ad in a newspaper for “The North Texas Church of Freethought: A Fellowship of Unbelievers.” In another paper I saw an article about the “First Jefferson Unitarian Universalist Church.” Madelyn Murray O’Hare started “Poor Richard’s Church.” Other groups even within Christendom use the name “church” in a sincere effort to follow Jesus, but their faith and practice deviate from the pattern of the true church found in the New Testament. If you want to truly honor Jesus, you must be a part of a local congregation that is true to the NT teaching in the closest possible way. It is not true that “one church is as good as another.”
In summary: You cannot live as a genuine human being without honoring God; you cannot honor God without also honoring Jesus Christ; and you cannot honor Jesus Christ without belonging to His church.