Why Be a Member of a Local Church?
The book of Acts predominantly reveals two things—rapid evangelism and robust church planting. In fact, the former [evangelism] was done to accomplish the latter [church planting]. And this is how Christ’s promise that He would build His church is being fulfilled, i.e. through the planting and equipping of local churches.
Establishment of Local Churches
The establishment, continuity and growth of local churches are clearly revealed and emphasized in the New Testament Scriptures. Observe how Luke records [due to space and time limit, I am citing only two Scriptures]:
- And he [Paul] went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. (Acts 15:41)
- When they [Paul and Barnabas] had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. (Acts 14:21-23)
Throughout the book of Acts, the apostles planting local churches in different places and then strengthening them are obviously seen. Although there is mention of the church in general, most New Testament teaching about the church refers to local church. Bible expositor Warren Wiersbe writes that the word ekklesia is used “114 times in the New Testament and in 90 of these references, a local church (assembly) is in view.” [The Bible Exposition Commentary, pg. 58]
So what does this speak to us? Local church has crucial place in God’s sovereign plan. Christ Jesus builds His church [universal] by working in and through the local churches.
Being a Member of a Local Church
If the New Testament speaks so much about the importance of local church, shouldn’t every believer be a part of it? Although we all belong to the universal body of Christ, the Scripture teaches that a believer ought to be a member of a particular local church and grow with others in the church body.
Thom S. Rainer, a leading expert in church research, notes:
- The majority of the New Testament books are written about and to local churches. The book of Acts provides a historical narrative of the Spirit’s work of the churches in Jerusalem, in Antioch, in Cyprus, in Thyatira, in Thessalonica, in Berea, in Athens, in Corinth, in Caesarea, in Ephesus, in Troas, in Rome, in Malta, and others. Look at how many New Testament books were written to specific local churches: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians. Four of Paul’s books were written to individuals in specific church contexts: 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon. Even the book of Revelation has the context of letters to local churches. The point? The Bible is clear that we are to be connected to a specific church in a specific context. [I am a Church Member, pg. 72]
Professor of New Testament Language and Literature, Joseph Hellerman, aptly points out, “We do not find an unchurched Christian in the New Testament.” [When the Church Was a Family, pg. 123] And if we find the unchurched in the New Testament, they were those who were handed over to Satan, i.e. excommunicated from God's church (1 Cor. 5:4-5, 13).
Sadly, don’t we find unchurched Christians today? There are plenty, not because they are excommunicated, but because they are not connected to any church. I believe anyone who is not a part of a local church, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, is clearly out of God’s will, which is to be a part of His local community. This is true even about those Christian workers who are active in other ministries without being a part of a local church.
The Holy Scripture reveals that God never intends for any individual to live a Christian life without being a part of His community, i.e. church. God's great purpose for individuals is to become His community. We are called to live a community-centered life, not individual-centered.
Just as a child needs a family, so a Christian needs a church, which is God’s family. Remember—A CHRISTIAN WITHOUT A CHURCH IS A SPIRITUAL VAGABOND.
C. Stephen David is a child of the Living God, a husband to Chaithanya, a father to two children, and an elder/shepherd of Ekklesia Evangelical Fellowship. He lives with his family in Hyderabad, India.