In our last post we saw the primacy of the local church in God’s program. This is all important when we look at the world today. The pattern today that people relate to the church is unlike anything the Scripture presents as the pattern! There is little to no loyalty or attachment to the church or church participation. It is done as something convenient or a benefit to me, not done as obedience as God. Church selection is selected that people shop for cars! People though are called out of the world and into the body of Christ. The idea of someone apart from the local assembly would have been foreign to the local church. A believer has come out of the world and has come into the body of believers. Following Christ means coming into the body of Christ and to join with other believers. Our relationship to the church is what matters. For instance, people do not feel baptism is important today. Yet, it is a big deal to live in obedience in the local church! To be part of the church is to identify oneself with Christ through baptism. It is a great test to determine someone’s loyalty to Christ and His church! For churches to accommodate people apart from baptism means that we grow apart from spiritual growth! The Lord’s Table also often gets pushed off to the side because it may distract from our big gatherings! Yet, it was central to the worship of the early church!
In our day, when we say ministry, this doesn’t mean today that we are going to serve in the local church and this is a problem. We think ministry is anything we do for God. You just sort of go minister and it is all okay. It has eliminated what the NT talks about, in that it is done in the local church! The local church is the heart of NT ministry. If you are not serving in the context of the local church you may be surprised at the judgment seat of Christ! At the heart and soul of the NT God wants every believer to be doing His work in the local church. It doesn’t mean other things are illegitimate. They are illegitimate if they are over and above the local church.
Let me try to make a case then this about your own personal responsibility to be an active part in the local assembly. Even if you are a member do not park your brain! You can be a member and not serving! I want to convince you that there is nothing more important in terms of your service and walk with God than serving in the local church.
“and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” (Acts 11:26).
When Barnabas and Saul are busy serving God they are doing it in the church. Acts 13:1 confirms this! In the church that was in Antioch people served in ministry there. This is the pattern here. Believers assembled with believers. This is where they ministered to each other and the Lord. They did it in the church and the assembly! It is not enough to say you got together with some Christians. The concept is more than just Christians getting together; we are talking about the church! The church has truth regarding how it functions and it is organized. It is not enough for you to sit in front of a TV and listen to a sermon. You didn’t just do church! It is not bad for you to listen to good sermons, but this cannot be a substitute for the church! It is not enough just to do something spiritual. We are supposed to be joined to an assembly of believers!
“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” (Acts 2:41). “praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47)
The number of believers were known. New converts were referred to as being added to the church. Lets look at 4:4. This is not just a record of who were saved. The definition of a genuine Christian then is that they were added to the church. In 2:41 they were saved, baptized, and added. They did not consider people who were not baptized and added to the church to be genuine converts! To not want to identify with Christ through baptism nor to want to be joined to a body of believers was not to be considered a genuine Christian! Receive the Word, be baptized, and be added to the church. This is the way it worked. There was a group then that was “the number” and people were added to it. There was an existing group here then.
“‘Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.’ This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.” (Acts 6:3-5)
The selection of leaders was done from among the assembly and done by the assembly. There was a group of people here that the apostles could say “look for people from amongst yourselves.” There was a self-consciousness that these people were a congregation; an assembly of people. They weren’t just an assembly of believers doing their own things. This was an organized body of believers. There was a self-identity of being a congregation.
“When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.” (Acts 18:27)
This text illustrates that the practice in the NT times of writing letters to commend a believer to another congregation presupposes some important truth. First, that they were one of their number. The people in Corinth are going to encourage Apollos when he goes. This process is mentioned as well in 1 Corinthians 16:3 and in 2 Corinthians 3:1 and in Colossians 4:10. This is what happens today. If you were to leave to go to another church that church should contact this church and ask for a letter of recommendation. The reality of the sad condition of our thoughts of the local church is that people don’t even think of these things today. It is a sad state to the care given to the local church. In one local church they would not want to admit to their membership people who were not credible in their faith! We think it is more important what we think of the church and not what the church thinks of us! A credible standing in the local church is something important for us!
“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28).
See this? For all the flock! The pastoral obligations are established on the basis of a recognizable group of believers. The assembly has a definite recognizable existence! There is no ability for someone to be an overseer of a flock if there is no definite assembly! The leaders will give an account for their role in their group. How can a pastor obey that if there is no recognizable local assembly? There are no TV preachers watching for your soul. They don’t hold you accountable. Only the pastor of your local church is doing that! Every believer is to be in a church relationship in which there are spiritual leaders functioning in the ways of feeding and leading you! This is what the NT is designed to communicate to us! When we throw away this idea of a definite flock of believers, when we refuse to be part of a local assembly, we are failing to obey the NT!
“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.” (Acts 20:29)
This is why this is so important! They will come from outside the flock inside the flock. From outside the assembly and into the assembly. V. 31 tells us the same thing. They will come from within the assembly as well!
“No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband.” (1 Timothy 5:9).
There were special lists and rolls of people for special purposes. The church had a recognizable list, in this case, of widows, and therefore that it was a widow from among their number. They know who are people who are a part of the assembly. There is a recording then of widows from this group. 1 Corinthian 5 teaches the same thing. Church discipline presupposes a formal assembly from which someone can be expelled. They were to remove him. Which means there was something from which he could be expelled! Look now here. The very concept of a Christian assembly of being in the church or alternatively being outside of the church. Colossians 4:5. Those who are believers are insiders and those who are not are outsiders. 1 Thess 4:12 and 1 Timothy 3:7 say the same thing. There were those who are part of the church and those who were not a part of it.
All of these reasons shows that it is God’s will for every believer to be part of a local assembly of believers. Let me talk a little bit about application.
First, this is an obedience issue. It is obedience to God to be part of the church. To be outside of the church is to be disobedient to God. There are too many commands in the NT for you to be part of the church for any Christian to say “my walk is okay even though I am not part of the church.” You cannot defy all that God has said about life in the local church and be okay. It is an obedience issue. The whole parallel which we are talking about is that when people are saved they are spirit baptized into the universal church and the local church is parallel to that. Therefore when one is saved and not baptized or part of the local church it obliterates the picture! The whole point of being called out of the world is to be called into the fellowship with God’s people! There is nobody free from accountability as a believer apart from the local church because none of us can be trusted on our own! We need to be part of the assembly! It is a matter of your commitment to God’s work! The place in which you were created unto good works for you to exhibit them was in the church! We have to fight against the consumerism of today! Most churches have in their evening service 50% of their morning services! Only half of people come back in the evening! This means half of the people who would call this church their church make other choices on Sunday nights! The thought that goes through their head is, “I’m tired… maybe I should watch the rest of the game… maybe its time to hang out with the family… I’m not ready to go back to church.” Instead, we ought to be asking ourselves, “I wonder if there is a brother or sister at church who may need a word of encouragement! I wonder if when I gather together with the brethren in my songs that I admonish through hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs. Maybe people just need to be cared for! Maybe somebody is there who needs to be in the midst of people praising God because their hearts are not full of joy and they need to see people who are!” How often do we think we go to church to do something for others and God instead of what the church can do for us! We should not be takers, we should be givers! Ask not what your church can do for you but what you can do for your church! Instead of asking what the church has for us to meet our needs, we should be asking how we can meet the churches needs!
You should not serve in the church unless you are a member. We are to serve in the body. It doesn’t make sense to have those outside of the body serve in the body. Our hearts are not outside of our bodies pumping blood for others. It just doesn’t make any sense. That is why being part of a local assembly where we can serve is of utmost importance to our spiritual walk with God! You hear people say, “I’ve been singing in the choir for 13 years, I guess I better become a member.” That is why most people are not members! This is out of step with the NT! If you are not a part of the body then you cannot be using your gifts properly. If you are not part of the body you cannot effectively fulfill the Great Commission? How can you teach all what the Lord has commanded apart from the local church? If you are not part of the local church you cannot use your gifts.
The power and radiance of our witness of Christ is affected by our participation in the local church. If we think we can get by without it then we are out of step with what God wants us to do!