Why this subject?
It was a major point of division in our church many years ago.
Also, we notice today in America this casual attitude toward the local church and commitment. Or as the bible would call it, submission to a local church.
So we are two men who are also two pastors, and it is worth our time explaining why every Christian ought be join a local church in the fullest sense possible.
In fact, we would say that not to do so puts you in a dangerous place spiritually speaking.
Also, not to do so speaks volumes to those who are not believers who are watching you.
The Reality of The Local Church
-- Universal: The church that is made up of all who are truly saved throughout time.
17 times in NT it is referring to the universal church.
Matthew 16:18 "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it."
-- Local: A particular group of professing Christians who assemble together as a body for the purpose of worship, encouragement, and instruction. It has leadership structure intact.
Over 90 references in the NT to the local church.
1 Corinthians 11:18 “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part, I believe it.”
Various terms used to describe the church and these can refer to the universal or local church depending on the context.
If you just consider these ideas in the local sense you should already see that there is a tightness in terms of connection and relationship to the individual parts of the local church.
The body is fit together and cooperates intimately with itself.
A building is put together as a whole. It’s not just a pile of bricks; rather, each individual part is designed to be connected to the rest.
You are family or you are not. There is no halfway, casual family, no matter what our courts and schools tell us otherwise.
The bible assumes you have joined a church.
The common argument is that there is no verse that commands you to join a church.
Our reply is “so?”
There is also no command to not join a church so this does not advance anything.
Not to mention that many doctrines are not overtly stated, but are, nonetheless, true (e.g., Trinity).
Also, we’d argue that every church believes in church membership and requires membership. The real question is what is required.
For our church it is simple: you believe and confess the true Gospel. And second, you embrace the bible as true, inerrant, and the final authority.
For others it might be a full embracing of their confession of faith.
But at the simplest level, it would be that you confess faith in Jesus Christ.
No true church would ever say that an openly unbelieving individual is part of the church.
What’s usually behind all of this is a dislike of submitting oneself to a leadership. Often, there’s a chafing under any structure/authority.
-- Church discipline
What is the final step? [Put them out of the church]
But what church?
You have to belong to a church to be put out of it.
And it’s assuming that you belong to a specific place where the whole church can be informed of your situation.
This is an impossible command to obey if the reference is the universal church.
In 1 Cor. 5, Paul orders the church there (note, a local church) to get rid of those who are in rebellion.
This is a man involved in unrepentant immorality.
In verse 1 Paul points out that this man is “among them (the local church).”
In verse 2 he says that this man is to be removed “from your midst.”
In verse 12 he says, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?”
-- Submission to a specific group of leaders.
Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders, and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”
Note that there is a specific group of leaders to whom you are to submit to.
They, and they alone, are responsible for your soul.
God will bless or not bless you based on how you arrange yourself under them.
Submission to authority has different aspects to it.
Often I hear people say, “I only submit to the bible.” or, “I only obey God, not man.” This sounds super spiritual, but it’s very short-sighted and foolish.
The reality is that all authority is established by God according to Romans 13.
And you obey God by obeying those in proper authority.
Children obey parents.
Citizens obey governing authorities.
Slaves obey their masters.
Christians obey and submit to their leaders.
And don’t say that you only do it for biblical commands. That is nonsense.
So the question I give to many is this, “who are the church leaders to whom you are obeying and in submission to? And are they aware of this?”
1 Peter 5:1-4, “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”
This requires that you know who your elders are.
It also requires the elders to know which is their flock.
And it assumes a close relationship so that the elders can be examples to follow.
Other passages to consider:
In Acts 3 there is an indication.
The church started with just a few in the upper room. The Spirit indwelt them. This is the beginning.
But in verse 41 we see the adding of people through baptism and it was around 3,000 people.
In verse 47 more were being added daily.
All of this assumes some sort of record-keeping and testing to see if they could be added.
James 5:14, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. . .”
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.”
Many others could be noted but this is sufficient for the point.
As we said before, every church requires membership.
Even the simplest form of a local church doesn’t let anyone just wander in and become a teacher.
But too many treat membership as an option when it is not.
We always ask why a person wants to join our church.
We teach them why membership matters and why it is not negotiable.
We restrict the level of involvement anyone has who doesn’t join.
We have never seen people who actively resist membership flourish in their life, and this is because they’re trying to do it “on their own.” They fail to grasp the corporate nature of the Church.
We turn away people who do not seem to show a genuine desire to be a part of our church.
Would there ever be a reason not to join a church?
An honest disagreement over a key doctrine such as baptism.
This would assume that in your area there’s not a solid, gospel-centered churches that hold to that doctrine.
What do we do with those who are not members?
If they are new, we just encourage them to sit, watch, listen and think. We want them to ask themselves, as time passes, if this is a local church they could joyfully submit themselves to.
If they are reticent to join over time we would ask them, why? We would try to answer their questions. And then again encourage them to join.
If they still are not willing, we let them come, but they have essentially no part in the church and we invest little, if any, time with them as individuals since they do not see us as their elders.
In fact, we’ve told people who are in this situation to stop referring to our church as theirs, because it is not.
And if they refer to me as their pastor I will tell them privately that this is incorrect and to not refer to me in that way.
They can participate in the public, corporate activities, but not the intimate ones, such as small groups, counseling, and individual discipleship.