Why a Christian Must Belong to a Local Church. Part 1
A Christian cannot meaningfully read and engage the Bible, specifically the New Testament, without being overwhelmed by the importance and the necessity of the local church! So, the first reason why it is to be the norm or the expected rule for Christians to belong to a local church is the New Testament was almost entirely written to local churches. The New Testament letters were almost all occasioned by local churches.
The New Testament was written to local churches to deal with matters that arose within local churches. The implication is then that, the New Testament authors had a deep interest, love and concern to care for and instruct believers in the context of local churches and we will find no support among the Apostles and New Testament authors for any indifferent or disinterested attitude towards the local church!
Let’s begin with the more obvious letters, Paul’s epistles. The first epistle in canonical order is Paul’s epistle written to the believers in Rome. He clearly reveals his audience:
7 To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We can safely conclude that Paul is not merely addressing individual believers but a church or more likely a group of local churches in Rome. He then commends to them Phoebe, who on her way to Rome, took this particular letter with her and Paul is quick to acknowledge that she is a servant of the church in Cenchrea (note that is a local church)
16 I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a servant of the church in Cenchrea,
This epistle Paul wrote to the church in Rome highlight the important place reserved for the local church in the New Testament and in the life of the believer.
3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus..5 Likewise greet the church that is in their house.
16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. The churches of Christ greet you.
23 Gaius, my host and the host of the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the treasurer of the city, greets you, and Quartus, a brother.
Both 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians were written to the same local church (there was probably a third letter to this local church- 1 Cor. 5:9).
1 Corinthians 1:2
2 To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:
2 Corinthians 1:1
1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia:
In both 1 and 2 Corinthians Paul shows his concern for local churches:
1 Corinthians 16:1
16 Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also:
1 Corinthians 16:19
19 The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.
2 Corinthians 11:28
28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.
Here, in the Apostle Paul, we have a true missionary and here we see the concern and burden of a true missionary namely, to build healthy local churches. One of the modern-day trends we see in missions is missionaries working apart from local churches, working as entities in themselves with no ties to a local church. This too finds no support in the New Testament and also among the first missionaries, the Apostles.
The epistle of Galatians was written to local churches:
To the churches of Galatia:
The epistle to the Philippians begins with a greeting to all the saints with bishop and deacons.
1 Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:
In Philippians 1:1 Paul acknowledges the saints and the leadership, hereby informing us his address is to a local church.
The same is true of Colossians:
2 To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse:
The same is true of 1 and 2 Thessalonians:
1 Thessalonians 1:1
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
2 Thessalonians 1:1
To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Paul reveals his purpose for writing 1 Timothy and it is again about the local church:
1 Timothy 3:14–15
14 These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; 15 but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
Paul says he had left Titus in Crete, so that he can appoint elders in every city. Elders are appointed in local churches. Paul wrote to Titus and his instructions centered around the local church.
5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you—
I left Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians out very deliberately and I want to show from the letter how it is, as many Bible scholars have concluded, the epistle to the church. If any letter should convince us of the primacy of the church it should be the Ephesians epistle:
- Christ is head over all things to the church
22 And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church
- The wisdom of God is made known by the church
10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places,
- To Him be glory in the church
21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
- Christ is Head of the church
23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.
- The church is subject to Christ
24 Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
- Christ loved the church
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,
- Christ is preparing to present to Himself a glorious church
27 that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.
- The Lord nourishes and cherishes the church
29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church.
- There is an unbreakable relationship between Christ and the church
32 This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
Not only do we see the importance of the church in Paul’s writings but the other epistles bring this across very regularly as well:
The writer of Hebrews exhorts the believers to not neglect the corporate gathering of the saints:
24 And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
James addresses his epistle “to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad”.
1 James, a bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad:
When we read James’ epistle it becomes clear that, though these believers were scattered, they still met regularly as a church. We get this by reading passages like:
2 For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes,
3 My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.
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.
The Apostle Peter clearly has a concern for the church as we read him write in his epistle the following:
1 Peter 5:1–4
5 The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; 4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.
John’s epistles ends of the New Testament and it is also directed towards the local church:
3 John 6
6 who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well,
3 John 9
9 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us.
3 John 10
10 Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.
The book of Revelation is written to the seven churches which are in Asia:
4 John, to the seven churches which are in Asia:
Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne,
In addition to this John is directly instructed by the risen and glorified Christ to pen each church a personal letter:
2 “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,
8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write,
12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write,
18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write,
3 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write,
7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write,
14 “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write,
The risen and glorified Christ who loved His church and gave His life for her, who is now the Head of His church, personally directs seven letters to be written to seven local churches. These local churches have serious theological errors, desperately wicked influences and ungodliness and carnality was rife in many of these churches. Though, there were also a lot of praiseworthy things to be noted in many of them, in particular the church in Philadelphia, who was an exceptionally faithful church.
We cannot read the New Testament without being struck by the importance and primacy of the church and local churches in particular. The New Testament was occasioned by local churches and the authors would undoubtedly have very little tolerance for any Christian who seeks to minimize the importance of the church. Moreover, the Lord Jesus Christ, Himself, has an unbreakable bond with His church and anyone who professes to call on the name of Jesus and yet places himself outside of the church of Jesus no doubt incurs the great displeasure of Jesus.
Considering then what has been discussed and demonstrated in this post it becomes difficult to see how one can be a faithful Christian without being a faithful church member! It only requires a cursory reading of the New Testament to see the importance of the local church and attempting to read the New Testament for private edification whilst abandoning affiliation with a local church is to miss the general occasion and intent of the New Testament completely.
note: all emphasis in Scripture references are mine and of course not part of the original text