Why We Need the Church (III)
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 4:40pm
THE ISSUE: Why is the church necessary? Why is membership in a local church necessary? Here I am continuing a theme from two previous notes which were titled “Is It Necessary To Be a Member of a Local Church?” I and II. In those notes my answer was YES. Here the answer is still YES, but I have changed the title somewhat because I am looking at the concept of “need” in a different light. Here I am saying that we need the church, because there are OTHER things we need as human beings that only the CHURCH can provide.
THE ARGUMENT: We need the church because only the church is the source of some other things all human beings need. These things are reflected in the practices instituted in the church from its very beginning by the apostles in Jerusalem. Immediately following Peter’s Pentecost sermon in Acts 2:14-36, three thousand people were baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38, 41). These people constituted the first church of Jesus Christ. And the very first thing said about this church is this: “And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). I have asked myself, “Why THESE four things?” The answer seems to be that these four practices provide FOUR MAIN ITEMS that everyone needs, thus:
ONE. We need the church because we need TRUTH, which is found in THE APOSTLES’ TEACHING. Some things are true but irrelevant to most of us (e.g., a duck-billed platypus is an egg-laying mammal). Other truths are necessary for our physical well-being (e.g., the answer to the question, “What’s causing that nagging pain in my right side?”). Still other truths give the answers to what may be called the ultimate questions of life: “Is there a meaning to my existence? Is there a God? What does this God think of me? How does he want me to live? What happens when I die? Will there be a judgment day? How can I have a happy eternity?” These are the kinds of questions we really NEED the answers to. The answers to these questions are the truth Jesus had in mind when he said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).
Where can we find this truth? NOT in the secular world, especially with its postmodern rejection of the very concept of truth; and NOT in the various false religions of the world. The fact is that the only place we can find this ultimate and necessary truth is in the WORD OF GOD, and (for this New Covenant age) especially in the APOSTLES’ TEACHING. Jesus promised his apostles that after he returned to heaven he would send the Holy Spirit, and “He will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). Their teaching would be God’s Word, and God’s Word is truth (John 17:17).
This is why we need the church, because any church that is doing its job is a church that is based on the Word of God and is teaching the Word of God—a church that is continuing steadfastly in “the apostles’ teaching.” Paul says that the church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20), which refers to their inspired teaching. The church is not only built on the foundation of truth, but is itself the foundation of truth in the lost and dying world. See 1 Tim. 3:15, where Paul says that the “church of the living God” is “the pillar and support of the truth.” The church today must consciously be holding high the banner of truth in this relativist world. BIBLE DOCTRINE (i.e, teaching) must be the backbone of all church activities, so that the church can be the source of needed truth for the world.
TWO. We need the church because we need LOVE, which is found in the FELLOWSHIP provided by the church. The need for love is stronger for most of us than any other felt need. The Beatles were wrong to say “Love is ALL you need,” but it is definitely needed. The lack of love in certain orphanages (e.g., in Romania) has resulted in severe psychological and developmental problems in these children. But where can the needed love be found? It can be found superficially in some non-Christian human relationships, but Christians cannot have true fellowship with unbelievers (2 Cor. 6:14-15). The really true love can be found only in the church, which is held together by AGAPE love, which is an unselfish and genuine concern for the well-being of others. The church not only speaks truth, but it speaks the truth IN LOVE, and thus builds itself up in love (Eph. 4:15-16).
This love, this agape, is the foundation and the main ingredient of the FELLOWSHIP of which Acts 2:42 speaks. The Greek word is “koinonia,” which means “close relationship, communion, sharing,” i.e., sharing in activities together and sharing our possessions with others who need them. (On the latter, see Acts 2:44-45.) Many churches have “fellowship halls,” where activities are held that enable Christians to share in one another’s lives. We NEED the love that is expressed in these ways. We need to feel ourselves to be a part of this loving, caring family called the church. The church must thus be known not just as the pillar and support of truth, but also as a place of warmth, friendliness, fellowship, and caring. Without this, the truth will not be heard.
THREE. We need the church because we need HOPE, which is found in the “BREAKING OF BREAD.” The best understanding of this is that the “breaking of bread” is the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7), which magnifies the fact of Christ’s atoning death, which is the only source of our hope for eternal life. We all need something to hope for, a sense of peace about the future and especially about eternity. This world simply cannot provide any basis for such hope. Science strives to lengthen this life, but has no way to give us hope for life after death. The only basis for such hope is through faith in Christ as the one who has died for our sins and has arisen from the dead, and who has thus conquered all our enemies, including sin and death. On the rock-firm reality of this saving work he has built his church, and the forces of death cannot overpower it (Matt. 16:18).
This is why we need the church, because a main element in the life of the church is the Lord’s Supper, which helps us remember what Christ has done for us and thus keeps our faith and hope strong. Thus, even though death and judgment are certain (Heb. 9:27), we do not fear them. This is why we continue steadfastly in the Lord’s Supper, joyfully and confidently proclaiming the Lord’s death until he returns to take us to glory (1 Cor. 11:26).
FOUR. We need the church because we need POWER, which is found in PRAYER. There are all kinds of power in the world (many in ever-diminishing supply): electric power, natural gas power, gasoline and diesel power, atomic power. All of these sources of power provide us with comfortable lives in this world, but we could actually (although miserably!) survive without any of them. But the power without which we cannot survive is found only in God: the power to conquer sin, and the power to be prepared for death and the judgment. Such power is accessed through PRAYER, in which we (like Paul) pray “to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” (Eph. 3:16). We CAN pray by ourselves, in solitude, and are commanded to do so (Matt. 6:5-6); but we are also to pray together as a church, through which great and unbelievable things may be accomplished (see Acts 12). If the OT temple was a “house of prayer” (Matt. 21:13), the spiritual house which is the church (1 Peter 2:5) should be all the more so. Here is where all believers can and should be able to “plug in” to the greatest source of power we can imagine.
Here, then, is why we need the church: we need truth, love, hope, and power; and the only place we can find these in satisfying and effective ways is in the church, with its apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer.